Paul Copan’s Moral Relativism: A Response from a Biblical Scholar of the New Atheism

Subtitled, "Dr. Paul Copan: Apologist for Genocide"

by Dr. Hector Avalos

*Unless noted otherewise, all biblical translations are those of the RSV.

In an blog essay titled, Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?: The New Atheists and Old Testament Ethics,” Dr. Paul Copan, a well-known Christian apologist, attempts to combat the New Atheists, and their dim view of biblical ethics. However, it soon becomes apparent that his critique repeats factual errors and biases found in earlier biblical apologists. Dr. Copan reveals himself as just another Christian apologist who supports biblical genocide and other injustices.

Dr. Copan is definitely not successful in demonstrating the superiority of biblical ethics over those of other cultures in the Ancient Near East (hereafter, ANE). In general, Dr. Copan’s flawed techniques can be summarized as follows:

I. Misrepresenting Near Eastern cultures

II. Arbitrary selection of what counts as “central” moral
principles in the Bible;

III. Unclear criteria for making moral comparisons.

IV. Use of faith-based special pleading.

There are supplementary devices, such as arguments from authority and the use of tautologies, but we will examine these as opportunity warrants.

I. MISREPRESENTING NEAR EASTERN CULTURES

Dr. Copan misrepresents ANE legal materials in at least three major ways:

A. The supposedly unique embedding of biblical laws in historical narratives;

B. The use of motive clauses in law;

C. Distorted portrayal of ANE slavery laws.

Historically, defenses of biblical legal systems have focused on their supposed unique features. The premise is that uniqueness is somehow superior. The problem with this argument is that all cultures have some unique features because otherwise we would not be able to distinguish one culture from another. Thus, choosing any particular feature X as the one deemed to be superior will always be an arbitrary choice.

For example, we could say that the Egyptians were the only culture to build massive pyramids in the ANE, and so that makes them culturally superior. But that judgment relies on the premise that pyramid building should be more valued than some other cultural feature we could choose in another culture (e.g., living peacefully in huts).

And herein lies the major methodological problem with Dr. Copan’s comparisons: He usually does not explain why a particular biblical feature should be deemed morally superior. He just assumes it is, and then proceeds to judge other cultures by this pre-selected standard.

Moreover, the biblical uniqueness argument has fallen apart because of the increasing number of ANE parallels found for what previously had been deemed to be unique to the Bible. So, let us look more closely at how Copan misrepresents Near Eastern legal materials.

A. NARRATIVES IN LEGAL MATERIALS AS SUPERIOR

According to Copan, the Bible is superior because it embeds its legal materials within a larger narrative that explains the history and principles behind the laws. He specifically states:
The absence of such narratives is glaringly apparent in cuneiform ANE Mesopotamian law codes such as Hammurabi... By contrast, cuneiform laws such as Hammurabi are never motivated by historical events: "unlike biblical laws, no cuneiform law is ever motivated by reference to an historic event, a promise of well-being, or . . . a divine will.
Dr. Copan does not show evidence of any a complete reading of the Code of Hammurabi (hereafter, CH). For the convenience of the reader, I refer to the translation found on-line.

If Dr. Copan had read the entire CH, he would see that his statement is patently false. The CH does have both a very lengthy Prologue and an Epilogue, which are narratives that situate the CH in a claimed historical context. Consider the first paragraph, which is just a fragment of a much longer narrative Prologue:
When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.
Maybe Copan does not regard this as “history,” but it differs very little from the “history” given in Exodus which also refers to a god, Yahweh, who called a man (Moses) through whom the law was given to the people.

After all, there is much more evidence that Hammurabi was an actual historical figure, whereas we have nothing about Moses outside of the Bible, and that in biblical manuscripts that are no earlier than the 1-3 centuries BCE in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Moreover, the Prologue and Epilogue of the CH clearly enunciates principles for the laws. These principles can be summarized as follows:

1. to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land,
2. to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers;
3. so that the strong should not harm the weak;
4. so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land,
5. to further the well-being of mankind
6. “to protect widows and orphans” (Epilogue)

So, contrary to Dr. Copan’s assertions, we do find in the CH the goal of bettering humankind and a reference to the divine will (Shamash’s will).

Clearly, Dr. Copan is simply wrong about the CH. That alone speaks volumes about how well he knows these ANE materials, and how fair he is in making comparisons.

B. MOTIVE CLAUSES AS SUPERIOR

Yet another misrepresentation of Near Eastern materials occurs in Copan’s discussions of motive clauses, which explain the reasons for enacting or practicing a particular law. For example, the commandment to honor father and mother in Exodus 20:12 is accompanied by a motive clause (“that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you”--RSV).

In the 1950s, a scholar named Berend Gemser (“The Importance of the Motive Clause in Old Testament Law,” Vetus Testamentum Supplements 1 [1953]:50-66) argued that only biblical laws had motive clauses, and so biblical law was superior.

The supposed superiority of motive clauses is particularly ironic because another stream of apologetics, led by Albrecht Alt (1883-1956), the famous German biblical scholar, claimed that apodictic laws made the Bible unique and superior. Apodictic laws, such as “Thou shalt not kill,” can be formulated without conditions or motive clauses.

Even at the time of Gemser, scholars knew that many Near Eastern laws also had motive clauses, and so biblical apologetics eventually shifted to explaining how biblical motive clauses were superior.

Rifat Sonsino, author of Motive Clauses in Hebrew Law (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1980), thought he found what made biblical motive clauses superior. Copan relies heavily, and much too uncritically, on the work of Sonsino. In fact, the quote I highlighted above from Copan’s essay derives almost directly from Sonsino (Motive Clauses, p. 174):
It is noteworthy that, unlike biblical laws, no cuneiform law is ever motivated by reference to an historic event, a promise of well-being or, for that matter, a divine will. In fact, in these laws the deity is completely silent, yielding its place to a human lawgiver whose main concern is economic rather than religious.
Copan also states:
Also unlike the Code of Hammurabi and other Mesopotamian law codes are the various "motive clauses" in the Sinaitic legislation that ground divine commands in Yahweh's historical activity.
Yet, as we have observed above, it is simply not true that the CH does not view itself as grounded in historical events or in a narrative. The general motives are made explicit in the Prologue, and so they do not need to be repeated in individual laws.

One has to go to footnote 23 of Dr. Copan’s essay to see that Sonsino has a more nuanced position. While the main text of Dr. Copan’s essay gives the misleading impression that the CH contained no motive clauses, Sonsino actually argues that the relative number of motive clauses is higher in the Bible. Sonsino (Motive Clauses, p. 159) further argues that difference lies in the “form, function, and content” of motive clauses.

More importantly, Copan does not explain why we should accept laws with motive clauses as superior in any way. Can we say that the commandment to honor your father and mother is superior to the one forbidding killing (v. 13: “You shall not kill”) because the former has a motive clause, while the latter does not? If motive clauses make a law superior, then why are they not supplied for all biblical laws?

Of course, Copan assumes that the motives should be deemed good in biblical law, where someone else could see some of them as appealing to self-interest. The motive for honoring father and mother in Exodus 20:12 is so that the Israelites can have a long life in the land. But is that sort of self-interest really a good motive to honor our father and mother?

If we regard the welfare of others, rather than self-interest, as the standard of a superior law, then I can find a much better motive clause in Law 137 of the CH:
If a man wish to separate from a woman who has borne him children, or from his wife who has borne him children: then he shall give that wife her dowry, and a part of the usufruct of field, garden, and property, so that she can rear her children.
Here, a law is given for the good of the children, not for the self-interest of the man commanded to follow this law.

Copan shows his religionist biases when he assumes that having religious motivations is somehow superior to having economic motivations. But that also depends on how one sees economics. If the economic laws are supposed to protect the weak from the strong, as the CH asserts, then what is wrong with that?

This fact must be considered in light of the types of laws that have motive clauses. Sonsino (Motive Clauses, p. 99) himself admits:
Most of the motivated laws deal with cultic/sacral sphere. Out of 375 motivated legal prescriptions, 271 can be assigned to this category. This represents ca. 72% of the motivated laws, but ca. 27% of the cultic/sacral instructions in the Pentateuchal legal corpora. The cultic sacral laws, in turn, constitute 78% of all the legal prescriptions in the Bible.
In other words, many of the motivated laws have to do with why someone should sacrifice in a particular way, or not eat impure foods. Here is a typical cultic law with motive clauses (Leviticus 17):
[2] "Say to Aaron and his sons, and to all the people of Israel, This is the thing which the LORD has commanded.
[3] If any man of the house of Israel kills an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or kills it outside the camp,
[4] and does not bring it to the door of the tent of meeting, to offer it as a gift to the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that man; he has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people.
[5] This is to the end that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices which they slay in the open field, that they may bring them to the LORD, to the priest at the door of the tent of meeting, and slay them as sacrifices of peace offerings to the LORD.
So, how or why would the motive clause in verse 5 be superior to that of Law 137 in the CH , which is motivated by the welfare of a divorced woman’s children? Indeed, Sonsino (Motive Clauses, p. 99) calculates that there are only 51 “humanitarian admonitions,” or 14% of all the motivated laws in the Hebrew Bible.

As we examine the specific list of so-called motive clauses by Sonsino, it also becomes dolorously apparent that many of these motives offer us nothing particularly more ethical than what could be offered by the laws of other religions.

Moreover, the impressively high counts of motive clauses in the Bible, relative to those of other ANE cultures, evaporate once you look at how those motive clauses are being counted. Consider the fact that Sonsino (Motive Clauses, pp. 241-248) counts the statement, “I am Yahweh (your God),” as an entire motive clause in the following biblical passages:

Leviticus 18:1
Leviticus 22:8
Leviticus 26:1
Leviticus 26:2

Yet, is saying “I am Yahweh” really a better ethical motive than
saying “I am Allah” or “I am Shamash”? One can see that the motive counts can rise dramatically in the Bible by defining these sorts of formulaic statements as motive clauses.

C. ADVANCES IN SLAVERY LAWS?

When comparing the Bible to Near Eastern cultures, Dr. Copan
assures us that:
On the other hand, Israel's laws reveal a dramatic, humanizing improvement over the practices of the other ANE peoples.
Within the Bible, he says we also find improvement:
What is more, the three main texts regarding slave legislation (Exod. 21; Lev. 25; Deut. 15) reveal a morally-improved legislation as the text progresses.
So, what was so improved in the Bible compared to Near
Eastern laws? It is difficult to see, given that Dr. Copan admits that:
Pentateuch's legal code in places does differentiate between Israelite and non-Israelite slaves (for example, Exod. 12:43, where non-Israelites are not to partake in the Passover); it grants remitting loans to Israelites but not to foreigners (Deut. 15:3); it allows for exacting interest from a foreigner but not from a fellow Israelite (Deut. 23:20); Moabites and Ammonites are excluded from the sanctuary (Deut. 23:3).
Nonetheless, Dr. Copan offers us this reassurance:
To stop here, as the new atheists do, is to overlook the Pentateuch's narrative indicating God's concern for bringing blessing to all humanity (Gen. 12:1-3). Even more fundamentally, human beings have been created in God's image as co-rulers with God over creation (Gen. 1:26-7; Ps. 8).
If we used the intention to bring blessing to all humanity, then it is clear that the CH would also satisfy this requirement. Recall, that the Prologue to the CH includes this motive: “to further the well-being of mankind.”

If we look at what the “blessing” of humanity means in the Bible, then it is also not as benign as it appears. Copan quotes Genesis 12:1-3 for support. But Genesis 12 foreshadows the fact that the native population of Canaan mentioned in verse 6 eventually will be slaughtered to make way for the Israelites. Genesis 12:3 indicates that those who do not agree with the Abrahamic plan will be cursed.

And it will eventually become clear that the ultimate goal is for Yahweh to be in full control of all humanity, and humanity will be his slaves, and slaves to his people (see Isaiah 14:1-2 discussed further below). In short, Dr. Copan is already working with a very biased view of “blessing.”

When we examine more specific supposed improvements, Dr. Copan does not tell the whole story. For example, he says:
Hammurabi called for the death penalty to those helping runaway slaves [§16]). Israel, however, was to offer safe harbor to foreign runaway slaves (Deut. 23:15-16).
That may be true of the CH, but Dr. Copan does not cite Law 24 of the Hittite Laws (Harry A. Hoffner, The Laws of the Hittites: A Critical Edition [Leiden: Brill, 1997] p. 33), which says:
If a male or female slave runs away, he/she at whose hearth his/her owner finds him/her shall pay one month’s wages; 12 shekels of silver for a man, 6 shekels of silver for a woman.
So, why aren’t the Hittite laws characterized as a humanizing improvement? In the Hittite law, a slave runs away, and the person harboring the slave only pays a fine.

In fact, Hittite law systematically replaced death penalties with fines for many offenses. Thus, Law 166 demanded the death penalty for appropriating another man’s farmland (sowing seed upon previously sown land). But Law 167 (Hoffner, The Laws of the Hittites, pp. 133-34) says:
But now they shall substitute one sheep for the man.
In other words, the very symbol of the Christian substitutionary atonement had a preceding parallel in Hittite law.

So, the imposition of Lex talionis (eye-for-an-eye principle) in Pentateuchal laws, which are usually dated after the Hittite laws, even by Copan, should be seen as a regression. Yet, Dr. Copan also says that these biblical laws: "...are not taken literally. None of the examples illustrating "an eye for an eye" calls for bodily mutilation, but rather just (monetary) compensation." This is nothing more than mere assertion. No biblical text is offered to support this allegation. In fact, Jesus seems to take this law very literally in Matthew 5:38-39:
[38] You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
[39] But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also;
Or are we to suppose that Jesus was merely doing away with monetary penalties?

Clearly, Dr. Copan must engage in special pleading to convince us that the Bible represents an advancement in Lex talionis. If one says that Lex talionis is an advancement, then this already had a precedent in the CH (Law 196). If one says replacing Lex talionis with fines or sacrifices was an advancement, then the Hittites did this already. Pre-Hammurabi codes also can be found without the Lex talionis principle.

Dr. Copan sees as a moral advancement the releasing of Hebrew slaves in the seventh year. He remarks:
Indeed, Hebrew slaves were to be granted release in the seventh year (Lev. 29:35-43)-a notable improvement over other ANE law codes.
Yet, this seems to contradict his own statement in footnote 52: “The Code of Hammurabi also makes provision for manumission.” So why is the release of slaves (“manumission”) in Leviticus an improvement over CH, which also had manumission?

In fact, Leviticus 29 can be seen as worse than the CH when it comes to manumission. For example, the CH does not restrict manumission to “Babylonians,” whereas Leviticus restricts manumission to Hebrews. Hammurabi’s Code seems more open and without regard to ethnicity here.

Long before Leviticus 29, Mesopotamian kings promulgated so-called misharum (“equity”) acts, which could include the release of whole classes of people. As Raymond Westbrook (Property and the Family in Biblical Law [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991]), one of the foremost legal specialists today, notes (p. 45):
The proclamation of a misharum was an institution of the utmost significance in Old Babylonian society. It was originally thought that each king proclaimed a misharum as a once-only measure upon his accession to the throne, but J. Finkelstein has shown that misharum enactments might occur several times at intervals throughout a kings reign. For RimSin of Larsa there is a record of three such enactments falling on about the 26th, 35th, and 41st years...Samsuiluna in his first and eighth year.
These releases by RimSin and Samsuiluna (ca. 18th c. BCE) were in intervals of 9, 6, and 7 years, respectively, and so quite comparable to the seven years of Leviticus.

Therefore, there is really no advance on this issue in the Bible. In fact, we can just as well argue that some biblical improvements came about by imitating ANE institutions rather by biblical innovation. We can find imitations of the misharum idea in Isaiah 61:1-2:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good tidings to the afflicted
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
Jesus himself is simply continuing the misharum idea when he quotes this passage in Luke 4:18-21.

Questionable exegesis is at the heart of some of Dr. Copan’s examples of biblical improvements. He remarks: “The overriding goal in Deuteronomy 15 is that there be no slavery in the land at all (vv. 4, 11).” Yet, that is not really what Deuteronomy 15:4 and 11 say:
[4] But there will be no poor among you (for the LORD will bless you in the land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance to possess), [11] For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land.
Nothing is said about slavery ending. In fact, v. 11 says: “For the poor will never cease out of the land.” Although Hebrew slaves are to be released seven years after being taken into service, there is nothing to prevent a new crop of Hebrew slaves from being taken into service all the time.

Note also how Dr. Copan places a positive spin on Exodus 21:20-21:
Another marked improvement is in the release of injured slaves themselves (Exod. 21:20-1). This is in contrast to their masters merely being compensated, which is typical in the ANE codes.
Yet, this is what Exodus 21:20-21 says:
[20] When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished.
[21] But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be punished; for the slave is his money.
In other words, you can beat a slave nearly to death and the master will not be punished at all. The reason given is that a slave is “his money.” The slave is property, not a human being.

The idea that a master has absolute control over his money, regardless of any injustice to workers, is endorsed by Jesus’ parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20:1-16. When workers complain that the master has paid those who worked all day the same as those who worked only a fraction of that day, the master says: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” As far as labor laws are concerned, this is not an improvement, but rather a continuation of the idea of Exodus 21:21 (“for the slave is his money.”)

It is true that Exodus 21:26-27 allows a slave to go free if a slave’s tooth or eye is damaged, but is that really better than other reasons for freeing slaves that we can find in the ANE? Consider Laws 170-171 of the CH:
If his wife bear sons to a man, or his maid-servant have borne sons, and the father while still living says to the children whom his maid-servant has borne: "My sons," and he counts them with the sons of his wife; if then the father die, then the sons of the wife and of the maid-servant shall divide the paternal property in common. The son of the wife is to partition and choose.

If, however, the father while still living did not say to the sons of the maid-servant: "My sons," and then the father dies, then the sons of the maid-servant shall not share with the sons of the wife, but the freedom of the maid and her sons shall be granted. The sons of the wife shall have no right to enslave the sons of the maid; the wife shall take her dowry (from her father), and the gift that her husband gave her and deeded to her (separate from dowry, or the purchase-money paid her father), and live in the home of her husband: so long as she lives she shall use it, it shall not be sold for money. Whatever she leaves shall belong to her children.
Here, freedom is granted to slave-women and their children who were not formally adopted by a master. No beating is necessary to release these slaves. These children of slaves are not treated as property, but as an actual part of the master’s family.

Note also how children of slave-women could be co-inheritors with the children of the formal wife in the CH. This contrasts to the cruel attitude expressed by Sarah concerning Ishmael, Abraham’s biological son by Hagar, a slave-woman in Genesis 21:10:
Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.
God tells Abraham to follow this injunction (Genesis 21:12) regardless of Abraham’s sympathy for Ishmael. So, where Abraham might represent a humanizing tendency, God actually demands the more inhumane option.

Paul repeats and endorsed Sarah’s cruel actions in Galatians 4:30, which should be counted as a regression relative to the rights of the children of slave-women in the CH.

Dr. Copan also claims that “Later in Amos (2:6; 8:6), slavery is again repudiated.” But Amos 2:6 and 8:6, actually state:
Amos 2:6
Thus says the LORD:
"For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of shoes --

Amos 8:6
that we may buy the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and sell the refuse of the wheat?"
Nothing is said here about repudiating slavery. There were other sources of slaves besides being sold into bondage. For instance, one could still capture slaves in war. Nor is it clear that non-Hebrew slaves were excluded from being sold in this manner.

Isaiah 14:1-2, which is usually dated later than Amos, envisions a future with even more people enslaved:
But the LORD will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land; and aliens will join them and attach themselves to the house of Jacob. And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them in the LORD's land as male and female slaves; they will take captive those who were their captors, and rule over those who oppressed them.
Indeed, if we proceed to the New Testament, slavery may have gotten even worse, not better, compared to Amos.In 1 Peter 2:18-20, we read:
[18] Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing.
[19] For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly.
[20] For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God's approval.
The word “overbearing” in the RSV is much too kind because the passage indicates that beatings might be part of being “overbearing.” Thus, the word “cruel” or “brutal” would not be too far off the mark.

In any case, slaves are supposed to be in utter subjection to masters even if the masters beat them. It is deemed good to suffer pain and injustice. Moreover, the laws limiting service for Hebrew slaves were no longer applicable since Christ is viewed as “abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances” (Ephesians 2:15).

So, if Copan sees a “humanizing” trajectory in the Old Testament, it seems to have gone backward in the New Testament, which usually assumes slavery is acceptable, and where it is again deemed good to be treated in a dehumanizing way.

If harboring slaves was supposed to be an advance, in the NT we see Paul returning the slave named Onesimus, who has run away from Philemon, his master. In fact, Paul accepts that it is entirely Philemon’s prerogative to retain Onesimus in slavery: “but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will” (Philemon 14).

There is no reprimand of Philemon for having a slave. Slavery is not included in the list of sins, including drunkenness, that prevent entry into the kingdom of heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9ff). So why is drunkenness judged to be more sinful than slave-owning? Are those really more advanced and humanizing values?

If we want to see any sort of advance in regard to slavery, we should look to members of a philosophical school called the Cynics, some of whom repudiated slavery outright. The Essenes, a Jewish sect, also repudiated slavery, while Christianity had not advanced this far.

In fact, Christian countries, in general, did not abandon fully slavery until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Cynics and Essenes were already there over 2000 years ago.

It was only after the secularization of the West, and after the erosion of biblical authority, that we moved away from slavery and toward greater civil rights for women. If we followed Ephesians 6:5 or 1 Peter 2:18, we might still have slavery.

II. WHAT COUNTS AS CENTRAL BIBLICAL MORAL PRINCIPLES?

Dr. Copan unfortunately falls into the common trap that always besets biblical theologians. Historically, biblical theology has been preoccupied with finding “the central message” or the major principles of the Bible. This endeavor evaporates when we realize that the biblical materials have contradictory and complex principles that usually cannot be unified.

Such tensions and contradictions are acknowledged by Copan himself when he recommends the approach of Christopher Wright in explaining contradictory slavery laws:
He [Wright] goes so far as to say that while Exodus 21 emphasizes the humanness of slaves, even the ancient Israelite would recognize that Deuteronomy 15 was in tension with earlier legislation. So, to obey Deuteronomy "necessarily meant no longer complying with Exodus."
Yet, how are we to know that Deuteronomy should reverse anything in Exodus? This is a faith claim. Even if we disregard the chronological problems, contradictory texts usually mean that the interpreter ends up privileging one text over another and declaring that one “central.” Yet, an advocate of the Exodus slave legislation might declare Deuteronomy to be a corruption or deviation.

Because it is hard to erase all of the injustices found in Biblical law, another favorite technique is the “trajectory” argument. Thus, apologists can argue that, while things may look bad, they are heading in the right direction. Of course, this already prejudges what the right direction is, and also plays pick-and-choose with what counts as a trajectory (e.g., why not say the trajectory is enslaving the entire world to Yahweh?).

Nonetheless, Dr. Copan believes that there is a “moral heart” to the Old Testament in the following statement:
While acknowledging the drastically different mindset between ANE and modern societies, we can overcome a good deal of the force of the new atheists' objections and discern the moral heart of the OT, which is a marked contrast to the new atheists' portrayal.
But Dr. Copan never establishes criteria for what constitutes “the moral heart” of the Bible. Is it a statistical criterion? That is to say, is it the number of times a specific concept or term is repeated? Or is it qualitative? That is to say, is it something believed to be the most important concept, regardless of how many times others are repeated?

Statistically, as we have already noted, cultic laws are an overwhelming majority of the laws. So, shall we say that the moral heart is really about good cultic practices? Why should we accept that being good to one’s neighbor is “the moral heart” when we also can find many instances of people destroying their Canaanite neighbors?

Empirically and historically, what is identified as “the moral heart” differs sometimes by religious group or by scholar. Orthodox Jews obviously will not have a Christocentric approach to the Bible, and so a moral center must include maintaining food laws which are intimately related to God’s holiness, which does not change (see Leviticus 11:44). Jews chose death rather than violate food laws (1 Maccabees 1:62-63; Daniel 1:8). The food laws are just as much a part of the moral system for orthodox Jews as Jesus’ injunctions are for Christians.

III. UNCLEAR CRITERIA FOR MORAL COMPARISONS

The religiocentric and ethnocentric biases of Dr. Copan play a fundamental role in how he evaluates other religions. Dr. Copan preselects the standards of his religion, and then just simply judges other religions by that standard.

Dr. Copan is actually relying on a moral relativism that could be used to establish the superiority of any standard. For example, if we, as Americans, value freedom of religion, then it is clear that biblical law is inferior to that of other Near Eastern systems.

One could easily argue that the denial of religious freedom is at the “moral heart” of the Old Testament. It is the very first of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:3: "You shall have no other gods before me.”

The intolerance of other religions is found in every single one of the biblical books. This includes: a) commands to destroy the temples and property of other religions (e.g., Deut. 7, 2 Kings 23); b) Destruction of the “clergy” of other religions (1 Kings 18:40); c) Consistent commands not to worship other gods (e.g., Exodus 20:3). Dr. Copan acknowledges this intolerance as well:
Yes, God prohibits the worship of other gods and the fashioning of graven images, but the ultimate desire is that Yahweh's people love him wholeheartedly.
In contrast, most Near Eastern religions valued religious diversity, and allowed the worship of almost any god people chose. This freedom to worship would actually be more consistent with American ideals than with anything in the Bible. By the standard which attempts to maximize freedom of religion, the Bible is a setback for humanity, not an advance.

Moreover, Dr. Copan completely misunderstands the idea of “loving God.” As has been pointed out by W. L. Moran (“The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Love of God in Deuteronomy,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 25 [1963]: 77-87), the “love of God” is simply another part of the slave-master rhetoric in the ANE.

The slave was compelled to “love” the master or he would be punished (cf. Deut. 28:15ff). Serving other slave masters could be a capital offense, and we see that Yahweh is simply envisioned as the ultimate slave master. “Love” (or even Christian agape) in the Bible is not necessarily the benign and mutual-respect idea that we value in the twenty-first century.

IV. FAITH-BASED SPECIAL PLEADING

Dr. Copan’s essay is thoroughly permeated with special pleading based on the faith claims of his religion. He uses faith claims that:

1) Could be used easily by competing religions;
2) Are no more verifiable than the claims of competing religions.

A. CHRISTOCENTRIC BIASES

Let us begin with Dr. Copan’s christocentric theology. He excuses a lot of the violence and inequality in the Old Testament because:
The Law-a temporary rather than permanent fixture-would give way to a new covenant under Christ.
But, a Muslim could just as well argue that anything Christ did was superseded by Muhammad’s revelation. Both the Muslim and Christians faith claims are equally unverifiable.

Moreover, Dr. Copan’s statement about the temporary nature of the law contradicts Deuteronomy 4:2:
You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
If one does not add or subtract from these commandments, then they remain immutable.

Dr. Copan may say that this is not what Deut. 4:2 means, but that would only be because of yet other faith-based claims (e.g., the nature of a “New Covenant” in Jeremiah 31:31ff. is being interpreted correctly by the author of Hebrews 8:8-13, etc.).

Notice also how Dr. Copan simply assumes that Jesus’ reasons for certain Mosaic laws are correct (e.g., Moses’ law of divorce was given because of the obstinacy of the Hebrews). This also is a faith-based claim because it assumes that Jesus is correct about God’s motives for that law.

Throughout, Dr. Copan simply assumes that the rules given by his god are true, while those of other gods are not. But, why couldn’t we say that Shamash is the true god, and then judge biblical law with how it accords with Shamash’s law?

B. JUSTIFYING GENOCIDE

Dr. Copan’s arbitrary privileging of his faith claims devolves into a morass of moral relativism when he tries to justify the genocide of the Canaanites.

First, the genocide of the Canaanites flies in the face of Dr. Copan’s touting of the concept of humans being created in the image of god as a superior aspect of biblical ethics. He remarks:
Even more fundamentally, human beings have been created in God's image as co-rulers with God over creation (Gen. 1:26-7; Ps. 8)-unlike the ANE mindset, in which the earthly king was the image-bearer of the gods. The imago Dei establishes the fundamental equality of human beings, despite the ethnocentrism and practice of slavery within Israel.
Yet, biblical narratives clearly show that the imago Dei matters very little in ensuring human equality. There were many other events and reasons (e.g., birth order, gender) that could generate inequality.

Sometimes it could simply be that Yahweh likes one person more than another, as in the case of Esau and Jacob. We don’t see God saying that they are both equal because they were both created in his image (see Romans 9:13-16). After all, they are supposed to be twins.

Nor is it true that the Bible does not view the king as being in a unique image-bearing relation to Yahweh. In fact, there are passages which call only the human king the son of Yahweh:
[6] "I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill."
[7] I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my son, today I have begotten you.
In John 8:44, Jesus says that Jews are not sons of God, but rather of the devil.
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
In my book, The End of Biblical Studies, I have explained how the effort to deny that anti-Judaism in the NT often relies on special pleading and arbitrary exegesis.

Given the fact that Canaanite women and children are to be killed despite being made in the image of God, Dr. Copan’s main defense is a faith claim. He remarks:
First, Israel would not have been justified to attack the Canaanites without Yahweh's explicit command. Yahweh issued his command in light of a morally-sufficient reason-the incorrigible wickedness of Canaanite culture... if God exists, does he have any prerogatives over human life? The new atheists seem to think that if God existed, he should have a status no higher than any human being.
Of course, this assumes that Yahweh exists and has the authority to kill women and children. Dr. Copan is accepting the faith claim of the biblical author.

By this logic, if Allah exists, does he have any prerogatives over human life? Indeed, a jihadist Muslim could say that Allah has the authority to wipe out all Americans because they are incorrigible and wicked. Of course, these jihadists might also feel entitled to use their own definition of “wicked” and “incorrigible” no less so than Dr. Copan.

As it is, Dr. Copan characterizes the Israelites as incorrigible (“Another dimension of this harshness seems to be a response to the rebellious, covenant-breaking propensity of the Israelites.”). But this does not explain why Canaanite incorrigibility should be punished with genocide, while Israelite incorrigibility should be rewarded with mercy and patience.

Consistent with my proposal that the moral heart of the Bible is religious intolerance, Dr. Copan tells us:
We see from this passage too that wiping out Canaanite religion was far more significant than wiping out the Canaanites themselves
So, if jidahist Muslims kill millions of Americans in order to wipe out our supposedly corrupt religion, then I suppose that would be morally acceptable by Dr. Copan’s logic. It all depends on whether you accept the faith claim that Allah is the true God.

We must also recall that all the supposed crimes and wickedness of the Canaanite is being narrated by their enemies, the biblical authors. Over and over, we see Dr. Copan applying words such as “morally decadent,” “wicked,” to Canaanites because he is accepting the judgments of biblical authors. In any case, Dr. Copan’s procedure would be analogous to using only the pronouncements of Osama bin Laden to judge American culture.

I have addressed the supposed archaeological evidence for Canaanite wickedness in my essay, Creationists for Genocide.“

In any event, for Dr. Copan, “idolatry” allows Israelites the right to kill women and children as long as the higher goal of wiping out idolatry is met. Of course, his view of idolatry is what counts. It really amounts to this: “Genocide is OK when my religion does it, but genocide is not OK if your religion does it.”

But, we could just easily reverse this and say that, from the viewpoint of a some mono-Baal worshipper, the worship of Yahweh is idolatry. That should give mono-Baalists the right to kill Yahweh worshippers if the higher goal is wiping out Yahweh worship.

Moreover, we know that, even according to biblical materials, idolatry was not wiped out. Indeed, after all of the genocide carried out by Joshua and his successors, we still find idolatry being lamented in Jeremiah and other later prophets. Yahweh ends up killing women and children in vain. Yahweh apparently lacks the foresight to see that genocide will not work.

C. JUSTIFYING INFANTICIDE

To excuse the plain horror of infanticide, Dr. Copan offers this as comfort:
Death would be a mercy, as they would be ushered into the presence of God and spared the corrupting influences of a morally decadent culture.
This rationale actually follows a long apologetic tradition, such as this one evinced by the famed fundamentalist apologist, Reuben A. Torrey (Difficulties in the Bible [Chicago: Moody Press, n.d.], p. 60.):
The extermination of the Canaanite children was not only an act of mercy and love to the world at large; it was an act of love and mercy to the children themselves.
Dr. Copan does not seem to realize the theological implications of his own words. First, if it is true that killing infants ushers them immediately into the presence of God, and spares them corrupting influences, then this is a fantastic argument for abortion.

Why allow any child to be born if we can send him or her straight to heaven? After all, isn’t the salvation of souls more important than any human experience? This is especially the case if we take literally the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:28:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
If soul-saving is the goal, then abortion provides a 100% salvation rate. Yahweh could also decriminalize killing infants today, since the goal of soul-saving should be no less worthy today than it was in the time of the Canaanites.

One can see that Dr. Copan seems not to value life as much as he claims. Apparently, the value of practicing the right religion supersedes the value of life. Dr. Copan wants to kill women and children to save them from corrupt and wicked practices, but he does not see the killing of women and children as itself a “corrupt” or “wicked” practice.

Nor does Copan explain why infants have to be killed for the sins of their parents. In fact, this contradicts God’s own injunctions in Deuteronomy 24:16:
The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
Moreover, Dr. Copan assumes that his omnipotent god could find no other alternative than to slaughter children to accomplish the purpose of preventing their corruption.

Yet, Yahweh was believed to cause sterility in women (see Genesis 20:17-18). So, Yahweh could have sterilized Canaanite women supernaturally, and the problem would be solved in a generation or two. No need to kill children with this procedure.

A similar moral relativism and theological special pleading is at the heart of Dr. Copan’s defense of biblical polygamy. He tells us:
Let us consider polygamy as an example: Why did God not ban polygamy outright in favor of monogamy? Why allow a double standard for men who can take multiple wives while a woman can only have one husband? For one thing, despite the practical problems of polygamy, Wenham suggests it was permitted perhaps because monogamy would have been difficult to enforce.
But, if God allows polygamy because monogamy is difficult to enforce, then why not do the same with idolatry, murder, and bestiality? The Bible itself tells us that idolatry never did completely die out, and so why does that not qualify idolatry as a practice “difficult to enforce”?

And, by the same token, why should we judge other ANE cultures for allowing practices that their gods also might find “difficult to enforce”? If difficulty of enforcement be the criterion, then why are ANE cultures judged as inferior?

And who decided that polygamy was a deviation from an ideal original monogamy? The idea that monogamy was original is a faith-based claim---i.e., based on accepting the word of the author of Genesis 2-3. After all, incest was also original, as you could not have reproduced from the first pair without incest at some level. So should we regard non-incestuous pairings as a deviation from the original ideal?

V. MISCELLANEOUS ERRORS AND DISTORTIONS

Dr. Copan’s essay literally contains dozens upon dozens of factual errors and half-truths that would take a book to correct. In a future post, I plan to address his contention that Deuteronomy 25:11-12 does not describe an actual mutilation of a woman.

But, here are brief response to ten statements from Dr. Copan that have not been discussed above. Dr. Copan’s statements are in italicized quotations, and my responses are in regular type immediately below his.

1. “These narratives also inform us that Israel's kings, no matter how powerful, are not above God's law: Nathan confronts David about his murder and adultery (2 Sam. 12).”

Actually, the narrative about David shows how much David is above the law. David committed at least two sins which demanded the death penalty. He committed adultery,
and he committed murder (see 2 Samuel 12:9).

A normal human being would be executed for adultery or murder (see Leviticus 20:10 and 24:17). God himself promised not to acquit a murderer in Exodus 23:7:
Keep far from a false charge, and do not slay the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.
But, instead of David being put to death, it is David’s son that God kills (2 Samuel 12:14) in violation of his own law in Deuteronomy 24:16. Yahweh is the biggest moral relativist of all, especially since he seems to break his own moral promises.

2. “Furthermore, in Babylonian or Hittite law, status or social rank determined the kind of sanctions for a particular crime whereas biblical law holds kings and priests and those of social rank to the same standards as the common person, The informed inhabitant of the ANE would have thought, ‘Quick, get me to Israel!’”

Dr. Copan ignores the numerous instances in which Israelite kings were treated differently from the common person. As we have said before, a common person might be executed for committing adultery and murder, but David was not. Slaves did not have the same rights as their masters.

The idea that informed inhabitants of the ANE were clamoring to get to Israel is contradicted by the story of Nabal, who alludes to David, when he exclaims “There are many servants nowadays who are breaking away from their masters” (I Samuel 25:10). In fact, David flees to Philistine territory, where the Philistine king, Achish, gives him a whole town (1 Samuel 27:5-6).

3. “Even later on when the Jews returned from Babylon, Nehemiah was properly appalled by Jews opening themselves up to idolatry by marrying foreign wives (for example, Neh. 13, esp. v. 25).”

Dr. Copan contradicts himself here because he also told us the following:
Because of Yahweh's covenant with Israel, laws intending to preserve both the family unit and Yahweh's unique covenant/marriage relationship to Israel were paramount.
Yet, the stories in Nehemiah and Ezra demonstrate that preserving the family unit WAS NOT PARAMOUNT. Ezra, in fact, orders the break-up of families. Thus, Ezra 10:10-11 says:
[10] And Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, "You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel.
[11] Now then make confession to the LORD the God of your fathers, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.
Again, for Dr. Copan, religious intolerance is more important than family values. Ethnic values superseded family values. Rarely does one see families ordered to break up because people had different religions in the ANE. Ezra and Nehemiah should count as a step backward for families.

4. “laws made by kings (not gods) versus laws from God mediated through Moses.”

This is patently false. Laws can also be attributed to a god in the ANE, as in this Hittite text quoted by Hoffner (The Laws of the Hittites, p. 1):
You (Sungod) establish the lands’ customs and law.
Conversely, we can also find instances in the Bible were
laws are made by human leaders:
[22] Then all the wicked and base fellows among the men who had gone with David said, "Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil which we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart."
[23] But David said, "You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the LORD has given us; he has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us.
[24] Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike."
[25] And from that day forward he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel to this day.
5. “laws to glorify kings versus laws to glorify God and to instruct (torah = ‘instruction’) people and shape a national character.”

The CH should destroy this notion because the glory of the gods is paramount.
When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi...
Conversely, one can find the glory of the king co-mingled with praises for Yahweh, as in Psalm 89:
[1] I will sing of thy steadfast love, O LORD, for ever;
with my mouth I will proclaim thy faithfulness to all generations.
[2] For thy steadfast love was established for ever,
thy faithfulness is firm as the heavens.
[3] Thou hast said, "I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant:
[4] `I will establish your descendants for ever,
and build your throne for all generations.'...
[27] And I will make him the first-born,
the highest of the kings of the earth.
As we have mentioned, the Prologue of the CH says laws are also meant to teach and build character of the people of the kingdom.

6. “laws reflecting king's unlimited authority versus laws limiting the king's authority (for example, Deut. 17:14-20).”

There are many instances where ANE law also limited royal authority. In certain periods of Hittite history, the pankush, a sort of broader council of nobles, acted to judge kings when they overstepped their boundaries.

7. “offenses against slaves as on the same level as property crimes (for example, oxen) versus offenses against slaves as persons of value;”

We have cited instances where slaves were given even better treatment in the ANE (e.g., in case of providing for sons of slaves) while we can find instances of slaves being asked to submit to dehumanizing treatment in the NT (e.g., 1 Peter 2:18).

8. “religious sins not typically capital offenses versus a number of religious sins as capital offenses-idolatry (Deut. 13:6-9), false prophecy (Deut. 18:20), sorcery (Lev. 20:27), blasphemy (Lev. 24:10-23), Sabbath violations (Num. 15:32-6).”

Dr. Copan presumes that maintaining proper religious practices are worth more than human life. Why not count as abhorrent the thought that people could be killed for practicing a different religion?

9. Not only do we find morally-inferior cuneiform legislation, but its attendant harsh, ruthless punishments. Commenting on the brutal and harsh Code of Hammurabi, historian Paul Johnson observes: "These dreadful laws are notable for the ferocity of their physical punishments, in contrast to the restraint of the Mosaic Code and the enactments of Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

Dr. Copan ignores the replacement of many executions with fines or offerings in Hittite law. Moreover, he does not characterize as “ruthless” or as “brutal” the endorsement of drowning (Genesis 6), stoning (Leviticus 20:27), burning (Genesis 19), and swording to death (1 Kings 18:40) of those punished for various offenses in the Bible. Children are killed for the crime of being born a Canaanite.

It gets worse in the NT, as now we are to be burned eternally for not following the Christian religion (Matthew 25:41ff). I never see eternal torture by fire mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi.

10. “Babylon and Assyria (as well as Sumer) practiced the River Ordeal: when criminal evidence was inconclusive, the accused would be thrown into the river; if he drowned, he was guilty (the river god's judgment), but if he survived, he was innocent and the accuser was guilty of false accusation.”

Dr. Copan forgets that, in contrast to Mesopotamia, not all Israelites lived near large and dependable rivers where such ordeals might work best. Geography can influence the types of resources and material available for punishment.

Indeed, Israel did have another type of ordeal that was no less horrifying, and this one directed at women accused of adultery. The description of the ordeal is as follows in Numbers 5:16-22:
[16]"And the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the LORD;
[17] and the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water.
[18] And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and unbind the hair of the woman's head, and place in her hands the cereal offering of remembrance, which is the cereal offering of jealousy. And in his hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse.
[19] Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, `If no man has lain with you, and if you have not turned aside to uncleanness, while you were under your husband's authority, be free from this water of bitterness that brings the curse.
[20] But if you have gone astray, though you are under your husband's authority, and if you have defiled yourself, and some man other than your husband has lain with you,
[21] then' (let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman) `the LORD make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the LORD makes your thigh fall away and your body swell;
[22] may this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your body swell and your thigh fall away.' And the woman shall say, `Amen, Amen.'
Even the conservative commentator Philip Budd (Numbers [Word Biblical Commentary 5; Waco, TX: Word Publishers, 1984] p. 65) describes it as a “trial by ordeal.” Despite Budd’s best efforts to say that the water was not very harmful, the text itself says that this water was meant to produce horrific results. Budd adds that “Modern practice of the ordeal would obviously be indefensible...” (p. 67).

VI. ATHEISM’S MORALITY

Dr. Copan fundamentally misunderstands the New Atheism insofar as he believes that it cannot provide a sound moral ground for its judgments. For a Christian apologist to think he or she has triumphed by pointing out the moral relativism of the New Atheism is to miss the entire point.

As an atheist, I don’t deny that I am a moral relativist. Rather, my aim is to expose the fact that Christians are also moral relativists. Indeed, when it comes to ethics, there are only two types of people in this world:

A. Those who admit they are moral relativists;
B. Those who do not admit they are moral relativists.

Dr. Copan fails because he cannot admit that he is a moral relativist, and he thinks that God will solve the problem of moral relativism.

But having a God in a moral system only creates a tautology. All we end up saying is: “X is bad because X is bad.” Thus, if we say that we believe in God, and he says idolatry is evil, then that is a tautology: “God says idolatry is bad and so idolatry is bad because God says it is bad.” Or we end up using this tautology: “Whatever God says is good because whatever God says is good.”

As Kai Nielsen (Ethics Without God [1992]) deftly argues, human beings are always the ultimate judges of morality even if we believe in God. After all, the very judgment that God is good is a human judgment. The judgment that what God commands is good is also a human judgment.

Christians are not doing anything different except to mystify and complicate morality. Christians are simply projecting what they call “good” unto a supernatural being. They offer us no evidence that their notion of good comes from outside of themselves.

And that is where the danger lies. Basing a moral system on unverifiable supernatural beings only creates more violence and endangers our species. I have already discussed this at length in my book, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence.

Dr. Copan cites Dinesh D’Souza who repeats the oft-cited anecdote that atheists have killed more people than religionists. Again, this is based on the false idea that Nazis were atheistic Darwinists, and that Stalinist genocide was due to atheism rather than to forced collectivism (something I also discuss in detail in Fighting Words).

Speaking only for myself here, I can say that atheism offers a much better way to construct moral rules. We can construct them on the basis of verifiable common interests, known causes, and known consequences. There is an iron-clad difference between secular and faith-based morality, and we can illustrate it very simply with these propositions:

A. I have to kill person X because Allah said so;
B. I have to kill person X because he is pointing a gun at me.

In case A, we commit violence on the basis of unverifiable premises. In case B, we might commit violence on the basis of verifiable premises (I can verify a gun exists, and that it is pointed at me). If I am going to kill or be killed, I want it to be a for a reason that I can verify to be true.

If the word “moral” describes the set of practices that accord with our values, and if our highest value is life, then it is always immoral to trade real human lives for something that does not exist or cannot be verified to exist.

What does not exist has no value relative to what does exist. What cannot be proven to exist should never be placed above what does exist. If we value life, then you should never trade something that exists, especially life, for something that does not exist or cannot be proven to exist. That is why it would always be immoral to ever take a human life on the basis of faith claims. It is that simple.

CONCLUSION

Dr. Copan’s critique of the New Atheism fails philosophically and in matters of simple factuality. First, his comparisons between ANE law and biblical law are devoid of a thorough reading of ANE legal materials. Thus, he makes untrue statements about ANE laws, and misreads even biblical materials.

Talk of superiority or advancement in the Bible is illusory once Dr. Copan’s ethnocentrism and religiocentrism are exposed. Depending on the issue and standard chosen, we can find that some ANE cultures were much more compatible with our values (e.g., freedom to worship) or had already developed practices Dr. Copan deems advanced (e.g., Hittite law replacing Lex talionis with fines).

We can find dramatic regressions in biblical law (slavery is worse in the NT relative to Amos). We can learn that so called advancements, such as blessing of humankind, are simply disguised ways to express Yahwistic imperialism and theocracy.

If motive clauses are the standard, we can find self-interested ones in the Bible (Honor parents so that you live longer). If the welfare of children is the standard, then we can find the welfare of the children of slave-women was much more advanced than what we find in the case of Ishmael.

Finally, Dr. Copan misses the real threat of the New Atheism, if there is such a thing. The greatest threat will not be a Hitchens, a Dawkins, or a Harris. Rather, it will be highly trained biblical scholars who are former Christian apologists. It is they who know best where the rotting corpses of biblical ethics are buried.

What is tragic is that in the 21st century a Dr. Copan can still defend genocide and infanticide in any form. What is still unbelievable is that a Dr. Copan can say that killing women and children is sometimes good. It is that sort of frightening biblical moral ethos that makes the New Atheism more attractive all the time.

79 comments:

Evan said...

This is simply a tour-de-force of clear, rational deconstruction of apologetic arguments.

Thank you, Dr. Avalos, once again for such consistent and thorough scholarship. The Hittite texts in specific were extremely illuminating and suggestive of deeper parallels.

John W. Loftus said...

Bravo Hector, especially when you wrote: Finally, Dr. Copan misses the real threat of the New Atheism, if there is such a thing. The greatest threat will not be a Hitchens, a Dawkins, or a Harris. Rather, it will be highly trained biblical scholars who are former Christian apologists. It is they who know best where the rotting corpses of biblical ethics are buried.

As far as I can tell Avalos has only begun his life's work. He is definitely a force to be reckoned with. I am certainly glad he's on my/our side!

Ty said...

Okay, I'm convinced I am going to buy Dr. Avalos's book. Is your book ready John?

Off topic for one second: I just read Dan Barker's book, but only thought it was okay, so I'm looking forward to your new book, John.

Dr. Avalos is so eloquent that I am hesitant to post this, but here are Rotting corpses of the bible that I cannot believe I didn't figure out long ago in addition to all of the other unethical attroicities cited. Anyone of these should have given me pause. Well some did give me pause, but I did the same nonsense every Christian does: "irrationalized" it away.

1. God is not willing that even one should perish, so he made the gates of hell wide and the path to heaven narrow.

2. God gives us freewill, but kills individuals who act on that freewill. So is that truly freewill?

3. God kills Ananias and Saphirra for lying, but he lets all of the Mass Murders go about their business? This actually kind of makes since, given how fond God is of killing.

3. God wants us to love him, So he killed his son so that we could love him and not go to hell for the freewill that he gave us but never really wanted us to have in the first place.

4. God cannot sin because he is holy, but no one ever seems to care that he impregnated a 14 year-old unmarried virgin either.

5. God created man to live in perfection (Garden of Evil), but he allows evil (Satan) in the Garden?! How is living with the devil supposed to be perfection?

6. Mass murdering was seen as a loyalty test (Moses: You didn't kill all the infants, children, women, and animals too?! Damn you! Now I must order you to be killed. Next time God will let you keep some sex slaves if you kill everyone he wants.)

Well its 1am and I think my fatigue is outweighing my ability to form intelligent thoughts. Yeah, yeah, I know what some of you were thinking: "Ty, you're deluding yourself if you think you ever had the abillity to form intelligent thoughts!"

:) Night

tom said...

I hesitate to comment because I am relatively uninformed (certainly much less than the contributors) about the esoteric material in question, but I'd like to echo the sentiments expressed: This is just excellent, and a model of what a lucid & constructive reply should be, in any discipline.

John W. Loftus said...

Ty, yes, my book is now available on Amazon, at least, it says they'll ship it within 7 days.

Ty said...

I just ordered it, plus it came with free shipping for signing up for their "free shipping trial." I was very humored by that. Of course you pay $79/yr for the free shipping.

GordonBlood said...

Has Dr. Avalos actually sent this essay to any body/person in which this would get through to Dr. Copan. I ask only because I would be interested in Dr. Copan's response. (I myself actually agree with Dr. Avalos on some issues, though certainly not all, im just curious to see if Copan has been made aware of the response).

ismellarat said...

It reminds me of the scene in Dr. Strangelove where Slim Pickens sees American soldiers coming to recapture the Army base he helped commandeer, and figures they must be commies wearing convincing disguises, since he was told to expect such a thing. Wide-eyed and suspiciously, he drawls, "oooh, those sure look like American soldiers.

John W. Loftus said...

Yes, Paul Copan knows about this essay. I sent him a link and he said he'd take a look at it.

ismellarat said...

[Sorry, only the second of two posts made it, and it made no sense by itself.]

Is anyone as deeply, deeply puzzled as I am, and potential readers of Laurie's "Are We Living in the Last Days?", as to the MYSTERIOUS ABSENCE OF THE UNITED STATES in Revelation?

http://shop.wnd.com/store/item.asp?ITEM_ID=1661

Maybe someone here can help me sleuth that one out. It sure sounds like a toughie.

It reminds me of the scene in Dr. Strangelove where Slim Pickens sees American soldiers coming to recapture the Army base he helped commandeer, and figures they must be commies wearing convincing disguises, since he was told to expect such a thing. Wide-eyed and suspiciously, he drawls, "oooh, those sure look like American soldiers." :)

Cole said...

John,

I just ordered another copy of your book. I sold the old version. Not that it wasn't any good. But I understand you have included some things on the Kalam in this version. I'm looking forward to it. The parts on the atonement and the problem of evil and suffering are a clencher. As well as the section on Calvinism. As you know I use to be a strong Calvinist. Not any more. You really fucked my world up this book. Not that I'm an atheist.

John W. Loftus said...

Cole said...You really fucked my world up this book.

Now there's a blurb to put on the back on my book! ;-)

ismellarat said...

I blew a whole week, reading the first two side-by-side, and I'm sure this time around I'll read all three of them at once. :)

But in the new one, or somewhere at least, I'd like to see an in-depth treatment of how someone can go from apparently believing the effects Christianity has on people are 100% good to (also apparently) believing that they're of no benefit at all, if not worse than nothing.

I don't see how that must necessarily go side-by-side with no longer believing the truth claims amount to anything.

New converts usually don't get won over by apologetics in the first place, which arguments are generally over their heads. (I know of few happy-clappies who can follow more than a basic syllogism - one look at a Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen congregation will tell you that!)

It's the "I converted and I became a better person" stuff that draws them in. And that much I trust them to know - I think many do change as a result, and wonder how else a happily uneducated mob can be motivated to be good.

I've yet to see a secular, society-changing "revival" happen. "I was a Christian, but then I became an atheist and decided to no longer do evil" is seldom heard, and I dare say that even many thinking people's habits would have changed for the better, had they believed. Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy both explicitly said that they saw no reason to change their ways because they knew they wouldn't have to account for their actions. Same with one of Pol Pot's deputies, who later converted, with a lot of regrets.

If you think even a simple belief in something on the other side that will hold us accountable in some way is worse than believing in nothing at all, can you point to something that treats this subject in-depth?

I understand and share the wish to follow the truth wherever it may lead, but not how something that was formerly credited with having had such a good influence is now seen as worse than nothing.

What kept you from seeing this when you were still a pastor, if that's how it is?

As for me, I just cautiously take a step back (and I've taken many!), whenever part of something I believe has been shown to be unprovable or evil, but there are still many less dogmatic and positive alternatives along the way.

I find it odd that atheists say atheism has no moral content, yet that atheists are still good. And I agree it's possible, and that most try to be, but I just don't understand why anyone "should" be, if it's not their thing, both from a conscience and a possibility of punishment in a next life standpoint.

Ted Bundy would give some fascinating and logically-coherent (based on his premises) lectures on this to his victims (and tape-record them, I guess so he could later bask in his own eruditeness some more) before he murdered them.

"What about God?" some silly girl would ask, and he'd assure them that he'd learned from the highest authorities where he'd gone to school that it was all a fairy tale. So that left him free to do whatever the hell he felt like doing. Too bad for the girl, but he came first in his life, and you only live once...

Surely this line of reasoning didn't affect only the few we know about? Stalin sure had a good time. I bet he died a happy man.

Ty said...

Cole,

So what do you believe? I am honestly interested in your perspective. I always enjoy reading your thoughts.

Ty

tigg13 said...

Ismellarat said, "I find it odd that atheists say atheism has no moral content, yet that atheists are still good. And I agree it's possible, and that most try to be, but I just don't understand why anyone "should" be, if it's not their thing, both from a conscience and a possibility of punishment in a next life standpoint.

Ted Bundy would give some fascinating and logically-coherent (based on his premises) lectures on this to his victims (and tape-record them, I guess so he could later bask in his own eruditeness some more) before he murdered them."

Have you considered people like Paul Hill or Michael Griffen, men who brutally murdered people in the name of god? These men had no problems dealing with their conscience or the question of punishment in the afterlife - in fact they both expected to be rewarded for their actions.

Like Dr. Copan, you are missing the point of moral subjectivism. There is no difference between rationalizing an immoral act because there is no god and rationalizing it because it's what you think god wants.

You aren't a good person because you are a christian. You are a good person becauase you want to be a good person and you happen to live in a culture that defines "good" in much the same way that you do.

An islamic fundementalist, however, would see you as being inherently evil.

You ask why atheists "should" be good. Why "should" you? If, as a believer, all of your sins will be forgiven and you are guaranteed eternal happiness, why not go on a killing spree? Sounds like a silly question, doesn't it? But it's the same question that you are asking and it has the same answer.
Because you, like most people (no matter what their beliefs) find killing to be abhorrent.

Atheists are good because they want to be good just like christians are good because they want to be good. It's as simple as that.

Ty said...

Ismellarat (that name begs poking fun at, but I'll resist) wrote:


"I've yet to see a secular, society-changing "revival" happen. "I was a Christian, but then I became an atheist and decided to no longer do evil" is seldom heard"

The secular, society-changing revival is happening right here! I was a Christian who decided to reject the untruthfulness in the Bible and I am much happy and a better person for it. Just like many people here. I can't speak for everyone, but positive changes in my life include:
1. No longer being nearly critical and judgmental of people.
2. No longer condemning people
3. Making choices based on rational thought versus what the church wants me to do.
4. More freedom, which I believe has given me the freedom to be a more moral person. I don't get caught up in the woods with things that are not important. For example, when I was a Christian, I did not drink because I didn't want to be a "stumbling block." Now, when neighbor invites me over for a beer, we are able to fellowship much better (in my opinion) just because I have that beer. And the beer makes me feel better and livens up the conversation, which has made the bond between us deeper. He's even been willing to accept some psychological advice from me (I'm a psychologist), which I anticipate will improve his life and the lives of his family members.
5. For many Christians who deconvert, they stop discriminating against homosexuals. They realize that it is wrong to call a genetic condition sin. It is like saying a person in evil for having blue eyes. Speaking of which, blue-eyed people should wear brown colored contacts and pretend they don't have blue-eyes because even exposing their blue-eyes in the privacy of their own homes is sending our country to hell in a hand basket.

That is how the nonsensical ethics of Christianity become.

The deconverted people that I know, pursue morality from a more noble and righteous paradigm:

The Christian tries to be moral out of fear and for the eternal reward.

The atheist tries to be moral because it is the right to do.

cyber* said...

Dear Copan,

I thought that moral 'relativism' was what you were believing in. What might be considered 'correct' to someone may not be considered 'correct' to Someone else. Therefore, was it not the commandment of God to not Love Him First and then others? Jesus said if you love anything in the world more than Me, you cannot be My disciple. Yet, none of the Apostles committed murder; per se. If the time comes for you to fear God because He has the power over your life and death, also, as some have said; then how can you not consider that all things are 'relative' to The Word of God? If the path to heaven is only 'narrow' enough for each person to enter alone in Relationship With God the Maker in working out that relationship unto Good Things in The Kingdom of God that remain after testing, someone said that it would be a problem to understand this. Through a relationship With God established by Faith in Jesus Christ The Lord and Savior one can experience the resurrection unto the new earth and paradise. Israel, too, struggled with God and overcame. Therefore, one must work out their relationship with God and overcome the worldly problems that were brought through the divisions that were ordered by The Maker to test the people everywhere throughout all times. God is not unjust and He has written the names of the people in His Book from before He created anything. He was abhorred that the people would persih, so His Right Hand and Power established salvation throught the Son of Man on the cross at Calvary as written. The son of Man did not come to abolish but to fulfill all things. All things are redeemed through faith on Christ Jesus The Lord and Savior. For all things were created for Him and through Him and by Him.

In His Love,

John

Cole said...

Ty,

My beliefs are in a state of flux right now.

Here's what I believe right now. And it may change tomorrow.

A Higher Power
Greater Than myself
Who is Loving.

I believe in the parallel universes of string theory also. I know it hasn't been proven yet and it may not ever be. But that's the theory I go along with.

DingoDave said...

Cole wrote:
"Here's what I believe right now. And it may change tomorrow.
A Higher Power Greater Than myself Who is Loving."

Why on Earth would you conclude something like that?

The universe is overwhealmingly hostile to human life, or ANY kind of life for that matter. Most of it is a hard vacuum, bathed in lethal radiation, which is for the most part only about 2 degrees kelvin above absolute zero.
No other planet that we're aware of could sustain an unprotected human being for more than a few seconds, due to their temperatures, radiation levels, and their abundance of toxic chemicals. In fact most places on EARTH would kill an unprotected human being in very short order. If that wasn't enough, every day we also witness millions, if not billions, of sentient creatures suffering hideous injuries and deaths from starvation, diseases, parasitism, natural disasters, murder, and warfare.

What kind of 'loving' creator would invent such a cesspit of suffering and misery?

We who live in our modern industrialised nations, often forget that the only thing which prevents most of US from suffering a similar fate, are the results of modern science, and our current economic prosperity. These are VERY recent developments in world history, and could disappear overnight if we're not careful.
All it would take is a big enough lump of space rock to come crashing through our atmosphere to destroy everything which we have built. It's happened before, and it will likely happen again at some time in the future. Civilisation and prosperity are very fragile things, and history shows us that ALL the major civilisations of the past have eventually gone extinct, as have 99.99 % of every living species on the planet.

It would appear, rather than the universe having been fine-tuned for our benefit, that it has been designed to be as hostile as possible towards us, apart from a few limited localities on this one tiny little planet which we call our home.

We might describe ourselves and our relationship to our planet, as something akin to 'birds in a gilded cage', because 'outside there be dragons'.

Please stop being so egotistical and anthropocentric Cole, and consider the bigger picture for a moment. I can assure you that it's a humbling experience.

Scott said...

Cole wrote:
Here's what I believe right now. And it may change tomorrow.

A Higher Power
Greater Than myself
Who is Loving.


01. When you say God is loving, what does that mean?

For example, how does God's love manifest itself? Does the situation we human beings find ourselves in reflect an all knowing and all powerful God who loves us? Do you have children? If so, how would you compare how your love manifests itself with what we can observe of God?

Even though we are far from perfect, there are human parents who actually show up and take an active, clear role in their children's lives. This is compared to God, who, from what we can observe, intentionally limits his actions to what statistically occurs in nature. Children die every day due to cancer and other terminal illnesses that appear to have no meaning. You must make up some rationale for God to allow these things to occur.

Without any clear examples of God's love, we're left the mental picture of an invisible being whom we think loves us.

How does this actually impact your life? Would this be any different then simply creating some fictional being to fulfill our desire to be loved and how could you tell the difference? Most importantly, how does the idea that we "know" God loves us outweigh the negative outcomes we observe by assuming we can somehow "know" the mind of God?

02. When you say God is greater than yourself, what does that mean? Is he smarter than you are? Is he better adjusted? Can he do things you cannot?

Again, I'd ask you to look around you. Is this what you'd expect from a being that is greater than human beings? It seems clear to me that even human beings could have designed a better world.

We are limited in many ways, yet we've managed to improve our situation dramatically in the last 200 years. However, I'm not bragging here. We're still very "young" in the grand scheme of things and there is much room for improvement.

If God is greater than us, you must create some "good reason" why God would not exercise his powers to make obvious improvements that we would and already have.

So, for me, the question comes down to one's priorities. Do I put a comfort in believing that we can somehow know God loves us (despite the lack of clear, observable evidence) above the significant problems caused by the idea that we can somehow know the mind of God at all?

Because, if one claims to know God loves you, then one claims to know the mind of God.

Cole said...

I don't believe that one good being created the universe. I go along with some form of dualism. I'm not sure which one yet though.
I don't blame all the suffering in the world on one good creator. I know that God loves me because I have experienced that love. I see plenty of evidence for God's love and design in nature. But I also see evil, chaos, and destruction.

Ty said...

Cole,

I realize that I'm mostly full of shit, so with that in mind here goes. I have been toying with a similar concept as you. However, my intellect tells me this idea you explained is wrong. The evidence of NO intervention on a diety/dieties behalf whether good or evil seems to be a better fit given that there is zero evidence of anything supernatural.

For anyone to support the notion of a supernatural being they have to overlook that a 100% of everything we know points to natural explanations. With 0% of the data pointing to a supernatural realm, how can anyone justify the irrational conclusion of a diety?

Let me answer for you: emotions. "I had a feeling and thus I have faith..." The reason we trust our feelings is becuase they usually (or often) serve us well. Which is why I don't fault people for believing in more enligtened dieties than the popular gods. But I only believe these beliefs to be wishful thinking.

I have been "toying" with the notion of trying to define a diety that I can support without that belief being hypocrytical to my intellect. This is almost an impossible task for me. The only reason that I am trying to define this type of pantheistic diety is so that I can give my friends and family a stepping stone from their current Christian beliefs.

Cole said...

Ty,

I've experienced the supernatural. So, for me it's real. My belief in God is not only because of SOME evidence from science but it's because of my experience of God's presence. My belief in God is produced by properly functioning cognitive faculties. Faith is knowledge. It is in it's object. The content is known by way of an extraordinary belief producing mechanism. It is revealed to my mind by way of my Higher Power's inducing it in me. It resembles perception, reason, memory. There is the special supernatural activity of God. Faith is a belief producing p0rocess. My belief in God is that it is produced by properly functioning cognitive faculties, in an appropriate epestemic environment according to a design plan aimed at truth. My belief in God is the result of my experience of Him. It is produced by cognitive processes working properly. Faith, the whole process that produces it is specifically designed by God to produce this effect. When it produces this effect, therefore, it is working properly. The belief in question satisfies the external rationality condition.

Cole said...

And internal rationality condition.

Rachel said...

Dr. Avalos,

I must admit that there is much of Dr. Copan's argument in the article you reference here that I do not agree with. Even so, I found much of your response to be quite inadequate. Time prevents me from noting everything, so I will just focus on one point.

You said,

What is still unbelievable is that a Dr. Copan can say that killing women and children is sometimes good.

I highly doubt that Dr. Copan would ever say that killing women and children could be called "good". Unless you can provide a direct quote from him saying so, then you should retract this statement as it severely mischaracterizes Copan's position and attempts to win the reader over by emotional appeal coupled with exaggeration.

Beyond that, it is not as simplistic and black-and-white as you try to make it sound. For while it is never "good" to kill women and children, it may still be "better" than the alternative. For example, which would be better, to let women and children die slowly of starvation/cold/animals/other enemies, or to kill them quickly and get it over with? This would certainly have been the dilemma facing Israel after the conquest of an enemy nation, as they lived in a time of "limited goods" - i.e., assimilating the women and children of former enemies was impossible because there wasn't enough food and shelter to go around. The situation might be "frightening", but the ethos of choosing a quick death over a slow, painful death is hardly frightening. In fact, it seems that most people would find it preferable to the alternative.


P.S. I read your article you linked to about creationists and genocide, and noticed that you attempted to refute Miller's claim that the Canaanites practiced bestiality by stating that Ugarit was not part of Canaan. Can you give a source to confirm that? Every source I looked at either didn't specify or said that Ugarit WAS part of Canaan. Your reasoning that a Ugaritic list of merchants describing one merchant as a Canaanite is not sufficient to determine that Ugarit was not part of Canaan.

Ty said...

Cole,

*no matter how condensing I sound, just know that it is only because I'm an asshole.

You provided no evidence for your belief system other than (paraphrased), "I've experienced God. He has made himself known to me."

I would like to experience what you have experienced. I would like to "experience the supernatural." So, if you can tell me how to have an equivalent experience, that would be a good starting point.

You wrote, "My belief in God is not only because of SOME evidence from science but it's because of my experience of God's presence."

I would sincerely like to be provided with SOME evidence from science or an experience of God's presence.

While I think your "cognitive faculties" are working as they should, I do not believe cognition equates to fact/truth, nor do I believe you've come to a correct conclusion--at least based one what you wrote. However, my perception of reality is not necessarily any more true than the next persons.

This is why scientific methodology is paramount to me. No one person's perception can be trusted by itself. If you can support your God hypothesis with relevant data, I am more than willing to reconsider my current position. But right now you sound like a Christless Christian, speaking the same emotionally driven wishful thinking.

Now, just so you know, my wife agrees with you. And I know my wife is a better person than me and I love her (and my two children) more than anyting in the world--which gives me pause. I'll continue to consider your viewpoint, but right now I need something more to base a belief on.

Conversely, is there anything that would convince you that your conclusions on God are wrong?

Rachel said...

Ty,

So these are your "rotting corpses". Well, let's take a look...

1. God is not willing that even one should perish, so he made the gates of hell wide and the path to heaven narrow.

God "made" the gates that way? Where does it say that? And of course, since God must be true to his own nature (or he would cease to be God), it's not like he could just make up any ol' way for sinful people to get to heaven. Further, you imply some sort of contradiction, attempting to say that in one place God wants everyone to go to heaven, while simultaneously spitefully making it difficult for most to go there - as if God could set a different standard other than himself. Can a teacher truthfully say that she wants all her students to get 100% on a test, while simultaneously including questions that she knows some students will miss? And would we then fault the teacher for "making" the test too hard?

2. God gives us freewill, but kills individuals who act on that freewill. So is that truly freewill?

God kills individuals who act in a certain way on their freewill. Must actions be free of consequence or punishment to be truly free? If the government of a "free" nation imprisons individuals who act on their freedom, are we no longer free?

3. God kills Ananias and Saphirra for lying, but he lets all of the Mass Murders go about their business?

So God is letting "all" the mass murderers go about their business. Really? Not a single one has ever been captured, imprisoned, received the death penalty, or been killed through some other means?

3. God wants us to love him, So he killed his son so that we could love him and not go to hell for the freewill that he gave us but never really wanted us to have in the first place.

God didn't kill his son. Jesus offered himself to pay the price of our sins on our behalf. People do not go to hell for their free will. They go there because they choose to, yes, using the free will that God apparently wants us to have so much that he allows us the ultimate freedom of choosing against him eternally, rather than forcing us to choose him against our will.

4. God cannot sin because he is holy, but no one ever seems to care that he impregnated a 14 year-old unmarried virgin either.

Harvey answered this in another thread. Creating the body of Jesus in Mary's womb isn't exactly a sin. It's not as if God (spirit) had sex with Mary.

5. God created man to live in perfection (Garden of Evil), but he allows evil (Satan) in the Garden?! How is living with the devil supposed to be perfection?

Who said anything about "living" with Satan? There is no indication that Satan was just hanging out daily with Adam & Eve. Adam & Eve needed to be tested, thus Satan. That's not quite "living with".

6. Mass murdering was seen as a loyalty test (Moses: You didn't kill all the infants, children, women, and animals too?! Damn you! Now I must order you to be killed. Next time God will let you keep some sex slaves if you kill everyone he wants.)

Not exactly. See my comment above to Dr. Avalos. In any event, God never ordered anyone to senselessly kill innocent people just to see if they would do it out of loyalty to him. Thus you are incorrect to claim that "mass murdering was seen as a loyalty test".

tigg13 said...

Hi Cole.

Hey don't let these guys bully you. You believe whatever feels right to you.

It sounds to me like they're reading a whole lot of stuff into your beleifs that aren't necessarily there. Like "more powerful" has to mean "all powerful creator of the universe" and "loving" has to imply an exclusive relationship with some anthropomorphic being.

I think maybe they've been debunking christianity for so long that they've forgoten that there are other ways to approach religious beliefs.

And that's a shame because by having a valid, non-christian belief you have disproven the notion that christianity is the one true religion.

Ty said...

Rachel,

"So these are your rotting corpses?"

No, those are the Bible's rotting corpses. I'm hesitant to argue with you because of your insensitivity to the horrors of the Bible, but I'll start with one idea. Maybe you could atleast pretend to be sorrowed by the deaths of millions of people, or at least the infants and children.

Frist Question: [God's killing of innocent people in the Bible] How many times does God order infants and children to be killed in the Bible? I'll give you a clue, 1 time is already 1 too many, but it is many more than 1

Second Question on killing: God killed Ananias and Saphirra for lying. If you were God, would you have killed them for lying too?

Third/Fourth questions: Can God do evil? Does God repent of evil?
You see, this support of killing in the Bible is very similar to the Muslim Jihadist, and from the post you just gave me, I'm guessing, despite your insensitivity to killing in the Bible, you would have a problem if Christians were still killing others in the name of God.

When Pat Robertson said something to the effect that the attacks on the twin towers was punihment from God for America's sin, did you agree?

Anyway, here are references to God repenting of evil and other mistakes he made: Translations taken from the Hebrew Interlinear Bible: A literal translation of the Bible.

Genesis 6:6
And Jehovah repented that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved to His heart. (The hebrew word here is definitely Repent: word 5162 in Strong’s Concordance of the Hebrew version of the Bible)
Exodus 32:14
And Jehovah repented the evil which He had spoken to do to His people. (Repent 5162 Strong’s Concordance)
1 Samuel 15:10-12
And the word of Jehovah came to Samuel saying, “I repent that I made Saul reign as king…” (Repent 5162 Strong’s Concordance)
1 Samuel 15:35
The Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel. (Repented 5162 Strong’s Concordance)
2 Samuel 24:16
And the angel put forth his hand to Jerusalem, to destroy it. And Jehovah repented as to the evil, and said to the angel who was destroying among the people, Enough! Now stop you hand. (Repented 5162 Strong’s Concordance)
1 Chronicles 21:15
Hebrew verse hear is pretty much identical to the one above.
Jeremiah 15:6
You have forsaken Me, says Jehovah; you have gone backward; therefore, I will stretch out my hand against you and destroy you; I am weary of repenting. (Repented 5162 Strong’s Concordance)
Jeremiah 18:8
I [God] will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
Jeremiah 42:10
For I [God] repent of the evil that I have done unto you.
Jonah 3:10
God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do to them.

Cole said...

Ty,

My belief in God isn't a scientific hypothesis. It's a sense of God being present to my awareness. In some cases like the night sky, the beautiful sunset, the mountains, it is as if sometimes I feel the presence of God. A component is a sort of awe or sense of the numinous. A sense of being in the presense of overwhelming greatness. It's coming to see that God is lovely and beautiful.

While I think there is evidence for a destructive, or maybe evil force of some kind I also see evidence for a good creator.

Look at the living cell and you can see it. A sample would be:

Cell membranes
Irreducible complexity
Molecular motors
Fine-tuning of biochemical structures
Optimization
Biochemical information systems
Structure of biochemical information
Biochemical codes
Genetic code fine-tuning
Quality control
Molecular convergence
Chicken and egg systems

To name a few.

Cole said...

Ty,

I could be wrong by the way.

John W. Loftus said...

Hello, Rachel (from Hector Avalos),

Thanks for your respectful questions, which I will attempt to answer below. I will place your statements in italicized type, and my answers directly below yours in regular type.

1. “I highly doubt that Dr. Copan would ever say that killing women and children could be called "good". Unless you can provide a direct quote from him saying so, then you should retract this statement as it severely mischaracterizes Copan's position and attempts to win the reader over by emotional appeal coupled with exaggeration.”

I think I actually was too lenient in characterizing Dr. Copan’s position on infanticide and genocide. The quote from Dr. Copan in my original essay is more than sufficient, but here it is again: Death would be a mercy, as they would be ushered into the presence of God and spared the corrupting influences of a morally decadent culture.

Now, I am supposing that Dr. Copan thinks that mercy is good, and that being spared corrupting influences is good. I am supposing that Dr. Copan thinks being ushered into the presence of God is good.

Thus, it is reasonable to infer that Dr. Copan thinks it is a good thing to commit an act that is merciful, spares children from corrupting influences, and ushers them immediately into the presence of god. Are you saying that Dr. Copan believes these are bad things? And does God, in your opinion, ever command bad things?

If there is an emotional appeal, it belongs to Dr. Copan, who is trying to characterize the Canaanites as bad enough to excuse their women and children being killed.

2. “....you attempted to refute Miller's claim that the Canaanites practiced bestiality by stating that Ugarit was not part of Canaan. Can you give a source to confirm that? Every source I looked at either didn't specify or said that Ugarit WAS part of Canaan. Your reasoning that a Ugaritic list of merchants describing one merchant as a Canaanite is not sufficient to determine that Ugarit was not part of Canaan.”

I am frankly puzzled by your question, given that the Bible itself gives the borders of Canaan in Numbers 34, a portion of which reads:

[1] The LORD said to Moses,
[2] "Command the people of Israel, and say to them, When you enter the land of Canaan (this is the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, the land of Canaan in its full extent),
[3] your south side shall be from the wilderness of Zin along the side of Edom, and your southern boundary shall be from the end of the Salt Sea on the east...
[7] "This shall be your northern boundary: from the Great Sea you shall mark out your line to Mount Hor;
[8] from Mount Hor you shall mark it out to the entrance of Hamath, and the end of the boundary shall be at Zeded;
[9] then the boundary shall extend to Ziphron, and its end shall be at Ha'zar-e'nan; this shall be your northern boundary.
In particular, note that the northern boundaries do not extend as far north as Ugarit. Hamath, for example, is south of Ugarit.

Secondly, the Ugaritic list I quoted certainly is evidence that the Ugaritians did not regard themselves as part of Canaan. If you read the list you will see that the places listed are not Ugarit. For example, note these lines, which give a list of persons and the places from which they derive (some spellings and diacritical marks may be adapted for English):

3: ’Ariyannu, an Ashdodite
4: ’Agaptarri
5: Shu-Ba’lu, from Mulukku
6: Na‘manu, an Egyptian
7:Ya‘ilu, a Canaanite

We know that Ashdod, Egypt, and Mulukku were not Ugarit, and so it is reasonable to conclude that “Canaanite” also was not regarded as part of Ugarit in this list of foreign merchants.

We also have another text (Ugaritica V, no. 36), which distingishes the “sons of Canaan” (DUMU.MESH KUR Ki-na-’a) from the “Sons of Ugarit” (DUMU.MESH KUR U-ga-ri-it).

If you know Sumerian/Akkadian, you will understand that KUR is the standard designation for a distinct country or land, and so “KUR Ugarit” must designate something different from “KUR Canaan” (Ki-na-’a).” It would be like saying “the state of Iowa” and “the state of Ohio.” They are not the same.

You can find accessible editions of these texts in Anson Rainey, “Who Is a Canaanite? A Review of the Textual Evidence,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 304 (November, 1996):1-16.

You state that you read sources, but you do not specify if these are secondary sources or primary sources from the Ancient Near East. Can you please tell us which sources from Near East you are using? And did you read the Ugaritic list yourself? Otherwise, why did you say that the Ugaritic list was not sufficient to make the point that Ugarit was different from Canaan?

3. “For while it is never "good" to kill women and children, it may still be "better" than the alternative. For example, which would be better, to let women and children die slowly of starvation/cold/animals/other enemies, or to kill them quickly and get it over with? This would certainly have been the dilemma facing Israel after the conquest of an enemy nation, as they lived in a time of "limited goods" - i.e., assimilating the women and children of former enemies was impossible because there wasn't enough food and shelter to go around.”

You provide no sources for this convoluted defense of genocide. If we were to apply your analogy, then we should expect a biblical rationale that said killing was being undertaken for the good of the Canaanites. But the biblical accounts do not say that the Hebrews killed the Canaanites mainly to spare them from starvation or from any other misery.

The Bible says that the genocide was mainly for the good of the Israelites, not for the good of the Cananites. The Bible clearly says that Israelites had to kill Canaanites because, among other things, Canaanites were simply living on the land that God gave the land to Israel. Is such self-interest (“I want the land other people have”) really a good ethical motive for genocide?

Here is another biblical reason, also not for the good of the Canaanites (Deut. 20:17-18):
[17] but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Per'izzites, the Hivites and the Jeb'usites, as the LORD your God has commanded;
[18] that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their gods, and so to sin against the LORD your God.

Second, you are comparing alternatives available to omnipotent beings with alternatives available to non-omnipotent beings. You cannot use the actions of human beings, who are finite in power and resources, to excuse the actions of an omnipotent being who has unlimited resources.

God, in Christian ethics, is omnipotent, and so there are plenty of alternatives available to an omnipotent being that would not involve killing women and children. I mentioned that he could have sterilized the women, and so no children would be killed.

At that time, there was no overpopulation problem in the world at large, and so there were plenty of places that Israelites could have lived or to which Canaanites could be moved without having to kill their children.

So, your argument about scarcity being an excuse to kill Canaanites, is not defensible here. By the way, I wrote an entire book, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (2005), premised on scarce resource theory.

Finally, to use an “assimilationist” argument in defense of genocide is itself ethically reprehensible. In your argument, “assimilation” is placed above the value of human life. Why? That is exactly what Hitler said about the Jews. He did not see Jews as being like himself, and he did not see Jews as assimilable. Do you think that excused what he did?

4. “God kills individuals who act in a certain way on their freewill. Must actions be free of consequence or punishment to be truly free? If the government of a "free" nation imprisons individuals who act on their freedom, are we no longer free?

”

How did you determine that God acts in this way? How is this different from saying “Allah kills individuals who act in a certain way...”? Indeed, yours is not a verifiable statement.

Moreover, you also miss the fact that God has free will in Christian theology. So you are not explaining why an omnscient and omnipotent God has to kill people when he knows ahead of time what they will do with their free will.

God, in Christian theology, has a choice to create or not create people who will misuse their free will, and so you leave unexplained why God would think it important to create people who might misuse their free will in the first place.
Being omnipotent, God also could change the rules at any time so that they would not require torturing anyone for misusing their free will.That is also his choice.

Then, you miss the fact, in Christian theology, human beings have no free will in being part of this game at all. Free will, to me, would mean that I have the choice to be in the situation God created. I want the choice to be born or not to be born into a situation where any missteps might cost me an eternal torture in a fiery hell. I want the choice to have a choice.

Finally, why do you place having free will above human suffering and human life? That is to say, you seem to assume that having free will is worth more than potential suffering incurred because of free will.

I, for one, would rather not have free will at all than to have a free will for some 70 years on earth that might result in a billion plus years of suffering. Enjoying 70 years of free will is not worth it to me in light of the risk of eternal torture.

5. “So God is letting ‘all’ the mass murderers go about their business. Really? Not a single one has ever been captured, imprisoned, received the death penalty, or been killed through some other means?”

There are at least two problems with this argument. First, you cannot refute a truism. It is a truism to state that God did let mass murderers go about their business. Mass murderers are mass murderers because they commited mass murders. Being that God is believed to be omnipotent, he must have let mass murderers go about the business of mass murdering. Otherwise, there would be no mass murders in the first place.

The fact that SOME mass murderers are punished AFTER the mass murder does not change the fact that God let them go about the business of mass murdering.

Second, Rachel apparently is not defining the genocide of Canaanites as “murder.” If she did, then it is clear that not only were mass murders not punished by God, but they were commanded by God (see I Samuel 15:1ff).

Otherwise, Rachel seems to be following this rationale: “Mass murder is when another religion kills in mass, but not when my religion does so.” Can you not see that a Jihadist Muslim could use an analogous rationale to excuse his mass killings of Christians?

Malcolm said...

Rachel,
You said:

God didn't kill his son. Jesus offered himself to pay the price of our sins on our behalf. People do not go to hell for their free will. They go there because they choose to, yes, using the free will that God apparently wants us to have so much that he allows us the ultimate freedom of choosing against him eternally, rather than forcing us to choose him against our will.


Your statement is logically contradictory. You state that God puts a high value on freewill, but that does not explain why he places such a high price on following it. You also argue that he would rather give us the ability to choose against him rather than against our will. But isn't the very notion of eternal fire forcing us to choose him against our will (if he exists)? I have no desire or need for the Christian God in my life yet he is requiring I do or else I will suffer for eternity. But, if he removes our free will, then how would us choosing him be against our will, as that requires we have a will to choose against? If the Christian God is so interested in being worship then he can remove the ability to not worship him.

Finally, I do not see how eternal fire for practicing free will is loving. Despite being a fairly good individual, having a lack of belief is not only enough to bar my entrance into heaven but to guarantee me an eternity of suffering. Why is simply not believing enough to warrant such torture? Why not simply allow heaven for believers and a purely mortal existence for non believers? I see no love in torture.

John W. Loftus said...

There is one correction from Hector's comment above:

...living on the land that God gave [the land] to Israel.

Should be:

...living on the land that God gave to Israel.

Hector

Steven Carr said...

RACHEL
This would certainly have been the dilemma facing Israel after the conquest of an enemy nation, as they lived in a time of "limited goods" - i.e., assimilating the women and children of former enemies was impossible because there wasn't enough food and shelter to go around.

THE HOLY BIBLE

NUMBERS 31

Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

But all the women , that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

I guess if a woman is a virgin , you can find food and shelter from your 'limited goods'....

Why are supporters of the Bible so easy to show up?

Rachel said...

Dr. Avalos,

Thanks for your response.

You said,

Now, I am supposing that Dr. Copan thinks that mercy is good, and that being spared corrupting influences is good. I am supposing that Dr. Copan thinks being ushered into the presence of God is good.

Thus, it is reasonable to infer that Dr. Copan thinks it is a good thing to commit an act that is merciful, spares children from corrupting influences, and ushers them immediately into the presence of god.


You're redefining terms here. Yes, it is generally good to show mercy, but that doesn't mean that every single act of mercy is in and of itself a "good" thing. It may simply be "better" than the alternative, but not necessarily "good" (as I noted in my last comment). For instance, would you say it is "good" to let people die if you could prevent it? Of course not. But surely there are times when letting someone die is "better" than the alternative, e.g. one soldier dying vs. an entire squadron dying, pulling the plug on a brain-dead individual, etc. So if there is ever a time when it's okay to let someone die when you could prevent it, would it be fair to characterize your position by claiming that you say that letting people die when you could prevent it is sometimes good? Do you see how this kind of summary tends to poison the well? Additionally, since Dr. Copan isn't taking trips to Africa and killing children in order to be merciful, spare them corrupting influences, and usher them into the presence of God, then it would seem clear that he does not see such action as a "good" thing. Rather, he believes that, given the circumstances, it was "better" than the alternative. I still maintain that you should retract that statement about Copan's views as it is substantially misleading.

Regarding Ugarit. I don't know much about Ugarit, I can't read their language, I haven't read primary sources on Ugarit, etc. etc. I'd be surprised if more than one or two reading this had either. However, I notice that you did not actually cite any source agreeing with you that Ugarit was NOT a Canaanite territory. Since I don't know much about Ugarit, I don't have the time or resources to do specialized study on it. However, I searched through about a dozen online sources and found not one of them thought that Ugarit was not Canaan. Many combined Ugarit with Canaan, with titles such as "Canaanite/Ugaritic Mythology". Wikipedia (which I don't like to use much) cites a book called Canaanites from The British Museum by Jonathan Tubb as the source for saying: "Although the residents of ancient Ugarit in modern Syria do not seem to have considered themselves Canaanite, and did not speak a Canaanite language (but one that was closely related), archaeologists have considered the site, which was rediscovered in 1928, as quintessentially Canaanite. Much of the modern knowledge about the Canaanites stems from excavation in this area." In addition, Christopher Siren has an article that discusses Canaanite mythology, which he states is based on John Gibson's Canaanite Mythology and S.H. Hooke's Middle Eastern Mythology. In this article he clearly considers Ugarit to be a source for learning about the Canaanites - which is really the whole point. Whether or not Ugaritians thought of themselves as Canaanites, can information from Ugarit be considered to be reflective of Canaan? The answer would seem to be yes, meaning that Miller's use of a Ugarit text showing that Canaanite mythology did include bestiality was quite valid.

Moving on, I said:

For while it is never "good" to kill women and children, it may still be "better" than the alternative. For example, which would be better, to let women and children die slowly of starvation/cold/animals/other enemies, or to kill them quickly and get it over with? This would certainly have been the dilemma facing Israel after the conquest of an enemy nation, as they lived in a time of "limited goods" - i.e., assimilating the women and children of former enemies was impossible because there wasn't enough food and shelter to go around.

Then you said:

You provide no sources for this convoluted defense of genocide.

Firstly, it's not "genocide". These were wicked people, even for that time, who were experiencing judgment. Even so, they had plenty of time to get out of Dodge, as they had certainly heard of Israel and their conquests for years ahead of time. Those that were left would have likely have been among the worst offenders. The ethnicity of the Canaanites had nothing to do with their destruction.

Second, since it's not "genocide", then I am not attempting to defend genocide.

Third, what exactly are you requesting sources for? Surely you are not opposing my point that the ANE was a culture of "limited good". If so, I would be happy to provide documentation for that.

You said,

If we were to apply your analogy, then we should expect a biblical rationale that said killing was being undertaken for the good of the Canaanites. But the biblical accounts do not say that the Hebrews killed the Canaanites mainly to spare them from starvation or from any other misery.

You have incorrectly extended my point to all of the Canaanites. The issue raised was the killing of innocent Canaanite children. I answered by pointing to the aspect of limited good in ANE culture and the impossbility of Israel taking on and caring for all those children. As a result, those children would be left to fend for themselves, meaning that they would die anyway from a worse fate, such as starvation, animals, exposure, or capture by others. Thus, the "better" and more merciful alternative would be to simply kill them swiftly with the rest. None of this would cause us to expect that the initial destruction of the guilty Canaanite adults would somehow be for their good. You are right about that - the Bible plainly tells us that the destruction of the Canaanites was a direct result of their wicked and evil practices. Definitely not for their good.

You said,

"The Bible clearly says that Israelites had to kill Canaanites because, among other things, Canaanites were simply living on the land that God gave the land to Israel."

I agree that God "kicked out" the Canaanites from their land in order to give it to Israel. However, I don't see where that was a reason for killing them. Dispossessing them, perhaps. But the killing was a judgment due to their wicked practices. Where does the Bible indicate that the Canaanites were to be killed merely because they were living in the land God gave to Israel?

You said,

Second, you are comparing alternatives available to omnipotent beings with alternatives available to non-omnipotent beings. You cannot use the actions of human beings, who are finite in power and resources, to excuse the actions of an omnipotent being who has unlimited resources.

Except that God generally works through finite human beings and does not generally intervene to keep natural consequences from happening. Is God obligated to spare innocents? Indeed, the fact that our actions affect others (including innocents) is a strong deterrent to many poor/bad actions. How many people adjust their behavior once they have children? How many more people would drive drunk if God intervened to keep them all from hurting others?

You said,

At that time, there was no overpopulation problem in the world at large, and so there were plenty of places that Israelites could have lived or to which Canaanites could be moved without having to kill their children.

Very true. Which is precisely why those that stayed deserved the punishment they received. As I said earlier, they had plenty of time (YEARS) to prepare and get out. There was no order to hunt down all Canaanites in every corner of the earth and kill them. Canaanites who were in Canaan when Israel got there were to be killed. If a Canaanite family left Canaan to live somewhere else, they were spared.

By the way, you'll notice too that the children of such a Canaanite family would have been spared, despite the fact that they had no choice in the matter. As Glenn Miller said in his article, "Household members share in the fortunes of the parents (for good or ill)." I've argued this before on this blog. No one complains when children with no choice receive the good from their parents' choices, yet many complain when children with no choice receive the bad from their parents' choices. Having children is a serious responsibility, for they are directly affected by our choices, more so when they are young. Either our choices affect our children, good AND bad, or they don't at all. You can't have one without the other.

You said,

So, your argument about scarcity being an excuse to kill Canaanites, is not defensible here. By the way, I wrote an entire book, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (2005), premised on scarce resource theory.

Perhaps you misunderstand my argument. I have not read your book, but based on the descriptions of it on Amazon, the resources you discuss as being scarce are not the same resources I am talking about. Your book discusses resources such as sacred places for religions and salvation. I am speaking here of tangible, daily-living resources such as food and shelter. My point is that the Canaanite adults were guilty of wicked acts and deserved the punishment of destruction. Innocent children were killed also because the lack of (physical) resources prevented their absorption into Israelite society, meaning they would have had an even worse fate if left alive. This is actually easily defensible. And from what I can tell, your book does not address this issue.

You said,

Finally, to use an “assimilationist” argument in defense of genocide is itself ethically reprehensible.

Again, it wasn't genocide, and again, you seem to be misunderstanding my argument. The killing of the adult Canaanites is defended by the fact that they deserved it based on their wicked acts. The killing of the innocent children is defended by the impossibility of their adequate assimilation into Israel. I fail to see what Hitler has to do with either of these defenses.

I said to Ty,

God kills individuals who act in a certain way on their freewill. Must actions be free of consequence or punishment to be truly free? If the government of a "free" nation imprisons individuals who act on their freedom, are we no longer free?

You replied,

How did you determine that God acts in this way? How is this different from saying “Allah kills individuals who act in a certain way...”? Indeed, yours is not a verifiable statement.

This bait-and-switch seems to be a common tactic for skeptics. Ty was attempting to show an inconsistency within Christian theology. He was therefore assuming for the sake of argument that the Christian God is the one true God. Note that Ty was the one who initially claimed that God acted in a certain way. He then tried to show how that way was inconsistent, and I explained how it actually is consistent. Whether or not the Christian God is the one true God instead of Allah (or any other) is a separate discussion. Saying that I can't know I have the right God is not an answer to my point that free will does not necessitate the lack of punishment.

You said,

Moreover, you also miss the fact that God has free will in Christian theology. So you are not explaining why an omnscient and omnipotent God has to kill people when he knows ahead of time what they will do with their free will.

Why does God's foreknowledge of someone's actions mean that he should refrain from punishing them?

God, in Christian theology, has a choice to create or not create people who will misuse their free will, and so you leave unexplained why God would think it important to create people who might misuse their free will in the first place.

Actually, I don't subscribe to the doctrine of creation, but rather to the doctrine of traducianism. So I don't believe God is directly "creating" anyone in particular. Nevertheless, given the tangled web of how we all affect each other (I'm reminded of the TV show Lost and the different ways all the characters have previously intermingled unknowingly), God could not have simply created only the people who used their free will correctly, because none of us would be who we are w/o all the rest of us, including those who have misused their free will.

Being omnipotent, God also could change the rules at any time so that they would not require torturing anyone for misusing their free will.That is also his choice.

No, God cannot "change the rules at any time". As I stated to Ty, God must be true to his nature, or he would not be God. I see you assume that people are tortured in hell. Torture isn't required, but punishment and natural consequences ARE, otherwise God wouldn't be God. As God, he is perfect. Therefore, he cannot let any sin go "unjudged". If he did, he would cease to be perfect, and would cease to be God, which is impossible. So when people misuse their free will and/or use their free will to choose against him, God's own nature requires that he punish such misuse and/or allow people the result(s) of their choice. God cannot "look the other way" - such would be against his nature and then he wouldn't be God.

Then, you miss the fact, in Christian theology, human beings have no free will in being part of this game at all. Free will, to me, would mean that I have the choice to be in the situation God created. I want the choice to be born or not to be born into a situation where any missteps might cost me an eternal torture in a fiery hell. I want the choice to have a choice.

This is a logical impossibility. You cannot decide that you will not exist. If you chose to not be born, then you wouldn't exist to make such a choice. And if you chose to be born, then you didn't make a different choice than God made, so there's nothing different to do.

Finally, why do you place having free will above human suffering and human life? That is to say, you seem to assume that having free will is worth more than potential suffering incurred because of free will.

Yes, that is correct. What is the point of our existence if we do not have free will, even if that includes the possibility of suffering? Why exist if we are just robots?

I, for one, would rather not have free will at all than to have a free will for some 70 years on earth that might result in a billion plus years of suffering. Enjoying 70 years of free will is not worth it to me in light of the risk of eternal torture.

Again removing the torture/fire version of hell, I have elsewhere argued that God's creation of this world that includes some people suffering in hell for all eternity is still "more good than bad" in the overall picture because of the intrinsic value it places on people and their right to choose and to be given the result of their choice.

The fact that SOME mass murderers are punished AFTER the mass murder does not change the fact that God let them go about the business of mass murdering.

It would seem fairly evident that Ty was referring to letting mass murderers go unpunished AFTER their deeds, as opposed to Ananias and Sapphira who were not allowed to unpunished after their deeds. If we take your view of his comment, that God let mass murderers actually murder, then his comment makes no sense because God also let Ananias and Sapphira actually lie, so there would be no difference. Ty's contention was with what God did AFTER the sin was committed. So my point stands that yes, God did kill A & S for lying, but he also has punished many a murderer on earth as well. Ty's attempt to find an inconsistency on this point has failed.

Second, Rachel apparently is not defining the genocide of Canaanites as “murder.”

Again, it's not genocide, and you're correct, it's not murder. Did the Iraqis "murder" Saddam Hussein?

Rachel said...

Ty,

You said,

Maybe you could atleast pretend to be sorrowed by the deaths of millions of people, or at least the infants and children.

I never said I wasn't sad about it. But millions? Not quite. And perhaps you would like to read about all the atrocities and wicked acts committed by the Canaanites. Maybe you would be sad to read about all the people they murdered and treated in horrible ways, including innocent children. And then maybe you wouldn't be quite so sad to learn of the judgment inflicted upon them.

Frist Question: [God's killing of innocent people in the Bible]

Please see my comment to Dr. Avalos above regarding the issue of killing and innocent children.

The rest of your comment did not address anything I said, but instead raised a new issue. I've spent enough time responding to Dr. Avalos, as well as answering your original comment that already included several issues. I think I'll pass on diving into yet another issue.

Rachel said...

Hi Malcolm,

You said,

Your statement is logically contradictory. You state that God puts a high value on freewill, but that does not explain why he places such a high price on following it.

How exactly is that logically contradictory? God places a high value on free will. When people choose wrongly, they suffer the consequences. I fail to see the logical contradiction there. As I stated in my first response to Ty, free will does not require the lack of punishment for wrong choices.

But isn't the very notion of eternal fire forcing us to choose him against our will (if he exists)?

I don't believe that hell is eternal fire. But beyond that, the fact that some choices have negative consequences doesn't keep us from making those choices sometimes. The obesity problem in America is good evidence of that. We know that eating donuts and cheeseburgers and ice cream all the time will make us fat, give us health problems, etc. yet many of us still do that.

The point is that you get what you choose. If you choose God, you get heaven. If you choose against God, you get hell, which is "not" God. And if there were no consequences either way, the choice wouldn't be worth much.

If the Christian God is so interested in being worship then he can remove the ability to not worship him.

It's not really about God being worshiped as much as it is about truth being freely recognized and about us being all that he created us to be (both of which do include worshiping God). Making robots that walk around saying "praise God" every 5 seconds doesn't accomplish either of those things.

Finally, I do not see how eternal fire for practicing free will is loving. ... I see no love in torture.

Do you have children? If so, they probably don't see love in any of the punishments they receive. God, in order to be true to his nature, is not only love but is also just. Thus he must carry out justice and judgment upon all sin. People don't go to hell merely for practicing free will, they go to hell for the misuse of their free will.

That being said, as I've said several times now, hell is not eternal fire or a torture chamber. So I am not defending that view of hell in any case.

Despite being a fairly good individual, having a lack of belief is not only enough to bar my entrance into heaven but to guarantee me an eternity of suffering. Why is simply not believing enough to warrant such torture? Why not simply allow heaven for believers and a purely mortal existence for non believers?

The issue is not really about believing per se. The issue is that God is perfect and must judge sin. No one is perfect and therefore no one can live with him eternally (because their sin must be judged). However, Jesus' death on the cross paid the penalty for our sins - he took the judgment for us. When we "believe in Jesus" we are accepting his payment on our behalf, and we are then made perfect in God's eyes on the basis of what Jesus did - his perfection is applied to our account, so to speak. So it is not the belief per se that is the issue, it is the transaction that takes place as a result of the belief.

And I think that hell will essentially be sort of like a "purely mortal existence", although it will be eternal. For a different view of hell besides eternal fire, you might be interested to read this article by Glenn Miller. Don't be turned off by its length; do a Ctrl+F for "Now, we will deal with the traditional view" w/o the quote marks and start from there. What is there is essentially my view on hell.

Rachel said...

Steven Carr,

Numbers 31 is a vastly different scenario than when Israel destroys the Canaanites. In the first place, Num 31 indicates that ALL the males, including children, and all the non-virgin women (which would be the VAST majority of the post-pubescent women) had already been killed. So this is already a substantially smaller number of people left to assimilate into Israel.

Second, the chapter actually gives us a number, about 32,000 girls. Considering that 24,000 adult men (for the most part) had recently died from a plague in Israel, there would have been room and resources to take on these girls at this point.

Maybe if it seems "easy", that's a clue that you should work a little harder so you don't get shown up.

sconnor said...

Rachel,

That being said, as I've said several times now, hell is not eternal fire or a torture chamber. So I am not defending that view of hell in any case.

Little Rachael Christian knows what hell is.

How, exactly, did you come by that information? And what makes your interpretation more valid, than other christian (or other religions for that matter) interpretations of hell?

--S.

Steven Carr said...

Rachel keeps saying it is right to kill children and babies rather than adopt them, and that you should let the virgins live.


Christian morality sickens your stomach.

Malcolm said...

Rachel,
Why is not choosing God a wrong choice though? If I do not desire to enter into heaven, nor do I desire to spend my time worshiping a particular God, yet still am just as kind a person as any ideal Christian, why have I made a wrong choice? Why is being a Christian superior to simply being a good person? Why does an unverifiable belief supersede verifiable actions?

I do not think your obesity analogy is valid. Certainly people do make decisions that will have a negative effect on their lives, however there are communities of people out there attempting to help them. There are those who perform studies to determine how being overweight has a negative consequence, then there are those studying what can be done to reverse the effects, and finally there are those trying to determine how to bring that message to the people that need it most. The Christian God us supposedly aware of what everyone knows in their mind, thus he knows exactly what would case them to believe in him, yet he does not seem to do anything unique to get his message across.

But does one need to consider heaven and hell for the choice to matter? No, the very idea is contradictory. If I do not believe in Christianity then I do not believe in heaven or hell. Yet I make my decision without regard for an eternal consequence, and I think my choice matters.

Your analogy about a child does not fit. The reason one punishes a child is to alter their behavior. If your child says a bad word, you punish them so they will not say a bad word in the future. Eternal suffering (if that is what hell is) does not accomplish this. By its very nature, it cannot alter our behavior as we will not be given an opportunity to act differently. Eternal is forever, it serves no purpose in refining a persons character, it provides no way for someone to better themselves.

Shygetz said...

I never said I wasn't sad about it. But millions? Not quite. And perhaps you would like to read about all the atrocities and wicked acts committed by the Canaanites. Maybe you would be sad to read about all the people they murdered and treated in horrible ways, including innocent children.

I read...I never saw anything about the wicked acts performed by the Canaanite children. Did I miss something? Or did God command the wholesale slaughter of innocents?

The issue is that God is perfect and must judge sin.

God chooses what perfect is, and He chooses what He must and must not do--otherwise, He is not omnipotent.

Yes, that is correct. What is the point of our existence if we do not have free will, even if that includes the possibility of suffering? Why exist if we are just robots?

Does free will exist in Heaven? If so, then it is possible for God to create a world where free will exists, but sin does not. If not, then there is a point to existence that does not include free will, or else heaven is pointless. Pick your poison.

Second, the chapter actually gives us a number, about 32,000 girls. Considering that 24,000 adult men (for the most part) had recently died from a plague in Israel, there would have been room and resources to take on these girls at this point.

I'm sorry, are you claiming that God dictated the slaugher of Canaanite children because He couldn't find the resources to allow the Israelites to care for them? And this is the God who provided mana from heaven to feed the Israelites in the desert, right? Okay, just so we're straight...God can feed an entire nation of Jews, but can't feed just the children of his enemies to save them from slaughter. And you call this God omnipotent...

DingoDave said...

Rachel wrote:
"He (Yahweh) chooses what He must and must not do--otherwise, He is not omnipotent."

Rachel, if Yahweh MUST, or MUST NOT do anything, then he's not omnipotent at all, but is a finite 'semipotent' being just like the rest of us.

Don't you just love the way Christian apologists insist on placing limits on their god when it suits them. For a supposedly omnipotent being, Yahweh sure seems to be pretty restricted as to what he can and can't do according to Rachel. As if the decision NOT to intentionally relegate billions of people to a fiery hell would be beyond the abilities of an omnipotent being! Christians appear to have tremendous difficulty in admitting the obvious, ie. that the god they worship is a vindictive tyrant. So they are forced to fabricate the most outrageous sophistries, in order to prevent their god from being convicted of being the sadistic monster which he is clearly portrayed as being, in the Bible.

It's as if their brains have been infected with some kind of parasite, or virus, or malignant tumour which effects the way their brains work.
There has been a new term coined over at the 'Effect Measure' science blog, which describes this hideous condition. It's called 'Theonoma'.
Theonoma describes a debilitating disease caused by adhering to beliefs in the unbelievable.

"… some of the symptoms of malignant theonoma:
1) It acts on the brain, reducing any capacity for rational thought
2) It secretes toxins which demand that the theonoma be stimulated at least weekly. This stimulation is generally in the form of close association with others who are likewise affected, and produces endorphins which leave the sufferer with a state of euphoria.
3) Severe cases lead to an overwhelming desire to infect as many [other] people as possible, to increase the periodic stimulation and resulting endorphin release."

"The virus of religion can be prevented by the double vaccine of common sense and the scientific method, but if it gets to the stage of a malignant theonoma then the only option is to cut it out."

"Speaking as one who had a theonoma - fortunately for me and my friends, I had a spontaneous remission." : )

http://scienceblogs.com/effectmeasure/2008/08/freethinker_sunday_sermonette_110.php

Rachel, you really need to get YOUR theonoma looked at before it becomes malignant. But on second thoughts, I fear that it might already be too late for you. The only option available to you might be to have a radical 'theonectomy'.
I hope that you are in a good health insurance fund, because I've heard that theonectomies can be very expensive, and painfull. : D

Good luck, and get well soon.

Dr. Hector Avalos said...

Dear Rachel,
Here are some of my responses.

1. Ugarit is part of Canaan?
Arguments from authority are inadmissible. Your argument can be reduced to this rationale: “Modern author X thinks Ugarit is Canaan, therefore, Ugarit is Canaan.” You do not address critically the evidence presented by those modern authors.

You state that I did not provide a source who agrees with me, when, in fact, I provided at least three. One was Anson Rainey, who is a specialist in geography, and I cited his article “Who is a Canaanite?” He does not believe Ugarit is part of Canaan.

If you kept up with biblical studies, you would know that he is also the co-author of a recent and detailed geographical reference work: The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Jerusalem: Carta, 2006). His detailed discussion of the boundaries of Canaan is on pp. 34-36.

However, my agreement with Dr. Rainey is not based on his authority, and I disagree with him on other issues where I think the evidence does not support him.

My evidence is the primary sources I checked for myself: The Bible, and Ugaritic texts, which are the most relevant. Those texts show that:

A. The Ugaritians did not regard themselves as Canaanite;

B. The biblical authors did not regard Ugarit as part of Canaan.

Point B is most important because of your allusion to Glenn Miller, who believes Ugarit offers archaeological evidence for the Canaanite practice of bestiality. However, if the biblical authors do not regard Ugarit as part of Canaan, then Miller’s example is irrelevant.

The biblical authors do not think Ugarit is part of Canaan, and it is the biblical authors, NOT MILLER, who are defining what groups are deserving of destruction.

In addition, you provide no evidence that Miller’s interpretation of any Ugaritic materials is correct. You simply assume it is. Miller, by the way, is not a biblical or Near Eastern scholar at all, but rather a businessman who dabbles in apologetics. So, if you choose any authority, you leave unexplained why we should place any credibility in Miller.

As it is, even the scholarly sources on which you depend qualify their use of “Canaanite.” John Gibson, whose book is part of your chain of authorities, actually says this (Canaanite Myths and Legends [Edinburgh: T&T Clark,1977] p. 2, n. 2):

"It is unfortunate that the term Canaanite has become firmly established to denote the Hebrew-Phoenician sub-division of this family as distinguished from the Aramaic sub-division...In this more technical sense, it is misleading to call Ugaritic a “Canaanite” dialect, for contains features that in the first millennium survive only in Aramaic."

Indeed, you fail to see that sometimes words like “Canaanite” are used conventionally rather than because they represent some reality in the world scholars are describing. Even the wikipedia article you cite does not include Ugarit in its map of “Canaan,” and it accepts the borders of Numbers 34.

You have fallen into the trap not dissimilar to those who might argue that Native Americans are the same as Indians from the Asian sub-continent because Native Americans are also called “Indians.” One needs to understand how the term “Indian” evolved in order to decipher how such dissimilar people came to be described with the same word.

2. "Firstly, it's not 'genocide.' These were wicked people, even for that time, who were experiencing judgment."

You are confusing the definition of genocide with the metaphysical motive for genocide. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines genocide as: “The deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political or cultural group.”

And although definitions should not be accepted uncritically, most biblical scholars I know would accept the definition provided in Article 2 of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html (adapted)
"any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
a. killing members of the group;
b. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
d. imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and]
e. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

In simpler terms, genocide refers to exterminating a group of people that are deemed to have some common feature (race, religion, ethnic identity). If that is the case, then genocide is what is being ordered in Deuteronomy 7 and 1 Samuel 15.

Whether genocide happens through war or not is irrelevant to the question of whether people have been classified into a group that deserves extermination. Clearly, in Deut. 7 and 1 Samuel 15 there are entire groups of people that are to be exterminated by virtue of being born into that ethnic group (e.g. Amalekites, Canaanites, etc.). They had no choice anymore than Jews in Nazi Germany had a choice of being born Jewish.

If you prefer to use an argument from authority, you should note that even Christian evangelical scholars agree with me. Exhibit A would be this book: C. Cowles, Daniel Gard, Eugene Merrill, and Tremper Longmann III ( editors), Show Them No Mercy: Four Views on God and Canaanite Genocide (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003).

So, if you don’t agree with these definitions of genocide, please provide a formal and precise one for us. As it is, your apparent definition is premised on moral relativism of a very dangerous sort. You really mean this:

“Killing masses of people is not genocide when it is done for the religious reasons in which I believe.”

You can use this definition as long as you allow others to use the same moral relativist principle. Thus, a Muslim jihadist can argue, by your logic, that killing millions of Christians would not be genocide because Christians are wicked.

3. "The killing of the adult Canaanites is defended by the fact that they deserved it based on their wicked acts. The killing of the innocent children is defended by the impossibility of their adequate assimilation into Israel."

You keep assuming that the Canaanites are “wicked” simply on the authority of biblical authors. Why? What evidence is there that the Canaanites were wicked or did anything the Bible says they did? Why can’t jihadist Muslims use the same rationale to slaughter Christians if Christians are thought to be wicked?

Your characterization of these children as “innocent” seems to contradict God’s promise in Exodus 23:7:

"Keep far from a false charge, and do not slay the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked."

If Israelites are not to slay the innocent, and if you say Canaanite children are innocent, then you are already contradicting this biblical injunction.

You also leave unexplained what is so impossible about assimilating Canaanite infants? You must be working with some sort of biological or racialist notion of behavior.

4. “I fail to see what Hitler has to do with either of these defenses.”

I explained that Hitler also saw the Jews as:

A. wicked;
B. Inassimilable

These are the reasons you gave for justifying Canaanite genocide, and so your reasons are precisely analogous to those of Hitler.

All of this leads me to ask if you have ever actually read any of Hitler’s writings, especially Mein Kampf. I use this edition: Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Translated by Ralph Manheim (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971). For the German text, I use this edition: Mein Kampf (München: Müller, 1938).

If you read Mein Kampf, you will see how much of Hitler’s rationale is biblical. Note the following:

A. Hitler believed race-mixing was a sin that deserved to be punished (Mein Kampf, p. 249):

“...it is one of those concerning which it is said with such terrible justice that the sins of the fathers are avenged down to the tenth generation...Blood sin and desecration of the race are the original sin in this world...”

Here, Hitler is referencing Deuteronomy 23:2 (RSV):

"No bastard shall enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD.[3]"No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none belonging to them shall enter the assembly of the LORD for ever;

B. Hitler thought he was executing God’s punishment on the Jews (Mein Kampf, p. 65):

"Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator; by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

So, you see, Rachel, your rationale for genocide does not differ much from that of Hitler. You both think you have the right to kill masses of women and children when they fit YOUR definition of wicked or when YOU both deem them “inassimilable.”



5. "But the killing was a judgment due to their wicked practices. Where does the Bible indicate that the Canaanites were to be killed merely because they were living in the land God gave to Israel?

"

There were a number of reasons given for killing the Canaanites, and Deut. 7:1 indicates that “clearing” the land was one of them:

"When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Gir'gashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Per'izzites, the Hivites, and the Jeb'usites, seven nations greater and mightier than yourselves"

Infants should not be held to be wicked, and so I am not sure what those children did other than being born into a Canaanite family. Moreover, Deut. 24:16 acknowledges that children should not be killed for any wickedness committed by parents.

6. "At that time, there was no overpopulation problem...Very true. Which is precisely why those that stayed deserved the punishment they received. As I said earlier, they had plenty of time (YEARS) to prepare and get out."

If I understand your rationale, Hitler might be justified if he gave the Jews in Germany time to get out, and then just killed those that did not get out by his deadline. Is that right?

There is a more peaceful alternative. Since you admit there was plenty of room for everyone on earth, then why not move the Hebrews to a portion that was not inhabited and where there would be no need to kill the women and children already there?

7. "Torture isn't required, but punishment and natural consequences ARE, otherwise God wouldn't be God. As God, he is perfect. Therefore, he cannot let any sin go 'unjudged.'"

You provide no evidence that God is as you describe him (her). What makes you think that God “must” do anything? Some theologians would say that the idea that God “must” do X compromises his omnipotence.

Moreover, you don’t explain why any particular act is regarded as a “sin” nor why any particular acts are a violation of God’s perfection. You don’t explain why it cannot be part of God’s nature to forgive sinners.

Nor do you explain why the sins of the Canaanites are punished with the slaughter of women and children but the sins of the Hebrews are accorded mercy and patience.

All I detect is a human being (Rachel) who thinks it right to kill women and children on behalf of HER conception of God. As I understand it, you base your views on the views of other human beings (biblical authors), and their conception of God.

The problem with this approach is that we cannot verify that your view (or anyone’s view) of God is correct. God’s views on anything (sin, wickedness) cannot be verified to be true and you have not shown us how you know that anything you claim about God is true.

That unverifiability is why it will always be immoral to trade lives that actually exist on the basis of belief in a being whose existence is unverifiable and hypothetical.

After all, how is your approach different from someone who says he or she has to kill you because the Martian god in which he or she believes has judged you to be wicked?

SUMMARY OF QUESTIONS FOR RACHEL
1. Is genocide always wrong?

2. How do you define genocide?

3. Would it be fair to say that you believe killing masses of people, including women and children, can be justified when you believe those people are wicked or inassimilable?

4. How did you determine that anything you state about God is true (e.g., what he regards as a “sin”)?

5. Do you want to live in a world where people can kill you and your children if they regard you as wicked and inassimilable on the basis of religious beliefs you cannot verify to be true?

DingoDave said...

Dear Hector,

Your last post was truly a beautiful thing to behold.

Thank you.

I only wish that I had your knowlege and abilities.

Rachel said...

Malcolm,

You said,

Why is being a Christian superior to simply being a good person? Why does an unverifiable belief supersede verifiable actions?

Because as I said earlier, the problem is not good vs. bad, but perfection vs. imperfection. It's all or nothing, and this is due to God's nature of perfection. God's perfect nature cannot allow someone with sin to live in his presence for eternity. So while some people are more kind and good than others, it's sort of like saying that some people swam 10 miles while some people only swam 1 mile, when the requirement was to swim 100 miles. One might have gotten closer than the other, but both fell short of the mark. And as I said before, it is not the belief per se that is the issue, rather it is the transaction that is able to occur as a result of the belief. Jesus' perfection and righteousness becomes MY perfection and righteousness when I place my faith in Him and his death and resurrection. If I do not place my faith in him, I am left with my own attempts at perfection and righteousness, which cannot possibly be good enough (i.e. perfect). Not choosing God is a wrong choice because it's wrong, not only morally, but factually. It's like asking, why is it wrong to choose "5" for the answer to 2+2. In addition, not choosing God means that something or someone OTHER than God is given preeminence, and that is wrong as well.

I do not think your obesity analogy is valid. Certainly people do make decisions that will have a negative effect on their lives, however there are communities of people out there attempting to help them.

You had said, "But isn't the very notion of eternal fire forcing us to choose him against our will (if he exists)?" Your point (IMO) was that the existence of a negative consequence (eternal fire, in your words) "forces" people to choose God against their will, thus negating free will. My point with the obesity analogy was to refute this by showing that people do in fact choose actions that result in negative consequences, therefore the negative consequence of hell does not necessarily negate free will.

The Christian God us supposedly aware of what everyone knows in their mind, thus he knows exactly what would case them to believe in him, yet he does not seem to do anything unique to get his message across.

You assume that everyone would believe in him if they just had that "something". Indeed, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, the rich man (in hell) asks Abraham to raise someone from the dead to warn his brothers not to continue on their path to hell. In verse 31 Abraham tells him that if they won't believe the "Law and the Prophets", they wouldn't believe even if someone rose from the dead. I have read many atheists personally who say that even if God Himself appeared to them and spoke to them, that they would think it was a hallucination or some such. Additionally, "believing in" requires repentance of sin and a turning toward God, a sort of acknowledgement of God's rule (and not ours) in life. I know many people who aren't interested in such a thing either.

I said,

And if there were no consequences either way, the choice wouldn't be worth much.

Then you said,

But does one need to consider heaven and hell for the choice to matter? No, the very idea is contradictory. If I do not believe in Christianity then I do not believe in heaven or hell. Yet I make my decision without regard for an eternal consequence, and I think my choice matters.

Again, my statement about consequence was in response to your claim that the existence of the negative consequence negated free will. And note that I said the choice wouldn't be worth much if there were "no" consequences. Whereas you said that you make your decision w/o regard to eternal consequences. Yet surely you believe that there are some sort of consequences to your decision (i.e. what kind of spouse you choose, how you raise your children, what you do on Sunday mornings, etc.). So I wasn't saying that the lack of heaven/hell would render the decision completely meaningless, I was simply saying that consequences are what make choices meaningful, and a negative consequence does not rule out my free will to make a choice.

Your analogy about a child does not fit. The reason one punishes a child is to alter their behavior.

You had said that you didn't think eternal suffering was loving. My point with the child/parent analogy was to show that a person can be loving and still mete out judgment.

Eternal suffering (if that is what hell is) does not accomplish this. By its very nature, it cannot alter our behavior as we will not be given an opportunity to act differently. Eternal is forever, it serves no purpose in refining a persons character, it provides no way for someone to better themselves.

That is correct, eternal suffering does not provide a way for the person to better themselves spiritually. This is because they have chosen against this way by choosing against God and cannot do so. Therefore, there is no other alternative.

sconnor said...

Rachel,

That being said, as I've said several times now, hell is not eternal fire or a torture chamber. So I am not defending that view of hell in any case.


How, exactly, did you come by your specific,information, on hell? And what makes your interpretation more valid, than other christian (or other religions for that matter) interpretations of hell?

--S.

Rachel said...

Shygetz,

You said,

God chooses what perfect is, and He chooses what He must and must not do--otherwise, He is not omnipotent.

Actually, God simply IS what perfect is, he does not "choose" what perfect is. You seem to have a misunderstanding of omnipotence. It is not power to do anything at all. God is omnipotent, which means he can do anything that doesn't contradict his own nature. Because, as I said earlier, if he were to contradict his own nature then he would cease to be himself, which is impossible. Therefore, God "must" always be true to his own nature, which includes perfection and the judgment of sin.

Does free will exist in Heaven? If so, then it is possible for God to create a world where free will exists, but sin does not. If not, then there is a point to existence that does not include free will, or else heaven is pointless. Pick your poison.

I choose D, none of the above. I believe that in heaven, God has removed sin from the very presence of the people there, thus sin is not even an option in heaven. This is because he will glorify us just as he is, in the sense that our nature will be w/o sin as his is. That does not mean we won't have any free will at all, just as God still has free will despite not being able to sin. And before you reply that God should have just kept the possibility of sin from us in the first place, I will point out that the people in heaven have chosen to be free from sin. This is significantly more meaningful (and significantly less robot-like) than sin never being an option and having no free will at all.

On the issue of the killing of the Canaanite children, please see my comment directed to Dr. Avalos on August 5, 2008 at 2:40am. I answered your issues in-depth there.

Rachel said...

DingoDave,

You said,

Rachel wrote:
"He (Yahweh) chooses what He must and must not do--otherwise, He is not omnipotent."


Actually, no, I didn't write that. Shygetz wrote that in his comment on August 5 at 5:16pm.

Beyond that, you seem to have the same misunderstanding of omnipotence as he does. See my last comment to him for my answer to that.

DingoDave said...

Rachel wrote:
"He (Yahweh) chooses what He must and must not do--otherwise, He is not omnipotent."
Actually, no, I didn't write that. Shygetz wrote that in his comment on August 5 at 5:16pm.

You're quite correct. Please accept my apologies.

However, you wrote:

-"The issue is that God is perfect and must judge sin."

Why MUST he? You are placing limits on your supposedly omnipotent god.
If he MUST do ANYTHING, then he is not omnipotent. What's with that?

sconnor said...

Rachel,

Can you answer my questions?

How, exactly, did you come by your specific, information, on hell? And what makes your interpretation more valid, than other christian (or other religions for that matter) interpretations of hell?

--S.

Rachel said...

Dave,

As I said in my last comment, you are misunderstanding the meaning of omnipotence. Please see my last comment to Shygetz on August 7 at 1:19am for more on that point.

Rachel said...

sconnor,

You said,

How, exactly, did you come by your specific, information, on hell?

The information I have is not any more specific than what anyone else has. I have the same information that is available to everyone else. My view on hell is formed by study of the relevant Bible passages and their context of culture, language, etc. Please note however that when Malcolm states that hell is eternal fire and that he doesn't think that is loving, he is attempting to find an internal inconsistency in the belief system of the Christian. That means that when he makes such a statement, he is assuming the reality of hell and the truth of the Bible for the sake of argument. So my answer to him is within that framework and attempts to show that there is no internal inconsistency in my belief system. Now, you may wish to say that my belief system has no provable foundation and that none of it is true, but that is different than refuting my answer regarding internal inconsistencies. And frankly, such a discussion is not one I am interested in pursuing at this time, as this is a busy month for me and it is taking me long enough to respond to all my "opponents" on the current topic as is.

And what makes your interpretation more valid, than other christian (or other religions for that matter) interpretations of hell?

The same thing that makes any interpretation more valid than any other in any area - IMO it is the best fit for the available evidence. What makes the heliocentric interpretation of data more valid than the geocentric interpretation? It's the best fit for the available evidence.

I realize that "best" can be subjective, but there do exist some objective criteria, such as matching with previously known facts, not contradicting other facts, etc. In any case, my point is not so much that I'm the only one with the right answer and everyone else is wrong. Rather, my point is to show that there is an acceptable, plausible view of hell that resolves some of the apparent internal inconsistencies that Malcom raised.

sconnor said...

Rachel,

And of course you weighed all the available evidence, with thorough research, of all the religious texts and their definitions and explanations of hell -- right? Or are your conclusions based solely on the bible, that you assume is the word of god?

--S,

Philip said...

I'm sorry, who is this Rachel person, and what sort of authority is she on history and theology, that she comes in here and, like every other Christian, thinks she's got all the answers we're all looking for? The one who's finally come to "set the record straight"?

Rachel said...

Dr. Avalos,

Arguments from authority are inadmissible. Your argument can be reduced to this rationale: “Modern author X thinks Ugarit is Canaan, therefore, Ugarit is Canaan.” You do not address critically the evidence presented by those modern authors.

I had previously acknowledged having no real knowledge of any of the primary sources about Ugarit and Canaan. I was actually truly wondering if Ugarit could indeed be considered part of Canaan or not - I was undecided before this discussion. So I was not "arguing" any particular side. I was asking because everything I found seemed to assume or outright state that Ugarit was part of Canaan, so I questioned you for your source(s) that would explain how or why it is NOT part of Canaan. My citing authorities then was merely to give examples of people who do think Ugarit was part of Canaan. This particular aspect of the discussion was really more information-gathering then argument-presenting.

Nevertheless, you have offered very little to disprove Miller's point that a text from Ugarit can be said to be reflective of Canaanite practices. And as I said in my last comment to you, that is the whole point. So it matters not whether anyone, including biblical authors or the Ugaritians themselves, considered Ugarit to be physically a part of Canaan or not. The question is, can the Ugaritic practices be relied upon to accurately reflect Canaanite practices for the most part? I have found many sources who say "yes", and you have provided none that say "no". Your quote from John Gibson only refers to the language of Ugarit being different from that of Canaan, and then only in a "technical sense". Most of the sources I've read have said something similar to the wiki article: "Much of the modern knowledge about the Canaanites stems from excavation in this area [of Ugarit]."

So it would seem that the overwhelming consensus among scholars, archaelogists, etc. is that whatever we find in Ugarit can be accurately assumed to be reflective of Canaan, which validates Miller's use of a Ugaritic text to prove that bestiality was practiced in Canaan. If you have specific evidence showing that Ugaritic practices differed substantially from that of the Canaanites, then please bring it forward. Otherwise, I will consider the matter closed.

You keep assuming that the Canaanites are “wicked” simply on the authority of biblical authors. Why? What evidence is there that the Canaanites were wicked or did anything the Bible says they did?

Are you suggesting that the Canaanites were NOT wicked? If so, what evidence do you have for the complete opposite of what is described in the Bible? I have never seen or heard anyone deny the wickedness of the Canaanites, so if this is the view you hold, I look forward to seeing your evidence.

Beyond that though, you continue to use the bait-and-switch tactic of trying to find an internal inconsistency in my belief system, then when I show that there is no inconsistency, you say that we can't know the Bible is true anyway. If one believes the Bible to be true, it is internally perfectly consistent to hold the view that the killing of the Canaanites was justified due to their extreme wickedness. So which are you arguing here... that the Bible can't be true because of internal inconsistencies (the "unjustified" killing of supposedly peaceful Canaanites who were merely minding their own business as one example), or that we can't know the Bible is true because of lack of external evidence? I was answering the former because I thought that was the original topic of the thread; if the latter, I'll pass as I don't have the time right now.

Your characterization of these children as “innocent” seems to contradict God’s promise in Exodus 23:7:

"Keep far from a false charge, and do not slay the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked."


God's "promise" in this verse is merely that he will certainly judge the wicked. His command though is to the people not to falsely charge and then kill someone who is innocent. This has nothing to do with appropriate judgment upon a wicked group of people which also includes some children who have yet to make an independent choice in the matter. I previously addressed the issue of children being connected to their parents, for better or worse, in my last comment to you.

You also leave unexplained what is so impossible about assimilating Canaanite infants?

Actually I did explain this, but I'll review again briefly:

1. The resources were simply not available for Israel to care for all the innocents, including the babies. There was no social welfare program.

2. God was not obligated to spare the babies of these wicked people. Indeed, knowing that our actions can and often do affect innocent people is a significant deterrent to bad behavior. God is not obligated to rescue us from problems of our own making, especially when we refuse his help the first (and second and third and fourth... ) time.

I explained that Hitler also saw the Jews as:

A. wicked;
B. Inassimilable

These are the reasons you gave for justifying Canaanite genocide, and so your reasons are precisely analogous to those of Hitler.


This is frankly ridiculous. This is not about some psychotic person's perception of wickedness. Among many other atrocities, the Canaanites were burning their children in the fires of sacrifice to their gods! This is a far cry from Hitler's twisting of some verse to say that all the Jews were "wicked" and deserved to die because they were a mixed race. Even in the quote of Hitler's that you provided, he is clearly just making things up to suit his crazed views. Where he gets the idea that "blood sin and desecration of the race are the original sin of the world" is anybody's guess. Additionally, Hitler hunted down the Jews everywhere he could find them. This is not what God commanded Israel to do, as I noted earlier.

And regarding assimilation, you still don't seem to understand what I'm saying. Hitler may have thought the Jews were unassimilable, but clearly the Jews were already living just fine wherever they were. This is vastly different than what I mean. When I say that the Canaanite children could not have been assimilated into Israel, this is not just a perception. From the standpoint of amount of resources available, the Canaanite children simply could not have just "moved in" to different families and lived just fine. There wasn't enough food/shelter/basic living necessities to care for all these children. That's what I mean by unassimilable. With their parents dead and no one left to care for them, they would have died from starvation/exposure/animals/enemies. However, bringing them "on board" to live and be cared for in Israel was impossible because Israel lacked the proper amount of basic living necessities. Therefore, they could not be adequately assimilated into Israel. This is not anywhere near the same thing as Hitler viewing the Jews as unassimilable merely because they weren't of a "pure" race.

There were a number of reasons given for killing the Canaanites, and Deut. 7:1 indicates that “clearing” the land was one of them:

"When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Gir'gashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Per'izzites, the Hivites, and the Jeb'usites, seven nations greater and mightier than yourselves"


This verse does not say that Israel should kill the Canaanites in order to clear the land. It simply states that God will clear the nations "from before you", which doesn't really say anything about killing, and in fact pictures more of a dispossession, i.e. a "kicking out". In any event, Deut. 7:1 gives no reasons for killing Canaanites.

Moreover, Deut. 24:16 acknowledges that children should not be killed for any wickedness committed by parents.

Deut. 24:16 refers to individual punishments meted out for individual crimes. This does not apply to an entire nation being judged for their cumulative wickedness. The children were not killed "because of" their parents' wickedness in a judicial sense (i.e. "you did this bad thing, therefore your sentence is that your child be killed"), which is what this verse is prohibiting.

There is a more peaceful alternative. Since you admit there was plenty of room for everyone on earth, then why not move the Hebrews to a portion that was not inhabited and where there would be no need to kill the women and children already there?

Because this wasn't about simply a place to live. These people were extremely wicked, and this was part of God's judgment and declaration to the world - "I will not tolerate evil, but will bless good". My point was that there was plenty of room for the Canaanites to move to when they heard of Israel's conquests years before Israel ever got to their door. The fact that some were still there is an indicator of how stubbornly they held to their wickedness.

What makes you think that God “must” do anything?

I answered this in my last comment to Shygetz on this thread, but since it keeps getting asked I'll repeat it here. Omnipotence does NOT mean that God can do anything at all. It DOES mean that God can do anything that doesn't contradict his nature. If God were to contradict his nature, he would cease to be God, which would be impossible. Thus, God "must" always stay true to his own nature. This includes judging sin, because perfection and justice (part of God's nature) require it.

Nor do you explain why the sins of the Canaanites are punished with the slaughter of women and children but the sins of the Hebrews are accorded mercy and patience.

This is a very broad statement. However, we can see that the Canaanites were actually accorded much mercy and patience in that they were given many, many years to "get right" and/or get out of the land. Israelite laws allowed for foreigners to convert (e.g. Rahab). Interestingly, Jer. 38:2 has God issuing the same injunction to the Israelites just prior to the Babylonian invasion - "get out or die". I don't see much practical difference.

Finally, to answer your summary questions:

1. Is genocide always wrong?
Yes. (Of course, this answer depends on the answer to the next question.)

2. How do you define genocide?
I accept your definition, but noting the implication that genocide is the extermination of a people group because of an arbitrary or neutral characteristic of that group. I like Britannica's definition: "the deliberate and systematic destruction of a group of people because of their ethnicity, nationality, religion, or race." God ordered the destruction of the Canaanites because of their severe, systematic, and thorough wickedness. This has nothing to do with "ethnicity, nationality, religion, or race". And again, God did not command Israel to go find the Canaanites wherever they were throughout the world and kill them forever and ever. This was a one-time event restricted by time and physical location. There is just no logical way to call this "genocide".

3. Would it be fair to say that you believe killing masses of people, including women and children, can be justified when you believe those people are wicked or inassimilable?

No. I would say that such killing can be justified when the people have been proven to be wicked. And I would say that the killing of innocent children can be justified when the only alternative is worse than a quick death.

5. Do you want to live in a world where people can kill you and your children if they regard you as wicked and inassimilable on the basis of religious beliefs you cannot verify to be true?

No. See above.

4. How did you determine that anything you state about God is true (e.g., what he regards as a “sin”)?

I purposefully answered this question last because I do not think it is part of the issue at hand. Whether or not I'm right about what God thinks is irrelevant to determining whether or not the destruction of the Canaanites is an internal inconsistency in the Christian belief system. This question requires an answer comprised of epistemology, historicity, reliability of ancient documents, etc. That is beyond my scope and purpose in this thread.

Rachel said...

sconnor,

I gave a brief explanation of my view of hell to provide a resolution to the alleged internal inconsistency that Malcolm raised regarding hell and God's love. Whether or not the Bible can even be relied upon to be accurate about such things is a separate discussion. Your question is essentially the same as Dr. Avalos' summary question #4 in his last comment to me, so I refer you to my answer to that in my last comment to him (it's at the very end).

Malcolm said...


Omnipotence does NOT mean that God can do anything at all. It DOES mean that God can do anything that doesn't contradict his nature. If God were to contradict his nature, he would cease to be God, which would be impossible.


Who, or what, defines what God's nature is?

Rachel said...

Malcolm,

Who, or what, defines what God's nature is?

God defines himself, in the sense that whatever God is is what God is. But it would not make sense to say then that God chooses for himself which qualities he will possess. Because even if he did, he would be forced to choose only God-like qualities and to reject all non-deity qualities (otherwise he wouldn't be God), which means he would be exactly the same as he was. For example, what kind of God is imperfect? What kind of God is unjust?

So God defines his own nature, as in, God = God. Whatever God is is what he is. It is not as if I can ascribe some sort of quality to God's nature that he doesn't already possess. If it's a "God" quality, then he possesses it since he's God. If it's NOT a "God" quality, then he does NOT possess it, otherwise he wouldn't be God.

Malcolm said...

If God cannot be imperfect then he cannot be perfect. If God cannot be evil then he cannot be good. For to argue God is any of these we need something else to describe him against, but if God defines all of these things he is outside such a definition.

But perhaps God's true nature is to not care about a small planet in the suburbs of a rather ordinary looking galaxy and all the Gods of literature are simply man made, how would you discern that? Or perhaps God's nature is a jokster and he has been planting fake religions all over the world simply to have fun? This, by your definition, would be fine, as God is simply God.

Malcolm said...

Rachel said:


Deut. 24:16 refers to individual punishments meted out for individual crimes. This does not apply to an entire nation being judged for their cumulative wickedness. The children were not killed "because of" their parents' wickedness in a judicial sense (i.e. "you did this bad thing, therefore your sentence is that your child be killed"), which is what this verse is prohibiting.


How do the actions of the individual not matter here? Is it not possible a few good Canaanites existed? If the argument for killing Canaanites is their behavior then by the simple fact of being a Canaanite one is now wicked? If we are deciding an individual is wicked based on being a Canaanite, how is this different from any other genocide based on a persons ethnicity or race?

There is a strong causal link between the murder of the children and the actions of their parents. If their parents were wicked and God chose to have them killed, how did he not also decide the fate of their children as a result of their parents? If one knows that they will have to kill a child due to killing their parent, how is this different from simply killing the child outright?

DingoDave said...

Rachel wrote:
-"God defines himself, in the sense that whatever God is is what God is. But it would not make sense to say then that God chooses for himself which qualities he will possess...So God defines his own nature, as in, God = God. Whatever God is is what he is."

No Rachel. This is where you've got the whole thing completely arse about backwards.

'God' doesn't define what his nature is, or what his qualities will be, the human authors who wrote the Bible chose those things for him.

When it comes to writing fiction, an author can choose whatever characteristics he likes for the characters in his story.

Do you think that Ret Butler, or Scarlet O'hara chose their own natures and qualities in the book 'Gone With the Wind', or do you think that the author did?

The Bible is a cobbled-together collection of the works of numerous different authors. That's why the picture we get of God's qualities and nature, are so conflicting and confusing within the pages of the Bible.
He's a patchwork of the opinions and theologies of the numerous authors who wrote them.

Yahweh is merely a fictional character, who has been made up out of the imaginations of the various authors who wrote the Bible, just the same as every other god which has ever been invented is.

Without understanding this, you will never be able to understand the Bible. Which would be a shame really, because it's actually quite an interesting book when read for what it truly is. Fiction.

Rachel said...

Malcolm,

Is it not possible a few good Canaanites existed? If the argument for killing Canaanites is their behavior then by the simple fact of being a Canaanite one is now wicked?

Of course it's possible some good Canaanites existed. As I said earlier, the Canaanites were given many, many years to change their ways. Israel had laws that allowed foreigners to convert, or they could have simply left Canaan. As I noted in my comments to Dr. Avalos, Israel was not commanded to hunt down and destroy every single Canaanite throughout the earth. So if the rare "good" Canaanite wanted out of the culture of decadence, he/she would very likely have been long gone by the time Israel got there. Nevertheless, the Canaanites were known as a culture/society of wickedness. It was not a government ruling an unwilling people with an iron fist. The culture was evil because the people who made up that culture were evil.

If one knows that they will have to kill a child due to killing their parent, how is this different from simply killing the child outright?

Because the parent is directly responsible for the child, not the one who enacts justice. The point in the Deut. verse was to not kill children as the penalty that the adult paid for what they did. This is different from enacting proper judgment upon adults, which affects their children secondarily.

If God cannot be imperfect then he cannot be perfect. If God cannot be evil then he cannot be good. For to argue God is any of these we need something else to describe him against, but if God defines all of these things he is outside such a definition.

This is untrue. God can be whatever he is w/o us needing something to describe him with. While it is true that we understand good and perfection better when we see evil and imperfection, good and perfection do not depend on evil and imperfection for their existence. This is like saying that light requires darkness in order to exist. Certainly we understand and appreciate light much more since we are familiar with darkness, but light can exist apart from darkness. Similarly, good and perfection can exist and be part of God's nature w/o any evil and imperfection.

Or perhaps God's nature is a jokster and he has been planting fake religions all over the world simply to have fun? This, by your definition, would be fine, as God is simply God.

Actually, no, that wouldn't be fine, because such would not be a deity-like action.

But perhaps God's true nature is to not care about a small planet in the suburbs of a rather ordinary looking galaxy and all the Gods of literature are simply man made, how would you discern that?

With this and Dave's latest comment, we've now come full circle and are back to the classic question of whether or not God exists, and if he does, how to know which one is the true God. In this thread I have been answering alleged internal inconsistencies that have been raised about the Christian belief system. The question of the existence of God or the reliability of the Bible is outside the scope of the issues being discussed here. Please see my answer to Dr. Avalos' summary question #4 to me in my last comment to him.

Malcolm said...

Rachel,

Actually, no, that wouldn't be fine, because such would not be a deity-like action.


Says who? You? Then you are defining God. If God is God, and God is a jokster, then how is that not a deity-like action? How do you know what actions are deity-like and which are not?

Evan said...

Malcolm Rachel has adopted the final defense of the apologist. She's echoing William Craig's self-refuting argument that goes like this.

People who imagine they can know the mind of God are presumptuous because God can do anything he pleases.

The God who exists is the God of the Bible and I know the mind of this God from reading the Bible.

Yet I am not presumptuous.

Toby said...

It seems to me that it would be more reasonable for the Christian to maintain that they do not know why the stories of genocide against the Canaanites (among others) is in the Bible. The Christian can then state his (or her) interpretation, but to be dogmatic about their interpretation being the correct interpretation is arrogant. In fact, it seems to go beyond arrogant when the Christian holds to a view of God that potentially attributes evil to this deity.

I find it ironic how many times Rachel has stated that her God is perfect, yet everything he creates is remarkably imperfect. To me this is highly suggestive that if there is a God, he/she is not perfect.

Toby

Toby

Rachel said...

Malcolm,

If God is God, and God is a jokster, then how is that not a deity-like action? How do you know what actions are deity-like and which are not?

Simple logic. Whatever God is, he is the ultimate, supreme being, perfect in every way. If he wasn't, then it would be possible for a being to be greater and more perfect than him, and then THAT being would be God. Planting fake religions all over the world just for fun, to trick people into believing something false, is not a good thing. Deception "just for fun" cannot be an action of a perfect being.

As for Evan's comment, I haven't posited any of the items in his first premise, so his comment is irrelevant.

And for some reason Toby thinks it's arrogant for one to think that one has the correct interpretation about something. (?)

Malcolm said...

Rachel,

Planting fake religions all over the world just for fun, to trick people into believing something false, is not a good thing. Deception "just for fun" cannot be an action of a perfect being.


If God defines what is good then how would it not be a good thing? How are you determining what is good?

Toby said...

Rachel

You wrote, "And for some reason Toby thinks it's arrogant for one to think that one has the correct interpretation about something. (?)"

Actually, what I wrote, no surprise that you misinterpreted it, "but to be dogmatic about their interpretation being the correct interpretation is arrogant." Here I was referring to one's interpretation of the genocides in the Bible overall. Only a complete narcissist would say that they are 100% positive that they hold the correct interpretation of every scripture, or even just the genocide/mass cleansing scriptures. A healthy person generally has room to say, I think I have the right interpretation, but I am open to the possibility that I could be wrong on parts or even much of what I believe.

Toby

Rachel said...

Malcolm,

If God defines what is good then how would it not be a good thing? How are you determining what is good?

Because unjustifiably harming someone else in any way (i.e. harming someone else "just for fun") can never be "good". It's like asking, if God drew a square and said it was round, how could it not be round? Such a thing is simply impossible, because we know that squares cannot be round.

It's one thing to be unclear or unsure of something God did, such as, why did God allow a certain hurricane. Well, we might not know for sure, but we can come up with reasons as to how such a thing might be used for good, i.e. it's not illogical. OTOH, there is absolutely NO WAY that harming someone else just for fun could possibly be a good thing. It is completely illogical.

So since God is perfectly good, he could never do something bad. And I never said that God defines good, I said that God defines God. Rather than saying that a thing is good because God does it, I would be more inclined to say that God does a thing because it is good. Since he is good, then he only does those things that are good. If it is impossible for a thing to be good, then it is impossible for God to do it.

Rachel said...

Toby,

So what would you say is the difference between thinking you have the correct interpretation and being dogmatic that you have the correct interpretation?

Only a complete narcissist would say that they are 100% positive that they hold the correct interpretation of every scripture, or even just the genocide/mass cleansing scriptures.

I agree with you on the "every Scripture" part, but why do you then apply it so specifically to such a relatively few amount of Scriptures? I'm sure I don't have the correct interpretation of every single verse, but why is it so bad to be sure that I'm correct (at least generally) about a certain small category of Scriptures? I may not have every single detail exactly right, but I'm confident that I have the overall interpretation correct. How is that narcissistic?

That's like saying that a scientist can't possibly have the right interpretation about every single piece of information he's ever gathered or seen, or even just the information regarding viruses. While the former is certainly impossible, the latter is quite feasible, even expected.

And you might have noticed that Dr. Avalos is at least as confident in his interpretation as I am in mine, maybe more so. Is he narcissistic too? Why do you complain about the Christian's confidence but not about the skeptic's confidence?

A healthy person generally has room to say, I think I have the right interpretation, but I am open to the possibility that I could be wrong on parts or even much of what I believe.

And I would agree that I "could" be wrong on parts or even much of what I believe. But I find the evidence so strong for what I believe that the possibility is very minute. Would you require this of an evolutionist? Should they constantly be saying, "well, we could be wrong about evolution, maybe the creationists are right, but here's what we think might be true about this information"?

Evan said...

And I would agree that I "could" be wrong on parts or even much of what I believe.

Good for you.

But I find the evidence so strong for what I believe that the possibility is very minute.

Bad for you. Your evidence is quite weak. We keep trying to show that to you.

Would you require this of an evolutionist?

Do you mean a biologist? If so, then yes. Biology is ALL ABOUT evidence and if you need evidence just look at my threads about Intelligent Design, Dr. Egnor, Vitamin C production etc. I notice that I give plenty of evidence on those threads and not one apologetic type has disputed any of the facts.

Should they constantly be saying, "well, we could be wrong about evolution, maybe the creationists are right, but here's what we think might be true about this information"?

Not quite. They are constantly saying that they could be wrong about evolution, that's what drives science. They just happen to already know that creationists are wrong. Creationism makes lots of predictions and all of them are proven wrong already.

Remember that biologists were originally all creationists. This was the case less than 200 years ago.

There are now virtually no biologists publishing articles today who are creationists (with the exception of those who work at religious colleges of an universities and their job depends on accepting creationism). How do you explain this if the evidence is not there for evolution? There is nothing like this level of acceptance of an idea in any other field.

Psychology still has plenty of behaviorism. Economics has at least 3 major schools of thought that battle with one another. Physics has many different interpretations of how gravity, relativity and quantum theory can be unified. Only in geology, chemistry and biology is there near-universal agreement about the basic facts and the matrix of understanding for the whole discipline.

Creationists generally don't argue much with chemists or geologists but you have to understand that the findings of chemists and geologists are critical to our understanding of this universe, and they all show the universe to be very old and life to have evolved from common ancestors on this planet.

Rachel I am glad you want evidence and if you wish to find it, go look for it. Learn biology, geology and chemistry for a few years, you'll be glad you did, and while doing so you will be overwhelmed with the amount of facts you find.

I studied chemistry and biology at a college that was creationist in outlook and all my professors were creationists, but the facts they taught me proved to me they were wrong. I later studied geology on my own and found even more overwhelming data.

Test it yourself.

Toby said...

Rachael,

In no way am I meaning to ignore you, rather I think Evan responded well to your post so I will leave it at that.

Toby

Rachel said...

Evan and Toby,

The issue is that Toby was complaining that Christians (me by implication) claim that their interpretation of the punishment of the Canaanites is correct, and that we are "arrogant" to do so. Since Toby never answered my question as to the difference between thinking one is correct (confidence) and being dogmatic that one is correct, I can only assume that the reason he bothered to post such a comment on this thread was because he thought that I was indeed being arrogant by thinking that I have the correct interpretation of these passages.

My whole point can be summed up with this from my last comment:

And you might have noticed that Dr. Avalos is at least as confident in his interpretation as I am in mine, maybe more so. Is he narcissistic [and arrogant] too? Why do you complain about the Christian's confidence but not about the skeptic's confidence?

Unless either of you can give specific reasons why I am arrogant or narcissistic merely for having confidence that I have the correct interpretation of the Canaanite texts (when others who hold a different view with the same level of confidence are NOT considered arrogant), then I will consider myself absolved of the charge of arrogance on this topic.

Evan said...

Rachel here it is in bold type for you so you can chew it over:

It is not arrogant to have an opinion.

It is arrogant to believe you personally know the God of the universe and can explain his actions for him.

Hope that helps.

Rachel said...

Evan,

Unfortunately, that doesn't help at all because it makes no sense.

What if I have an opinion about the actions of the God of the universe? Would I be arrogant for presuming to explain God's actions? Or would I be okay because I have an opinion, which you say is not arrogant?

Beyond that, this seems to be an impossible situation. The skeptic complains about a part of Scripture, claiming a contradiction or inconsistency within Christian theology. Then when the Christian explains how the alleged contradiction isn't a contradiction, she is called arrogant for thinking she can explain the passage.

So let's see... if no one answers and attempts to explain these "difficult" passages, the skeptic claims victory. If someone does attempt to explain them, the skeptic claims the explainer is arrogant for attempting to explain. Has a tendency to stifle discussion.

Speaking of which, I think this has been discussed enough. This thread has pretty much died so I'm moving on. See you all around.

Wade said...

Under Copan's rationale, all one has to do to excuse Hitler's genocide is say:

"we are not talking about genocide or ethnic cleansing, but a kind of corporate capital punishment that was deliberately limited in scope [european jews] and restricted to a specific period of time [roughly 1941-45].

Ignostic Morgan said...

May Rachel rot with Richard Swinburne!