Thursday, April 14, 2011

Elizabeth Anderson-If God is Dead is Everything Permitted?

Here is a great essay by Elizabeth Anderson dealing with the issue of ethics and morality without God. Elizabeth Anderson is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Rawls Collegiate Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan. She teaches courses in ethics, social and political philosophy, philosophy of the social sciences, and feminist theory. Her research has focused on democratic theory, equality in political philosophy and American law, racial integration, the ethical limits of markets, theories of value and rational choice (alternatives to consequentialism and economic theories of rational choice), the philosophies of John Stuart Mill and John Dewey, and feminist epistemology and philosophy of science. For more information about her and her publications click here

If God is Dead is Everything Permitted?

At the Institute for Creation Research Museum in Santee, California, visitors begin their tour by viewing a plaque displaying the "tree of evolutionism," which, it is said (following Matt. 7:18), "bears only corrupt fruits." The "evil tree" of evolution is a stock metaphor among proponents of the literal truth of the biblical story of creation. In different versions, it represents evolutionary theory as leading to abortion, suicide, homosexuality, the drug culture, hard rock, alcohol, "dirty books," sex education, alcoholism, crime, government regulation, inflation, racism, Nazism, communism, terrorism, socialism, moral relativism, secularism, feminism, and humanism, among other phenomena regarded as evil. The roots of the evil tree grow in the soil of "unbelief," which "nourishes the tree with "sin." The base of its trunk represents "no God"—that is, atheism.

The evil tree vividly displays two important ideas. First, the fundamental religious objection to the theory of evolution is not scientific but moral. Evolutionary theory must be opposed because it leads to rampant immorality, on both the personal and political scales. Second, the basic cause of this immorality is atheism. Evolutionary theory bears corrupt fruit because it is rooted in denial of the existence of God.

Most forms of theism today are reconciled to the truth of evolutionary theory. But the idea of the evil tree still accurately depicts a core objection to atheism. Few people of religious faith object to atheism because they think the evidence for the existence of God is compelling to any rational inquirer. Most of the faithful haven't considered the evidence for the existence of God in a spirit of rational inquiry—that is, with openness to the possibility that the evidence goes against their faith. Rather, I believe that people object to atheism because they think that without God, morality is impossible. In the famous words (mis)attributed to Dostoyevsky, "If God is dead, then everything is permitted.” Or, in the less-famous words of Senator Joe Lieberman, we must not suppose "that morality can be maintained without religion."

Why think that religion is necessary for morality? It might be thought that people wouldn't know the difference between right and wrong if God did not re­veal it to them. But that can't be right. Every society whether or not it is founded on theism, has acknowledged the basic principles of morality, excluding religious observance which are laid down in the Ten Commandments. Every stable society punishes murder, theft, and bearing false witness; teaches children to honor their parents; and condemns envy of one's neighbor's possessions, at least when such envy leads one to treat one's neighbors badly. People figured out these rules long before they were exposed to any of the major monotheistic religions. This fact suggests that moral knowledge springs not from revelation but from people's experiences in living together, in which they have learned that they must adjust their own conduct in light of others' claims.

Perhaps, then, the idea that religion is necessary for morality means that people wouldn't care about the difference between right and wrong if God did not promise salvation for good behavior and threaten damnation for bad be­havior. On this view, people must be goaded into behaving morally through divine sanction. But this can't be right, either. People have many motives, such as love, a sense of honor, and respect for others, that motivate moral behavior. Pagan societies have not been noticeably more immoral than theistic ones. In any event, most theistic doctrines repudiate the divine sanction theory of the motive to be moral. Judaism places little emphasis on hell. Christianity today is dominated by two rival doctrines of salvation. One says that the belief that Jesus is one's savior is the one thing necessary for salvation. The other says that salvation is a free gift from God that cannot be earned by anything a person may do or believe. Both doctrines are inconsistent with the use of heaven and hell as in­centives to morality.

A better interpretation of the claim that religion is necessary for morality is that there wouldn't be a difference between right and wrong if God did not make it so. Nothing would really be morally required or prohibited, so everything would be permitted. William Lane Craig, one of the leading popular defenders of Christianity, advances this view. Think of it in terms of the authority of moral rules. Suppose a person or group proposes a moral rule—say, against murder. What would give this rule authority over those who disagree with it? Craig argues that, in the absence of God, nothing would. Without God, moral disputes reduce to mere disputes over subjective preferences. There would be no right or wrong answer. Since no individual has any inherent authority over another, each would be free to act on his or her own preference. To get authoritative moral rules, we need an authoritative commander. Only God fills that role. So the moral rules get their authority, their capacity to obligate us, from the fact that God commands them.

Sophisticates will tell you that this moralistic reasoning against atheism is illogical. They say that whether God exists depends wholly on the factual evidence, not on the moral implications of God's existence. Do not believe them. We know the basic moral rules—that it is wrong to engage in murder, plunder, rape, and torture, to brutally punish people for the wrongs of others or for blameless error, to enslave others, to engage in ethnic cleansing and genocide—with greater confi­dence than we know any conclusions drawn from elaborate factual or logical reasoning. If you find a train of reasoning that leads to the conclusion that everything, or even just these things, is permitted, this is a good reason for you to reject it. Call this "the moralistic argument." So, if it is true that atheism entails that everything is permitted, this is a strong reason to reject atheism.

While I accept the general form of the moralistic argument, I think it applies more forcefully to theism than to atheism. This objection is as old as philosophy. Plato, the first systematic philosopher, raised it against divine command theories of morality in the fifth century BCE. He asked divine-command moralists: are actions right because God commands them, or does God command them because they are right? If the latter is true, then actions are right indepen­dent of whether God commands them, and God is not needed to underwrite the authority of morality. But if the former is true, then God could make any action right simply by willing it or by ordering others to do it. This establishes that, if the authority of morality depends on God's will, then, in principle, anything is permitted.

This argument is not decisive against theism, considered as a purely philosophical idea. Theists reply that because God is necessarily good, He would never do anything morally reprehensible Himself, nor command us to perform heinous acts. The argument is better applied to the purported evidence for theism. I shall argue that if we take the evidence for theism with utmost seriousness, we will find ourselves committed to the proposition that the most heinous acts are permitted. Since we know that these acts are not morally permitted, we must therefore doubt the evidence for theism.

Now "theism" is a pretty big idea, and the lines of evidence taken to support one or another form of it are various. So I need to say more about theism and the evidence for it. By "theism" I mean belief in the God of Scripture. This is the God of the Old and New Testaments and the Koran—the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is also the God of any other religion that accepts one or more of these texts as containing divine revelation, such as the Mormon Church, the Unification Church, and Jehovah's Witnesses. God, as represented in Scripture, has plans for human beings and intervenes in history to realize those plans. God has a moral relationship to human beings and tells humans how to live. By focusing on theism in the Scriptural sense, I narrow my focus in two ways. First, my argument doesn't immediately address polytheism or pa­ganism, as is found, for example, in the religions of Zeus and Baal, Hinduism or Wicca. (I'll argue later that, since the evidence for polytheism is on a par with the evidence for theism, any argument that undermines the latter undermines the former.) Second, my argument doesn't immediately address deism, the philosophical idea of God as a first cause of the universe, who lays down the laws of nature and then lets them run like clockwork, indifferent to the fate of the people subject to them.

What, then, is the evidence for theism? It is Scripture, plus any historical or contemporary evidence of the same kind as presented in Scripture: testimonies of miracles, revelations in dreams, or what people take to be direct encounters with God: experiences of divine presence, and prophecies that have been subject to test. Call these things "extraordinary evidence," for short. Other arguments for the existence of God offer cold comfort to theists. Purely theoretical argu­ments such as for the necessity of a first cause of the universe can at most sup­port deism. They do nothing to show that the deity in question cares about human beings or has any moral significance. I would say the same about at­tempts to trace some intelligent design in the evolution of life. Let us suppose, contrary to the scientific evidence, that life is the product of design. Then the prevalence of gratuitous violence, pain and suffering, predation, parasitism, disease, and imperfect human organs strongly supports the view that the designer is indifferent to us.

The core evidence for theism, then, is Scripture. What if we accept Scripture as offering evidence of a God who has a moral character and plans for human beings, who intervenes in history and tells us how to live? What conclusions should we draw from Scripture about God's moral character and about how we ought to behave? Let us begin with the position of the fundamentalist, of one who takes Scripture with utmost seriousness, as the inerrant source of knowl­edge about God and morality. It we accept biblical inerrancy, I'll argue, we must conclude that much of what we take to be morally evil is in fact morally permissible and even required.

Consider first God's moral character, as revealed in the Bible. He routinely punishes people for the sins of others. He punishes all mothers by condemning them to painful childbirth, for Eve's sin. He punishes all human beings by condemning them to labor, for Adam's sin (Gen. 3:16-18). He regrets His creation and in a fit of pique, commits genocide and ecocide by flooding the earth (Gen. 6:7). He hardens Pharaoh's heart against freeing the Israelites (Ex. 7:3), so as to provide the occasion for visiting plagues upon the Egyptians, who, as helpless subjects of a tyrant, had no part in Pharaoh's decision. (So much for respecting free will - the standard justification for the existence of evil in the world?) He kills all the firstborn sons, even of slave girls who had no part in oppressing the Is­raelites (Ex. 11:5). He punishes the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great great-grandchildren of those who worship any other god (Ex. 20:3-5). He sets a plague upon the Israelites, killing 24,000, because some of them had sex with the Baal-worshiping Midianites (Num. 25:1-9). He lays a three-year famine on David's people for Saul's slaughter of the Gibeonites (2 Sam. 21:1). He orders David to take a census of his men, and then sends a plague on Israel, killing seventy thousand for David's sin in taking the census (2 Sam. 24:10-15). He sends two bears out of the woods to tear forty-two children to pieces, because they called the prophet Elisha a bald head (2 Kings 2:23-24). He condemns the Samarians, telling them that their children will be "dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open" (Hosea 13:16). This is but a small sample of the evils celebrated in the Bible.

Can all this cruelty and injustice be excused on the ground that God may do what humans may not? Look, then, at what God commands humans to do. He commands us to put to death adulterers (Lev. 20:10), homosexuals (Lev. 20:13), and people who work on the Sabbath (Ex. 35:2). He commands us to cast into ex­ile people who eat blood (Lev. 7:27), who have skin diseases (Lev. 13:46), and who have sex with their wives while they are menstruating (Lev. 20:18). Blasphemers must be stoned (Lev. 24:16), and prostitutes whose fathers are priests must be burned to death (Lev. 21:9). That's just the tip of the iceberg. God repeatedly di­rects the Israelites to commit ethnic cleansing (Ex. 34:11-14, Lev. 26:7-9) and genocide against numerous cities and tribes: the city of Hormah (Num. 21:2-3), the land of Bashan (Num. 21:33-35), the land of Heshbon (Deut. 2:26-35), the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites (Josh. 1-12). He commands them to show their victims "no mercy" (Deut. 7:2), to "not leave alive anything that breathes" (Deut. 20:16). In order to ensure their complete extermination, he thwarts the free will of the victims by hardening their hearts (Deut. 2:30, Josh. 11:20) so that they do not sue for peace. These genocides are, of course, instrumental to the wholesale theft of their land (Josh. 1:1-6) and the rest of their property (Deut. 20:14, Josh. 11:14). He tells eleven tribes of Israel to nearly exterminate the twelfth tribe, the Benjamites, because a few of them raped and killed a Levite's concubine. The resulting bloodbath takes the lives of 40,000 Israelites and 25,100 Benjamites (Judg. 20:21,25,35). He helps Abijiah kill half a million Israelites (2 Chron. 13:15-20) and helps Asa kill a mil­lion Cushites, so his men can plunder all their property (2 Chron. 14:8-13).

Consider also what the Bible permits. Slavery is allowed (Lev. 25:44-46, Eph. 6:5, Col. 3:22). Fathers may sell their daughters into slavery (Ex. 21:7). Slaves may be beaten, as long as they survive for two days after (Ex. 21:20—21, Luke 12:45-48). Female captives from a foreign war may be raped or seized as wives (Deut. 21:10-14). Disobedient children should be beaten with rods (Prov. 13:24, 23:13). In the Old Testament, men may take as many wives and concubines as they like because adultery for men consists only in having sex with a woman who is married (Lev. 18:20) or engaged to someone else (Deut. 22:23). Prisoners of war may be tossed off a cliff (2 Chron. 24:12). Children may be sacrificed to God in return for His aid in battle (2 Kings 3:26-27, Judg. n), or to persuade Him to end a famine (2 Sam. 21).

Christian apologists would observe that most of these transgressions occur in the Old Testament. Isn't the Old Testament God a stern and angry God, while Jesus of the New Testament is all-loving? We should examine, then, the quality of the love that Jesus promises to bring to humans. It is not only Jehovah who is jealous. Jesus tells us his mission is to make family members hate one another, so that they shall love him more than their kin (Matt. 10:35-37). He promises salvation to those who abandon their wives and children for him (Matt. 19:29, Mark 10:29-30, Luke 18:29-30). Disciples must hate their parents, siblings, wives, and children (Luke 14:26). The rod is not enough for children who curse their parents; they must be killed (Matt. 15:4-7, Mark 7:9-10, follow­ing Lev. 20:9). These are Jesus' "family values." Peter and Paul add to these family values the despotic rule of husbands over their silenced wives, who must obey their husbands as gods (1 Cor. 11:3, 14:34-5; Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; 1 Tim. 2:11-12; 1 Pet. 3:1).

To be sure, genocide, God-sent plagues, and torture do not occur in the times chronicled by the New Testament. But they are prophesied there, as they are repeatedly in the Old Testament (for instance, in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah, and Zepheniah). At the second coming, any city that does not accept Jesus will be destroyed, and the people will suffer even more than they did when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt. 10:14-15, Luke 10:12). God will flood the Earth as in Noah's time (Matt. 24:37). Or perhaps He will set the Earth on fire instead, to destroy the unbelievers (2 Pet. 3:7, 10) - but not before God sends Death and Hell to kill one quarter of the Earth "by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts" (Rev. 6:8). Apparently, it is not enough to kill people once; they have to be killed more than once to satisfy the genocidal mathematics of the New Testament. For we are also told that an angel will burn up one third of the Earth (8:7), another will poison a third of its water (8:10-11), four angels will kill another third of humanity by plagues of fire, smoke, and sulfur (9:13, 17-18), two of God's witnesses will visit plagues on the Earth as much as they like (11:6), and there will be assorted deaths by earthquakes (11:13, 16:18-19) and hailstones (16:21). Death is not bad enough for unbelievers, however; they must be tortured first. Locusts will sting them like scorpions until they want to die, but they will be denied the relief of death (9:3-6). Seven angels will pour seven bowls of God's wrath, delivering plagues of painful sores, seas and rivers of blood, burns from solar flares, darkness and tongue-biting (16:2-10).

That's just what's in store for people while they inhabit the Earth. Eternal damnation awaits most people upon their deaths (Matt. 7:13-14). They will be cast into a fiery furnace (Matt. 13:42, 25:41), an unquenchable fire (Luke 3:17). But, for what reason? The New Testament is not consistent on this point. Paul preaches the doctrine of predestination, according to which salvation is granted as an arbitrary gift from God, wholly unaffected by any choice humans may make (Eph. 1: 4-9). This implies that the rest are cast into the eternal torments of hell on God's whim. Sometimes salvation is promised to those who abandon their families to follow Christ (Matt. 19:27-30, Mark 10:28-30, Luke 9:59-62). This conditions salvation on a shocking indifference to family members. More often, the Synoptic Gospels promise salvation on the basis of good works, especially righteousness and helping the poor (for example, Matt. 16:27, 19:16-17; Mark 10:17-25; Luke 18:18-22, 19:8-9). This at least has the form of justice, since it is based on considerations of desert. But it metes out rewards and punishments grossly disproportional to the deeds people commit in their lifetimes. Finite sins cannot justify eternal punishment. Since the Reformation, Christian thought has tended to favor either predestination or justification by faith. In the latter view, the saved are all and only those who believe that Jesus is their savior. Everyone else is damned. This is the view of the Gospel of John (John 3:15-16, 18, 36; 6:47; 11:25-26). It follows that infants and anyone who never had the opportunity to hear about Christ are damned, through no fault of their own. Moreover, it is not clear that even those who hear about Christ have a fair chance to assess the merits of the tales about him. God not only thwarts our free will so as to visit harsher punishments upon us than we would have received had we been free to choose. He also messes with our heads. He sends people "powerful delusions" so they will not believe what is needed for salvation, to make sure that they are condemned (2 Thess. 2:11-12). Faith itself may be a gift of God rather than a product of rational assessment under our control and for which we could be held responsible. If so, then justification by faith reduces to God's arbitrary whim, as Paul held (Eph. 2:8-9). This at least has the merit of acknowledging that the evidence offered in favor of Christianity is far from sufficient to rationally justify belief in it. Granting this fact, those who do not believe are blameless and cannot be justly punished, even if Jesus really did die for our sins.

And what are we to make of the thought that Jesus died for our sins (Rom. 5:8-9, 15-18; 1 John 2:2; Rev. 1:5)? This core religious teaching of Christianity takes Jesus to be a scapegoat for humanity. The practice of scapegoating contra­dicts the whole moral principle of personal responsibility. It also contradicts any moral idea of God. If God is merciful and loving, why doesn't He forgive human­ity for its sins straightaway, rather than demanding His 150 pounds of flesh, in the form of His own son? How could any loving father do that to his son?

I find it hard to resist the conclusion that the God of the Bible is cruel and unjust and commands and permits us to be cruel and unjust to others. Here are religious doctrines that on their face claim that it is all right to mercilessly punish people for the wrongs of others and for blameless error, that license or even command murder, plunder, rape, torture, slavery, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. We know such actions are wrong. So we should reject the doctrines that represent them as right.

Of course, thoughtful Christians and Jews have struggled with this difficulty for centuries. Nothing I have said would come as a surprise to any reflective person of faith. Nor are theists without options for dealing with these moral embarrassments. Let us consider them.

One option is to bite the bullet. This is the only option open to hard-core fundamentalists, who accept the inerrancy of the Bible. In this view, the fact that God performed, commanded, or permitted these actions demonstrates that they are morally right. This view concedes my objection to theism, that it promotes terrible acts of genocide, slavery, and so forth. But it denies the moral force of this objection. We know where this option has led: to holy war, the systematic extirpation of heretics, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Thirty Years War, the English Civil War, witch-hunts, the cultural genocide of Mayan civilization, the brutal conquest of the Aztecs and the Inca, religious support for genocidal ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, slavery of Africans in the Americas, colonialist tyranny across the globe, confinement of the Jews to ghettos, and periodic pogroms against them, ultimately preparing the way for the Holocaust. In other words, it has led to centuries steeped in bloodshed, cruelty, and hatred without limit across continents.

Since this is clearly reprehensible, one might try a stopgap measure. One could deny that the dangerous principles in the Bible have any application after biblical times. For example, one might hold that, while it is in principle per­fectly all right to slaughter whoever God tells us to, in fact, God has stopped speaking to us. This argument runs into the difficulty that many people even today claim that God has spoken to them. It is hard to identify any reason to be comprehensively skeptical about current claims to have heard divine revelation that does not apply equally to the past. But to apply such skepticism to the past is to toss out revelation and hence the core evidence for God.

Another option is to try to soften the moral implications of embarrassing biblical episodes by filling in unmentioned details that make them seem less bad. There is a tradition of thinking about "hard sayings" that tries to do this. It imagines some elaborate context in which, for instance, it would be all right for God to command Abraham to sacrifice his son, or for God to inflict unspeakable suffering on His blameless servant Job, and then insists that that was the context in which God actually acted. I have found such excuses for God's depravity to be invariably lame. To take a typical example, it is said of David's seemingly innocent census of his army that he sinned by counting what was not his, but God's. Even if we were to grant this, it still does not excuse God for slaughtering seventy thousand of David's men, rather than focusing His wrath on David alone. I also find such casuistic exercises to be morally dangerous. To devote one's moral reflections to constructing elaborate rationales for past genocides, human sacrifices, and the like is to invite applications of similar reasoning to future actions.

I conclude that there is no way to cabin off or soft-pedal the reprehensible moral implications of these biblical passages. They must be categorically rejected as false and depraved moral teachings. Morally decent theists have always done so in practice. Nevertheless, they insist that there is much worthy moral teaching that can be salvaged from the Bible. They would complain that the sample of biblical moral lessons I cited above is biased. I hasten to agree. There are many admirable moral teachings in the Bible, even beyond the obvious moral rules—against murder, stealing, lying, and the like—that are acknowledged by all societies. "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18, Matt. 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27, James 2:8) concisely encapsulates the moral point of view. The Bible courageously extends this teaching to the downtrodden, de­manding not just decency and charity to the poor and disabled (Ex. 23:6, 23:11; Lev. 19:10,23:22; Deut. 15:7-8,24:14-15; Prov. 22:22; Eph. 4:28; James 2:15-16), but provisions in the structure of property rights to liberate people from landlessness and oppressive debts (Deut. 15, Lev. 25:10-28). Although the details of these provisions make little economic sense (for instance, canceling debts every seven years prevents people from taking out loans for a longer term), their general idea, that property rights should be structured so as to enable everyone to avoid oppression, is sound. Such teachings were not only morally advanced for their day but would dramatically improve the world if practiced today.

So, the Bible contains both good and evil teachings. This fact bears upon the standing of Scripture, both as a source of evidence for moral claims, and as a source of evidence for theism. Consider first the use of Scripture as a source of evidence for moral claims. We have seen that the Bible is morally inconsistent. If we try to draw moral lessons from a contradictory source, we must pick and choose which ones to accept. This requires that we use our own independent moral judgment, founded on some source other than revelation or the supposed authority of God, to decide which biblical passages to accept. In fact, once we recognize the moral inconsistencies in the Bible, it's clear that the hard­core fundamentalists who today preach hatred toward gay people and the sub­ordination of women, and who at other times and places have, with biblical support, claimed God's authority for slavery, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing, have been picking and choosing all along. What distinguishes them from other believers is precisely their attraction to the cruel and despotic passages in the Bible. Far from being a truly independent guide to moral conduct, the Bible is more like a Rorschach test: which passages people choose to emphasize reflects as much as it shapes their moral character and interests.

Moral considerations, then, should draw theists inexorably away from fundamentalism and toward liberal theology—that is, toward forms of theism that deny the literal truth of the Bible and that attribute much of its content to ancient confusion, credulity, and cruelty. Only by moving toward liberal theology can theists avoid refutation at the hands of the moralistic argument that is thought to undermine atheism. Only in this way can theists affirm that the heinous acts supposedly committed or commanded by God and reported in the Bible are just plain morally wrong.

The great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant took this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion for morality. He considered the case of an inquisitor who claims divine authority for executing unbelievers. That the Bible commends such acts is undeniable (see Ex. 22:20, 2 Chron. 15:13, Luke 19:27, Acts 3:23). But how do we know that the Bible accurately records God's revealed word? Kant said:
That it is wrong to deprive a man of his life because of his religious faith is cer­tain, unless ... a Divine Will, made known in extraordinary fashion, has or­dered it otherwise. But that God has ever ordered this terrible injunction can be asserted only on the basis of historical documents and is never apodictically certain. After all, the revelation has reached the inquisitor only through men and has been interpreted by men, and even did it appear to have come from God Himself (like the command delivered to Abraham to slaughter his own son like a sheep) it is at least possible that in this instance a mistake has prevailed. But if this is so, the inquisitor would risk the danger of doing what would be wrong in the highest degree; and in this very act he is behaving un-conscientiously.
Kant advances a moral criterion for judging the authenticity of any supposed revelation. If you hear a voice or some testimony purportedly revealing God's word and it tells you to do something you know is wrong, don't believe that it's really God telling you to do these things.

I believe that Kant correctly identified the maximum permissible moral limits of belief in extraordinary evidence concerning God. These limits require that we reject the literal truth of the Bible. My colleague Jamie Tappenden argues that such a liberal approach to faith is theologically incoherent. Perhaps it is. Still, given a choice between grave moral error and theological muddle, I recommend theological muddle every time.
But these are not our only alternatives. We must further ask whether we should accept any part of the Bible as offering evidence about the existence and nature of God. Once we have mustered enough doubt in the Bible to reject its inerrancy, is there any stable position short of rejecting altogether its claims to extraordinary evidence about God? And once we reject its claims, would this not undermine all the extra-biblical extraordinary evidence for God that is of the same kind alleged by believers in the Bible? Here we have a body of purported evidence for theism, consisting of what seem to be experiences of divine presence, revelation, and miracles, testimonies of the same, and prophecies. We have seen that such experiences, testimonies, and prophecies are at least as likely to assert grave moral errors as they are to assert moral truths. This shows that these sources of extraordinary evidence are deeply unreliable. They can't be trusted. So not only should we think that they offer no independent support for moral claims, but we should not think they offer independent support for theological claims.

Against this, defenders of liberal theology need to argue that the claims derived from these extraordinary sources fall into two radically distinct groups. In one group, there are the purported revelations that assert moral error, which should not be accepted as having come from God and offer no independent support for any claim about God. In the other group there are the genuine revelations that assert moral truths or some morally neutral proposition (for exam­ple, claims about historical events and prophecies of the future), as well as testimonies of miracles and experiences of divine presence, which should be accepted as having come from God and do provide evidence for the existence and nature of God.

I think this fallback position should be rejected for two reasons. First, it does not explain why these extraordinary types of evidence should be thought to fall into two radically distinct groups. Why should they ever have generated grave moral errors? Second, it does not explain why all religions, whether monotheistic, polytheistic or non-theistic, appear to have access to the same sources of evidence. Believers in any one religion can offer no independent criteria for accepting their own revelations, miracles, and religious experiences while rejecting the revelations, miracles, and religious experiences that appear to support contradictory religious claims. I believe that the best explanation for both of these phenomena—that the extraordinary sources of evidence generate grave moral error as well as moral truth and that they offer equal support for contradictory religious claims—undermines the credibility of these extraordinary sources of evidence altogether.

So first, why were the ancient biblical peoples as ready to ascribe evil as good deeds to God? Why did they think God was so angry that He chronically unleashed tides of brutal destruction on humanity? The answer is that they took it for granted that all events bearing on human well-being are willed by some agent for the purpose of affecting humans for good or ill. If no human was observed to have caused the event, or if the event was of a kind (e.g., a plague, drought, or good weather) that no human would have the power to cause, then they assumed that some unseen, more-powerful agent had to have willed it, precisely for its good or bad effects on humans. So, if the event was good for people, they assumed that God willed it out of love for them; if it was bad, they assumed that God willed it out of anger at them. This mode of explanation is universally observed among people who lack scientific understanding of natural events. It appears to be a deeply rooted cognitive dissonance and bias of humans to reject the thought of meaningless suffering. If we are suffering, someone must be responsible for it!

Why did these representations of God as cruel and unjust not make God repugnant to the authors of Scripture and their followers? They were too busy trembling in their sandals to question what they took to be God's will. The seventeenth-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes observed that people honor raw power irrespective of its moral justification:
Nor does it alter the case of honour, whether an action (so it be great and difficult, and consequently a sign of much power) be just or unjust: for honour consisteth only in the opinion of power. Therefore the ancient heathen did not think they dishonoured, but greatly honoured the Gods, when they introduced them in their poems, committing rapes, thefts, and other great, but unjust, or unclean acts: insomuch as nothing is so much celebrated in Jupiter, as his adulteries; nor in Mercury, as his frauds, and thefts: of whose praises, in a hymn of Homer, the greatest is this, that being born in the morning, he had invented music at noon, and before night, stolen away the cattle of Apollo, from his herdsmen.
Hobbes's psychological explanation applies even more emphatically to the authors Scripture, the ancient Hebrews and the early Christians, whose God commits deeds several orders of magnitude more terrible than anything the Greek gods did.

Ancient social conditions also made God's injustice less obvious to the early Jews and Christians. Norms of honor and revenge deeply structure the social order of tribal societies. These norms treat whole clans and tribes, rather than individuals, as the basic units of responsibility. A wrong committed by a member of a tribe could therefore be avenged by an injury inflicted on any other member of that tribe, including descendents of the wrongdoer. Given that people in these societies habitually visited the iniquities of the fathers on the sons, it did not strike the early Hebrews and Christians as strange that God would do so as well, although on a far grander scale.

So the tendency, in the absence of scientific knowledge, to ascribe events having good and bad consequences for human beings to corresponding benevolent and malevolent intentions of unseen spirits, whether these be gods, angels, ances­tors, demons, or human beings who deploy magical powers borrowed from some spirit world, explains the belief in a divine spirit as well as its (im)moral character. This explanatory tendency is pan-cultural. The spiritual world everywhere reflects the hopes and fears, loves and hatreds, aspirations and depravities of those who believe in it. This is just as we would expect if beliefs in the supernatural are, like Rorschach tests, projections of the mental states of believers, rather than based on independent evidence. The same cognitive bias that leads pagans to believe in witches and multiple gods leads theists to believe in God. Indeed, once the explanatory principle—to ascribe worldly events that bear on human well-being to the intentions and powers of unseen spirits, when no actual person is observed to have caused them—is admitted, it is hard to deny that the evidence for polytheism and spiritualism of all heretical varieties is exactly on a par with the evidence for theism. Every year in my town, Ann Arbor, Michigan, there is a summer art fair. Not just artists, but political and religious groups, set up booths to promote their wares, be these artworks or ideas. Along one street one finds booths of Catholics, Baptists, Calvinists, Christian Orthodox, other denominational and nondenominational Christians of all sons, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha'i, Mormons, Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews for Jesus, Wiccans, Scientologists, New Age believers—representatives of nearly every religion that has a significant presence in the United States. The believers in each booth offer evidence of exactly the same kind to advance their religion. Every faith points to its own holy texts and oral traditions, its spiritual experiences, miracles and prophets, its testimonies of wayward lives turned around by conversion, rebirth of faith, or return to the church.

Each religion takes these experiences and reports them as conclusive evidence for its peculiar set of beliefs. Here we have purported sources of evidence for higher, unseen spirits or divinity, which systematically point to contradictory beliefs. Is there one God, or many? Was Jesus God, the son of God, God's prophet, or just a man? Was the last prophet Jesus, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, or the Rev. Sun Myung Moon?
Consider how this scene looks to someone like me, who was raised outside of any faith. My father is nominally a Lutheran and in practice religiously indifferent. My mother is culturally Jewish but not practicing. Having been rejected by both the local Lutheran minister and the local rabbi (in both cases, for being in a mixed marriage), but thinking that some kind of religious education would be good for their children, my parents helped found the local Unitarian church in the town where I grew up. Unitarianism is a church without a creed; there are no doctrinal requirements of membership. (Although Bertrand Russell once quipped that Unitarianism stands for the proposition that there is at most one God and these days pagans are as welcome as all others.) It was a pretty good fit for us, until New Age spiritualists started to take over the church. That was too loopy for my father's rationalistic outlook, so we left. Thus, religious doctrines never had a chance to insinuate themselves into my head as a child. So I have none by default or habit.

Surveying the religious booths every year at the Ann Arbor art fair, I am always struck by the fact that they are staffed by people who are convinced of their own revelations and miracles, while most so readily disparage the revelations and miracles of other faiths. To a mainstream Christian, Jew, or Muslim, nothing is more obvious than that founders and prophets of other religions, such as Joseph Smith, the Rev. Moon, Mary Baker Eddy, and L. Ron Hubbard, are either frauds or delusional, their purported miracles or cures are tricks played upon a credulous audience (or worse, exercises of black magic), their prophecies false, their metaphysics absurd. To me, nothing is more obvious than that the evidence cited on behalf of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is of exactly the same type and qualify as that cited on behalf of such despised religions. Indeed, it is on a par with the evidence for Zeus, Baal, Thor, and other long-abandoned gods, who are now considered ridiculous by nearly everyone.

The perfect symmetry of evidence for all faiths persuades me that the types of extraordinary evidence to which they appeal are not credible. The sources of evidence for theism—revelations, miracles, religious experiences, and prophecies, nearly all known only by testimony transmitted through uncertain chains of long-lost original sources—systematically generate contradictory beliefs, many of which are known to be morally abhorrent or otherwise false. Of course, ordi­nary sources of evidence, such as eyewitness testimony of ordinary events, also often lead to conflicting beliefs. But in the latter case, we have independent ways to test the credibility of the evidence—for instance, by looking for corroborating physical evidence. In the former cases, the tests advanced by believers tend to be circular: don't believe that other religion's testimonies of miracles or revelations, since they come from those who teach a false religion (Deut. 13:1-5). It is equally useless to appeal to the certainty in one's heart of some experience of divine presence. For exactly the same certainty has been felt by those who think they've seen ghosts, spoken to dead relatives, been kidnapped by aliens, or been possessed by Dionysus or Apollo. Furthermore, where independent tests exist, they either disconfirm or fail to confirm the extraordinary evidence. There is no geological evidence of a worldwide flood, no archaeological evidence that Pharaoh's army drowned in the Red Sea after Moses parted it to enable the Israelites to escape. Jesus' central prophecy, that oppressive regimes would be destroyed in an apocalypse, and the Kingdom of God established on Earth, within the lifetime of those witnessing his preaching (Mark 8:38-9:1, 13:24-27, 30), did not come to pass. If any instance of these extraordinary sources of evidence is what it purports to be, it is like the proverbial needle in the haystack—except that there is no way to tell the difference between it and the hay. I conclude that none of the evidence for theism—that is, for the God of Scripture—is credible. Since exactly the same types of evidence are the basis for belief in pagan Gods, I reject pagan religions too.

It follows that we cannot appeal to God to underwrite the authority of morality. How, then, can I answer the moralistic challenge to atheism, that without God moral rules lack any authority? I say: the authority of moral rules lies not with God, but with each of us. We each have moral authority with respect to one another. This authority is, of course, not absolute. No one has the authority to order anyone else to blind obedience. Rather, each of us has the authority to make claims on others, to call upon people to heed our interests and concerns. Whenever we lodge a complaint, or otherwise lay a claim on others' attention and conduct, we presuppose our own authority to give others reasons for action that are not dependent on appealing to the desires and preferences they already have. But whatever grounds we have for assuming our own authority to make claims is equally well possessed by anyone who we expect to heed our own claims. For, in addressing others as people to whom our claims are justified, we acknowledge them as judges of claims, and hence as moral authorities. Moral rules spring from our practices of reciprocal claim making, in which we work out together the kinds of considerations that count as reasons that all of us must heed, and thereby devise rules for living together peacefully and cooperatively, on a basis of mutual accountability.

What of someone who refuses to accept such accountability? Doesn't this possibility vindicate Craig's worry, that without some kind of higher authority external to humans, moral claims amount to nothing more than assertions of personal preference, backed up by power? No. We deal with people who refuse accountability by restraining and deterring their objectionable behavior. Such people have no proper complaint against this treatment. For, in the very act of lodging a complaint, they address others as judges of their claims, and thereby step into the very system of moral adjudication that demands their accountability.

I am arguing that morality, understood as a system of reciprocal claim mak­ing, in which everyone is accountable to everyone else, does not need its authority underwritten by some higher, external authority. It is underwritten by the authority we all have to make claims on one another. Far from bolstering the authority of morality, appeals to divine authority can undermine it. For divine command theories of morality may make believers feel entitled to look only to their idea of God to determine what they are justified in doing. It is all too easy under such a system to ignore the complaints of those injured by one's actions, since they are not acknowledged as moral authorities in their own right. But to ignore the complaints of others is to deprive oneself of the main source of infor­mation one needs to improve one's conduct. Appealing to God, rather than those affected by one's actions, amounts to an attempt to escape accountability to one's fellow human beings.

This is not an indictment of the conduct of theists in general. Theistic moralities, like secular ones, have historically inspired both highly moral and highly immoral action. For every bloodthirsty holy warrior we can find an equally violent communist or fascist, enthusiastically butchering and enslaving others in the name of some dogmatically held ideal. Such observations are irrelevant to my argument. For my argument has not been about the causal consequences of belief for action. It has been about the logical implications of accepting or rejecting the core evidence for theism.

I have argued that if we take with utmost seriousness the core evidence for theism, which is the testimonies of revelations, miracles, religious experiences, and prophecies found in Scripture then we are committed to the view that the most heinous acts are morally right, because Scripture tells us that God performs or commands them. Since we know that such acts are morally wrong, we cannot take at face value the extraordinary evidence for theism recorded in Scripture. We must at least reject that part of the evidence that supports morally repugnant actions. Once we have stepped this far toward liberal theological approaches to the evidence for God, however, we open ourselves up to two further challenges to this evidence. First, the best explanation of extraordinary evidence—the only explanation that accounts for its tendency to commend heinous acts as well as good acts—shows it to reflect either our own hopes and feelings, whether these be loving or hateful, just or merciless, or else the stubborn and systematically erroneous cognitive bias of representing all events of consequence to our welfare as intended by some agent who cares about us, for good or for ill. Extraordinary evidence, in other words, is a projection of our own wishes, fears, and fantasies onto an imaginary deity. Second, all religions claim the same sorts of extraordinary evidence on their behalf. The perfect symmetry of this type of evidence for completely contradictory theological systems, and the absence of any independent ordinary evidence that corroborates one system more than another, strongly supports the view that such types of evidence are not credible at all. And once we reject such evidence altogether, there is nothing left that supports theism (or polytheism, either). The moralistic argument, far from threatening atheism, is a critical wedge that should open morally sensitive theists to the evidence against the existence of God.

17 comments:

  1. You're creating an argument that doesn't hold any ground. Would morals be gone is God was dead? First of all, those who believe in God believe that He created us all, therefore, if He did not exist, we wouldn't. Believers also hold that He is immortal and will live forever and that He placed a moral compass within each person. So even bringing up an argument about morals being in existence without God shows your true lack of knowledge. The answers to life are much simpler than whatever it is that you are searching for.

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  2. I suspect you missed the point of the essay.

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  3. I'm with Wahsabii on this one. I think you need to reread the essay and think about it a bit more.

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  4. Any body know of any critiques of this great essay
    ?

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. The author also didn't include process theology, the theological position that God is changing as is the universe. Process theologians argue our knowledge of God must be progressing as we learn more about Him, and it can never rest in any absolutes, which is why process theologians deny the absolutes of God's immutability and truth. The God of Sculpture is not the God of today and will not be the God of tomorrow.

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  7. The author makes the typical atheistic claim that our God can’t exist because He permits and/or causes evil. Her argument is baseless, because the word “evil” has no objective, universal meaning within an atheistic worldview. If someone threw a rock at me, I would never yell at the rock, “Rock, you ought not to have done that”. I place responsibility on the agent who threw the rock. Yet, if that agent is simply a blob of carbon based molecules that assembled together via physical forces over millions of years, they are nothing more than a complex rock (perhaps I should blame those physical forces). One of those “rocks” may be named Hitler, and one named Mother Theresa, but asserting that the Hitler rock “ought” to behave the way the Mother Theresa rock behaves is illogical in such a worldview. The Hitler rock just does what the physical forces over time have evolved it to do. The Mother Theresa rock just does what the physical forces over time have evolved it to do. One desires to murder, while the other doesn’t have that desire. Neither “ought” to do anything; they just “do” what natural forces cause their matter to do. We don’t blame quartz for not having the properties of sandstone, do we? And when one has evolved more suitably for survival by murdering the other, then so be it – survival of the fittest assembly of molecules. “But we should defend the right of the more complex organism to survive”, they say. Why? What universal virtue demands that more “complexity” translates into higher value and worth? The mineral rich earth was much “healthier” before we supposedly evolved and started polluting and destroying its biosphere. Perhaps the simple rock is of more value in relation to universal sustenance. But all of this “worth” and value talk is meaningless in the atheistic worldview. No rock or person (i.e. complex rock) has any intrinsic value, purpose, worth, or rights unless those virtues are granted from without. As our Declaration of Independence states, were created by our Creator with certain unalienable rights – Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is what our country, along with its system of law and justice, was founded on. Without such a foundation, no one can argue with “wicked” individuals (e.g. Jeffrey Dahmer), “wicked” small tribes (cannibal baby-eating tribes), or “wicked” societies (e.g. Hitler’s regime). On what basis are Dahmer, baby-eating tribes, and Hitler’s regime wrong? They could simply argue that their sexual, murderous, and baby-eating cravings are a natural result of stronger genes wanting to reproduce more, reduce the population, or wipe out weaker gene pools to free up resources (respectively). Without a moral Law-Giver which transcends all individuals, tribes, and societies with the command – Murder is wrong – they will just follow their evolved cravings, and the notion of “murder” or “not murder” becomes a matter of preference, but not an objective, universal moral wrong.

    Secondly, God is infinitely wise and omniscient. We aren’t. Our situational ethics are very localized. If someone told you they were going to blow up an entire city unless you killed one specific person, you may think long and hard about that. Yet atheists blame an all-knowing, all wise God (Who knows all possible futures and scenarios) of being evil because He makes such a localized decision to allow evil for the greater good. The truth is, we don’t know the gain that could come from any given pain. Karate kid, totally frustrated, shaking his fist at Mr. Myagi, complained about the painful work Myagi had him doing. But the complaining stopped when Myagi showed him that the techniques learned through toil and pain resulted in beautifully honed karate moves. Whoever said that immediate gratification is what God intends or should intend. All rational humans know that without pain, often there is no gain. Doesn’t God know this infinitely better?

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  8. God has created a world with free-will agents. Claiming that we could govern such agents better than God is like saying we could solve an infinitely large multi-variate, multi-constraint, multi-objective optimization problem with a pencil and paper. It’s like setting up an infinitely complex set of dominoes larger than our universe. How in the world does the author know what some evil event (or good event) today will do to other dominoes down the line? It’s impossible to know with our finite minds. God, who does have that infinite knowledge and wisdom, is making all things new; all things perfect; not instantly, but in a way that makes these ultimate virtues truly personal, formed through experience, and appreciated. Victory comes through struggle, courage comes through testing, strength comes through opposition, patience comes in trial, mercy is shown only in offense, good is best seen in contrast to evil. We daily cry tears of inspiration when we read about or watch videos of the proverbial “evil worked for ultimate good” stories on Facebook. Yet atheists shake their one fist at God while they wipe the tears of inspiration with the other hand, as if the evil is futile and all in vain. No, it’s all for something good in the end. To strip the world of all evil (which requires a stripping of all free will by the way) is to strip it of a plethora of opportunities to gain the aforementioned virtues in a profoundly personal (rather than robotic) way. God is creating the ultimate good ending to a movie that Adam gave a bad start. This is the type of God we have, not the hypothetical strawman that the author is tearing down.

    In a similar vein, the author claims that if a caring designer existed, the biological world wouldn’t appear as imperfect. First of all, the once heralded useless vestigial organs of humans have since been shown to have very beneficial functions. Time and time again we discover how the supposed “imperfect” designs of creation are actually good designs that are misunderstood. So the science of such a claim is quite tentative and controversial. But let’s set that aside for now. Again, the author has no basis for such an argument because without a standard of “perfect design” that exists outside of all humans, no single human can claim what the “perfect” standard of design is. The author is setting aside her very argument when it comes to her own brain so that her “brain” can be trusted enough to make the very argument (else we could just say, ‘Sorry, I don’t trust your imperfect brain that resulted from blind physical forces in nature’). Who’s to say that her brain can suggest the “perfect design” standard? What about the guy next door? In addition, she is blaming an imperfect design on God, when, in fact, the entrance of sin into the world brought a curse which made the world imperfect (Genesis 3, Romans 8). According to Romans 8, the imperfection we see in this world, both morally and naturally, is there to make all of creation “groan” for what we know is the ultimate standard of perfection.

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  9. As I read the article, I couldn’t help the author’s repetitive insistence that the punishment God gives is often way more than what the person or people-group deserved. This is the result of a failure to grasp the gravity of sin against God, which itself is the result of a failure to understand who God is. Atheists are comparing God to human beings when they accuse Him of evil, but He is not a human; He is the infinite, all-holy, all-pure, all-perfect, all-righteous Creator of all things. We can’t compare the consequences of sin that He unleashes against humans to the consequences of sin that humans unleash against other humans. No human shares His infinite attributes. When someone sins against a human, it’s not nearly the same travesty as when someone sins against God. Such a willful disobedience requires complete and utter spiritual and physical death, a complete and utter removal from all grace that emanates from God. The question should not be, “why are good people caused to suffer on earth or in hell”, but rather “why do bad people get any grace at all”. Does that mean I am condoning every apparent “evil” that God permits or causes in the Bible as perfectly justifiable? Who am I to question the Almighty’s justice? The Bible says that He does not cause evil in the sense of wickedness with wicked intentions (James 1:13). However, He does cause “evil” in the Hebraic sense of calamity or ruin (Isaiah 45:7). But this aligns with His nature that I have been describing. He ultimately works all things for good in a way that falls in line with His infinite justice and His infinite goodness (Rom 8:28). Yet I also must say that the examples of apparent Biblical evil that the author mentions are mostly shear misinterpretations, failing to consider either immediate or broad context, or illogical deductions applied to a strawman god. I don’t have time to address them all, but I’ll touch on a few I remember her bringing up.

    The author mentioned Paul’s predestination verses. This is an apparent problem, not a real one. All Christian camps understand that God’s sovereign control is perfectly reconcilable with man’s free will, whether it’s under the construct of a “middle knowledge” view or some other foreknowledge view. The truth is, God has predestined all things in so far as He knows our choices and has in advance determined how He will interact with those choices. He has offered sufficient grace for any person to respond positively to some degree. The Bible promises that those who respond positively will be granted more grace. Then, of course, there are those who don’t respond positively. God makes the choice to grant some of those folks special grace, thereby drawing them to Him completely undeservedly and for optimization of His universal plan. Is He obligated to do that for them? No, not at all. Those who fail to respond positively to common grace have no excuse. They are condemned by their own choice. Based on God’s mercy, however, I’m convinced that there are way more “thief on the cross” (i.e. deathbed) conversions than we can imagine.

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  10. The author brought up the slaughtering of the Canaanites. We hear this one a lot. Yet I don’t think atheists understand the gravity of the sin of the Canaanites. These people committed atrocities for ages, without ever facing justice. I’m convinced that if an entire society was sacrificing the masses of their children regularly (as they did), a league of morally inclined nations would confront them in war. That’s just conjecture. “But why the command to wipe out women and children,” you ask. This seems harsh, I agree. For one thing, some have suggested that such obliteration language was used as a hyperbolic idiom. I’m not sure about that. One thing I am convinced of, however, is the nearly unanimous early church view (and apocryphal view from the Book of Enoch and various other sources) that the Canaanites weren’t even fully human, but a race of “Giants” (Greek LXX Gigantes in Genesis 6), also deemed Rephaim and Nephilim, who were a half breed of the “sons of God” and “daughters of men” (see a very thorough study of this in Douglas Van Dorn’s book – The Giants). If these creatures were infused with necessary evil that would pervade and destroy the rest of humanity, they needed wiped out. The race needed purified once again. That was the intention of the Global flood (an event evidenced by our catastrophically layed sedimentary layers, polystrata tree fossils, sea shell fossils on our highest mountains, and much more, but I digress). And that’s exactly why a resurgence of Giants in the land of Canaan after the flood required extermination. Even if the “giant” theory is wrong, God has every right to take like when He sees fit. Think about it, if you were a mid-wife who helped give birth to Hitler and were suddenly given an infallible foreknowledge of what Htiler would become, you may be tempted to throw the baby out of the window. But, of course, you have no right to carry out such an action. God however does. He alone can give life. He alone can take it away. He has perfect foreknowledge of what those infant Canaanites would have become (likely wicked hell-bound heathen like their parents), and had every right to wipe them out as children prior to the age of accountability, in order to assure they went to heaven and never became what their parents were. That would give them an eternity of bliss instead (at the expense of 70-80 years of temporal existence) rather than an eternity of hell. God alone has the right as Life-Giver to take away life in such a way that it maximizes the population of Heaven. We don't have the right to make that call. He does. I must say, I find it quite ironic that most of those who bring up the Divine infanticide argument will at the same time staunchly defend the slaughtering of millions of our babies in abortion clinics. God can't play God, but we can? Perplexing!

    The author bashed the complementarian view of women being in subjection to men (in Ephesians 5). Interestingly a couple verses earlier, we are all told to be in subjection to one another (i.e. consider each other’s needs first). There are areas where functional subjection is absolutely necessary. Any two headed creature is a monster. Two CEO’s of the same company would lead to chaos. Likewise, two functionally equal executives of the home would cause chaos. Even Jesus Christ said that He was in subjection to God the Father (See John 5). With that said, complementarianism in no way degrades a woman as less valuable or as a slave (Lest we claim Christ as less valuable than the Father??). It simply acknowledges a functional order in the home. In a nearby verse, Paul also says, “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church”. That means that we aren’t heavy handed slave masters, but simple executives of our homes who love and serve our wives sacrificially. We earn their desire to follow our lead. Anything short of that is unbiblical tyranny.

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  11. What about “headship” and the seeming injustice of all people suffering for Adam’s sin, or Israel suffering for David’s sin? Think about it, don’t we immediately associate misbehaved children with their parents’ inability to properly teach them? Don’t we assume the children are acting the way they have been trained to act, and the way that will lead them to be just like their parents? Now imagine having complete foreknowledge. You could infallibly see whether they would actually become the moral and ethical picture of their parents. That’s exactly what God has – Exhaustive and complete foreknowledge. He foreknew exactly what we would become! We have Adam’s negative consequences because we directly identify with him. We all would have committed the sin in the garden, as is evidenced by our lives every day! We eat of the forbidden apple daily, and we know it. Our consciences daily convict us of our rebellion against God. So Adam was a fitting representative for every one of us sinners. God foreknew each one of us beforehand and justly brought the judgements on all of us that we all deserve, being moral duplicates of Adam. God has every right to execute judgements on people because of their association to a federal head because He (unlike us) perfectly sees their future willful identification with that head. On a side note, it perplexes me that as a nation we were morally ok with dropping the bomb on Hiroshima for the sins of its ruling elite and military, yet God isn’t allowed to make moral judgments against a family, tribe, or entire nation. Perplexing!

    The author brings up their repulsion of the concept of Hell, making it sound like God is down there stirring a pot of fire soup as He cooks the majority of humanity. This is not the Christian conception of Hell. In the end, we will all get what we want. Those who want to be reconciled with their Creator in be a blissful state of worship will be. Those who want nothing to do with their Creator will also get their desire. We call it Hell! Its symbolic images range from bright painful fire to outer darkness, but it’s nothing more than a state of complete absence from God and all of His created grace – His love, His resources, His people, His pleasures, His virtues, His everything. Anything that we experience in this life that brings true pleasure, from the cool drops of rain on a hot day to the feelings of love and acceptance at the altar of marriage, is from God. With that taken away, we have loneliness, despair, mourning, and torment. Yet, God is even gracious enough to have levels of guilt based on the level of knowledge sinners received about Him during their lifetime, and those levels of guilt dictate their level of punishment. So even Hell has an element of grace that is totally undeserved.

    While I’m on the subject, let me address the touted “what about those who never heard” objection. People who have never heard the Gospel have a revelation of God in nature and conscience (Romans 1-2). If they respond positively to that light, accepting the one Creator God (rather than worshipping creation) and heeding their conscience’s plea to escape moral depravity, God will grant them further revelation, either by sending a missionary, a dream, a vision, or even a deathbed experience. Seek and you will find! If they do not seek, they will end up severed from their Creator’s graces for eternity, at a level commensurate to the level of light they forsook. Yes, the Bible clearly portrays levels of guilt based on levels of revelation and understanding. That’s why children will not be in hell at all.

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  12. Atheists will shake their fists at God for testing Abraham to see if he would slay Isaac. First of all, this was a one-time test given to the patriarch of God’s people – a unique office; perhaps the most important of all time. It demanded a test that no other human has to take. It would be akin to the special training of a navy seal which is much more rigorous than that of a regular naval soldier. Some people, based on the office they are being considered for, must go through intensely horrifying training not expected by others. But why did the test include killing Isaac? Atheists don’t have the illumination of the heart and mind to see the beautiful picture of the Gospel in Genesis 22. The truth is, God was walking Abraham through a picture form of the future sacrifice of His own son, Jesus. God provided a substitute for Isaac in the thicket (a ram) on the third day (Just like Jesus won our victory on the third day). God wanted Abraham, the father of faith (Galatians 3), to truly understand the essence of the Gospel – which is the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ for our sin. Abraham was God’s friend, and God didn’t keep secrets from Him (Gen 18:17). Plus God had already promised Abraham that Isaac would be the seed from which Israel was birthed. Thus, Abraham knew it was a Gospel re-enactment the whole time. He was confident that he wouldn’t actually have to kill Isaac. When they were departing, he told his men that he and the boy would return. In addition, multiple times during the journey, he told Isaac that God would provide a sacrifice for them.

    While we’re on the subject of killing children, atheists ask ‘why would God kill His own Son’? First of all, God didn’t kill Jesus. Wicked human beings did, and they did it from their own libertarian free will, not by compulsion from God. God simply foreknew it would occur, and integrated it into His plan permissively. Secondly, Jesus died of His own accord. He said, “I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself” (John 10:15-17). Jesus could have stopped His death at any time, but wanted to die for His people. But why couldn’t God just forgive sin without a penalty being paid? To ask such a question is to completely misunderstand justice. Should we just let all of our murderers, rapists, child molesters, and thieves out of jail without paying any penalty? Surely, one would be infuriated by a judge who lets their wife’s murderer off the hook without punishment. They would call that judge a “bad” judge. Likewise, if God doesn’t punish sin, He’s a bad judge. ‘But we aren’t all murderers, rapists, and thieves’. True, but God is infinitely Holy, and even the motives behind such sins are present to some degree in all people (e.g. hate is considered like murder in the Bible). Such sinful motives, thoughts, and words and irreconcilable with an infinitely holy and righteous Creator. To illustrate, imagine cooking at an amateur cooking show with common lay people as judges. They would judge you on the taste of the food, probably missing all the little culinary mistakes you made. Then picture cooking at a professional cooking show with Las Vegas chefs as the judges. Their status as skilled professionals brings the judgement to a higher standard. They would be much pickier. You may present a dish that tastes pretty good compared to any normal person’s cooking. But they would nag on every culinary mistake you make. And we would expect that from them, given who they are. As an infinitely righteous Creator, overlooking even minor sins would make God less than God; less than all-righteous; less than all-holy. The penalty needs to be paid or God’s infinite justice is invalidated. Of course, no man can pay the penalty for another man. But, with God all things are possible. So He Himself became a man so that He Himself could pay the penalty for humans and satisfy infinite justice.

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  13. Let’s talk about God’s interaction with Satan. The author claims moral repulsion over the account David’s census. One account says, “Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel”. The other account says, “The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” The word Hebrew word satan, without a definite article, simple means “adversary”, not the title Satan. Thus the first account should be rendered as “an adversary stood against Israel….” This interpretation is exactly like the only other occurrence of anarthrous “satan” in the OT: “the Angel of the Lord stood in the road as an adversary [heb. satan]” (Num 22:22). Thus, there is no contradiction between the two accounts. One question remains: Why would Yahweh incite David to do something for which He would later punish him? And why did He punish all of Israel. Simple, Both accounts begin by saying Yahweh was angry with Israel, not David. Yahweh chose to use David as His instrument of judgment against the nation, similar to the way He would use Nebuchadnezzar centuries later. God didn’t directly provoke David. He tempts no man in such a way (James 1:13). No, He simply permitted the circumstance in which He foreknew David would willingly (by his own libertarian free will) choose to count the nation, which was a sin. Israel was never to be counted unless expressly sanctioned by God. Why? Because it directly challenged God’s promise for Israel to be as numerous as the sand of the sea.

    What about Job? I already wrote in detail about God working for our ultimate good. Job’s trials resulted in his self-righteousness being eradicated, his faith increasing immensely, and him being given double of all that he had before the trials. But why did God let Satan attack a good man in the first place? First of all, there are no truly perfectly good people. Jesus told us “there is none good but God”. We've all sinned and sin makes us worthy of death (Romans 3:23, 6:23). Secondly, God isn't the one who authorized Satan to unleash hell on humanity, Adam is! In the garden Adam had a choice about who to obey, Satan or God. By obeying Satan, he delivered the kingdoms of this world to Satan (Lk 4:6). He showed God that he wanted to listen to Satan’s commands, not Gods. Satan legally became the god of this wicked age (2 Cor 4:4), the prince of this world (John 16:11), who walks about seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet 5:8). He subjugates people to his paternity by causing them to do the very wicked things he loves (Jn 8:44). So the book of job is not some pissing contest between God and Satan, but rather God letting Satan do what he’s always been authorized by Adam to do (Compare 1 Pet 5:8 with Job 1:7). Satan already targeted Job, as he targets all mankind. I’m convinced that when God said, “Have you considered my servant Job?”, he wasn’t provoking Satan to go look for him, but rather, knowing he already targeted him, saying, “You actually have the audacity to target my righteous servant Job? Are you nuts? You know He’ll never forsake me! You’re wasting your time!” Just as God stated, Job’s faithfulness through the trial rendered Satan’s attacks futile. Job won! We all win if we accept Christ’s victory over Satan. No matter what evil, persecution, or sickness comes our way, we overcome by the blood of Jesus Christ! We win!

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  14. The author brings up Jesus’ apparent mistaken notions of when He would return, such as His mention of eschatological events occurring in the very generation of the disciples (Matthew 24:34). Such an argument demonstrates the author’s apparent lack of study of the New Testament. Nearly all camps of Christians see a clear already/not structure of Matthew 24, similar to the apocalyptic prophecies of the Old Testament. Jewish apocalyptic language uses end of the age imagery to speak of very near events. The tribulation spoken of in Matthew 24 is the 70 AD destruction of the temple, which did happen in their generation. The kingdom of God is also described in already/not yet language throughout the New Testament. It came invisibly at the first advent and resides in us spiritually (Luke 17:21). We are members of the Heavenly kingdom and live according to its precepts while on Earth. In the future, it will come in its consummate form and we will reside in it physically (Mt 25:34). What about Jesus not knowing when He would return? In His human nature Jesus was limited in knowledge. He had willingly foregone the independent use of His divine attributes while on Earth. Instead He relied on the anointing of the Holy Spirit to do miracles and gain special knowledge (Luke 4:18).

    Ok, let’s get back to some more Bible evil. The author claims that Jesus taught us to hate our families. Of course the, she either doesn’t know the Bible at all, or she thinks her audience doesn’t know the Bible at all. Clearly Jesus taught us that hatred is evil and equivalent to murder (1 John 3:15). Jesus’ teachings exude with love for people, and especially respect for our parents (in accord with the Ten Commandments). Thus the idiom he states in Luke 14:26 is not a call to hate our families in the 21st century sense of the term “hate”. He’s making the point that if we are going to be followers of Him, we must make that relationship our number one priority. All other relationships must pale in comparison. It’s obvious he doesn’t mean the kind of hate that’s evil, for he includes “even their own life” in the list. Is he telling us to hate ourselves? No, as that would directly contradict where he elsewhere tells us to love our neighbors as “ourselves”! No, he’s simply telling us to put our desires aside and follow Him. Again, the author is using deceptive shock value again and again throughout her essay.

    The author had the audacity to claim that the Book of Revelation is filled with literal tormentuous plagues that God will single-handedly inflict on people at the end of time. The book of Revelation is a self-proclaimed book of symbols that “signify” events (Revelation 1:1). To take it wooden literally is a very naïve approach to interpretation. The majority of Christians (Amillennials, Postmillennials, Preterists, Historicists, Historic Premillennials) see the seals, plagues, and viles of Revelation as apocalyptic language describing the downfall of worldly kingdoms. The author is misrepresenting the majority of Christian scholarship!

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  15. According to the author, God promotes witch-hunts, crusades, and inquisitions. No He doesn’t. Nowhere are we told to do these as New Testament believers. We are not told to torture unsubordinated church members, but rather disassociate with them religiously (2 John 1:10). Nor are we to attack other unbelieving nations. The first century Christians were pacifists, and denounced any involvement in war. To compare us to Israelites storming Canaan shows a complete naïve understanding of the flow of Biblical history and theology. That was a one-time typological war which pointed spiritually to Christ’s battle against spiritual principalities and powers. Individuals or churches who promote such activity today may be Christian by profession, but not by possession. We should never judge a truth based on people’s lack of adherence to it. You don’t stop believing in gardens because of weeds, nor do you stop believing in mathematical laws because of failing math students. Jesus prophesied that many professed Christians would be hypocrites (Matthew 7:21), and that many would fall away from the faith in the latter days (1 Timothy 4:1). The fact that this has occurred supports the validity of His prophetic ministry, if anything!

    One ridiculous example the author mentioned was 2 Kings 3:26-27. She claimed that this passage shows how God condones the sacrificing of ones child to God for winning a war. This is sheer dishonesty. The passage is a narrative of a battle, in which a non-God-fearing, non-Israelite Moabite king sacrifices his son to a false Moabite god (not Jehovah) in order to win the battle. The Moabites were not followers of Jehovah! It appalls me that someone would try to use such a passage to say that God approved of this activity. Since when does a narration of an evil activity prove that the evil activity is condoned? That’s like saying the newspaper is responsible for promoting murder because it published an article about a recent murder. Silliness!

    Near the end of her paper, while describing the plentiful number of religious booths at the Ann Arbor arts festival, the author implies that religions cannot be true because there are so many and they all have different claims. However, this argument is self-refuting. Atheism is also a belief system founded upon many supernatural, unscientific, indemonstrable claims, especially those of abiogenesis and the one-time violation of the First Law of Thermodynamics; matter spontaneously coming from nothing in a big bang; an uncaused effect. Atheism should set up a booth right along-side the others. In addition, it is preposterous to think that a multiplicity of claims precludes a true claim. Would a roomful of counterfeit $100, 10$, and $5 bills render the impossibility of a real $100 bill being in the room? Of course not. Jesus promised there would be many false teachers and prophecies. So the fact that so many exist actually supports His teachings. Since the Resurrection of Christ only happened once, we cannot demand a modern day repeat of it in a laboratory (we don’t demand such of the one-time big bang do we?). No, we need to use analyze the forensic evidence involved and come to logical conclusion. When this is done, the resurrection of Christ is supported by early testimony, eyewitness testimony, expected testimony (prophetic), excruciating witness, embarrassing testimony, extra-biblical testimony, and more . Such is not so with other supposed myths, legends, and religions. I’ll quote from Harvard professor Simon Greanleaf, the father of the laws of evidence: “it was impossible that the apostles could have persisted in affirming the truths they had narrated, had not Jesus Christ actually risen from the dead”.

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  16. Reader, the author of the essay I’m critiquing is using shock factor, surface level treatments of scripture, and cherry picked verses to make you question the Bible and question God’s morals. The truth is, the Bible has been trusted by the noblest, smartest, and most intellectual people of all time. The capital building has Moses’ Ten Commandments inscribed on them. Our heralded Second Treatise of Civil Government has 1000 Bible verses cited. Founders of our modern sciences (Kepler, Pasteur, Newton, etc.) pursued science to know more about their Creator. The Bible is the foundation of who we are as a society. The Bible is trustworthy. Christ has risen. God is holy, good, and just. Any surface level problems in the Bible have perfectly rational explanations, as I’ve shown. It just takes seeking them out from those who are qualified to answer your questions. God has appointed teachers and evangelists in the church, and they certainly don’t consist of atheists. Seek answers from Spirit filled teachers who have poured their lives into understanding the entire Bible. May God bless you in your spiritual journey!

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  17. The principle of proportionality demands extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims. Of the approximately 100 billion people who have lived before us, all have died and none have returned, so the claim that one (or more) of them rose from the dead is about as extraordinary as one will ever find. Is the evidence commensurate with the conviction? According to philosopher Larry Shapiro of the University of Wisconsin–Madison in his 2016 book The Miracle Myth (Columbia University Press), “evidence for the resurrection is nowhere near as complete or convincing as the evidence on which historians rely to justify belief in other historical events such as the destruction of Pompeii.” Because miracles are far less probable than ordinary historical occurrences, such as volcanic eruptions, “the evidence necessary to justify beliefs about them must be many times better than that which would justify our beliefs in run-of-the-mill historical events. But it isn't.”
    What about the eyewitnesses? Maybe they “were superstitious or credulous” and saw what they wanted to see, Shapiro suggests. “Maybe they reported only feeling Jesus ‘in spirit,’ and over the decades their testimony was altered to suggest that they saw Jesus in the flesh. Maybe accounts of the resurrection never appeared in the original gospels and were added in later centuries. Any of these explanations for the gospel descriptions of Jesus's resurrection are far more likely than the possibility that Jesus actually returned to life after being dead for three days.” The principle of proportionality also means we should prefer the more probable explanation over less probable ones, which these alternatives surely are.
    Perhaps this is why Jesus was silent when Pontius Pilate asked him (John 18:38), “What is truth?”

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