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Richard Dawkins and the God of the Old Testament

Richard Dawkins

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."

So says Richard Dawkins. Obviously, he doesn't want readers to think he's on the fence about God as presented in the Old Testament—or at least, how God seems to Dawkins. But if we clean ourselves up after this blast of rhetorical wind, how strong is Dawkins' case against God?

Dawkins lists a number of objectionable Old Testament scenes, ending with God's command to massacre the Midianites (Num 31:17-18), Joshua's putting all of the inhabitants of Jericho to the sword (Josh 6:21), and God's "rules" for waging holy war in Canaan (Dt 20:10-18). In regard to the last two, he remarks, "the Bible story of Joshua's destruction of Jericho, and the invasion of the Promised Land in general, is morally indistinguishable from Hitler's invasion of Poland, or Saddam Hussein's massacres of Kurds and the Marsh Arabs," and "Do not think, by the way, that the God character in the story nursed any doubts or scruples about the massacres and genocides that accompanied the seizing of the Promised Land…. [T]he people who lived in the land…should be invited to surrender peacefully. If they refused, all the men were to be killed and the women carried off for breeding."

Let's try a little experiment, and assume Dawkins' skewed and unfair reading of the Bible. Suppose upon reading his devastating attack on the God of the Old Testament, we would reject the Bible and embrace Dawkins' atheism—exactly what Dawkins wishes to be the effect on readers. What then? Would we be any better off?

First of all, as he himself admits in his book River out of Eden, in coming over to Dawkins' side, we have thereby embraced a cosmos indifferent to good or evil. As a consequence, we immediately face a dilemma: we have no moral grounds for condemning the actions of God (He doesn't exist) or the characters in the Bible (good and evil don't exist). Since God doesn't exist, there is no reason to work up a froth of indignation against Him, anymore than against the lunkheaded Zeus in Homer's Iliad.

Yet now another, more amusing problem arises for Dawkins as the champion of Darwinism today. It would seem that a good many of the complaints made by Dawkins against the God of the Old Testament could with equal justice be made against natural selection itself. To say the least, that puts himself in a paradoxical position.

If we might put it in an arresting way, many sociologists of religion argue that primitive people tend to fashion their notions of the gods according to the way they experience nature, as nature deified (whether this is true or not, we won't decide here, but will take it on trust for the purposes of illustration). What would evolution look like if we tried to deify evolution's principles? Would the Evolution God (EG) be "unjust" in its callous indifference "to all suffering," and supremely so, for continually picking off the weak and sickly? Would EG be an "unforgiving control-freak," "megalomaniacal," and "petty" since (as Darwin stated), "It may metaphorically be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, the slightest variations; rejecting those that are bad, preserving and adding up all that are good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relations to its organic and inorganic conditions of life"? Would EG be "sadomasochistic" in his use of suffering, destruction, and death as the means to create new forms of life? A "capriciously malevolent bully" in his "lacking all purpose" and being "callous"? A "bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser," "genocidal," and "racist" in his continually pitting one species population against another in severe struggle, the struggles among humans taking place between tribe and tribe, race and race? And what adjective would describe EG, who uses these deadly struggles as the very vehicle responsible for the upward climb of human evolution?

So we've rejected the God of the Old Testament for Dawkins' atheistic account of evolution, only to find out that many of the traits Dawkins marked as repugnant are ensconced in natural selection (except that now, as a new and even more unfortunate kind of Job, we have no one against whom to complain).

Perhaps Dawkins will fare better in his case against the people of the Old Testament? But now another paradox comes to the fore. On Dawkins' own grounds, it would be hard to imagine a people who more assiduously pursued a better set of evolutionary strategies for ensuring that its gene pool was carried forward, undiluted by rival tribes and races, than the ancient Jews. They were genetic geniuses!

Think over the above "reprehensible" examples Dawkins provided from the Bible, and then ruminate upon his account of how evolution, including human evolution, works. Dawkins maintains in his classic book The Selfish Gene that we may "treat the individual as a selfish machine, programmed to do whatever is best for its genes as a whole" (although, as he makes clear, the invisible level of the struggle between genes in a single individual is, for him, the real level of natural selection and the struggle to survive). The selfish machine works, literally, by gene-o-cide, the destruction and use of other selfish machines, treating them as fodder for its own survival.

What, then, is left of Dawkins' case against the God of the Old Testament? Nothing at all.
 
 
Originally posted at To the Source. Used with permission.
(Image credit: The Guardian)

Dr. Benjamin Wiker

Written by

Dr. Benjamin Wiker is, first of all, a husband and a father of seven children. He graduated from Furman University with a B.A. in Political Philosophy. He has an M.A. in Religion and a Ph.D. in Theological Ethics, both from Vanderbilt University. Dr. Wiker taught full time for thirteen years, first at Marquette University, then St. Mary's University (MN), Thomas Aquinas College (CA), and finally Franciscan University (OH). During these many years, he offered a wide variety of courses in philosophy, theology, history, the history and philosophy of science, the history of ethics, the Great Books, Latin, and even mathematics. He is now a full-time writer and speaker, with eleven books published including 10 Books That Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn't Help (Regnery, 2008); The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin (Regnery, 2009); and Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins' Case Against God (Emmaus Road, 2008). Some of Benjamin's books are also integrated into the Logos software. Follow Dr. Wiker at BenjaminWiker.com.

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  • David Nickol

    First, Dr. Wiker totally dodges all questions about the God of the Old Testament when judged by traditional Christian morality.

    Second, just because we "have . . . embraced a cosmos indifferent to good or evil" does not me we must be indifferent to good and evil.

    Third, while it is ridiculous to posit an "Evolution God" and judge evolution or the "Evolution God" morally, if you are a theist and not a young-earth creationist, you are pretty much stuck with a God who is responsible for "nature red in tooth and claw."

    Fourth, we have this:

    On Dawkins' own grounds, it would be hard to imagine a people who more assiduously pursued a better set of evolutionary strategies for ensuring that its gene pool was carried forward, undiluted by rival tribes and races, than the ancient Jews. They were genetic geniuses!

    Wiker seems to be accepting Dawkins's accusation that the Jews of the Old Testament committed genocide at God's command, and his retort is, "Well, evolution is genocidal, so you have no grounds on which to criticized the Jews, since you believe in evolution."

    Wiker, it seems to me, is not really arguing with any of Dawkins's points. He is creating his own Richard Dawkins—someone who, because he is an atheist, allegedly can have no moral standards—and personifying evolution and an "Evolution God" in a way that Dawkins would never do.

    Wiker's essay is a perfect example, it seems to me, of tu quoque. "You have no right to criticized the God of the Old Testament for ordering genocide, since your Evolution God is just as bad!"

    • bdlaacmm

      "Wiker seems to be accepting"

      Have you never heard of the "for the sake of argument" technique of temporarily granting a particular point being made by the other side, in order to show the absurd conclusions that must follow?

      That is exactly was Wiker was doing. No tu quoque needed.

      • David Nickol

        Have you never heard of the "for the sake of argument" technique . . .

        Why yes, I have heard of it and actually employed it many times myself. However, I am always careful to say something along the lines of "accepting, for the sake of argument . . . ." Unfortunately, Wiker says,

        On Dawkins' own grounds, it would be hard to imagine a people who more assiduously pursued a better set of evolutionary strategies for ensuring that its gene pool was carried forward, undiluted by rival tribes and races, than the ancient Jews. They were genetic geniuses!

        First "Dawkins' own grounds" doesn't refer to Dawkins's interpretation of the actions of the ancient Israelites. It refers to the position Wiker invents and attributes to Dawkins based on the morality that would be derived from setting up evolution as some kind of God or moral principle. Wiker never challenges the idea that the Israelites, at God's command, exterminated rival tribes (men, women, children, and cattle!). It is impossible to take the Old Testament at face value without acknowledging that God commands genocide. One must either explain how the Bible doesn't mean what it actually says or explain why it is not wrong for God to command genocide. Wiker doesn't do either (at least not in this piece). Wiker really says nothing to refute Dawkins's case. He basically just says, "If Dawkins thinks our God is bad, let's take a look at his 'god'—evolution."

    • herewegokids

      All the things I was going to say. I agree that Dawkins is at the core a fundamentalist atheist (his fervor is evangelical and defensive in nature) but that doesn't mean all his objections to Christianity and the OT God are empty or facile.

    • Michael Murray

      He is creating his own Richard Dawkins

      Some atheists refer to this imaginary person as Dick Strawkins. He foams at the mouth at the mention of God and prays to Darwin three times a day.

    • Ararxos

      God didn't ordered Genocides, God is against murder because if He liked murders then what's the point to create life? It is written in the 10 commanders "you shall not kill"!
      So why the Old Testament talks about Genocides? Because the people of that era justified wars in the name of God (eye for an eye), atheists and Christians today judge these people as immoral based on the Christian Morality which forbids any kind of murder or evil action to the people that are enemies! Jesus came to earth to restore our relationship with God because the Pharisees and the Scribes twisted the words of the Prophets to justify evil actions such as war and revenge. Jesus said that eye for an eye IS NOT WHAT GOD WANTS, Jesus clearly states that God wants peace and equality, he also says that He exists before Abraham John 8:58, he meant that His word (His Teachings) exist before Abraham aka before any law that the Jews created, he wanted to
      mark with that statement that He didn't came to change God but to re-introduce Him to the people that lost their way to salvation.

      As i said Christians AND ATHEISTS, judge the people of the Old Testament as evil based on the Christian Teachings. An Atheist will say that he doesn't judge the Old Testament according to the Christian Teachings because it is logical not to kill and blah blah....but Atheism has a History. Once upon a time, in my Country, Ancient Greece, a man named Epicurus looked at the sky and said "We don't need Gods, lets make our own morality!" and he did it!! He based his morality to nature, he copied what nature does and applied it to humans, did he preached what Jesus said about equality, love, patience, humility, peace, freedom. charity? NOT AT ALL. The Atheists Epicurean Philosophers supported slavery, woman abuse, incest, greed, egoistical thought, woman inequality (in the sense that they exist only to produce babies), gluttony (we have a passage that Epicurus eats the food of his disciplines and vomits) worship of the head of the State and when they met Christians Apologetics they mocked them because they thought that showing mercy to the poor or the ill goes against Nature because Nature is merciless and only the strong survives! Atheists stole their morality and Humanism from Christianity, in the 17th century the Masons recreated the Atheistic Thought (Free Thought) as the only logical thoughtthe man must have without mentioning that even they were influenced by Christianity. The funny thing about Atheists is that they criticize the Old Testament with Christian Morality when the authentic Atheistic Morality (Epicureanism) would agree with such a God! LOL!

  • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

    Benjamin Wiker makes an excellent case.

    Natural selection as presented by scientists is an unjust, unforgiving, controlling, infanticidal, pestilential and capricious force. Natural selection is not worthy of our worship.

    God as presented in the Old Testament is a "petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." The Old Testament God is not worthy of our worship.

    I agree with both assessments and choose to worship neither.

    • NicholasBeriah Cotta

      Our most basic idea of Christianity is that it is a story about our relationship to God. When we rejected him in the beginning, there was a brutality that took deep root in humanity. God used human brutality to dig one small group of people out in order to use them to dig everyone else out - the Jewish people were formed, and sometimes harshly, and Christianity is a fulfillment of that redemption. This is not "unforgiving and bloodthirsty", it is a story of an "unforgiving and bloodthirsty" people who have been changed in to ones that deplore even their own rescuer for his tactics!

      Did God's plan not work? Contemporary morality has a sense of itself unlike ancient morality - there were growing pains in coming to know God again and this is a function that we human beings live in space and time, all a consequence of the free will of his creations.

      • Casey Braden

        So god allowed and even commanded all manner of atrocities as a means to an end? Are you claiming that things like genocide can be permitted if the end result is a-okay?

        • David Nickol

          It seems to me he is. To paraphrase Richard Nixon, "If God does it, that means it is not wrong."

        • NicholasBeriah Cotta

          Yes. Yes, for God, not for people. If you were
          omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, the context of your actions would be different. If I kill you, I am taking your right away to live in this world, a right that God gave you. If God kills you, he is exercising his right to kill you, a right that he had no matter what. If God kills a man, it is the same thing as if lightning kills a man - God has willed both. Are you not upset that we live 80 years instead of 8,000? Our notion of God, a person who wills us to live, wills the length of our lives as well, so why separate the act of murder from the act of natural death? For God, they are both the same. when God says "Look at the
          birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them." Do you think that Jesus means in the passage that God literally feeds the birds? No, God's entire plan unfolded
          feeds birds, and thus it is the same with all things. When violence is depicted in the old testament, it is similar to the feeding of the birds (maybe a violence on worms). The basic reason murder is bad is because it is not your place to decide when life ends, it is God's. This is the basic definition of sin: putting your place in the place of God. There is no inconsistency in having God decide how life ends for that is always the plan. Basically, non-deists are judging God for not abiding by a law outside of himself - but that is not what we believe God is - God is the law, he understands justice deeper than deep and in the end, every person receives what is true and just, some after death. Do you find that wrong?

          • David Nickol

            Yes. Yes, for God, not for people.

            But you are saying it is morally permissible for people to carry out genocide if God commands it. Does this not mean that a human being may legitimately do anything he or she sincerely believes is God's will?

            How, in purely practical terms, was an Israelite solder to know an order to commit genocide came directly from God?

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            Well, this objection is really an argument about whether God can definitively communicate with us, not a direct objection to my argument that God's actions are consistent. It is clear in the OT that God spoke directly to people (that I can't answer how is irrelevant) - it was also clear he always spoke to a particular person (someone who usually said God was saying things that didn't curry popular favor so I doubt the prophet was lying for God.)

          • David Nickol

            Well, this objection is really an argument about whether God can definitively communicate with us . . . .

            Not exactly. It is a question of whether, when someone alleges God communicated directly with him or her, how anyone else can be sure it actually happened—so sure that they will murder women and children. Was an Israelite soldier relieved of moral responsibility for his actions because he carried out an order from someone who claimed to be relaying the order from God?

            Plenty of people today feel that God tells them what to do. Should they do anything they believe God wants them to do? I am saying the correct Catholic answer is that God would not tell someone to commit genocide. The murder of innocent men, women, and children cannot be made morally acceptable under any circumstance, because it is intrinsically evil, and God would not command a human being to do something intrinsically evil. God would not command anyone to perform an abortion (according to Catholic thought), commit rape, or torture someone. There are some things that are just evil, and nothing can ever justify them. A command to commit an intrinsic evil, even coming from God, would not change the fact that it was an evil act, but it is not in God's nature to command evil, so any belief that God did or will command genocide is false.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I don't think you understand what intrinsically evil means. Let's deal with some definitions - intrinsically means "according to our nature" and evil means "not in God's will". God is the highest good and whatever he does is automatically according to this good - there are not separate "laws of morality," there are laws "intrinsic" to humanity, but these are according to our nature, a finite and limited nature. To God, his ultimate good is known by him wholly and completely - it is not in Catholic thought that he is subject to human law or any "law" that you keep insisting is outside of himself.

          • David Nickol

            May I get a clear answer from you to this question. If God tells someone to kill an innocent human being, is it right for the person to do so? If you are an Israelite soldier, and your commanders tell you to kill all the women and children in a captured enemy town, is it right for you to do so? Is it a good thing to kill children if God tells you to do so, because you are doing God's will?

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            Well, although I think the question is loaded, I will answer anyway: Yes. No. Yes.

            Now you answer my question: If you had the possibility to go to an unbelievably wonderful and good place, and trusted that I would send you there if you wanted to be there, and to do that I would end your temporal life, and that also ending that temporal life would help others get to that good life, would the ending of the temporal life be good or bad?

          • David Nickol

            Assuming you are a human being and I am innocent, it would be a bad thing for you to end my life no matter what good came from it, because it is a bedrock Catholic principle that it is not permitted to do evil so that good may come of it. No one has a right to end an innocent person's life, and it is my contention that God cannot (and never has) "delegated" his power over life and death to a human individual.

            Suppose you believe you hear the voice of God telling you to do something. How are you to know if it really is the voice of God? One way to know it is not the voice of God is if the voice tells you to do something wrong. As I understand your position, there is no way to tell if the voice is telling you to do something wrong, because if it truly is the voice of God, anything the voice tells you to do is automatically right, because God commands it.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I have nothing to say here that I haven't already said: if you are struck down by lightning, God has killed you the same as if you died in your sleep or at the sword of a man. There is no evil in what God does because the basic definition of evil is to be out of line with God's will. To suppose that the act of killing is evil is to not understand that all death is God taking that life willfully yet murder is the one way for us to do it to each other- killing is usurping God's authority. If God orders a man to kill, I am sure he has a good reason both for the people involved and for humanity as a whole. For men, the end does not justify the means because the ends are not ours to know or justify.

            Ultimately, the meaning of these passages are disconcerting to the human psyche because they throw us off kilter a bit as to what we truly think is wrong and right - it's like our when our nice and peaceful hippie Jesus says that he comes not to bring peace but a sword or tells the syrophoenician woman that he doesn't give scraps to dogs or starts turning tables over in the temple... Even our idea of "peace" or "goodness" must be rocked a bit to understand that the first rule of the universe is that the good begins and ends with God.

            So many times I feel like people in this forum reject God because he is not neat or tidy or easy to understand. To me, I've come to appreciate that God doesn't let men rest with the partial notions of him in our heads, because if he did, we would.

            Also: you seem to be very concerned with the voice of God and how one would know they are actually hearing him or are delusional. Of course, this is a difficult question because we haven't heard the voice of God and the number of lies told about hearing God outnumbers the stars. My guess is simply that an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God would not let you mistake his voice.

          • David Nickol

            I don't think you understand what intrinsically evil means.

            And I don't think you understand what intrinsically evil means!

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            The entire quoted piece falls in line with what I'm saying - I think what is happening is that you are failing to delineate between a "human act" which cannot objectively be ordered to God, and an act itself (something you seem to suppose can exist outside of either God or man).

            In Catholic moral theology, acts are an extension of the human person. We do not separate what we do from who we are, and our soul and our body are a unified expression of our personhood.

            When Pope John Paul II says that the act of murder itself is incapable of being ordered to the good, he is clearly right, because an "act" is a free choice of man and we do not know the infinite good. In a rape, the person being raped is not committing an "act" of fornication, while the rapist is. An act is necessarily defined by will and object. If God has ordered an ancient Israelite to murder his enemy, the person involved has not made a choice to murder someone but a choice to obey God's will. God's will is the absolute definition of morality and there are certain actions that are gravely disordered in that no human being can choose to act them out because they are intrinsically incapable of conforming that act to the will of God.

            Your quote is taken a little bit out of context. John Paul II explains higher up in that encyclical that "At the heart of the moral life we thus find the principle of a "rightful autonomy"70 of man, the personal subject of his actions. The moral law has its origin in God and always finds its source in him: at the same time, by virtue of natural reason, which derives from divine wisdom, it is a properly human law.Indeed, as we have seen, the natural law "is nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided. God gave this light and this law to man at creation".71 The rightful autonomy of the practical reason means that man possesses in himself his own law, received from the Creator."

            You can almost think of it as a sort of "moral capability." Man cannot freely choose to murder because he is incapable of using it for the will of God. God, however, is fully capable. This is a tough teaching because non-Christians hate the infinite sovereignty of God, but it is just logical given our definition of God. I guess you can judge God as being a hypocrite for doing things in which he has created us unable to do, but that is just being mad at an infinite being making finite ones - many other things in Christian theology flow from that fact alone.

          • David Nickol

            From Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II:

            80. Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature "incapable of being ordered" to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed "intrinsically evil" (intrinsic malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that "there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object". The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: "Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator".

          • herewegokids

            And it isn't it more likely that the prevailing culture interpreted God in a way that predisposed them to hear His 'commands' according to their own violent and barbaric rubric?

          • Casey Braden

            Isn't this just like saying "Might makes right?" Is God not bound by the morality he commands? Most Christians would tell you that morality flows from God's very nature. However, I don't see how this could possibly be the case when his nature seems so appalling at times.

            Yes. God can do whatever he wants, and none of our have the power to argue. But that doesn't mean that I think a being capable of ordering genocide or infanticide is worthy of praise and worship.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            Well for one, you see a finality in death while God does not. For two, you do not know the consequences of actions as far out in to the future as God does, so what is ultimately moral is not for you to judge because you have a severely limited set of data.

            "Seems appalling" is a relative judgment - to ants, humans are genocidal on the daily, acting appallingly wherever they go and unreservingly destroying thousands of lives at once. When PETA is confronted with having to euthanize animals, they all are very clear to their detractors that their compassion drives their murder. Do you doubt their sincerity or would you find no way in which destruction could engender creation? Do you think an all knowing and all powerful being could do this?

          • Casey Braden

            I just find it interesting the intellectual hoops you have to jump through to justify the morality of genocide, rape, infanticide, slavery, etc.

            ""Seems appalling" is a relative judgment"

            Yes. It seems appalling to me, since I find those things immoral.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            You are of the same race that committed genocide, rape, infanticide, slavery, etc. Why do you personally think those acts are immoral and the folks in the course of history found them acceptable?

            Do you think that you are special or that you could have committed those things given your birth in ancient times? There are countless atrocities committed by humans against humans and because today we think, "Oh how appalling, we could never do that." The truth is that you absolutely could, and you have to accept that fact first before you could accept the fact that within that moral framework, God could take the tack that he did.

          • David Nickol

            within that moral framework, God could take the tack that he did.

            Is your argument that the ancient Israelites were a primitive people who did not thing genocide was wrong, and therefore it was not wrong of God to command them to commit genocide?

            Suppose I know someone in the Mafia that I don't like, and I know someone else in the Mafia that I have influence over. Can I convince (perhaps pay) my friend in the Mafia to kill my enemy in the Mafia? For me, it would be murder, but if I get someone who sincerely believes in the Mafia code to commit the murder, it's "just business."

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            No. God knows the good of the human race and of each individual infinitely and what he did was most assuredly part of the plan to form the Jewish people in order to form the world.

            No, it is murder because you are both humans and you are not to decide to murder, either one of you.

          • David Nickol

            No, it is murder because you are both humans and you are not to decide to murder, either one of you.

            But if God tells you to kill innocent children, it is not murder for you to do it?

          • George

            How is any of that relevant? We are products of our time, and we feel what we feel. If we lived in a different time we'd probably be different persons, but we're not. We are here today, and people either like what god is said to have done back then or they do not.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            It ignores where your sense of morality comes from, that's why. How can you expect to put God in context if you cannot put yourself in to context?

          • George

            does acknowledging the source of one's morality change that morality?

          • Casey Braden

            You are of the same race that committed genocide, rape, infanticide, slavery, etc. Why do you personally think those acts are immoral and the folks in the course of history found them acceptable?

            That's really a strange question. I think those acts are immoral because they do harm to others, and I understand that people are capable of immoral acts. Just because I happen to also be human does not mean that I can not make moral evaluations based on how behaviors help or harm others.

            Do you think that you are special or that you could have committed those things given your birth in ancient times?

            Sure. We have come a long way since the bronze age in our ideas about morality. We've become less barbaric. But, since I can only answer honestly about my own position in life, what I can say is that it is really irrelevant, since the me of today understands that genocide is wrong.

            There are countless atrocities committed by humans against humans and because today we think, "Oh how appalling, we could never do that." The truth is that you absolutely could, and you have to accept that fact first before you could accept the fact that within that moral framework, God could take the tack that he did.

            If there is a hypothetical me who could so such things thousands of years ago, so what? That doesn't make genocide and slavery any less wrong. The fact that people think something is good, even a majority of people, does not make it so. And that fact that a supposedly moral God instructs genocide and slavery does not make it moral, in the way that I understand morality.

            When I speak of morality, I am speaking of how behaviors help or hurt others. You seem to be speaking of "whatever God decides to do." That's fine, but then we're talking about two different things.

          • Jamie Delarosa

            Brainless f=ggot, what do you know? Looking at kiddie porn doesn't make you an expert on morals.

          • George

            > "Seems appalling" is a relative judgment

            It is indeed. And you either share that view or you do not. Which is it for you?

          • Greg Schaefer

            You write: "If God kills you, he is exercising his right to kill you, a right that he had no matter what."

            Notions like this are one reason why many reject a God, as portrayed by some Christian believers. And decry as immoral the actions of that same God, as portrayed by those same Christian believers.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            So people don't think the idea of God is valid because he doesn't align with their view of how God should act? That is fine, but not really a search for the truth - it is a search for self divinization.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Nicholas.

            I understand your view on the matter. Others, as I say, disagree.

            Christian apologists and the "fathers" of the Church have sought for the better part of two millennia to square Yahweh God, as portrayed in the books of the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomistic History, with evolving conceptions of God in the wake of the Jesus Christ, as portrayed in the Gospels and New Testament Epistles, and the rise of Christianity as human societies have progressed and moved beyond the rank immorality, prejudices and state of ignorance as to questions of science characteristic of the first half of the first millennia BCE when those books of the Old Testament were initially written. So, what you proffer as a critique of some non-believers would, I submit, apply equally as well to many generations of Christian theologians and other expositors and interpreters of scripture over the course of the past two thousand years, based on the advance of knowledge, the development of increasingly complex, highly urbanized, industrialized and interdependent human societies on a global scale and the ever-developing and evolving conceptions of morality and ethical thought.

            That others disagree with you, or with a view of God as portrayed by some institutional religion, does not mean such others are not involved in a search for the truth or that they are involved in any search for "self divinization."

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            If people use as the main source of their argument that "they don't think God would act like that" it is exactly what they are doing. If they have some sort of objective argument or reasoning, then that is one thing but you said that "notions like that" are what cause people to disbelieve.

            Well, those are assertions and not arguments and those who assert are those who know while those who argue search for the truth. Therefore, those who know must think that they intuitively know the truth (sounds like God).

          • Greg Schaefer

            Nicholas.

            You, of course, are entitled to your opinions and your beliefs.

            The assertions made by certain institutional religions, including but not limited to Catholicism, that their religious dogmas and doctrines reflect "objective morality" "revealed" by the God they venerate does not, however, establish that the morality they expound is either "objective" or was given by "God."

            Moreover, attributing the notions of morality developed by their institution's own clerics -- which are necessarily time-based, culturally-conditioned and limited by then state-of-current-human-knowledge -- to a supposed timeless, omnipotent and omniscient creator God does offer the benefit, from an institutional religion's perspective, of not having to engage other members of their societies seeking to persuade them of the merits (or lack thereof) of those notions of morality. How convenient. While those with autocratic sensibilities might prefer to assert dogmas which are supposed to be accepted on the basis of their authority, it should hardly come as a surprise that such assertions carry less weight and credence in many modern societies than may have been the case in the past.

            If you are seeking to win hosannas from other devout believers, it may well be that your approach will be successful, at least with some. But, if you are seeking to win hearts and minds or, at a minimum, to meaningfully engage with those of us who are not devout believers, let me respectfully suggest that your condescending tone and your assertions that you and the devout believing set are pursuing truth while others who remain unconvinced have no interest in the truth but are merely engaged in a mission of self-divinizatioin are highly unlikely to advance your mission.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I did not say that only my believing set are pursuing the truth; I believe anyone making in argument in good faith is pursuing the truth and my comment reflects that belief (not to mention, that I engaged Paul's comment, a de facto recognization that I believe he is seeking the truth in good faith).

            What you responded with was not an argument, but an assertion, because you failed to engage the argument - you merely asserted that my entire notion was false. "Notions like this are one reason why many reject a God, as portrayed by some Christian believers. And decry as immoral the actions of that same God, as portrayed by those same Christian believers."

          • Greg Schaefer

            Nicholas.

            I apologize in advance, but this is going to be a long response for a combox, so please bear with me.

            You are free to belittle my observation as a mere assertion. I concede it was only intended as an observation (which I stand by and which, for whatever it may be worth, seems well supported by a number of other comments in the discussion thread to this OP), not as a detailed argument that seeks to demolish a particular tenet of belief advanced by a particular religious faith.

            I can appreciate, for debaters and religious apologists, why arguments are more highly favored than assertions. But, if the goal is getting at the truth, arguments do not necessarily offer any more hope of getting us there. Let me illustrate.

            Hegel is famous (among some) for his dialectical argument. On the basis of his extended and highly detailed arguments set forth in the course of several dense -- some would say virtually impenetrable -- books, do you accept his philosophy as explicating and laying out the truth?

            Look at Prof. Kreeft's "20 Arguments" article which appears in the upper right hand corner of the SN home page. Does his "argument" no. 20 (Pascal's Wager) persuade you of the "truth" of the Catholic God? Even better, how about his "argument" no. 17?

            My own education, training and profession is that of a lawyer and, in particular, a litigator. The very essence of our job as litigators is to seek to resolve the problems our clients bring to us by way of developing arguments, based on interpretation of the law and the development and marshaling of the facts in each individual case in a way that ultimately persuades the end decision-maker, be that a jury, the trial judge, an appellate court or an arbitration panel, in a contested adversary proceeding that is not settled by the parties, or the parties themselves through negotiated settlement. Given that all parties to any given litigation are making arguments, and that in some litigations there are clear losers, some arguments by the very nature of the process fail. And, to the point, even the winning argument only decides the case; it doesn't necessarily represent the "truth" in that case in any objective sense.

            Lots of folks argue. Are you convinced by the religious and theological positions articulated through the many arguments made over the course of decades by the likes of Ken Ham, Henry Morris or William Lane Craig?

            Back to Prof. Kreeft's "20 Arguments" article. This might reflect particular aspects of American legal training, but the point is that if one has a fundamentally strong winning argument, it is counterproductive to dilute its evident force at elucidating the truth by marshaling nineteen other weaker, less persuasive arguments. That Prof. Kreeft goes to the effort to lay out 20 arguments is itself suggestive than none of the arguments he advances, on their own, ultimately persuades. The development of intellectual thought and philosophy over the past couple millennia teach us that these arguments have more appeal to the already converted (that is, as apologetics) than they do in converting anyone on the non-believing side to the supposed "truth" of the God/gods postulated by any given religion.

            And, finally, the very nature of combox discussions dictates the back and forth of necessarily truncated comments and does not permit the exchange of nuanced, finely honed and developed arguments.

            But, as I'd wager that the hundreds of articles posted on SN since May 2013 and the subsequent 15 month conversation among all the commenters have likely not resulted in very many believers moving over to the non-believing "side" or in very many non-believers moving over to the believing "side," let me move from tactical considerations surrounding the value of "assertion" vs. "arguments" in combox discussions to a more fundamental point.

            I don't profess to know why some humans come to accept the dogmas, doctrines and belief claims advanced by the multitudinous institutional religions to be found among human societies and why some don't. Perhaps at some future point, with increasing knowledge in the areas of brain science, neuroscience, molecular biology, genetics and DNA, psychology, and the manner in which social, cultural and environmental factors interact with and influence individual phenotypes, we'll arrive at a better understanding than we have today.

            From my perspective, it is so obvious that human beings have created gods rather than the reverse, as the three great institutional monotheistic faith traditions would have us believe. It is so obvious that a select group of humans throughout the past three millennia have sought to enshrine as so-called "objective morality," supposedly revealed to humanity by the monotheistic God they have created, their own personally-favored codes of morality and personal ethics. But, it takes books to cover all the reasons and all the details, which simply can't be accomplished in combox discussions, or even in the short essay format articles published by SN. That is why I find such extended discussions as set forth in Robert Wright's "The Evolution of God" (2009), Karen Armstrong's "A History of God" (1993), and Richard Elliott Friedman's "Who Wrote the Bible" (1987) far more persuasive and closer to the truth than all the tenets of Catholicism I was taught growing up in a devout Catholic family, by the Catholic Church in my youth while attending weekly Mass and CCD classes, by the Jesuits at Boston College during my undergraduate education, and the various writings I've read by the Church fathers, some of the intellectual architects of the Catholic faith, Papal Encyclicals, and countless Catholic and Christian apologetics.

            But, I recognize and accept that there are likely hundreds of millions and perhaps even billions of others around the globe who, like you, genuinely and truly believe the religious precepts, dogmas and doctrines articulated in all the variants of the three great global monotheistic faith traditions.

            I trust any reasonably serious and thoughtful observer of human history realizes that scoundrels, tyrants, persecutors and evil-doers can be counted among both the believing and non-believing sets. And, that those who have made significant contributions throughout the course of history to the advancement of human knowledge, to the development of more progressive and informed codes of morality and ethics, as well as to the general arc of progress toward "better" human societies -- societies that are more equal, more inclusive, more tolerant, more free and more just -- likewise can be found on both "sides" of the religious belief divide.

            Ultimately, while belief is not unimportant, what matters more (at least to my way of thinking) is how each of us acts, how each of us chooses to live what hopefully are well-lived, productive lives, and how each of us engages and interacts with others and our environments.

            My hope is that all of us, regardless of which "side" of the religious/faith belief divide we fall on, are able to transcend the bounds of our own beliefs and to accept with due humility, respect and tolerance those others who may not be members of our own "tribe" and who don't share all of our own beliefs.

            The future of human civilization would seem to depend on that.

            With peace, charity and respect, notwithstanding our disagreements on matters of religious faith and belief.

          • Chad Eberhart

            Greg wrote:

            "But, as I'd wager that the hundreds of articles posted on SN since May 2013 and the subsequent 15 month conversation among all the commenters have likely not resulted in very many believers moving over to the non-believing "side" or in very many non-believers moving over to the believing 'side,'"

            I have to thank Brandon for providing this platform for discussion, welcoming atheists and agnostics to "reason together" with Catholics. It's helped me think clearer and flesh out many of the issues I had with the Catholic faith. Thanks to Strange Notions, Brandon Vogt and the many contributors here I've been able to finally gain the courage to relinquish the faith. In the end it seemed obvious to me that Catholics have just not been able to mount much of a defense, at least one that is remotely plausible. I'm just disappointed that a site like Strange Notions didn't come along sooner.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Glad you've enjoyed the site, Chad! I have to admit, I'm sad you've decided to "relinquish the faith", but also skeptical about this site's role. I don't remember you ever commenting before at Strange Notions, a fact that should cast doubt on the suggestion that you were ever seriously interested in engaging the arguments here. (Though I do notice a much higher engagement on the spin-off atheist echo-chamber, "Outside the Sun," including a strange attempt to psychoanalyze my own conversion to Catholicism.)

            Nevertheless, you're always welcome to comment here. If you have specific issues with specific arguments posed on this site, we're always open to respectful dialogue.

          • Chad Eberhart

            Brandon, it's okay if you question my sincerity. We all have our hunches about people and ideas. In my own defense I'll just say that I've mainly participated silently, actually paying fairly close attention to the combox discussions for the better part of SN's existence...and I've commented a few times, too. I would have participated more but there were others on both sides of debates here that articulated what I would have liked to say either more efficiently or better than I could have.

            As far as my "strange" attempt to psychoanalyze you goes it comes from a life-time (nearly 40 years now) of involvement in faith communities - initially Southern Baptist and then Catholicism. Over the years you begin to notice certain personality types emerge to prominance. So, if you want to take it with a grain of salt and/or even just a cathartic release on my part, it's of little consequence to me anymore.

            You mention you're "...skeptical about this site's role in your decision." Have you noticed the quality of comments from non-Catholics to Catholics on here? While there are occasionally thoughtful responses from the Catholic side of things, on the whole - at least from where I sit - the lions share of reasoned, thoughtful and provocative (in a good way) comments come from the atheists and agnostics.

            While obviously there a lot of factors at play in my decision to leave the faith, whether you want to believe it or not, it really and truly has been the combox discussions here at SN that accelerated my push to non-belief in Catholicism . It has been an excruciating past few years for me, so while I could be furious at your accusation that I'm insincere in my pursuit of Truth, at this point I just wish you godspeed.

          • Chad Eberhart

            Also, Brandon, if you continue to ban dissenting voices here at SN an "echo-chamber" is what you're going to have. I'm sure Andrew G would probably tolerate the snark-toned words "spin-off atheist echo-chamber" so you are more than welcome, as well as other Catholics, to join the discussions at Outshine the Sun. The more variety of opinion the better.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "Also, Brandon, if you continue to ban dissenting voices here..."

            You appear to insinuate that we've banned people merely for dissenting beliefs. This is, of course, baseless and false. We've banned a small handful of both atheists and Catholics (roughly an equal number, in fact), but not for disagreeing. They've been removed for repeatedly violating our commenting policy, in most cases because they could not avoid smugness, needless sarcasm, or personal insults.

            I'll add that a quick visit to Outshine the Sun only confirmed we made the right decision with that group of commenters. While indeed smart and insightful, the level of dismissiveness and the amount of insult and sarcasm displayed is almost unbearable at that site. That style may be welcomed at sites like Outside the Sun, but we have no place for that here.

            "I'm sure Andrew G would probably tolerate the snark-toned words "spin-off atheist echo-chamber"

            I didn't mean to be snarky. I meant that literally. The site clearly spun off of Strange Notions (it includes commenters who were banned from this site, and it almost exclusively engages posts from here). And one visit reveals it is, essentially, an echo chamber. The atheist comments (and the insults) outnumber the Catholic counterparts at least 20 to 1. Thus it serves as an echo chamber of atheism.

            "You are more than welcome, as well as other Catholics, to join the discussions at Outshine the Sun. The more variety of opinion the better."

            Thank you for the invitation. However, I much prefer the more diverse, fruitful, and charitable discussion at Strange Notions.

          • Chad Eberhart

            "You appear to insinuate....of course, baseless and false." I don't think there's any "of course" about it. There seems to be conflicting stories. You've expressed what I'd call "smugness, needless sarcasm..." on several occasions which I have no problem with. It just goes to show I think that given our respective perspectives it's difficult to often take the plank out of our own eye regardless of side.

            I think you're right that there's quite a bit of insult and sarcasm over at Outshine the Sun but if I were to take a guess where that comes from, it's in part from your apparent unwillingness to see the weaknesses in your own understanding and arguments. You tend to simply assert and then not follow up. Or you tend to not acknowledge your betters (that certainly does NOT include me). That's pretty frustrating. Please try to engage more (I know you're busy but for the sake of your site you really need to find some dedicated people of possible because it looks bad) so that there can be as you say "...diverse, fruitful and charitable discussion at Strange Notions."

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "I think you're right that there's quite a bit of insult and sarcasm over at Outshine the Sun but if I were to take a guess where that comes from, it's in part from your apparent unwillingness to see the weaknesses in your own understanding and arguments."

            I don't think that's the case. I'm open to engaging any argument or commenter, so long as we agree to dialogue respectfully. Otherwise the conversation devolves into fruitless insults and rhetorical waves of the hand. I just don't have time for that.

            If there are weaknesses in any of my beliefs, or the arguments that support them, I desire they be exposed. I want the truth. I'd rather not be in error.

            Suggesting that commenter here are unwilling to accept criticism simply because we shun uncharitable dialogue is to pose a non sequitur.

            "You tend to simply assert and then not follow up."

            I don't agree. I've commented hundreds of times here since the site began and have participated in many long discussions. It's true I don't have limitless time to dialogue--I have a demanding job, I write and speak regularly, and I have four kids under five--I comment as much as I can.

            "Or you tend to not acknowledge your betters...That's pretty frustrating."

            I'm not quite sure what you mean by "acknowledging" my superiors. I don't believe any person is generally superior than another (and thus I have no "superiors" save God), although some may have superior knowledge in particular subjects. In those cases, I have and do happily admit my relative ignorance. For example, although I minored in both mathematics and physics (with a major in engineering), many commenters here--both Catholic and atheist--know much more about contemporary physics than I do. That doesn't mean they're infallible when speaking about physics, however. They can be corrected at times--and should, with charity.

            "Please try to engage more (I know you're busy but for the sake of your site you really need to find some dedicated people of possible because it looks bad)"

            As I said, I try as much as I can. And I continue to recruit as many serious-minded, charitable Catholics as I can. To be frank, many Catholics stay away from the Strange Notions comboxes because they're so turned off by the smugness and dismissiveness sometimes displayed by atheist commenters. I've received dozens of emails and comments explicitly identifying this as the main reason they don't comment. That's why one of my top goals is to cultivate a healthy, fruitful discussion forum.

            I appreciate all of your feedback regarding the site, even if most of it is negative. I'd still like to dialogue with you about this question, ideally through email (I'm much more active and attuned to my inbox than to this forum):

            What do you consider to be the strongest argument for God, and what do you see wrong with it?

            My email is [email protected]. I'll look forward to your reply!

          • Chad Eberhart

            Looks like we really really disagree about a lot. Two different worlds I think. I'll email you soon.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "Looks like we really really disagree about a lot. Two different worlds I think. I'll email you soon."

            I think you're exaggerating our differences, and I think we live in the same world. Nevertheless, I anticipate your email!

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Brandon.

            You say: "We've banned a small handful of both atheists and Catholics (roughly an equal number, in fact), . . . ."

            More than a dozen on the non-believing "side" come immediately to my mind, based on three rather significant "mass purges" since late July 2013 and some one-offs, but I can at the moment only think of a couple, on the Catholic/other believer "side." While we long-time participants on SN don't always know when previously regular contributors simply decide to cease commenting at SN voluntarily or when they disappear as a function of having been banned, you (or other of the moderators) presumably do.

            Would you be willing to post somewhere on the SN site a list of the commenters who have been banned, and regularly update that list?

            I have no interest in a rehashing of the "why" any specific commentor was banned; you've explained your/the moderators' general position on this several times. But, the raw numbers and the "handles"/names of those who have been banned might help some for whom this continues to be a sore point to move past it.

            I realize this is one of your least favorite subjects, but sometimes ripping the scab off and exposing the wound to the disinfectant of oxygen and sunshine helps the healing process.

          • Michael Murray

            We've banned a small handful of both atheists and Catholics (roughly an equal number, in fact),

            I wonder if you have lost track perhaps or maybe just have big hands. Off the top of my head:

            epeeist, Quine, Gena Safire, M Solange Obrien, Susan, Danny Getchell, BenS, Andre B, Andrew G, Ignorant Amos,

            So there is 10. I'll come back with the rest.

          • Michael Murray

            This not all I am sure but a partial update:

            Articulett, Zen Druid, Jonathan West, Epeeist, Q Quine, Geena Safire, M. Solange O'Brien, Susan, Danny Getchell, BenS, Andre B, Andrew G, Ignorant Amos, Mike A, Stjepan Marusic, Noah Luck, Michael Newsham, josh, Rob Tisinai, Paul Boillot

            I am sure regular posters here on either side will recognise many names for their informative and extensive posting histories.

            Were there really any theists banned who weren't either (a) driver by insulters or (b) first name Rick ?

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Michael.

            That's a good list. IMHO, at least 15 have been very significant losses in the conversation here at SN, as they were consistently enlightening, articulate, thoughtful and exceedingly well informed on so many subjects. (IMHO, a few of those banned were too prone to over-the-top rhetoric and personal attacks that did get in the way of a civil, ongoing conversation and which could reasonably be viewed as outweighing the value of their substantive contributions, so I am more understanding of their banning, in light of SN's stated commenting rules.)

            I get that Brandon may have received a deluge of comments from some readers on the believing "side" who didn't appreciate many of the things being said and the tone in which things were sometimes put (in frustration, I've no doubt) but their general overall tone, on balance, was no more disrespectful of persons (as opposed to the merits of ideas) than has been the case with quite a number of commenters on the believing side who have been allowed to continue posting. But, it's also not a surprise that many of us tend to be far more sensitive when it's our ox that's being gored! And, given the degree to which informed and articulate non-believers far outnumbered informed and articulate believers who were/are capable of moving beyond mere recitation of the catechism and Catholic dogma and actually engage with ideas being discussed in a non-dogmatic way, I suspect it was also the case that the moderators were simply forced to tolerate more disrespectful and uncharitable snark, sarcasm and rudeness from the believing "side" in order to maintain some semblance of balance in the number of commenters on each "side."

            As to the believing side, in addition to Rick D., I suspect Ted S. may also have been banned.

            Joanna W. was very acerbic and hostile in some of her commentary awhile back -- the type of thing that exceeded, in my estimation, anyway, the "disrespectful tone" that Brandon and the other moderators here have stated was the principal (?) reason commenters have been banned -- but she was back posting recently (a long exchange with David N. regarding the Phoenix abortion controversy resulting in the excommunication of a nun) so she obviously has not been banned. I know that Andrew banned Maxximillian over at OTS/ES but I don't know if he's been banned at SN, although I haven't seen any posting by him at SN recently.

            It would be nice if Brandon/the other moderators here at SN decide to follow Andrew's example at OTS/ES and create a separate moderation thread or, at a minimum, at least maintain somewhere a list of those who have been banned.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            I wonder if you have lost track perhaps or maybe just have big hands.

            Michael, no need for sarcasm. I haven't lost track, and I have average-sized hands. Disqus nicely displays our entire blacklist which allowed me to reference it before my previous comment.

            We've banned more than fifteen theists (or commenters I assume are theist, based on their arguments.) That's slightly more than the number of atheists we've had to remove.

            We don't play favorites or censor one particular view here. We simply ask that everyone equally abide by our reasonable Commenting Policy. If they're unable to do so, they can feel free to comment elsewhere.

          • Michael Murray

            We've banned more than fifteen theists (or
            commenters I assume are theist, based on their arguments.) That's slightly more than the number of atheists we've had to remove.

            Thanks for checking that Brandon but it still doesn't seem right. After consulting quite a few people I get the following list of atheists who have been banned from posting.

            Andre B, Andrew G, Argon, Articulett, Ben Posin, BenS, Danny Getchell, Epeeist, Geena Safire, Gwen, Ignorant Amos, Jonathan West, josh, MichaelNewsham, Mike A, Noah Luck, M. Solange O'Brien, Paul Boillot, Renard Wolfe, Rob Tisinai, staircaseghost, stanz2reason, Stjepan Marusic, Susan, Zen Druid.

            That's 25 which is a lot more than slightly less than 15.

            I guess it's possible some of those people have got a "you can't post" response at some point due to a Disqus glitch rather than a banning? But I know some of them have gone back and tried again after some time.

            So I'm confused.

          • Michael Murray

            We've banned more than fifteen theists (or commenters I assume are theist, based on their arguments.) That's roughly the same as the number of atheists we've had to remove.

            We don't play favorites or censor one particular view here. We simply ask that everyone equally abide by our reasonable Commenting Policy. If they're unable to do so, they can feel free to comment elsewhere.

            This bit I have to dispute. The theists I have noticed banned (and I've been here from nearly the beginning) have nearly all been just people dropping by to make a few insults. The atheist have nearly all been people who have made many interesting and relevant posts.

            You say in the About page that:

            While the main site and articles have a Catholic direction, the comment boxes are where the real action happens. And there we Catholics expose ourselves to atheist fire no less than they to ours. The arena is common to both and cannot finally be cheated. Like Socrates, we all agree to "follow the argument wherever it leads."

            It looks to me like you are red carding the opposition more than your own team. That is a traditional way for the arena to be cheated when the referee is on the home team. At least in soccer.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Brandon.

            If the entire blacklist -- to use your term -- is readily available through Disqus, why not simply publish it? Then all readers and all commenters at SN have access to the underlying facts. Transparency is, generally, a good thing.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            Brandon,

            There will come a day when you will be asked by your God to answer for your works on His behalf in this lifetime.

            Will you then reply, "Lord, I spent my life working diligently to bring the word of Your Church to the skeptical. Except, of course, the snarky ones. I'm sure You'll agree that it made sense to close my ears to them."

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            Vicq, thanks for the comment. I'm curious how you would interpret Jesus' words in these two passages:

            "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet." (Matthew 10:14)

            "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces." (Matthew 7:6)

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            I interpret those words as telling me what Jesus thinks of me.

            Oink!

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            First of all, Catholicism is a positive argument while atheism is negative. It will always be easier to poke holes in people's positive arguments and look smarter being negative. It is the nature of cynicism: it's just plain easier to be a cynic! A critic can always tell you how you can do something better. This principle pays double when you want something to be untrue (In my life experience, only one personality shows up over and over again to destroy: the cynical solipsistic sophist). This is why Jesus says to have faith like a child; a child's ego has not developed enough for it to seek truth's destruction.
            Really, the search for the truth in the world cannot be contained in the forums on a website - intellectualism is necessary but abstract and meaningless without other components. It should be telling that you weren't searching for the truth in that the final verdict was delivered by commenters on a website. This is not a search for truth but a lazy trade of the truth for certainty like a Blackjack player who stays when the logic says to hit. If you cannot deal with the fact that God is a mystery to us yet compels us to have a relationship with him, no investigation you ever have will ever bear fruit.
            Thank you Chad for reminding me why God works the way he does - for if truth could be weighed on a scale, what would we do after the weigh-in?

          • Chad Eberhart

            So let me get this straight. I prefer the easy route of negative arguments from the perspective of atheism, looking smarter, and I'm cynical and solipsistic. I want Catholicism to be untrue. I really wasn't searching for Truth and the final verdict for me was limited to commenters on a website. I'm lazy like a blackjack player. I can't deal with the mystery of God. I remind Catholics that Truth isn't a weigh-in.

            As a representative of Catholicism tell me why your comment should appeal to me - flies, honey and all that? It sounds like "good riddance". It just confirms me in my decision. Thanks Nicholas!

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            Yes.
            Yes.
            Yes.
            Yes.
            Yes.
            No, not all blackjack players are lazy; that's not what the analogy stated.
            Yes.
            Yes.

            Because it's the truth. When my boss tells me, "You've really been half-assing it the last week" I don't respond with, "So you're telling me I should just quit?"

            This is always the thought Christian-doubters have: Christians have to exude kindness or I can throw out what they say because if they aren't practicing what they preach, they are hypocrites who can't even align themselves with their most basic tenet of faith. The problem with this is that kindness is translated in to "good feelings" as if I have to make you feel good about yourself in order to be kind. Sometimes though, in order to present reality, we must say things that don't make people feel good because the reality is that each of us is not composed solely of the good. Acknowledging only the good in others is not kindness, but hoping for it in them is. Maybe my charity toward you doesn't involve giving you honey, but telling you that the thing you're currently devouring is filled with vinegar. If I really wanted to say good riddance, I didn't need to respond to your comment at all.

            And the acts of people shouldn't confirm your decision about God (wrong measuring system, see the above comment). I'm just describing how to investigate Catholicism according to Catholicism - if you can't use our own teachings (to evaluate truth according to prayer, charity, and beauty among other things), you never really evaluated them in the first place.

          • Chad Eberhart

            Good luck, Nicholas. Hit me up when your cognitive dissonance gets too much.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Nicholas.

            You write: "It will always be easier to poke holes in people's positive arguments and look smarter being negative."

            There's little doubt that there are people interested in trying to make themselves look "smarter." But, such people exist among the believing "set" as well as among the non-believing "set." It is easy to demonize others. It is easy to charge those who disagree with our own beliefs and opinions with character flaws and faults. It is much harder to live with tolerance for those not members of our own "tribes" and who think differently than we do and believe different things. Until you have actual experience with and knowledge of the character and habits of specific other individuals, I'd encourage you to extend the benefit of the doubt, rather than reflexively to smear and denigrate others simply because they think or believe differently than you.

            You also write: "This principle pays double when you want something to be untrue"

            Beware the two-sided sword: this principle applies with equal force to believers who want something to be true.

            Finally, you note: "This is why Jesus says to have faith like a child; a child's ego has not developed enough for it to seek truth's destruction."

            Very young children may indeed have wondrously open minds. (Isn't that the reason for the old quip, variously attributed to different Jesuits, to the effect of "Give me the child for six years, and I'll give you the man"?) But, don't you suppose there is a good reason why we have educated adults instructing and teaching children, not the reverse? Just what "truths" would you have us believe are accessible to children but not to adults?

            Once again, I respectfully submit you are not being charitable in presuming that others who do not hold to your own beliefs are not also engaged in a search for the truth.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I will have to say that I was being cheeky in my assessment of Chad there - my criticism of his motives was a satire of his justification for psychoanalyzing Brandon's conversion (I thought I was mirroring it well enough to tip it off).Of course, atheists think believers are deluded and Catholics believe the same of others; the point of the satire is to exaggerate that we all know this basic fact.

            Acting with charity toward others is listening to their arguments and responding with reason; I don't presume others are not engaged in a search for the truth unless they give some sort of reason, i.e. "I came to a conclusion about the existence of God due to the commenting back-and-forth of this site." That, in my opinion, is a farce regarding the subject of truth-searching. If you make a claim, and I say, "That claim sucks, here is why" this is not uncharitable. If you say, "I don't think Jesus existed because I prayed to him last night and heard nothing back" and I respond, "You weren't listening then", this would be uncharitable because I give no reason against your claim, only an assertion that it is wrong. This is what you did to me to initiate your first series of reprimands toward my supposed lack of charitability (without regard for a deep understanding of my specific habits and character I would presume).

            This, of course, is about the fourth incredibly long post that you have given me Greg about how I lack the respect for others' beliefs because I don't offer them the benefit of the doubt (mixed with a tone that implies my worldliness is lacking). I have yet to extend my doubt past the sentences offered on the screen I have thought, and if I haven't, I invite you to point out where I haven't; I am not beyond admitting fault in these chats, I get stuff wrong all the time (truth be told, I'm an idiot, be patient with me) and I don't fear admitting it. Sometimes I am more blunt I am sure, but brevity can be its own form of charity - ya feel me?

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Nicholas.

            I did not mean to imply your worldliness was lacking.

            As Pascal wryly observed: "I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter." So, touché to your concluding remarks. ;)

            All of us have much room for improvement, in countless areas!

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            Haha. Maybe being a young Catholic, I read too much Chesterton so I have that English tendency to be polemical in a curt and sarcastic manner; in modern American culture, this playfulness is mistaken for malice, haughtiness, self-righteousness, etc. Thanks for keeping it real.

          • Chad Eberhart

            "...my criticism of his motives was a satire of his justification for psychoanalyzing Brandon's conversion (I thought I was mirroring it well enough to tip it off)."

            It might be helpful if you criticized me over at OtS in a reply to my "psychoanalysis" so we'd know what you were satirizing. Apparently, your "mirroring" wasn't obvious to anyone. Regardless, I applaud your attempt except that your criticism seems based on the idea that I felt a need to "justify" my psychoanalysis. I don't. In fact, if you read carefully my response to Brandon I tell him he can take it with a grain of salt or merely as a cathartic release. Moreover, I'm not even sure which comment you and Brandon are referring to. I've written a few general critiques using Brandon mostly as an example of the quintessential personality type drawn especially to lay leadership within the politically conservative, neo-Catholic/New Evangelization set.There seems to be a lot of new converts from the ranks of evangelicalism spearing-heading these ministries and in my opinion unwittingly bring a lot of dubious elements of evangelical-Jesus-supra-personality with them that I find disingenuous and overly emotive.

            Also, it's not a fact that I think most Catholics are deluded, I just think Catholics who take their faith as seriously as you do are likely deluded. As far as my beliefs go they're in flux at the moment but I certainly don't identify with being an atheist...yet;-)

            It's possible I spoke carelessly in a previous comment but I couldn't find this quote, "I came to a conclusion about the existence of God due to the commenting back-and-forth of this site." Are you attributing that to me? If so there's a quote from my a reply above that captures more accurately the proper nuance:

            "While obviously there a lot of factors at play in my decision to leave the faith, whether you want to believe it or not, it really and truly has been the combox discussions here at SN that accelerated my push to non-belief in Catholicism."

            The keywords being "...a lot of factors..." and "accelerated". I think you've been accused before of not reading carefully.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            This will be my last word but let me clarify: I have no idea what your psychoanalysis was and I didn't refer to it - I literally said "his justification for psychoanalyzing" which is not on the other site, but in a response you made at this site: "As far as my "strange" attempt to psychoanalyze you goes it comes from..."

            The psychoanalysis is Exhibit A.
            The justification of that psychoanalysis is Exhibit B.

            My quote refers only to Exhibit B.

            And also: your initial statement re: this site is closer to my paraphrase,

            "Thanks to Strange Notions, Brandon Vogt and the many contributors here I've been able to finally gain the courage to relinquish the faith." (you)

            "I came to a conclusion about the existence of God due to the commenting back-and-forth of this site." (me)

            Which I should note I didn't attribute to you, and which was meant only as an example in a tangential argument about charity, so I didn't think uber-accuracy was required. The gist is still correct anyway: you came to a (operative word is a, not the) conclusion about the existence of God (that at least he doesn't exist as the Church teaches it) came from this website's comment banter (SN, B.V. and the contributors here).

          • Chad Eberhart

            Okay.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "Have you noticed the quality of comments from non-Catholics to Catholics on here?"

            It's true we have more atheist comments than Catholic comments, but I wouldn't say they're of a higher quality. Quantity? Yes. Quality? I'm not so sure.

            "On the whole - at least from where I sit - the lions share of reasoned, thoughtful and provocative (in a good way) comments come from the atheists and agnostics."

            I'm not sure I agree. That may be true, yet even if it was, I fail to see how that proves or disproves theism.

            I just find it odd that if you were genuinely a Catholic going through a crisis of faith, you would choose not to engage any of our posters or Catholic commenters personally. If that was me, and I detected serious flaws in the arguments for God, for example, I would beg Catholics to prove me wrong. Or I would ask them to help me see why the atheists arguments were flawed. The fact that you displayed none of that engagement, again, convinces me your mind was mostly made up already.

            Perhaps I'm wrong, and if so I'd love to continue the conversation--either publicly here or privately through email ([email protected]).

            In particular, I'd love to discuss what you consider the strongest argument for God, and what you see wrong with it.

            Best of luck in your search, Chad!

          • Chad Eberhart

            Brandon...come on. Really? You really think that even the smaller quantity Catholic comments are of the same quality? Granted, there are certain posts where I think Catholics shine better than others, and I think there's been some quality Catholic responses, but on the whole I just don't see how you can say this. I know SN is your baby and there's going to be a tendency to defend it but....

            "I fail to see how that proves or disproves theism."

            I'm not sure where this is coming from. My beliefs are in flux right now and all this is pretty raw but I still think I'd consider myself a theist and I'm not sure one can disprove God. It all boils down to plausibility. The work I think you and the other Catholic contributors need to do is spend more time on showing how you get from theism to Catholicism. More articles like that might be helpful.

            Thanks for the offer to engage privately. I think you may have some misunderstandings of my beliefs and where I'm coming from. I'll email you soon.

          • David Nickol

            If that was me, and I detected serious flaws in the arguments for God, for example, I would beg Catholics to prove me wrong. Or I would ask them to help me see why the atheists arguments were flawed. The fact that you displayed none of that engagement, again, convinces me your mind was mostly made up already.

            If I were a member of any religion, and I had doubts about that religion, I would most definitely not "beg" other members of the same religion to "prove me wrong." It strikes me as intellectually dishonest to try to overcome doubts. The intellectually honest thing to do is try to figure out what is true and what is not. That may certainly involve going to a fellow member of one's own religion and asking for help in understanding something.

            What if the apostles had begged the Jewish authorities of the day to prove to them that they were wrong to believe in Jesus?

            It is a great impediment to discovering the truth to try to convince yourself that your doubts must be wrong. Certainly a Catholic would never advise a member of a different religion to beg his co-religionists to prove his doubts were wrong.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            "It strikes me as intellectually dishonest to try to overcome doubts."

            I disagree if the "doubts" originate from critics. If someone on the outside criticizes a particular belief, it makes sense to give those on the inside a chance to defend it, at least in my view.

            This is true for atheists, too. If I was an atheist, and Christians posed really strong arguments for God, then I wouldn't instantly convert to Christianity. I would likely first ask my atheist friends if they had any rejoinders. Only if they seemed unable to answer the arguments would I lean toward Christianity.

            In any case, persuasive arguments or doubts are often the result of ignorance. We sample a conversation that is much deeper and ancient, and until we hear substantial arguments and rejoinders from each side, we should not rashly change our views.

          • David Nickol

            I think the italicization of overcome, which was lost when you quoted me, was critically important. Merriam-Webster's Unabridged (online) gives these synonyms for their first two definitions of overcome: surmount, conquer, subdue, overpower, overwhelm.

            I don't disagree that if you are committed to a belief system, and you have incipient doubts, the reasonable thing to do is turn to fellow believers for clarification or deeper insight. But it would be going too far for you to beg them to prove you wrong!

            Dealing honestly with doubts, if you are wrong about something, is the only way to find out you are wrong and discover what is right. If your way of dealing with doubts is to try to overcome, surmount, conquer, subdue, overpower, or overwhelm them, then if you are wrong, you will never become right.

            The Catechism says

            2088 The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it. There are various ways of sinning against faith:

            Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief. Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity. If deliberately cultivated doubt can lead to spiritual blindness.

            I will let others decide for themselves exactly what that implies, but to me it leans strongly in the direction of implying that anything other than ignoring or suppressing doubts, or somehow willing yourself to believe things you don't, is forbidden.

          • Martin Sellers

            "But, as I'd wager that the hundreds of articles posted on SN since May 2013 and the subsequent 15 month conversation among all the commentators have likely not resulted in very many believers moving over to the non-believing "side" or in very many non-believers moving over to the believing "side,"

            Impossible to know for sure...
            I can only speak for myself. This site has had a major impact on me in helping to explore my own faith critically. Without getting into a long story, it has also been influential in starting a young adult group at my local parish- which has attracted several members who would not have come to church otherwise. Its hard to see the branching effects of our actions.

          • Martin Sellers

            "...far more persuasive and closer to the truth than all the tenets of Catholicism..."

            I am interested to know your experience of living those "tenets of Catholicism". During your exploration of Catholicism, where you only reading about it, or had you tried to incorporate any aspects into your daily life?

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Martin.

            In my original comment, I was alluding more to matters of "belief" -- Catholic dogmas, doctrines and catechism -- than to modes of action and behavior. Nonetheless, and with advance apologies to any other participants to this site who happen to stumble across this exchange, as this kind of personal, anecdotal dialogue is so hopelessly tedious and of zero interest to others, I hope you will find the following responsive to your query.

            I value traits like tolerance, empathy, compassion, kindness, charity, humility, intellectual curiosity and an ongoing desire to learn and to seek knowledge and wisdom, open-mindedness, questioning and skepticism toward authority, cooperation and perseverance. To the extent that you wish to characterize any of those traits as being habits of behavior or mind encouraged by Catholicism, I like to think that I have attempted to incorporate such behaviors and habits of mind throughout the course of my life.

            I detest arrogance, intolerance, mean-spiritedness, selfishness, greed, slavish adherence to authority, being told what one must "believe" or do, unwarranted claims to certainty, celebratory ignorance, tribalism and "us" vs. "them" ways of thinking, ruthless ubercompetiveness, and the reduction of evident complexity into false simplicity.

            I am inherently skeptical about claims by individual humans (and institutions, be they religious or secular) to knowing the "truth." Such claims strike me as preposterous in light of the astounding development of human knowledge and understanding over the past several millennia generally and over the last 500 or so years, in particular. The attribution to supposed divine revelation/inspiration of numerous "books" written by Iron Age peoples who were products of their times, whose knowledge regarding the universe we inhabit and the forces governing nature was astonishingly primitive by current standards, and whose cultures were permeated by rank immorality and blatant prejudices by our modern standards, strikes me as sheer delusion. Human understanding is -- or at least historically has always been and will, well into the foreseeable future, continue to be -- provisional.

            While I admire aspects of the Church's teachings on social justice, I find many other of its teachings highly immoral and debasing, remain totally unpersuaded of the truth of many of its asserted theological dogmas and doctrines, and find its top-down, exceedingly hierarchical and authoritarian, non-transparent institutional structure inimical not only to the pursuit of the truth but also to fostering the requisite tolerance and respect for those who do not accept its truth claims required for the maintenance of civil, cohesive, productive, dynamic and flourishing human societies. Detailing all those would require book-length treatment.

          • Martin Sellers

            Thanks for the response. I think the point of "Catholic dogmas, doctrines and catechism" is to influence "modes of action and behavior". You seem to have an upbringing heavily influenced by Catholicism. Just curious, but is it possible that any of the value you place those quality traits you mentioned was influenced by your catholic upbringing? Or do you attribute your fervor elsewhere?

            If you feel it is inappropriate to discuss such things on this public forum or that as "this kind of personal, anecdotal dialogue is so hopelessly tedious and of zero interest to others", I respect that and we can drop the discussion. I am just curious that's all.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Martin.

            I don't mind continuing, tedious though it may be to others.

            You raise a very interesting question regarding the sources and foundation of the traits and behaviors any given individual admires and seeks to model in themselves and hopes for in others. I have in fact wondered about that very point, many times.

            In general, it seems to me that the person each of us is at every point in our lives is necessarily a function of our unique genome as it interrelates with and is shaped by the totality of all the environmental, familial, educational, work/professional, community, and broader social, cultural and political influences we experience and also as a product of our prior life's experiences.

            Because my upbringing was, to employ your phrase, "heavily influenced by Catholicism," that facet of my upbringing necessarily has to have played some role in the formation of my values, the traits of character and behavior I both admire and detest, and what I think it means to live a productive, meaningful, well-lived life. To what extent, I do not know. But, I've little doubt but that I'd be a different person than the one I am today had I not had the specific Catholic upbringing that I did just as certainly as I would be a different person had I had a different mother or father, had I been raised in any of the various sects of Protestantism, Islam or any other religion or in the absence of religion, in a different state or country, or in a different time. That would be true for all of us, in my view.

            I'd be interested in your take on the question you pose.

          • Martin Sellers

            Yes, I often raise that question of myself. I wonder what influences have led me to become the person I am and the values I hold dear. Your upbringing sounds similar to mine (albeit I went to a public H.S. and university).

            I was looking over your list of qualities that you value.

            (tolerance, empathy, compassion, kindness, charity, humility, intellectual curiosity and an ongoing desire to learn and to seek knowledge and wisdom, open-mindedness, questioning and skepticism toward authority, cooperation and perseverance)

            I also value these qualities. To my knowledge they seem to be qualities that the Catholic Church upholds as well.

            (arrogance, intolerance, mean-spiritedness, selfishness, greed, slavish adherence to authority, being told what one must "believe" or do, unwarranted claims to certainty, celebratory ignorance, tribalism and "us" vs. "them" ways of thinking, ruthless ubercompetiveness, and the reduction of evident complexity into false simplicity)

            I also detest these qualities. The Catholic church I am familiar with also seems to warn against such traits.

            We seem to have similar upbringings and we hold similar values. Why is it we have different opinions of the church I wonder? Did you have unfavorable experiences with the church, while I had good ones? Are experiences just "inputs" that push us one way or another?

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Martin.

            As I understand the Catholic Church, I have far less confidence than do you that the Church values tolerance (at least to others who do not subscribe to its teachings), humility (at least for those in the upper levels of the clerical hierarchy, as displayed in public speeches and other pronouncements by some in the USCCB and other leading Catholic "spokesmen" in recent decades), intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness (at least when such traits cause some to reject the Church's truth claims and dogmatic/doctrinal teachings), or the questioning and skepticism toward authority (at least when the authority in question is the Church or any in its clerical elite).

            But, I also understand that these characteristics are a function of the truth claims made by the Church: any institution that assumes the existence of a God of the form postulated by the Church, that teaches what it does about the nature of God, God's creation of the universe, the purpose of creation, the role of humans and our nature, the doctrine of original sin, the doctrine of Christ's incarnation in order to redeem the original sin of mankind, divine judgment at the threshold of eternal life, the divinely-inspired and inerrant nature of the Christian Bible, and that the Church is the earthly institution formed by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit to serve as the ongoing interpretation and dissemination of God's Revelation can hardly be said to be truly interested in tolerance for dissenting views or intellectual curiosity that might lead individual humans not to accept the Church's teachings.

            Such outcomes are entirely predictable in the wake of individuals or institutions who profess to know the truth and to proclaim the truth in the name of a "judging" God. (This characteristic is not unique to Catholicism, but applies as well to Islam and all forms of fundamentalist Protestantism.) But, it is also why they can serve as just another vehicle for channeling and focusing apparently innate tendencies without our species to tribalism and to distrust of others, and to fan the flames of intolerance, divisiveness and hatred. History is littered with the sorry consequences for cohesive and civil and flourishing human societies when those flames are stoked by irresponsible or too certain forces into conflagration.

            The Catholic Church surely has no interest in skepticism or questioning of its dogmas and truth claims, especially by the laity. The Church is an archetype of the authoritarian model, telling its parishioners what they must believe, not on the basis of persuasion and the developing of consensus over policies that lead to more just, equitable, free, tolerant and flourishing societies, but rather based allegedly on Divine Revelation emanating from the will of a transcendent Creator God possessed of infinite power.

            Let me illustrate.

            A couple years ago, I prepared a Letter to the Editor of the hometown paper where I grew up. That paper publishes weekly "sermonettes" on a rotating basis by local clergy. The local Catholic priest (and one of the local Protestant ministers) had in the course of three separate sermonettes taken to admonishing their adult parishioners for the declining rates of participation they have been experiencing in recent years among the younger generation. My letter took issue with that, and set forth some other possible causes for the growing rejection by the younger generation of the institutional Christian churches.

            I provided a copy of my Letter to the priest and minister at the same time I submitted it to the paper. I received a call from the paper within a day or two, indicating they planned to publish it. A few days later, I received a call from the paper's publisher, advising that he had decided, in the wake of a couple "discussions" he'd had, not to publish my Letter. Only after that decision had been made by the publisher did the Catholic priest write to me, advising that he had met with the paper's publisher and had expressed his opposition to the publication of my Letter, viewing it as an "attack" on the churches.

            So much for tolerance, the brooking of dissent, and openness to the questioning of authority!

            I am unable, Martin, to say why we have come to such different opinions regarding the Church. I did not personally have any unfavorable experiences with the Church (if I correctly understand what you may be implying).

            I simply found, as I grew up, learned more, and experienced more, that I (1) did not accept the truth claims propounded by the Church, (2) came to view many of the Church's doctrines and teachings as highly immoral, debasing of humanity, and inimical to human flourishing and the maintenance of harmonious societies, and (3) came to view the Church's martyr/persecution complex and its interaction in the political sphere over the past three decades, in which it has sought to codify and impose on the society as a whole its own dogmatic, sectarian religious beliefs, as unacceptably intolerant and disrespectful of the rights of others in a complex, highly diverse society.

            Sorry for another very lengthy reply. That's a problem of mine. In one of the classes I took from Prof. Kreeft, he had us write a five-page paper one week, then expand it to ten pages the following week. The next week, he had us write a ten-page paper on a new subject. The fourth week, we edited the second ten-page paper down to five pages. Across the board, the consensus was that the papers we had been arbitrarily forced to edit down to half their original length were superior to the papers we had been given leave to expand.

            Why didn't the lesson take? Perhaps it's the Charles Dickens problem: as a lawyer in modern America, we essentially were paid by the hour to write. So, I'll close by referencing a quip from Pascal I quoted in an earlier reply today to Nicholas in this same thread.

            Cheers.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Martin.

            I've been reflecting some more on our exchange from a couple days ago. I don't know how much time you have at this stage in your life for reading. But, I'll offer a couple suggestions.

            First, in terms of the hoary old "nature vs. nurture" debate and the relative role/contributions each plays in forming the person we are/become as we progress through life.

            When I was younger, I believed, for whatever reason, that nurture played the more significant role in the formation of our basic personality, our habits of mind and our behavior. In recent years, as I have watched as our sons grow into maturity, observed the path each of my siblings and I have taken and the people each of us has become, and reflected back to what I know of my parents, I would say I've become more attuned to the very profound role played by nature, i.e., our own individual genetic makeup.

            If this subject is of interest to you, I highly commend Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" (2002). If you're not familiar with Prof. Pinker, his research interests are in the areas of psychology, brain cognition and linguistics. He is a provocative and prolific scholar, a true polymath and erudite in an illuminating and not off-putting way (akin in these regards to his late Harvard colleague, Steven Gould, a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, whose monthly essays that ran in Natural History magazine for almost thirty years have been compiled into a dozen or so books, which represent a stunning intellectual history of evolutionary biology and are just a sheer delight to read). The Blank Slate is, in my view, a deeply thoughtful and brilliant treatise on human nature.

            Given our exchange, you might also find of interest the work of Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist currently at NYU. He is best known for his research and writing on the values that, at least in his view, tend to animate and explain the very different weltanschauungs that seem to typify the divide -- in the US, anyway -- between social/religious "conservatives" who tend to identify with the GOP and "progressive" secular liberals who tend to identify with the Democrat or Green parties. Haidt's most recent book is "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion" (2012). I haven't read that book, but I've read some of Haidt's earlier papers that form the basis for the book.

            This review in the New York Times will give you a better flavor:

            http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/the-righteous-mind-by-jonathan-haidt.html?pagewanted=all

            Perhaps not surprisingly, given Haidt's views, he has come in for criticism by the likes of the neuroscientist Sam Harris, the evolutionary geneticist Jerry Coyne and the evolutionary biologist PZ Myers.

            For Coyne on Haidt, see:

            http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/jon-haidt-on-religion-self-transcendence-and-altruism-are-they-evolutionary/

            For Harris on Haidt, see:

            http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-jonathan-haidt

            For Myers on Haidt, see:

            http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/05/17/the-unbearable-squishiness-of-jonathan-haidt/

            Cheers.

          • Chad Eberhart

            Thanks for that, Greg! Although I could not have ever written it so comprehensively and succinctly as you, that's it in a nutshell.

          • Martin Sellers

            "Moreover, attributing the notions of morality developed by their institution's own clerics -- which are necessarily time-based, culturally-conditioned and limited by then state-of-current-human-knowledge -- to a supposed timeless, omnipotent and omniscient creator God does offer the benefit, from an institutional religion's perspective, of not having to engage other members of their societies seeking to persuade them of the merits (or lack thereof) of those notions of morality."

            Agreed- However, those clerics have been engaging their respective societies for more than two thousand years. That is a major function of the church.

          • Ken Varga

            To state that mankind has "moved beyond rank immorality" ignores the killing of hundreds of millions of children by abortion, the 100million or so that communist governments killed in the last century, the many immoral wars currently occurring, the excess of so many while other millions starvethe scourges of pornography, rampant drug addiction, corrupt governments, etc., etc. etc.
            Mankind's nature remains basically the same as it has have for many thousands of years - We are in need of repentance and a Savior. He came and His name is Jesus.

          • Michael Murray

            Mankind's nature remains basically the same as it has have for many thousands of years - We are in need of repentance and a Savior. He came and His name is Jesus.

            He came 2000 years ago. It seems, by your argument, that He hasn't helped much.

          • Ken Varga

            Consider that the communists who killed approx 100million were and continue as avowed athiests and haters of Christianity, those that kill babies around the world are not following Christian teaching, the Moslems slaughtering all who do not conform to their beliefs also are against Christian teaching, Hindus who allow leave the lower castes in their wretched state without helping to raise them up. I could go on. I'd say it's obvious what belief system has raised the nature of individuals and helped mankind more than any other. There is no Mother Theresa from any other religion. Dr. Martin Luther King and the Christian ideals behind the civil rights movement, the elevation of women due to Christian respect for the dignity of all people, the many Christian groups feeding the poor and providing ways for so many to earn a living. Even the non Christian groups feeding the poor are rooted in Christian, or formerly Christian societal ideas.

            Respectfully, I disagree with your premise that Jesus hasn't helped much. We still have much to do but we have come far.

          • Michael Murray

            You forgot to mention the good Christian Nazi's motivated by centuries of Christian inspired anti-semitism.

            "My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison."
            -Adolf Hitler, in his speech in Munich on 12 April 1922

            Gott mitt uns indeed.

          • Logan

            Michael:

            I have a family relative who was in the Hitlersjugend (not sure if I spelled that right). The story I learned from another relative and him was that he was the only one in their camp or whatever who went to church (or at least Mass) on Sunday. Hardly Christian indoctrination.

            You can also look at Wikipedia article "Religious Views of Adolf Hitler"--I don't always trust wikipedia, but if that article is any indication, there is serious discussion about what his religious beliefs actually were.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks Logan. That's interesting. I wasn't claiming that the Nazi's used Christian indoctrination. But I think it's clear the Hitler wasn't afraid to use Christianity when it suited him. Just as he wasn't afraid to wave "socialism" around when it suited. He also made appalling use of the long history in Europe of anti-semitism which has its roots in Christianity. That was my main point.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Ken.

            That's a fair comment, to the extent that I didn't define those aspects of the culture and law code of the Israelites of the first half of the first millennia BCE.

            What I had in mind as emblematic of the "rank immorality" we've moved beyond in modern, "western," industrialized countries employing representative forms of democracy, is that in such countries we no longer:

            (1) permit the enslavement of racial and ethnic minorities;

            (2) treat women as merely the chattel property of men;

            (3) tolerate tyrannical rule by hereditary monarchies or religious theocracies and, in the US, at least, we have enshrined in the First Amendment to our federal Constitution certain
            inviolable rights that all people possess and that no secular or theocratic government can take away, including the right freely to
            exercise the religion of one’s choice (or not to profess belief in any
            faith tradition or practice any religion at all), the guarantee that no government shall establish any official state religion and
            force citizens to join that religion and worship as prescribed under the
            dogmas and tenets of that religion, and the rights to freedom of speech
            and of the press;

            (4) require our citizens to follow slavishly and unquestioningly the dictates and demands of secular and religious elite authority but instead provide our citizens free public education and the freedom to think and speak for themselves;

            (5) (at least since WWII) engage in wars of genocide, and instead seek to bring to justice before international criminal courts those who have waged wars of indiscriminate slaughter against ethnic or religious minorities;

            (6) even in the US, authorize the death penalty (and most other such countries have abolished the death penalty outright) for any of the following acts for which the "Law of Moses" proscribed it:

            (i) working on the Sabbath [EXODUS 31:12-15 & 35:1-3;
            NUMBERS 15:32, 35-36];

            (ii) worshipping or sacrificing to other gods [EXODUS 22:19;
            LEVITICUS 20:1-6; NUMBERS 25:1-5; and DEUTERONOMY
            13:2-16 & 17:2-7];

            (iii) adultery [LEVITICUS 20:10-12 & DEUTERONOMY 22:22-24];

            (iv) blasphemy [LEVITICUS 24:10-16];

            (v) women who are not virgins on their wedding night
            [DEUTERONOMY 22:13-20];

            (vi) engaging in homosexual acts [LEVITICUS 20:13];

            (vii) those “wronging” widows or orphans [EXODUS 22:21-
            13];

            (viii) sons who don’t listen to or obey their parents
            [DEUTERONOMY 21:18-21];

            (ix) children who strike [EXODUS 21:15] or curse [EXODUS
            21:17 & LEVITICUS 20:9] their parents; and

            (x) sorceresses, fortune-tellers or mediums [EXODUS 22:17
            & LEVITICUS 20:27].

            I do agree with you that the US, in particular, is still far too amenable to projecting force and to engaging in unnecessary and unjust war, under both Republican and Democratic Presidents and Congress under the control of both parties.

            I also agree with you that we have capitalism run amok in the US and that the (a) increasingly inequitable distribution of income and wealth in the US, (b) increasing levels of poverty in the US, (c) scourge of corporatism, crony capitalism and the ridiculous treatment of corporations as "persons" possessed of the same rights as actual humans, and (d) undue influence peddling, dominance of electioneering, the drowning out of the voices of most of the non-elites and the overreaching behavior and greed in general among so many of the plutocratic elite all, in fact, constitute grave moral problems.

            While I disagree that abortion is immoral, I certainly understand that the Catholic Church and many of the Protestant Churches teach the contrary as a matter of their religious dogmas and doctrines. That said, I respectfully suggest that we not allow this thread to get hijacked by further discussion on the topic of abortion. Trent Horn wrote two OPs that were published in SN within the past couple weeks on the topic of abortion, and those seem far better places to engage in more extended discussions of abortion.

            I am not suggesting that "mankind's nature" has changed in the past three thousand years. I do contend that so many of our modern societies are more progressive and enlightened morally in so many ways from those of the first millennia BCE Palestine, for the reasons delineated above, and also because humanity has learned so much in the past five hundred years due to the advent of modern science and the use of scientific methodology, due to the mass education of the citizenry in so many countries, in the wake of the development of technology from the printing press on, as well as the increasing interdependence and trade between peoples around the globe which helps to break down the barriers presented by the innate tendencies in our species to tribalism.

            We can and must do better. That will require both religious believers and non-believers to respect each other's rights to freedom of religion and conscience and to practice tolerance between us. It will also require all of us, whatever our religious beliefs, or lack thereof, to work together to identify the many areas of commonality that unify all of humanity and to pull together to seek to reduce unnecessary suffering and to create and maintain tolerant, cohesive, civil, respectful, modest but dynamic and productive societies in which freedom and flourishing are hallmarks.

            Cheers.

          • David Nickol

            So people don't think the idea of God is valid because he doesn't align with their view of how God should act?

            I think the point is that the God of the Old Testament doesn't seem to act according to currently accepted morality, including Catholic morality. Catholicism holds that morality is objective, moral laws may be known, and morality does not change. And God cannot change morality.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            Oh David - are you talking about the natural law? The one where we can know how to act in accordance with our natures? Because then you surely would know that the nature of man is different than the nature of God, so why would you reference our standard and then confuse the situation by holding God to the human nature?

            "God cannot change morality" is a non-statement by the way - at least by our definition. If you're going to argue against it, you should use our definitions as well as our terms.

          • fredx2

            The thing that is so bizarre is that you have take a few instances out of a very large book and you base your whole judgment of God on those few instances. That is skewing the evidence. Especially when every other generation since time began has not come to the same conclusion. Sober minded people from time immemorial have beleived God is Good. Why have modern Westerners suddenly come to this drastically different conclusion? Are they suddenly the most wonderful, moral generation to have come along, or are they just better at polemics and argumentation? Are they just good at picking things apart and causing trouble rather than acquiring wisdom?
            Have Jews (who after all focus solely on the Old Testament) come to the conclusion that God is a bloodthirsty beast? No. No generation until this one has had the arrogance to present the world with such a skewed conclusion, based on a selective reading of the evidence presented by the Old Testament. You should be ashamed of yourselves and you should be ashamed of your tactics. Examine all the evidence. Consider the weight of all the evidence. You come to your conclusions based on some small, fragmentary accounts. You search after gotchas rather than understanding.

          • David Nickol

            Hello?

            Have you actually read what I have written?

            It is my position that God did not (and cannot) order people to commit intrinsically evil acts. I have not concluded that God is evil. I have concluded that those who believe God commanded genocide are mistaken. I stand by what I said, which has so obviously upset you: "I think the point is that the God of the Old Testament doesn't seem to act according to currently accepted morality, including Catholic morality." However, it is my argument not that God is evil, but that those who believe that God commanded genocide are reading the Bible too literally.

            You may want to go back and reread Is God Pro-Life or Pro-Death? here on SN by Matthew Ramage. He is the author of Dark Passages in the Bible. I have not read his book, but I recall being in substantial agreement with his SN post.

            No generation until this one has had the arrogance to present the world with such a skewed conclusion, based on a selective reading of the evidence presented by the Old Testament.

            The "conclusion" you speak of is presumably that if God really did all of the things in the Old Testament that he is said to have done, he would be evil, or at least he would be guilty of some very evil deeds. Of course, the atheists do not conclude that God is evil. They conclude there is no God. It is some of the Catholics here who are arguing that God really did command genocide, and that it's okay for God to command genocide, because when God commands virtually anything, if it was immoral before, it ceases to be immoral because of God's command.

            You should be ashamed of yourselves and you should be ashamed of your tactics.

            Easy now!

          • Michael Murray

            The thing that is so bizarre is that you have take a few instances out of a very large book and you base your whole judgment of God on those few instances.

            Imagine I was up on trial for a murder and my defence was to complain that the police had failed to look at the hundred of thousands of other minutes of my life when I hadn't killed anyone. Do you think that would work ?

            You should be ashamed of yourselves and you should be ashamed of your tactics.

            That's just rude. David is the most reasonable, polite and level-headed commentator on these boards.

          • Doug Shaver

            That is fine, but not really a search for the truth

            And you know that because people who really search for the truth come to realize, sooner or later, that the truth is what you say it is?

          • George

            "Yes. Yes, for God, not for people."

            How do you think you should behave if you really do believe that?

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            Like a person. One not allowed to kill, rape, etc.

        • Ilene

          Excellent point. I hope it sticks because intentions are all too often not true to the effects. And the cause proves to be antagonistic against the effect as it betrays the intentions, doing a lot more harm than help. He meant well, but he still killed his neighbor's dog.

      • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

        Wouldn't the kind of God that resorts to human brutality in order to dig a small group of people out of the mire of rude, brutish, solitary and short life be fairly wicked at worst or incompetent at best? He couldn't figure out a better way to save humanity? His best working plan involved multiple genocides?

        • NicholasBeriah Cotta

          He doesn't "resort" to human brutality, it is the cultural milieu at the time. To judge that God should have found a better way presupposes that there is a better way - how would you know that? I mean, this is the problem, right? Humans judge the rightness and wrongness of God's actions as if there was a better plan (Read Job, ch.38, God's response to Job who has the same basic anger directed toward him)- I doubt if a whole culture was sinking in to depravity that anyone would have a good plan to rescue them (without violating the general sovereignty of the human will). It is simply saying, "God's plan isn't better than a theoretical counterfactual plan."

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            The fact that I can easily imagine a better way to handle the problems Israel was facing than genocide means there's defenitely a better way. God could have instantly granted that any weapon attempting to hurt an Israelite would break, and that any Gentile attempting to grow vegetation on Zion would fail. Zion would have been an uninhabitable desert until Israel came upon it, and then everything they would have touched would turn to fruit, and all their enemies could not harm them. God could then teach them to be more-or-less pacifists in their international relations. The Israel-Palestine conflict now would sure look a lot different!

            But honestly, when you read these passages about genocide, do you really see God in them? Because when I read these passages, I detect nothing inspired, not even the hint of some divine guidance. Instead, I see a primitive peoples slaughtering the men, women and children of another primitive peoples, and then inventing that God approves, so that they can feel justified in their actions.

            It's not that I'm judging the actions of God here. It's that I don't believe these stories have the slightest to do with God. It is obvious to me that God is too good for the Old Testament.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            One: you don't know that those actions would be in humanity's best interests over entire human history. You are guessing that the breaking of the weapons will help those people live and thus in the long run help humanity - this is a guess, and one that is probably ill informed given any individual's understanding of the entirety of the shaping of human culture.

            When I first read them, I was disturbed, but the Catholic Church is always clear to point out to understand them through the lens of Jesus. After awhile, it makes more sense to me that God works with us where we are, not where he is and in that ancient sort of scene, I believe that humans were brutal to each other. In the end, God delivered his promise to those people, and Jesus is that promise - so through that view, I see God there surely and truly.

            Saying that God is too good for the OT is supposing that you know what ultimate goodness looks like. When you have children and you teach them to ride a bike, would you have them ride a bike that has been technologically advanced to never fall down and never cause muscles pain to ride? If you love someone, you let them live freely, and when they make mistakes, you let them feel their consequence. Even in an evolutionary sense, this is a benefit to us - burnt fingers prevent burnt bodies!

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Even from my state of extreme ignorance, I am confident that ultimate goodness does not involve ordering your own child to kill his brother. Not even if the child himself thinks it's a good idea. Not even if "that's where the child is in his development." Not even for the educational value of the exercise.

            I am impressed, in a way, that you can find enough faith to believe that these words are somehow inspired, that genocides were ordered by a loving God. But for myself, I could never come to believe such a thing.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            The child in the analogy is the whole human race, not any one person.

            And to say, "I am extremely ignorant" and then say "But of this I'm certain" seems like a contradiction, no? You should continue to evaluate your beliefs, even the ones that you think could never be refuted.

          • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

            If I am wrong about this moral intuition, that genocide is always wrong, then I might as well be wrong about the existence of an external reality. Solipsism is possible, I suppose. Genocide can be moral, I suppose. But I refuse to seriously consider solipsism, and I refuse to seriously reconsider this point of moral intuition. If I'm wrong, then I'll die wrong, and if there's an afterlife, God can correct me there.

            I rather suppose we will both be surprised by the nature of the afterlife, should we find one. I suspect it will be something different from anything we can imagine. And when you or someone else asks God if she spoke those words in the Old Testament, I suspect she will laugh.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I literally used to have the same thought when I was non-religious: "If I'm wrong, then I'll die wrong" followed by, "I tried my best, how can a loving God hold it against me if I didn't have a fair shot at understanding clearly what he wants or even if he exists. He sure hasn't made anything very clear, has he?" as well as "he can correct me in the afterlife" so I sympathize with that sentiment.

            But I still found that I must continually search, evaluate, search, search, question, question, question and most of all, question to the self always! I don't mean to not imply that what I say is unquestionable but only to say, "don't discount a possibility before you evaluate it and re-evaluate previous conclusions."

          • Doug Shaver

            You should continue to evaluate your beliefs, even the ones that you think could never be refuted.

            Works for me. That's why I'm not a Christian any more. When I evaluated them, I discovered that I could not defend them in good faith.

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            You must realize that when you use the Jesus lens to interpret these passages you are simply saying that you are going to interpret them as perfectly moral, regardless of how they might otherwise appear, right?

            We get that, we are just discussing how they reasonably appear if you don't put on that lens. We are asking you to see them through our lens. The same lens you would put on if read the Q'ran for example.

            Otherwise there is nothing to discuss, no matter how bad it is, you will always argue it is perfectly moral.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            Yes, I do realize but my position in this argument is the Jesus = God = truth so I must stick to my position. Are you asking me if I think it is shocking for people who don't believe in the God of Abraham when he orders a genocide? The answer would be, "Yes, I think it is shocking." It was one of the largest hurdles to get over during my conversion but you have to realize that in this argument I am trying to explain how the God of the OT, Jesus and the Catholic view of morality all are consistent. What exactly is your objection and how can I answer it?

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            That is the difference between us. I am open to changing my position based on your arguments.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            So am I, if the context is, "How do we understand the consistency of God in the Old Testament with how we understand morality?" or something along those lines.

            If I have to renounce my belief in Jesus in order to argue in good faith, you are not asking for me to understand your point of view but you're asking for me to switch mine at the outset.

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            No I think we're good. I think we agree that a plain reading of these passages exposes an immoral god. Your response to this is that these passages are subject to a special kind of interpretation, that makes the question of whether they seem immoral irrelevant. So there is no point arguing whether or not they seem immoral. We should be arguing whether it is reasonable to impose this kind of interpretation on them. In other words, whether Jesus exists, and approves of this text.

            Of course this means you cannot refer to the text to justify your belief he exists and this text reflects his nature as this surely would be question begging.

          • Doug Shaver

            so I must stick to my position.

            Why? Because you know you can't be wrong?

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            The cultural milieu? So cultural moral relativism is okay for God? Is it therefore okay for us?

      • George

        "When we rejected him in the beginning"

        Which couldn't have happened if it hadn't been planned by the creator.

        wait, why am I even going down that road? I thought adam and eve were tricked into making an uninformed action by a hostile agent, the snake?

      • John Fisher

        There are a number of points that seem obvious. Upon what moral criteria can Dawkin's make a moral judgement about God. The Old Testament is full of examples where God seems to ask one thing then the Israelites do the complete opposite . The history of the Jews in the OT has a human element and a divine. There is a layer interpretation as the scribes draw lessons from the experience of Israel's moral, religious behaviours.
        This might come as a shock but the Old Covenant is gone, null and void. Jesus Christ said Moses found the Israelites to be unteachable. The mosaic law is gone. Leviticus and Deuteronomy are gone. Yes there are aspects that depict a God that says more about the Israelites. Christians do not keep the Old law and regard it as an incomplete revelation of God.
        Isn't Dawkins and his use of scientific fact.... that an organism that can't exist in its environment, can't reproduce itself ceases to exits. Well any dumb dumb knows that.

      • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

        Your dismissal of repeated genocide and infanticide by god and ordered by god in the Old Testament as "growing pains" should give you an indication of how twisted your interpretation of these passages is.

        There is no improvement of the morality of the OT God. He is shown as someone who arbitrarily picks one tribe and promises them greatness in exchange for their foreskins. They continue to disappoint him and he continues to help them slaughter their enemies.

        The book is needlessly repetitious, contradictory and arbitrary. There is an obsession with unquestioning worship and little if any redeeming moral education.

        Did God succeed with Jesus? His solution to the problem of sin was to have himself have his chosen people torture him to death to create a loophole for a rule that he invented. And his chosen people rejected him and continue to do so to this day. And what is the solution, that we believe in him? Well the Jews already believed in him before his crucifixion and now they don't. Most of the world doesn't. In fact Jesus tells us that most of us will not be saved. And how is this a moral solution, that an innocent is tortured to "death" somehow atones for the wrongs of others?

        • NicholasBeriah Cotta

          Why does it not give an indication as to how depraved human culture had become? If you have the point of view that human beings were brutal to each other, and that God was working with them from the point which they were at, you would see a loving God. If you are shot with an arrow, is the act of pulling it out depraved? Unfortunately, the act of pulling out the arrow will pull and rip flesh and cause pain - ultimately though, the point of the action is different. Look at the fruits of God's labor with the Jews - by the time Jesus comes, there is a good segment of Jews who understand what the law is about, what God is about, and how we are supposed to love one another. The point of the new covenant is not to "fix his own loophole" but to act in solidarity with humanity - if God can now make the ultimate sacrifice of his human life for a higher purpose (a sacrifice unmerited), what does that mean for the rest of us? It means that we can do it too and ought to, because love conquers in the end and death and worldly power are not what we should strive for. Jesus' atonement for our sins is not something he had to do to fix anything, it's something he chose to do to fix something - Catholics don't hold that God had to do anything about humanity, but that he did shows you how much he wishes for our good. Freedom to pursue good and evil is a concrete concept - if human beings couldn't choose the pursuit, we wouldn't be free, and we wouldn't even be beings in the same sense God is. The notion that people struggle with is really that one: why would God give us the capacity to do evil? If he was so good, then he would've created humans to only be good. This isn't really creating anything though, is it? If you and I were to make a robot, and I made mine only obey me and yours could understand moral choices and choose for itself, which one of those creations is truly a creation?

          That we get so much push back about what is good and what isn't in modern day should show the inescapable influence Christ has had on our society so in the end even this discussion is the fruit of God's wisdom.

          Also, Jesus doesn't explicitly say that most won't be saved, he merely says that it is a very tough task - the question of how many will be saved has not been given a quantitative definition in the 2,000 years of the Church. How many people who "don't believe in Jesus" is not really a good way to test whether he is the truth or not - Catholics have never tried to quantify this because it is not relevant to our mission nor do we believe we have the capability to know. It is also an informal fallacy to gauge something's truth by how many people agree with it.

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            You just are not responding to my criticisms. It seems you are not even reading my comment carefully. I am not suggesting there was any fixing of loopholes rather the creation of one.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I definitely could be misunderstanding - when you say, "His solution to the problem of sin was to have himself have his chosen people torture him to death to create a loophole for a rule that he invented." You did not cite the "rule that he invented" so I can't be sure what I'm arguing against. What rule did he invent? What is the loophole he created for the rule?

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            The rule that sin causes "death".

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            If God is life, and sin is actions out of God's will, then sin is death. This is not a "rule created" as much as a "reality of God." The proper objection to this "rule" might be: why would God create us with the ability to ignore him? The answer would be: to provide us with a free choice. After we made the wrong choice though, God sent Jesus to give us the choice again- it's a free gift, a fix, a second chance! God wants us us to be truly free with the caveat that a necessary component is that he doesn't corrupt our decision; he provides his own son's life as an example only.

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            Your first sentence is interesting. Surely you are not suggesting that God had no choice? God is life? What does that even mean? If you think these words mean the same thing, then why have different words for them?

            I see no reason he couldn't just say to Adam and Eve, "you have chosen sin / death, but I'm giving you a second chance to choose me /life."

            Look, you can believe this crazy story if you like it makes no sense as the plan of an all loving all powerful universe creator. It makes perfect sense as mythology to me.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            Yes, God has a choice - if you take the axiom that he is super intelligent, then why not start evaluating his plan assuming that he made the perfect choice? Your opinions of what God should have done about sin have different goals in mind, namely that you would eliminate much of what you would deem suffering - but God's choices tell us what real suffering is and what it used for and what it's purpose is and that time is relevant to the plan (finger snapping things in to correction would inherently render time irrelevant, something God obviously sees as an important part of human existence). I mean, you really have to take God as an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent being seriously and try to to understand the story from that angle. Sports has the same problem - everyone can Monday Morning the Quarterback, but few can appreciate the futility of their own proposed counterfactuals of what that QB should have done.

            I don't think the words mean the same thing. If a lighthouse provides light, do I think I should call a lighthouse a light?

            I used to think the same thing and I appreciate that it is really difficult to believe.

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            I am looking at these stories as an atheist. I am told that this God exists and that he is not only all powerful and knowing but all good.

            What I read in these stories is not consistent with this characterization. We are not talking about God snapping his fingers to reform humans. We are talking about God killing hundreds, thousands of humans for no apparent reason. When I read that God tells Moses to go ask Pharoah to let the people go, but God will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go, and then I will kill all the first born in Egypt, then he will let you go, I do not see human evil I see an evil God.

            I am fully aware of the rationalizations, which in the passage above seems to be that God thinks this is important to happen.

            They are hard for all of us to accept because these stories really do conflict with our moral intuitions and the reason given for this, to show God's greatness and that they know he is God, do not seem to make the slaughter and torture worth it.

            If you do believe, you need to rationalize this and this is what you are doing. And you may be right, but so may Hinduism and so may the liberal versions of Christianity that reject these stories as myth.

            I do not believe and see no reason to believe. The counter factual I am proposing is not that there are other ways for God to have done it. But that these stories are myth. They never happened.

            I think the stories of the Jews in Egypt are likely developed from the documented occupation of the Levant by Egypt from about 1550 until 1100 B.C. Most scholars believe the Old Testament is a collection of other sources, retold and woven together into a somewhat coherent narrative. Over the centuries stories of defiance to Egyptian rule turned into a stories of defeating the much more powerful Egyptian empires through the assistance of one of the Cananite gods, which the Hebrews eventually decided was the only god.

            The kind of seemingly immoral actions of the god would not be seen as that bad in those days as they were directed against the "other" whether the Egyptians, or anyone who was not included in the Abrahamic covenant, a strange exchange of wealth and descendants for foreskins. In those days and in many societies we see this kind of despotic authoritarian rule and requirement for worship, from Yaweh to Mao. It was not really seen as immoral, it was tribalistic and might made right. Lacking anything like a civilization to match the power of the Egyptians, the Persians of the Greeks, the Hebrews developed a belief that their power was with their God. The likely explanation for the constant justification for slaughtering the Cananites, is that this spin on these stories developed when the Hebrews were returning from the Babylonian exile and found people living in their lands. These stories provide a divine justification for using force to push them out.

            This is my counter factual. It is largely speculation, but it makes much more sense to me than the all-good all-powerful god slaughtering babies to show his greatness to a civilization that he knows will ignore this, as will the most of the rest of the world, for millennia.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I think that God sees not only those babies being slaughtered if he does nothing, and then eons and eons of future generations of babies being slaughtered (like now). What if God was genetically manipulating the Jewish people for an ultimate purpose? Is it weird that genetic Ashkenazi Jews exhibit significantly higher IQs than any other genetic group?
            The Jews had a special religion, and were a special people - how many other tiny middle eastern tribes carry a current in world affairs today? If my hypothesis is that God did something with this group of people for an ultimate purpose (even if I can't explain in totality), can you argue that it didn't work? Jews have a disproportionate impact on world affairs and this is solely because they had a special religion that required certain things of them. Maybe those things seem arbitrary as we read them, but their effect could be much greater. For example, "NO shellfish is arbitrary, but that the Jewish diaspora didn't get swallowed up by the world is really an amazing fact. What other group in world history could claim such a unique history as the Jewish people?"
            Can your counterfactual explain reality? The story of God isn't just a myth that I decided to believe one day, it is a remarkable story that actually represents reality. God formed a people and damn it, they really are a people unlike any other group in the world! Oh and Jesus came to establish a new kingdom and the entire Christian influenced west now influences the entire world - modern culture is post Christian culture. Regardless of influences that Jews had or Christian stories had, the difference is that these cultures have lasted, and last in a cohesive way. Over 50% of the world believes in the God of Abraham. Is there nothing unique about him? I'll let you have the last word; I appreciate your sentiment again.

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            Oh I do not deny that this movement has had a great impact. But I do disagree that this fact is a good reason to believe that their worldview is accurate. I do not need a counter-factual to explain the survival of the Jews, I just need history not God. Christianity and Islam also started very small, not only that but they grew to dominate much of the population. Does this tell us anything about whether what they believe is true? No.

            Again, I get it, you have to believe these terrible stories, of which we are only discussing a small sample. You don't believe in God because of them, you believe in God in spite of them.

            Please do cite me some passages from the Old Testament in which God is "working with" the Hebrews or preparing them for Jesus. I just don't see it. Something to explain why Jesus could not have come while they were in captivity for example.

            I know you believe it represents reality, but I have yet to hear any good reasons to believe this.

          • Doug Shaver

            Yes, God has a choice - if you take the axiom that he is super intelligent, then why not start evaluating his plan assuming that he made the perfect choice?

            Actually, I've tried that. Problem was, I could know nothing about God's plan except for what believers told me his plan was. And when I evaluated what they told me on the assumption that God made the perfect choice, the plan evaluated to incoherence.

    • Bob

      Natural selection as presented by scientists is an unjust, unforgiving, controlling, infanticidal, pestilential and capricious force

      Except that Natural Selection can be none of these since they each necessarily require something that can never be attributed to Natural Selection in any meaningful way - intent.

      Yahweh, on the other hand...

    • Martin Sellers

      Why are we reading the old testament literally?- This is an invention of early 19th century protestants in response to modernist views.

      • David Nickol

        Why are we reading the old testament literally?- This is an invention of early 19th century protestants in response to modernist views.

        I sympathize with this statement. But it does seem to me that there is no set of principles in Catholicism (outside of historical-critical study of scripture, which is not necessarily "Catholic") to follow in determining what in the Old Testament is historically reliable and what is figurative, metaphorical, or otherwise ahistorical. Consequently, there are those on SN who adamantly insist on the existence of two "first parents" from whom the human race descended, when that, by any reasonable criteria, would be considered a myth.

        So it appears to me that how one reads the Old Testament is often determined by how important a literal reading is to some Catholic doctrine that was no doubt formulated when more naive readings of scripture did not question the historicity of events depicted. The Bible is not, then, taken as authoritative. It is used to prop up whatever particular doctrine one wants to prop up.

        • Martin Sellers

          ..."Catholic doctrine that was no doubt formulated when more naive readings of scripture did not question the historicity of events depicted..."

          Yea I've thought about this a lot. Can you give me an example?

      • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

        I'd be fine reading it figuratively. God didn't really tell the Israelites to kill people. The men, women and children really weren't men, women or children, but symbolized sins that people of God are supposed to overcome. I'm fine with that sort of reading. But why stop there? Why not do this with the New Testament as well? When Jesus talks about hell, he's talking about the suffering experienced by souls on Earth, in a figurative way, and all the "worm never dies" sort of language is just embellishment. When the Gospels talk about Jesus coming back from the dead, they're more talking about how Jesus overcame the death of his sins and achieved enlightenment upon his death. That sort of thing.

        All this sounds great to me.

        • Martin Sellers

          I think the difference comes from the "type" of literature being presented. In my limited understanding (i'm not a biblical scholar or literary scholar) the types of text are very different and thus need to be read through different lenses. Fr. Barron talks about it here for reading the old testament.

          Starting at 1:34
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htxOjJHB5-8

          Most of the beginning
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ha5flTRTZWY

          The new testament seems to be written differently IMO- It calls for a more journalistic reading and thus to be taken more literally- ill have to read up on this more though to be sure.

    • Doug Shaver

      Natural selection as presented by scientists . . . .

      has never been proposed as either a source or an exemplar of moral principles.

  • TomD123

    The complaints against God as revealed in the OT cannot be leveled against Evolution. I am sort of lost in the article. Evolution is not a free agent but a natural process...applying the same standards doesn't make much sense. Since Catholics hold that evolution is the product of God's will, this could in fact support the atheist's position. Criticize God of the OT and God of evolution, because to Catholics, its the same God.

    In any case, it would be Christian moral standards by which we would judge God as presented in the OT. So the objection seems to make sense...regardless of what happens with evolution.

    This isn't to say I reject the OT or evolution because they make God cruel by Christian standards. In fact, I agree that at times it can be a tough problem to understand, but at the same time, a little perspective on these things helps. For instance, God can't really be "racist" in any meaningful sense. God can freely choose to favor some people with special blessings and not others, on account of any reason He so chooses. So if God chooses the Jews for a special mission, and on this account they receive special blessings, so be it.

    • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Brandon Rimmer

      Exactly! I hope Wiker doesn't think Dawkins spends his morning offering prayers to Evolution. If Dawkins did that, then maybe Wiker would have a point.

    • Ilene

      Thanks Tom. Still, God is nothing without how we mean God. I use the word only to clarify what I am trying to communicate with anyone who may not understand Ineffable One or Unknown Being or something else words cannot give us the name of for The Whole Sacred Lot of 'Em!

  • Alistair Saldanha

    The Atheistic Theory of Evolution led to two movements, one was Nazism, which was survival of the fittest race, the other was Communism, which was survival of the fittest class. I believe in Theistic Evolution, Atheistic Evolution has led to untold suffering. Even in the USA, Atheistic Evolution in academia led to Scientific Racism which led to a great deal of discrimination against blacks just at the time things were getting better for them after the Civil War. Read the book or watch the TV movie, "Incident at Westpoint".

    • Ilene

      Your point is well-take Alistair. Still, Theistic Evolution though seeming to be more humane can also prove to be bigoted, narrow, and uneducated. I believe that is obvious considering what religious collectives inflict on each other insisting on one side being right and another side being wrong. Would God send Anne Frank to Hell? That is utterly unconscionable, despite the fact that a lot of people believe that's where she is now and deserves to be because she was a Jew. The bigots in terms of Anne Franks afterlife if there is such a thing are not Nazis; they are, for example, Christians. Now, is that any less volatile than any other form of hate against anyone? Not because they are Christians, but because they are hypocrites. What's scary is that they, just as within other religious traditions, are truly and honestly sincere about their beliefs. So was Hitler, with or without any religious preference.

      • fredx2

        But if you asked Christians who thought that Anne Frank belongs in Hell, those who answered yes would be a tiny minority. It is a very large mistake to judge Christians by the vocal weirdos among them.

        • Doug Shaver

          But if you asked Christians who thought that Anne Frank belongs in Hell, those who answered yes would be a tiny minority. It is a very large mistake to judge Christians by the vocal weirdos among them.

          How about judging atheists by vocal weirdos like Stalin? Is that also a mistake?

  • Greg Schaefer

    Dr. Wiker writes: "First of all, as he himself admits in his book River out of Eden, in coming over to Dawkins' side, we have thereby embraced a cosmos indifferent to good or evil. As a consequence, we immediately face a dilemma: we have no moral grounds for condemning the actions of God (He doesn't exist) or the characters in the Bible (good and evil don't exist). Since God doesn't exist, there is no reason to work up a froth of indignation against Him, anymore than against the lunkheaded Zeus in Homer's Iliad."

    But, from Dawkins' perspective -- and the perspective of many other "non-believers" -- the fact that the "cosmos" may be "indifferent to good or evil" does not mean that human societies should also be indifferent to human notions of good and evil.

    Indeed, one of the reasons Dawkins "work[s] up a froth of indignation against [the God of the Christian Bible portrayed in many parts of the Old Testament, in particular]" is precisely because he believes that notion of God -- imagined by some Jewish religious elites in exceedingly parochial Iron Age peoples in cultural contexts far different from our own and who, being two to three millennia removed from ourselves, knew nothing of modern science -- led to the development of moral views and cultural values that Dawkins believes are not "good," among which are things like genocide, the treatment of women as chattel property of men, general misogyny, slavery, intolerance, debasement of human dignity and autonomy, etc.

    To suggest that Prof. Dawkins is indifferent to questions of morality and the proper ordering of human societies is willfully to misread what he has written in so many of his books over the past couple decades.

    One fairly obvious reason why some like Prof. Dawkins work up indignation over the God portrayed by many of the more than 2 billion worldwide followers of Christianity, Islam and Judaism is because he views so many of the religious dogmas and doctrines developed, purportedly in the name of their "God," as inimical to more enlightened, moral, tolerant, compassionate, empathetic, equal and just societies which seek to promote human flourishing and minimize suffering, debasement and discrimination. I would guess that if there were, in fact, billions (or even tens or hundreds of millions) of humans around the world that were advocating similar religious doctrines and dogmas in the names of the Greek/Roman gods of old that Prof. Dawkins would work up the same levels of indignation against them. You can't wrench Prof. Dawkins' writing out of the modern context and modern human societies and prevailing institutional religions that animate his writing.

    It is one thing to castigate Prof. Dawkins because one thinks he does not evince a proper theological understanding of the Christian God or because he is not persuaded by the bases institutional Christian religions and/or devout believers cite to justify their belief in such a God. Have at it. Just don't blatantly misrepresent Dawkins and portray him as arguing that just because the cosmos and nature are indifferent to human notions of the moral and the good that Dawkins himself is indifferent to human morality or to the prospects for developing more moral, just and "good" human societies. That is a debate he seems to me to be happy to have.

    • Idler

      He seems to be happy to accept Christian morality and then reject Christianity.

      "cultural values that Dawkins believes are not "good," among which are things like genocide, the treatment of women as chattel property of men, general misogyny, slavery, intolerance, debasement of human dignity and autonomy, etc."

      Where does the right, for instance, of women not to be chattel property of men derive? If I were to go to the Middle East today, I would see that this is most certainly not a universally held value.

      • Greg Schaefer

        I wouldn't say that Prof. Dawkins "accept[s] Christian morality and then reject[s] Christianity." Although Prof. Dawkins rejects the Christian conception of God on the grounds that such a supernatural being/entity/intelligence/"ground of all being" is, in his view, unevidenced and unnecessary to explain any phenomena we see in the universe/nature, it would be more accurate to say that Prof. Dawkins is happy to accept those aspects of Christian morality that he thinks form the foundations of better human societies while criticizing those aspects of Christian morality that he finds anathema to, or at least unconducive to, the formation and development of better human societies.

        The "right" of women "not to be chattel property of men" surely is not a universal value, as you point out. But that was as true in the Israel and Judah of 1000 to 600 BCE (when many of the books of what Christians call the Old Testament were initially written) as it was in at least some of the communities in first century CE Palestine (when most of the books of the New Testament were initially written) as it may be today, largely in some traditional tribal-based communities and theocratic nations governed in accordance with very old traditional, patriarchial fundamentalist forms of monotheistic religions.

        The "right" of women "not to be the chattel property of men" ultimately derives from the same place as all other rights. It comes from a collective decision of humans in any given community/society/nation-state that such a right should be recognized. The fact that many countries have come, in the past hundred years, to recognize that women should be accorded the same legal, political and economic rights as men is just one reason why such societies are "better," more "moral" and more just societies than were/are those ancestral and contemporary societies in which women were/are treated as the chattel property of men.

        Concepts like "equality," "freedom" and "universality," human characteristics and traits like compassion and empathy, and moral rules like the "Golden Rule" can lead societies to develop more enlightened and more moral ideas such as the one that women have all the same legal, political and economic rights as do men.

      • David Nickol

        He seems to be happy to accept Christian morality and then reject Christianity.

        Since Christians accept the Old Testament as divinely inspired, it seems perfectly legitimate to me to accept Christian morality and raise the question of whether God as depicted in the Old Testament acts consistently with it. Christians do not reject the Old Testament as a source of moral guidance.

        Where does the right, for instance, of women not to be chattel property of men derive?

        Well, certainly not from the Old Testament. The argument here is about the God of the Old Testament, not the 21st-century Christian conception of God. Can the two be reconciled? It seems difficult to me without a theory of divine inspiration that somehow allows for untruths in the Old Testament.

        • herewegokids

          For me it isn't 'untruth' that we're seeing as much as 'unvarnished truth'. Everything the scripture describes, it doesn't condone. Every time someone claims "God said" doesn't mean He did.

    • Ilene

      Thank you Greg, for being fair. If I assume or steadfastly believe the universe has meaning, then I am making it mean something just so I can feel like I have a reason for being born. If it is only meaningful, I mean if the universe is only meaningful when people give it meaning, then okay, but I hope we will know that it's just us. And for those of us who will not come 'round to less acceptance and expectations of meaningfulness, okay, but please let me believe as I do without wanting to throw me into lion's den. Not knowing can be the center or wonder and awe. It's scary when we don't know, but it is also inspiring and unspeakable: I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer by Walt Whitman comes to mind.

      • Greg Schaefer

        Hi Ilene.

        I have no desire to throw you, or anyone else -- believer or non-believer -- into the lion's den based on what you believe. If something I wrote left you with that impression, then I wrote poorly because that was not my intent.

        I happen to agree with you that not knowing can be a center of wonder and awe and well as inspiring. And, as Prof. Dawkins is the focal point of Dr. Wiker's OP, I would place Prof. Dawkins firmly in that camp as well, as he consistently points out, in his many books explicating evolutionary biology for the non-specialist audience, the wonder and awe we find in nature, even with our at present inadequate and incomplete understanding of our universe, as well as encouraging open-mindedness and a continuing search for why things in our universe are as we find them.

        I also agree with your sentiments that each of us has to find our own meaning in how we choose to live our lives, relate to others, and engage with the rest of our environment.

        I'll check out Whitman's "I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer"; I confess I'm not familiar with it.

  • M. Erlich

    Dr. Wiker's argument would be strengthened by a brief explanation on why, precisely, Dawkins' Biblical perspective is flawed. I have often found myself troubled by passages such as those Dawkins cites.

    As a rank-and-file, regularly-practicing Catholic who is not a Biblical literalist, my perspective on this is that the only plausible explanation for the apparent, episodic malignancy or callousness of God in the Old Testament is that the persons or people who first transcribed those elements of the Bible were mistaken about the will and nature of God, erroneously giving Him particular attitudes and directives that fit him into their violent universe, justifying post-facto the actions of the ancient Hebrews. I recall that the God who is love is the God we actually believe in, and anything obviously contradicting that belief must be in error --whether or not it is literally in the Bible.

    I invite another Catholic to please correct my thinking on this, if it is somehow in error with what my faith teaches canonically. That person should also propose a reconciliation of the incongruity.

    • NicholasBeriah Cotta
    • Heidi keene

      Hello Mr Elrich,
      I will attempt to give you the groundwork neccessary to 'square the circle' of how God can be all loving (and everything else that His nature demands) yet order harim warfare and other such actions that seem inconsistent with a loving God.
      We will put aside the anthropomorphic attributes of 'jealousy' 'rage' etc for the time being.
      The taking of innocent life by one human to another is a terrible crime indeed. However, the whole misunderstanding of the God of the Old Testament (who we
      Will henceforth refer to simply as God) begins with the fallacious notion that God is on equal moral ground with His creatures. God has the moral
      prerogative to take life (separate the material substance from the immaterial substance
      of a person) as He sees fit because He is the Author of Life. It is for this very reason that such action done by a human is considered immoral- because the taker of the life did not give the life and can not reunite back
      the constituent parts after forcing their separation.
      Furthermore, as the primary cause of all things and by reason of being substantially present in all things- any movement or change in being
      is nothing more than a rearrangement of His own substance in creation. So "murder" as a human act is not even attributable to God.
      If this makes sense so far, let me know and I will continue on a little later.

      Additionally, I have to weigh in with my atheist brothers in this comment string that the article's author does not make a good argument as nature is not a rational being so can not be held morally accountable.

      In Christ,
      Heidi

      • David Nickol

        God has the moral prerogative to take life (separate the material substance from the immaterial substance of a person) as He sees fit because He is the Author of Life.

        I do not necessarily take issue with this. However, the question seems to me whether an all-good God could command a human being to do something "intrinsically evil." The direct and deliberate killing of an innocent human being is, according to Catholic thought, "intrinsically evil." It would seem to me, then, that a God who adheres to his own morality may order a human being to do something "intrinsically evil." Arguing that he can seems to me to imply "divine command theory"—things are right and wrong not because they are right and wrong in and of themselves, but because God says so. So genocide or rape or abortion might have been right in the past, but it is wrong today, because God can "change the rules."

        The consequences of such think, it seems to me, are disastrous. Suppose I have it in my power to commit genocide. I can say to myself, "Well, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with genocide. God commanded it in the past. I firmly believe that God wishes me to carry it out now." What is the argument against this?

        Suppose I am a former and repentant abortionist, and a woman comes to me for an abortion. I hear a voice which I have good reason to believe is the voice of God telling me that the unborn infant is another Luther who will seriously divide the current Catholic Church, leading to its eventual extinction, and he must be destroyed to prevent this calamity. As I understand Catholic teaching, it can be known with certainty that the voice is not God's, because abortion is intrinsically evil and can never be ordered by God. No amount of "proof" from this voice (e.g., accurate predictions of the future, visions, etc.) should be able to convince me that this is indeed God. But if God did indeed order humans to commit murder or genocide, then he can still "delegate" his power over life and death to human beings, and murder, slaughter of women and children, and wiping out of whole peoples can still be considered the right thing to do, provided you sincerely believe it to be God's will. I think that is the logical conclusion of your argument, and I think it is intolerable to authentic Catholic thought.

        • Heidi keene

          Hello David

          Morality is a code of conduct written into the design of human beings in order to assist them in right relationship to God. Therefore, all moral conduct finds its hierarchical structure based solely on this principle. There is no "code of morality" placed on God as He is an end in Himself. Can God commit evil? No. Evil by definition is turning away (or a privation) from/(of) the good. Since God by His very substance is good - He can not commit evil. In order to make sense of the biblical “dark passages” we have to approach the text with these fundamental theological truths ready at hand. Please keep in mind that we are arguing from within the bible narrative and so we will adopt, for the purpose of this discussion, a hermeneutic of trust that what is contained therein is a true and accurate portrayal of history.

          1.The first and most important point is that God is not the author of death (Gen 3:1 ff). The progenitors of the human race are ultimately responsible for death.

          2. The greatest evil is eternal separation from God - not physical death (Gen 3:22 ff)

          3.The post-lapsarian state of man is one in which his soul is condemned to eternal separation from God (called ‘the death of the soul’) due to the stain of original sin which is passed like a disease from human to human.

          4. This ‘disease’ which amounts to an infinite gulf separating man from God, is not within the power of any creature to bridge (because of its infinite nature).

          5. In this state of “spiritual disease” ANY sin man commits merits eternal damnation by Divine justice. Man can freely choose to continue sinning and thereby increasing the punishment due for the sin.

          6. Therefore, until the satisfaction and merit of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the God-Man, has been offered- IT IS AN ACT OF DIVINE MERCY THAT A PERSON IN SIN HAVE THEIR LIFE TAKEN FROM THEM BY DIVINE DECREE RATHER THAN TO PERMIT THEM TO CONTINUE IN SIN THEREBY MERITING AN EVER INCREASING ETERNAL PUNISHMENT.

          This final point (6) explains the ratio behind the Levitical code given by God where, for example, swearing or cursing your mother and father was a capital crime punishable by death.

          If an Israelite knew the code of moral conduct imposed on them by God’s revelation, and they choose to contradict it- this amounts to what is a ‘mortal sin’ in Catholic moral theology. It merits eternal punishment and so in mercy, the Divine Creator end’s the person’s earthly life so as to limit the punishment due to them after death.

          As far as the accusations of genocide, bear in mind the table of nations in Genesis 10:1 ff. All humans are one race- one nature- whom God delineates in this table as a statement that He will not forget them in His plan of salvation. There are no divisions within the race. God chose Israel as his “chosen people” - descendants of a particular patriarch (Abraham) through whom He would send the Redeemer to save mankind from the burden of death (eternal death- separation from God- the ultimate evil).

          However, when God by Divine decree orders the complete extermination of a nation by the Israelites, we are ALWAYS informed within the narrative that this nation (the Canannites for example) are an extremely sinful people and any contact with Israel will be so spiritually devastating that it is more merciful both for Israel and the nation in question that the people be wiped out.

          So is murder inherently evil? Is God able to decree an act which contains within itself an objective offense to God? This question can only be answered with the understanding that a person is both a spiritual and a corporeal being. Thus “murder” in the Divine sense would be the killing of the soul- which is the form of the body. In no way can it be construed that God’s Providence in saving the person’s soul from eternal death is an act of ‘evil’. He has the Divine Wisdom of understanding the hierarchy of good. He is able to see that the corruptible mortal flesh is of no avail compared to the life of the soul. So when the eternal death of the soul was on the line, NO- the termination of the life of the body was not inherently evil.

          Indeed, there is not one instance in the biblical narrative that God decrees an objective inherent evil- such as rape, incest, homosexual acts ( I know I’m not gonna score on that one), theft, deception etc. On the contrary, He established the year of Jubilee in which all slave owners were to set their slaves free, He decreed laws in which the ‘widow and the orphan’ were to be cared for, He mandated years where the soil was to be left alone so that it could replenish, etc etc.

          Unfortunately, humans (and Dawkins is a perfect example of this) are so motivated and blinded by emotion and sentimentality that they render themselves unable to see these theological premises rationally. This results in the -ever so common among ‘rational’ atheists- giving into the ‘knee jerk’ reaction that “God” who is supposed to be ‘warm and fuzzy’ is morally reprehensible because He is able to execute justice for the ultimate good of the individual even though it seems ‘mean and vengeful’ to our limited, errant human understanding.

          Finally, in response to your hypothetical abortion situation. Again, according to the biblical narrative, humans are no longer under the dominion of death due to the satisfaction and merit achieved when God Himself took on human flesh ‘to pay a debt He didn’t owe because we had a debt we couldn’t pay’.

          Since humans are no longer under the dominion of death in the New Covenant (which according to the text is a whole new creation)- God no longer must decree (by His Divine Mercy) the end of a person’s life in order to save them from the punishment and/or atonement due to sin. The New Covenant marked the overhaul of all laws that were established as ‘punitive’ measures (including total warfare and death for cursing your parents!). Thus, it is true that, according to Catholic moral theology, murder is ‘inherently’ evil (remember: new creation= new laws) and therefore one could not entertain any notion of such a command coming from God.

          • Mohammed Hanif

            I would ask if the OT narrative does not contain God decreeing the killing of children? Is the killing of children (even in a war) not an objective inherent evil?

            The OT passages in question contradict Catholic teaching and there is no way in which they can be reconciled.

          • Heidi keene

            No, God exercising His sovereignty over creation has never been "revealed" to be evil by the Catholic Church. Your failure here is twofold:
            1. You do not understand the nature of sin and therefore evil
            2. You do not understand the relationship between God and creatures

            God from His very nature can not will "objective evil"- DESPITE HOW HIS CREATURES INTERPRET HIS ACTIONS IN THEIR INEFFABLE WISDOM.
            You are not understanding that the creature per se was never being killed (from God's eternal perspective) but was being saved from death by God.

    • Chee Chak

      only plausible explanation for the apparent, episodic malignancy or
      callousness of God in the Old Testament is that the persons or people
      who first transcribed those elements of the Bible were mistaken about
      the will and nature of God, erroneously giving Him particular attitudes
      and directives that fit him into their violent universe, justifying
      post-facto the actions of the ancient Hebrews.

      I think you are right......could not have said it better.

      We also know that among the Hebrews there existed the "oral tradition" where the stories were passed on from generation to generation for generations long before any of it was ever written down. Catholic biblical literalists will have a problem with this.

  • Greg Schaefer

    Dr. Wiker writes: "Yet now another, more amusing problem arises for Dawkins as the champion of Darwinism today. It would seem that a good many of the complaints made by Dawkins against the God of the Old Testament could with equal justice be made against natural selection itself. To say the least, that puts himself in a paradoxical position."

    No, it doesn't. Modern evolutionary biology, as explicated by Prof. Dawkins in the ten or so books he has written over the past 40 years for the non-specialist audience, does not involve an intelligent agent. Whatever else can be said about the Christian God, as developed and taught by the Catholic Church and modern "main-line" and evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant Churches, the very least would be that that God is an intelligent agent.

    It is in fact a very different thing to portray nature and the apparent working of evolution -- as presently understood by modern evolutionary biologists based on discoveries in the past couple centuries (and, particularly, in the past 75 years or so) in genetics, DNA and molecular biology, geology and the fossil record, biogeography, and morphology and comparative anatomy -- as indifferent to "good or evil" than it is to criticize religiously developed notions of morality, as expressed in Catholic, Protestant or Islamic dogmas and doctrines based on their portrayal of the God they venerate and teach has revealed Himself to humanity, as being contrary to what Prof. Dawkins suggests would be better, more moral and more just societies.

  • David Nickol

    As I read him, Wiker appears to be asserting that atheists have no standing to make moral arguments. If you don't believe in God, there is no morality you can believe in, and so any moral argument you make has no validity.

  • David Nickol

    The big question. God is depicted in the Old Testament as commanding genocide. Are those depictions accurate? This, it seems to me, is a yes-or-no question that must be answered prior to any further discussion of the God of the Old Testament.

    If the answer is yes, then it must be explained how an all-good God can command humans to do something evil. If the answer is no, then it must be explained (by Bible-believing Catholics) how God can be depicted in a divinely inspired text doing something he did not, in actual fact, do.

    • Mohammed Hanif

      No one seems to address this central question.
      The genocidal acts that God is portrayed as commanding in the OT is then later revealed to the Church as intrinsic evils.

      • Heidi keene

        No, God exercising His sovereignty over creation has never been "revealed" to be evil by the Catholic Church. Your failure here is twofold:
        1. You do not understand the nature of sin and therefore evil
        2. You do not understand the relationship between God and creatures

        • Mohammed Hanif

          Heidi,

          I am a late-commer to this debate but reading through the comments, I haven't read anyone who has addressed David's question (that I paraphrased) adequately - including your own detailed replies.

          Not being a Christian, I may have a different understanding about the nature of sin and evil but I hold to a traditional divine command view of morality grounded in God's immutable nature.

          I understand your prior explanations of the nature of sin and evil and I believe they accurately reflect Christian teaching - I disagree that they are true. I am in agreement with you regarding the relationship between God and His creatures.

          I would simply ask you to address the following and point out any factual error or an error of reasoning:

          1) Does Catholic teaching hold that the OT accounts accurately report what God commanded the Israelites to do?
          2).Did God in the OT actually command the Israelites to kill children in their conquests in the Holy Land?
          3) Does present-day Catholic doctrine assert that the killing of children is an intrinsic evil?
          4) If the answers to the above are affirmative, then how is the prima facie contradiction resolved in Catholic teaching?
          5) Does Catholic teaching allow for an instrinsic evil to be the means for a higher moral good?

          I would sincerely welcome your considered response. This is my first post on this site and I am lookinng to develop my understanding of theological issues in conversation with others of a religious persuasion other than my own.

          Hanif

          • heidi keene

            I am away from my computer for the day and any attempt at giving your questions the diligence they deserve via my iphone would be in vain. So if you will grant me the courtesy of attending to this later this evening, I would be very appreciative.
            Your insight is good and your
            Motives honest, I believe, and I respect that very much.

            In Christ,
            Heidi

          • Mohammed Hanif

            Heidi,

            Thank you. I look foward to your response.

            Salaam,
            Hanif

          • Heidi keene

            Hello Mr. Hanif.
            Thank you for your patience.

            I'll cover these in order, and I apologize for the loose formatting. I will try to be clear in my development

            Does Catholic teaching hold that the OT accounts accurately report what God commanded the Israelites to do?

            Catholic dogma is that the entire canon of sacred scripture is Divinely inspired. God used human authors to speak through, and permitted the author to freely use his own command of language and comprehension of theological truths to convey the truths set forth in the writings. Sacred scripture is “infallible” but not “absolute”. Not absolute in the sense that the writer’s language and comprehension of the science of theology was limited. As a result, often times the language employed to describe the unfolding of an event does not adequately reflect the precise nature of the drama that was actually taking place. For further reading I would refer you to : On the authenticity of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (June 27, 1906) Pontifical Biblical Commission. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/pcb_doc_index.htm

            2).Did God in the OT actually command the Israelites to kill children in their conquests in the Holy Land?

            NO. God didn’t command any one to kill children or other innocents. There is inter textual evidence of a developing understanding of God’s Will in the ancient biblical sources.

            One clear case of this is that In 2 Sam 24:1, the author alleges that God incited David to sin. However, when the Chronicler recounts this event, he attributes Satan (the first and most important instance of Satan not having the definitive article before his name) as having led David to sin. So who exactly led David to sin? God or Satan?

            The appearance of these type of attributions appear also in the account of Moses and Pharaoh (God hardened pharoah’s heart/ no- wait- pharaoh hardened his own heart….back and forth).

            So the common interpretation among exegetes is that the Israelites, including the sacred authors, had the correct sense in that God is the cause of all things. So if everyone, including children were killed, then God must have willed it. Hence, this ‘take’ on the event is recorded in the account.

            Ultimately, “it was Isreal’s assumptions about God’s causality that colored the way they viewed good and evil”- Rammage, Matthew. “The Dark Passages of the Bible”. p 190

            They had not developed far enough in the field of moral theology to understand the distinction between God’s active will and His passive will. This distinction is crucial in being able to understand that as an omnibenevolent God, He can not be the direct cause of any evil- intrinsic or otherwise. So the authors show a developing understanding of this sense and thus in texts written later and later in history, the culprit is no longer God- and Satan (or other angels) come more into the fore of the narrative.

            3) Does present-day Catholic doctrine assert that the killing of children is an intrinsic evil?

            Yes

            4) If the answers to the above are affirmative, then how is the prima facie contradiction resolved in Catholic teaching?

            The answer to 2. was not affirmative, so this question is no longer applicable to the discussion.

            5) Does Catholic teaching allow for an intrinsic evil to be the means for a higher moral good?

            Here is a well written answer to that:

            Principle of tolerance

            The principle of tolerance has very little to do with the commonly held view of the word. It refers to the tolerance of some moral evils by those elements of society who are responsible for the common good (in a democratic society, this can be argued to everyone) in certain circumstances. Along with the principle of double effect this principle was developed as a set of moral criteria for discerning how to pursue good in a world in which evil is inevitable.

            According to this principle those who govern both society and the individual institutions that constitute important elements of the common good may at times tolerate the evil actions of others (including some intrinsic evils) provided two criteria are met. Firstly, a greater good or set of goods would be lost if the evil action were not tolerated or, secondly, if greater evils would occur were the original evil not tolerated.

            This principle should never be considered a “loop hole” to justify evil actions. In other words, this principle can never justify performing an intrinsically evil action, but only the toleration of others performing evil actions where the eradication of these evils is not practically or morally feasible.

            A good example of this would be politicians voting for a bill which bans late term abortions, but keeps early term abortions legal. The abortions are an intrinsic evil, but if this bill were not voted for then more abortions would occur – which would be a greater evil (that is not to say that late-term abortions are worse than early term abortions, but rather that more abortions are worse than fewer).

            http://www.catholicbasictraining.com/apologetics/coursetexts/8a.htm

            On Tue, Aug 5, 2014 at 3:35 PM, Heidi wrote:

            http://www.catholicbasictraining.com/apologetics/coursetexts/8a.htm

            In Christ,
            Heidi

          • LessCleverUsername

            Heidi,

            You said "God didn’t command any one to kill children or other innocents." and give an example of an act where in one place, it's attributed to God, and in another, to Satan.

            I have an issue with applying this line of argument to the use of the ban on the Amalekites, for example.

            King Saul was reprimanded heavily by Samuel for not following this command down to the letter. As a result of this, Saul lost favor with God.

            I can't see a way around this, unless the prophets of God also were very "confused" about the will of God all the time as well, while in reality, it was the devil telling them what to do some of the time, and they were none the wiser. Even if that was the case, it would not explain why Saul's entire future relationship with God was marred by this act, then (if it was from the devil, as you imply).

            St. Thomas Aquinas was at least much more honest about this issue here. At this point, it seems it's easier just to argue "yes, God did order all those people to die, and here's why it's OK" than "you see, it didn't actually happen, and if it did, it wasn't really God or anything."

          • Heidi keene

            Hello LessCleverName,
            Let me clarify that in no way did I suggest that the evil being done by the Israelites was always the result of Satan's temptation. People make bad choices and sin all the time without any help from the demons, and ancient Israel was not an exception. This "method C" exegesis is not suggesting that in every case of total warfare or baby killing that Satan was operative in a direct way. It is perfectly reasonable that the Israelite's military advisors made these commands- as any good general would do. The general being appointed directly by the king would most certainly be viewed by the Israelites as ordained by God. Thus, what the general does has been "foreordained" by God. You get the notion.
            I cited that example strictly as one proof, among many, that has come to the attention of historical critical scholars that supports an evolving development within the theology of Israel regarding the active and passive wills of God. This is what leads to the exegetical conclusion that the Israelites initially attributed all outcomes to the will of God: success means God wanted it done and failure means God didn't want it done. This is NOT false as God is the Primary Cause of everything. The explanation simply fails to recognize the difference between active and passive will.

            Let's examine the situation of the Amalekites, Method C is a very suitable explanation for the happenings. Saul directly disobeys his military commander/advisors and Samuel finds out. Samuel, who would also understand God's will in a primitive way, would be furious at Saul's disobedience.
            The Israelites had already had military success using total warfare tactics, so Samuel most certainly would have believed the success was due to the action being pleasing to God and thus "God's command". If you look closely at the text, could it possibly be that Saul ADMITS his motive in 'disobedience" was to please people? If Saul believed based on Israel's past military conquests, that God's will was total warfare, and he disobeyed WITH A MOTIVE OF INCREASING IN POWER AND GLORY IN THE EYES OF THE PEOPLE- this would have sufficient cause to merit a 'fall from grace' in the eyes of God. Remember, the act is in the will. God judges our motives (the heart) and Saul's motive was not the service of God but the service of his own vail glory which ultimately caused his final and tragic end.
            It is unfair to level a charge of "confusion" against Israel (including her prophets) when their theological understanding of God was comparatively robust given the historical and cultural milieu. God was acting as the Divine Pedagogue (via the angels) for all of Israel's history and so we can not expect some kind of "Divine infusion" - absolute knowledge of God. Yes, even the prophets were being trained under this pedagogy. Take for instance Jonah. He was angry at God for not destroying the people as promised. He failed to recognize the finer points of God's will.

            A cursory reading of the Mishnas or any other extra-biblical texts from the time illustrate that even the rabbi's struggled to fully grasp many many precepts about God's nature. For example, the Pharisaic notions of messiah were incredibly incomplete and failed to grasp the full picture that the prophets had been providing. Were they falsely instructing Israel and leading her astray? No, they were focused on hammering the big issues (like God is ONE) into their stubbornly polytheistic heads. Fine tuning would come later.

            St. Thomas and Augustine take the position of arguing the larger picture of the PROBLEM OF EVIL. They unhesitatingly condemn any notion that God is responsible for evil in the world and that is no such thing as any truly innocent person due to original sin. They both argue that God's passive and active wills are by nature loving and good. Keep in mind that the biblical text is not in error, but at the same time it does not exhaust all that can be said on the matter of precisely how God ordered it. In my initial post here in this thread, I did cover this aspect first. However, Mr. Hanif had direct exegetical questions that he wanted addressed (and rightly so.).

          • Mohammed Hanif

            Heidi,

            Thank you for your detailed respons; it gave me much to think over. I'd like to ask some follow up questions to help clarify my undertanding of the points you make.

            The Bible is an infallibly inspired source of truth that is mediated by the human agency of the writer(s)/scribe(s); thus it is infallible but not absolute. When you write that, "the language employed to describe the unfolding of an event does not adequately reflect the precise nature of the drama that was actually taking place." you are implying that errors/untruths can creep into the text but that these would be errors of fact and history - God would prevent moral or religious/doctrinal error to be introduced and thus preserve the ethical and religious inerrancy of scripture.

            Is the above an acceptable paraphrase of your position?

            Should then the command in 1Samuel 15:3

            "Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys."

            be interpreted as human interpolation into scripture to either permit the genocide of the Amelekites or as post hoc sanctification?

            You say that God did not command the killing of children; so would the above verse be an example of the sacred writers' developing understanding of God? Yet in this verse, the "culprit" (using your word) remains God and there is no equivocation or nuance as you point to in your other examples.

            In one of your other replies to a similar post, you said that those children were not killed but rather saved from eternal damnation due to sin. When I read that my immediate reaction was that a better solution could have been to save the children, adopt them into Israelite society so that they would have the opportunity to grow up in fellowship with God. That would seem better than invoking the Principle of Tolerance. Or were even the 'suckling babes' inherently evil and destined for Hell and thus their death is a mercy that grants them Heaven or at least lessens their punishment in Hell?

            This may seem an acceptable interpretation if one accepts a doctrine of Original Sin but I find the orthodox Islamic teaching that all children and those to whom God's message has not reached as being innocent and will be granted salvation closer to our own God given sense of morality.

            I apologise if my points seem disjointed. And I assure you that I am not speaking from a point of moral or religious chauvinism - the verse clearly states God commanded the killing of children,and if God did not actually do so, then the Bible misrepresents Him.

            A related example may be illuminating: The Bible and the Quran both share the basic outline of God commandinh that Abraham sacrifice his son.

            However, the killing of Amalekite children is different in nature because in both scriptures God prevented Abraham from killing his son. The final command realigned with our 'normal' God-given moral sense.

            Is it correct to say that the inerrancy of scripture is not as crucial for Catholics as it is for Protestants because God has graced the Church with the authority to determine how scripture must be read? Thus 1Sam 5 is not troubling for Catholics.

            I apologise for the length of my post and it's somewhat rambling nature.

            Salaam,
            Hanif

          • Heidi keene

            Settings
            Hello Mr. Hanif,
            I am still away from my computer on holiday, but I will try to give some additional clarity to what the things that perhaps I was unclear on.

            The Bible is unable to have any doctrinal error (ie untruths) in the text as the inspiration is Infallible (the Holy Spirit). However, since the mediating author was human, there can be truths that don't necessarily portray the entire story as it literally happened. For example, we are not bound to believe that Adam and Eve actually ate the fruit of a literal tree. The text is not in error, it is just making use of symbolism to convey a higher theological point. In Ezekiel when God speaks to the King of Tyre but then seems to be speaking to someone (traditionally Satan) who "was on My Holy Mountain, Eden"- the Bible is not in error here as God can begin speaking to the King of Tyre literally and then use the remainder of the text to speak to a person who the King of Tyre simply symbolizes...
            So once again, no errors, fact or history, doctrinal or otherwise are found in scripture due to its inerrancy. Yet any given passage can be considered as not fully exhausting the truth contained there in. (More can be said to give a more complete understanding of the theological truth, history or fact being described).

            1 Sam 15:3 is a perfect example of a recording of an event after it had taken place where the author sees the historical success of Israel's militiary conquests as an implicit approval of action from God- thus His Will. There doesn't need to be nuanced imbedded within every such statement for the hermeneutic I am using (called Method B in Rammage's work "The Dark Passages of the Bible with St. Thomas and Pope Benedict xvi). The historical critical support for this type of interpretation is substantiated by the dating of later texts (like Chronicles) and other extra biblical texts from 300 bc and later that attribute these events to fallen angels or to other direct causes other than God himself, thereby establishing a development in understanding that God permitted them but didn't actively order them.

            When speaking about God's passive will, that He permitted the killing of innocents we are certainly justified in wishing things would have ended in a more humane way for at least the innocents (like the babies). God - to be sure- shares that wish with us (our concern for them is actually a participation in God's love for them. However, we must bear in mind that as God has foreordained that men have free will, He does not (can not by His very nature) just revoke that prerogative willy-nilly if He sees that the person or persons are choosing to abuse the gift of freedom. So we can be absolutely certain that God also willed that the inflicting human criminals use their freedom with responsibility and love - but they did not.
            Absolutely no part of this was God's doing in an immediate or active way.

            I do not see you coming from any position of moral chauvinism. Your position is one of beautiful participation in God's love of His creatures. That these passages are troublesome to you means that you are rightly ordered and experiencing human empathy. What you need to bear in mind is that although God is being given direct authority for these statements in the Biblical text, that can not be said to be a 'misrepresentation'. It is not the fullness of the truth, but it is not misrepresenting when you keep in mind that God is the ultimate cause of everything. It just doesn't clarify that as a Divine Person, He can permit actions while not actively willing them.

            Regarding the aquidah, I'm giving you here an excerpt from Rammage's book pg 190

            "For a more thorough understanding of how the Jewish people continued to penetrate the mystery of evil in the centuries leading up to Christ's coming it is also instructive to read how the presence of evil in scripture was reinterpreted in noncanonical Jewish religious works from the second temple period. For example the book of jubilees rewrites Gen 1 to Ex 14 and blames "the prince Mastema" ( a demon) for some strange actions that have been attributed to Yahweh in the Pentateuch for example in jubilees Mastema my has a hand in God's commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac jubilees 17:15- 18:13 cf. Genesis 22:1-2 and he, rather than God ,seeks to slay Moses in jubilees 48."

            The Catholic tradition is the only Christian religion that has held doctrinally to the inerrancy of scripture. So, ironically, reality is the exact opposite of your supposition below. However, since the Catholic tradition is the only Christian tradition that has truly been governed by faith and reason, such passages have been struggled with a humble confession of ignorance rather than a brash profession of knowledge (which I think William Lane Craig is guilty of in his absurd literalism of the text). The Catholic tradition has always affirmed that God can not actively be the cause of sin. Murder is a sin (last time I checked the decalogue) therefore God did not tell anyone- at anytime- to murder another human being.
            And the Bible supports this, when approached with a hermeneutic of continuity and sensitivity.

            Pax my friend Mr. Hanif and thank you for giving me the honor of engaging with you on this most troubling and challenging of topics.

            May God bless you and your family super abundantly,

            In Christ,

            Heidi

          • Mohammed Hanif

            Dear Heidi,

            I apologise for not replying sooner.

            Thank you for your generous responses to my questions. I am grateful of the time you have devoted to answering in such detail. I now have a clearer understanding of how nuanced Catholic hermeneutics is.

            As a Muslim who is still struggling to master classical Arabic and not having access to many scholarly translations of authorities such as Ghazali or Maturidi, I have found Catholic apologetics are great aid in clarifying theological issues. It is striking how closely they do match traditional Muslim thinking on many points.

            Thank you also for your wonderful prayer and I too pray that God bless you and those you love and envelop you in His mercy and love.

            Salaam,
            Hanif

  • David Nickol

    Benjamin Wiker is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, as is Michael Behe and William Dembski. William Lane Craig is a CSI Fellow.

  • Ilene

    Recently, I was hoping I could convince someone in particular but not the only one, that there is nothing bad or good about The Bible, The Holy Scriptures, any other Sacred Texts including the Qur'an. Why would I include the Qur'an? Just as there are a myriad number--perhaps--an infinitesimal number of religions within religions. Terrorist "Muslims" are not representatives of all of Islam any more than Catholics during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages represent Catholicism today! There is nothing wrong or right about Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Native American Indian Earth Spirituality, and Wicca for witches who still realize the necessity of "letting go and letting Great Spirit." No, Wicca is neither good nor bad. All sacred texts and religions and spirituality are never innately right or wrong, bad or good. Any spiritually motivated practices and rituals can be evil because people of that sect make it evil. Then what is evil? Another discussion. In the meantime, I am hoping that no matter what anyone believes or disbelievers, one fact overrides any and all other "facts" related to religion--related to being simply human (I know it's not simple). We must have meaning, purpose, raison d'etre in order for our lives to make sense and if we are unable to form, find, claim, discover or rely on meaningfulness in our lives, nothing in religion, philosophy, psychology etc., etc., etc., will matter. We are inherently and innately born with meaning and we develop our lives in ways that are useful, productive, and accessible to each of us--collectively and individually.
    "Nothing is good or bad," said Shakespeare. I don't always agree with him, but when it comes to the ammunition we use against each religious group of people, something that might have been good becomes something murderous--and if that's not bad--I don't know anything anymore--and that would give me a fine excuse to fly away with Percy Shelley and his friends all the way up to the sand castles in the sky were lusty angels celebrate the Dionysian rituals all night long. There is no daytime "up there," only Percy Shelley and his friends sharing frivolity and fun with the lusty angels of Dionysian fame.
    I hope someday real soon we will realize and share and understand that atheist or theist or of spiritual faith, the more we are right, the more we are wrong. Christianity isn't an ultimate and final goal; it is a journey, open, focused and with dignity and humility. Remember what Jesus Christ tried to teach people about love and not being judgmental? A Buddhist is often someone who, when asked, "Are you a Buddhist?" He or she may answer, saying, "I am a student of Buddhism, a traveler, seeker."
    Of course if asked if he or she is a Jew and says, "Yes, I am a Jew," he or she has not lied to you. A Jew is Jew is Jew even if he or she is an atheist. You don't believe? Believe me; there is a deeply significant difference between Jewish and being a faithful observer and practitioner of Judaism. Interesting when compared to religions that cannot be Christians or Hindus unless they are faithful observers and practitioners of their chosen religions.
    I feel an unrelenting sadness when various religious and non-religious dogmas and doctrines lead us away from the spirit of Christianity, for example, or Judaism or Islam or the Light of the One, whatever that means--it has to mean something to someone. And when we threat each other with whose meanings and values are right, we prove ourselves wrong within the tenets and beliefs in most of our human religions, after all.
    I remember an episode I will never forget from All in the Family. Edith and Archie were raising their niece Stephani, and one day she told them she couldn't do something because she was Jewish. Well, Archie went a little berserk, as would be expected from his Christian bigoted oxymoron-like self. Well, Edith finally convinced him that they had to take Stephanie to the synagogue so she could practice her Judaism. During Edith and Archie's session with a handsome young rabbi wearing casual sports clothes, Archie declared he just didn't know what to do with a little Jewish kid living under his roof. "Me, a life-long Christian! With a Jewish niece learning how to be a Jew and learn Hebrew and all that other Jewish stuff. How can I accept that?" That's not precisely what he said, however, I quote the rabbi as closely as I possibly can right now. The rabbi said, "Try a little Christian love." Pow! Right in the kisser, abstractly speaking, of course.
    Well, I have gone on through a subject that continues to unfold for me for as long as I believe and cherish bringing human love to light. "It's the same Light, and we must live by it and die by it," said Merlin of The Great Arthurian Legends aka Camelot in the late Mary Stewart's book entitled The Crystal Cave. I believe in Merlin. Any questions? Uh oh! "And all shall be well when the tongues of flame are enfolded into that crowned knot of fire/And the fire and the rose are one" (from T.S. Elliot's Four Quartets).

  • Casey Braden

    It surprised me to read an article on a Catholic blog which sports such science-denialism. I thought the Catholic Church teaches that the truth of evolution creates no conflict for Christian Faith.

    Pope John Paul II stated in 1996: “New scientific knowledge has led us to realize that the theory of evolution is no longer a mere hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory” (Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on Evolution, October 23, 1996).

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      "It surprised me to read an article on a Catholic blog which sports such science-denialism. I thought the Catholic Church teaches that the truth of evolution creates no conflict for Christian Faith."

      It would surprise me, too, if that were actually the case. But this blog post does not promote "science-denialism" nor does it specifically deny evolution.

      You are correct, though, that evolution, in general, does not contradict Catholicism.

  • Fredric

    Dear Mr. Wicker, I enjoyed the way you turned around Dawkins argument concerning the god of the old testament. However, all you did was point out the moral flaws of his argument. As you yourself admitted the jews were [ and, by the way, are still racist inbreeders,] keeping their gene pool to themselves. This would give credence to dawkins evolutionary selfish individual gene pool. [excuse my grammer]. Also, you pointed out the parallels between the evolutionary god and the one in the jewish writing. This makes both 'gods' equivalent. The moral structure is devastating for both. Try a better argument. I will look forward to it.

    • David Nickol

      As you yourself admitted the jews were [ and, by the way, are still racist inbreeders,] keeping their gene pool to themselves.

      "Racist inbreeders"? I wonder if you realized when you wrote this how offensive it is. Also, it is factually incorrect, for American Jews, at least:

      Overall, the intermarriage rate [in 2013] is at 58 percent, up from 43 percent in 1990 and 17 percent in 1970. Among non-Orthodox Jews, the intermarriage rate is 71 percent.

  • Dat Commenter

    "Well, it seems that evolution is just a kind of big unmoral monster, I should embrace theism" <--- I just make it easy for you people to get the point of posing a "Evolutionary God", don't get distracted with the "I don't worship/pray to evolution, This analogy is silly!" self-red herring.

  • George

    Evolution is not prescriptive. This "You too" attack does not work.

  • Kit Fry

    I find I have the same issues with Dr. Wiker's argument here as I do with his very poor arguments against the 10 worst books...

    I'm sure this comment is going to be deleted, but I'm finding more and more often that acquiring a Doctorate in theology requires zero skills in logic or basic argumentation. It seems over and over on this site that the doctorate holders must be given that lofty title solely on the basis of their 'immense' faith.

    Please note to readers who might think that Dr. Wiker has some level of objectivity. That this guy found the only reason that some books were 'bad' for the world is that the author 'might' have been a closet atheist.

    At least when Dawkins makes arguments against myths and claims of the bible he sticks to the story and finds points of evidence for his argument in history and in the bible itself.

  • Michael Murray

    So we've rejected the God of the Old Testament for Dawkins' atheistic account of evolution, only to find out that many of the traits Dawkins marked as repugnant are ensconced in natural selection (except that now, as a new and even more unfortunate kind of Job, we have no one against whom to complain).

    Oh dear. Where do these articles come from? It isn't about rejecting the God of the Old Testament for "atheistic evolution" (whatever that may be). It's about which theories about reality are true. We don't get to choose what is true about reality. Even if it could be argued, and I don't think it can, that the human race will tear each others throats out if they don't believe in a god that doesn't make belief in a god correct, although it might make it desirable.

    Appeal to consequences. Some of the article authors here really, really need to read this

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_consequences

  • Mohammed Hanif

    Dr Wiker presents a false dilemma: the choice is not between the God of the OT and evolution; there are other conceptions of who God is available to someone who is repelled by what she reads in the OT.

  • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

    I agree with David, Dr Wicker utterly dodges the question of the cruel, vindictive Yaweh character in the Old Testament. This is God that slaughters thousands of babies in order to show his greatness. When you fail to try and justify these dark passages, your argument boils down to, "well your moral foundations are just as bad. When in fact a brief examination of evolutionary morality shows that the God of the Old Testament is far worse.

    There is no evolutionary benefit to the Passover. An EG would have just annihilated the Egyptians the moment they enslaved the Jews. It would not have needed to torture them with plagues and harden Pharoah's heart, kill all the first born and then drown the rest of the army that pursued the fleeing Jews. It would not have told its alpha male Abraham to kill and burn his first born child only to back off at the last minute. It would not allow the amalekites to trouble the Jews for so long so that they would need to commit genocide upon them. It would not have provided them with arbitrary laws against wearing mixed fabrics and failed to give them basic health and safety advice.

    There is an evolutionary benefit to killing adversaries, but there is also one in caring for your family and friends.

    • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

      "There is no evolutionary benefit to the Passover"

      You are begging the question here. The God of the bible says there is a benefit to the Passover. Celebrating the freedom from the Egyptians as a precursor to the ultimate freedom from sin Jesus would provide.

      Sure, an EG would have done things differently. Would they have been better? Remember the only way EG can improve things is to annihilate those who have the wrong genes. It seems like the EG story is worse. That does not mean it is untrue. Just that the moral outrage at the story the Christians tell is pretty strange.

      • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

        I'm not talking about the celebration of Passover, I'm talking about the actual Passover, when god killed thousands of children, babies and people convince Pharoah to let the Jews go worship him.

        I agree both Yaweh and the EG are fictional and undeserving of anything but condemnation.

        • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

          How can you have a celebration of a Passover without a Passover?

          You think the use of deadly force is not justified to free a nation from slavery?

          Why condemn the Yaweh account when you biggest complaint is it has too little genocide? That genes that led to better societies became dominant because they were able to kill off the carriers of inferior genes. This did not happen once or twice but many times to arrive at out sophisticated social instincts. So the Yaweh story should be criticized for being to nice rather than to brutal.

          • George

            for an omnipotent being, your non-lethal methods could be just as effective and permanent as lethal methods, without the, you know, anyone dying part.

            it's amazing that human imagination is completely abandoned on this subject, and how so many colorful, creative options for what an all-good person with magic powers could do to solve a problem never come up. "kill 'em all. only option."

            necessary deadly force is an excuse for limited and imperfect agents. what are you saying about your god?

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            So you make you imagination the standard of good and evil? I can see no notion of God is ever going to pass this test especially since you can raise the bar arbitrarily. I just wanted to be clear that is what is going on.

          • David Nickol

            So you make you imagination the standard of good and evil?

            Here is an excerpt from William Lane Craig's comments on God and the slaughter of the Canaanites. I do not agree with his overall analysis, but I think he acknowledges the problem more than you and many others here do:

            These stories offend our moral sensibilities. Ironically, however, our moral sensibilities in the West have been largely, and for many people unconsciously, shaped by our Judaeo-Christian heritage, which has taught us the intrinsic value of human beings, the importance of dealing justly rather than capriciously, and the necessity of the punishment’s fitting the crime. The Bible itself inculcates the values which these stories seem to violate.

            The command to kill all the Canaanite peoples is jarring precisely because it seems so at odds with the portrait of Yahweh, Israel’s God, which is painted in the Hebrew Scriptures. Contrary to the vituperative rhetoric of someone like Richard Dawkins, the God of the Hebrew Bible is a God of justice, long-suffering, and compassion. [Emphasis added.]

            People appalled by the idea of God commanding genocide are not inventing moral principles by which they judge God unfairly. They are judging the alleged behavior of God by Judeo-Christian principles we all hold in common, and very basic ones, too. Genocide is wrong. Killing innocent children is wrong. Civilians are not to be directly killed in warfare.

            The response of some here seems to be, "How dare you question God for commanding genocide. If God commands genocide, it is his right, and it is the duty of those he commands to commit genocide." I don't think that answer is good enough. I think those who are indignant that such questions are raised are for some reason blind to the real problems the "dark passages" in the Bible present. I do not agree with Craig's complete answer, but at least he takes the questions seriously and is not at all indignant that people raise them.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            I don't disagree with him. He is not talking about the 10 plagues. I think the plagues are easier to justify than some of the other incidents where Israel had the upper hand. Besides, it is God doing it rather than God commanding humans to do it. That is where you run into the question of whether God could give such a command today. The answer is No. It just does not apply to the 10 plagues story.

          • George

            exercise your imagination for a few minutes and come up with a course of action in a hypothetical where you are magic and nothing will be too difficult to you, and you want to stop violence between two tribes. let's say you also value the intrinsic dignity of all human life. what do you do? infinite possibilities for an infinite being, go nuts!

          • David Nickol

            You think the use of deadly force is not justified to free a nation from slavery?

            Let's not forget that the plagues were visited on all of Egypt to change the mind of one man—Pharaoh—and that God also "hardened Pharaoh's heart" so that Pharaoh wouldn't relent. If God could harden Pharaoh's heart, why couldn't he soften Pharaoh's heart so that Pharaoh would simply have given in at the outset.

            In reality there is no historical evidence that the Exodus from Egypt ever happened or that the Israelites conquered Canaan and exterminated the people. So the most reasonable explanation for the disturbing actions and commands of God is that they are myths or legends.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            The plagues were not just to change Pharaoh's mind. They were also to convince the Jews and the Egyptians that Yahweh was more powerful than the Egyptian gods. This is why many plagues were directed specifically against Egyptian deities, the Nile god, the sun god, etc. It was not enough to con one man into saying Yes. He humiliated a very determined and very powerful man to show Israel what He was capable of.

          • David Nickol

            He humiliated a very determined and very powerful man to show Israel what He was capable of.

            And that is the act of an "omni-benevolent" God?

            And it's not enough when Pharaoh is ready to relent? God, in order to show how powerful he is, hardens Pharaoh's heart so he can continue the "show" and kill the firstborn son of every Egyptian family. Imagine if the Taliban if Afghanistan made a display of their power in a similar manner. Or the United States. When the adversary is ready to surrender, continue pounding them to show how powerful you are. What would be despicable behavior for a human leader is somehow awesome when it is attributed to God. This only deepens the problem, it seems to me.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            You prove the problem God has. He respect's Pharaoh's freedom he is a monster. He overwhelms Pharaoh with His power. His is a monster. He brings 10 plagues. He should have brought 5. It is an easy game to play.

            God acts in history. He does finite things. Yes, it is very un-omni-ish. He knows the atheists will sneer. He does it anyway because He loves us.

          • David Nickol

            You prove the problem God has.

            I don't believe God has problems! He's God. He's omniscient. He's omnipotent. I don't believe his creatures can force him in between a rock and a hard place so he has to make difficult choices. God cannot paint himself into a corner leaving himself no good options.

            It is an easy game to play.

            If second-guessing the God of the Old Testament is an easy game to play, it is because theists on the one hand claim he is omniscient and omnipotent, and on the other hand place all kinds of limitations on him.

            God acts in history. He does finite things. Yes, it is very un-omni-ish. He knows the atheists will sneer.

            Atheists do not sneer at God's actions. They don't believe in God. What they object to is actions attributed to God that they, and everyone else, object to primarily on the basis of Judeo-Christian values, which they largely share without believing in God. It is not only atheists who are troubled by the "dark passages" in the Bible. William Lane Craig was not speaking for atheists when he said, "These stories offend our moral sensibilities."

            For the record, I am not an atheist. Also, the world is not divided up into theists who believe anything attributed to God must be good, and atheists who "sneer" at God and anything attributed to him. As I read you, you seem to view things very much in an "us-against-them" manner—the good guys against the bad guys, the good guys being people who agree with you and the bad guys being the ones who disagree with you. Even if I believed every word the Catholic Church teaches, it would not be difficult for me to imagine a Catholic who believed everything in the Old Testament was fact, and any act attributed in the Old Testament to God was good and holy, who was a less worthy person than an atheist who was appalled by acts attributed to God in the Old Testament. It is not a bad thing to be appalled by genocide and the murder of women and children, after all.

          • Doug Shaver

            You prove the problem God has.

            I'd have to believe he was real before I thought he had a problem. The only problem I see is in the way believers think about God.

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            In some circumstances, deadly force may be acceptable to try and protect people from Crimes Against Humanity. But not the killing of the first born in every family, that's just terrorism.

            I condemn Yaweh for imposing ten plagues on the Egyptians. By the way, it wasn't to end slavery in Egypt or among the Jews. It continued in both societies for centuries afterwards. Moses is asking for his people to allowed to go to the wilderness to worship God for three days, not to end slavery. I condemn him for hardening. Pharaoh s heart and preventing him from surrendering to this God's intent. I condemn him for killing thousands of Innocent Egyptian children and to show his greatness. I condemn him for drowning the Egyptian army when they were pursuing property which in a few more chapters Yaweh will advise is properly theirs.

            I condemn him for ordering the genocide of the Amalekites, including infants. As well as the other Caninites. I condemn him for drowning all of humanity save one family. I condemn him for killing people for starting a fire after dark. For slaughtering thousands of Jews for practicing freedom of religion. I condemn his "laws" that say to stone disobedient children to death. And this is all just off the top of my head while riding the bus home. Then there is Jeptha, the slaughter of dozens of children for teasing a prophet. It goes on and on and on.

            I also would condemn any genocide, torture and crimes against humanity. I think it is utterly wrong for anyone to base their morality on the theory of evolution and I know no atheist who does so.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            There are a lot of strange stories. What do you expect? A culture many times more violent than ours. God worked in it anyway. Should he have just wiped it out? Wait, you didn't like that either. Should he have just let them be? Just let the morally depraved society continue to grow worse and worse? That would make atheists happy, I think. Yet that is what hell is about. Just leaving humans alone with their sin.

            God chose to offer humanity salvation. He entered a sinful world and worked in a way they could understand. A way that included violence. You don't get it. You think God should be above that sort of thing. Yet God lowering Himself is precisely the story of salvation. If you didn't think these actions were beneath God's dignity then something would be wrong. That is what God making a covenant with man is all about.

          • David Nickol

            Why didn't God devote some time to rehabilitating Adam and Eve? He could have given them the equivalent of a college education, or better yet, PhDs in moral theology. He could have nipped the human penchant for ignorance and evil in the bud. Then he wouldn't have had to drown all of humanity except Noah and his family.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            That is a good point. It suggests that PhD's in moral theology are not the ultimate answer to sin.

          • David Nickol

            That is a good point. It suggests that PhD's in moral theology are not the ultimate answer to sin.

            I don't know where you stand on human origins (evolution or Adam and Eve), but it seems to me that the argument that God worked with human beings starting "where they were" (in terms of primitive moral development) is incompatible with the story of Adam and Eve. Our "first parents" knew God directly and learned from him. Whatever their sin was, they do not seem to have been savages or barbarians. Yes, Cain killed Abel, but God subsequently protected Cain. If there was some great lapse in which humankind descended into amorality and savagery, it was on God's watch (so to speak).

            I think accepting the idea of humanity arising from brute animals (evolving) is compatible with the theory that God had to work with human beings "where they were" to bring them gradually to moral understanding. But I think the idea of God creating "first parents" with "preternatural gifts" who fell but were not abandoned by God simply doesn't fit with the idea that God had to bring humanity gradually to full moral understanding.

            Having a PhD in moral theology is no guarantee of moral living. But the moral knowledge that could have been inculcated in a human race that began with "first parents" certainly could have guaranteed that the human race did not start off in a state of extremely primitive moral ignorance and degradation.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            Adam and Eve were created good and then fell. When they fell they fall all the way down. That is the nature of sin. Small sins become large sins very quickly. It is all rebellion against God. So they progressed from eating inappropriate fruit to murder by the time the Cain and Abel incident happened maybe a few decades later. After more time there was serious enough sin that God sent the flood. Lamech bragged that he had sinned so much worse than Cain.

            "If there was some great lapse in which humankind descended into amorality and savagery, it was on God's watch (so to speak)."

            Everything is on God's watch. God did choose to start from a place of serious sin. He could have prevented that degradation and therefore the need for a flood. Yet the flood tells us something. It tells us how serious sin is. That God simply wiping out humanity would be a just response to sin. So the progression is instructive. It shows us where we came from and how far we have progressed with God's grace.

          • Doug Shaver

            It is all rebellion against God.

            Does that include skepticism? If I don't believe what you're telling me about God, is that just a way for me to rebel against God?

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            It can be. Skepticism can be rooted in many things. That can include a fear of what knowing God would mean. Would you want to experience God if it meant you had to believe in all the doctrines of the church? If it is honest skepticism, that given the culture you were raised in you do not have information presented by credible enough people to reasonably respond with faith in God. Honest skepticism still involves rebellion against God but it is not your rebellion. You are inheriting the assumptions born from someone else's prior rebellion.

          • Doug Shaver

            Would you want to experience God if it meant you had to believe in all the doctrines of the church?

            I think that what I want is irrelevant.

            Skepticism can be rooted in many things.

            Mine is rooted in reason. I see no good reason to believe in God.

            You are inheriting the assumptions born from someone else's prior rebellion.

            I don't claim to have invented any of my assumptions, but I own them. They are my assumptions.

            Honest skepticism still involves rebellion against God

            You say so.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            "Mine is rooted in reason. I see no good reason to believe in God."

            Is that reason? The "I see" part is loaded. I see many reasons to believe in God. Why do you see none and I see many? Is it because you are using reason and I am not? I don't think so. I think we have different assumptions at least in part because we decided to believe or not believe.

          • Doug Shaver

            I see many reasons to believe in God. Why do you see none and I see many?

            Because our minds don't work quite the same way. That should come as no surprise, if you accept the fact of variability in human cognition.

            Is it because you are using reason and I am not?

            I'm not going to deny that you're using reason just because you disagree with me. I cannot evaluate your use of reason until I see your arguments.

            But the exercise of reason is not either-or. It's like athletic performance. Some people do it better than others, but we don't say that the best athletes are the only athletes.

            I think we have different assumptions at least in part because we decided to believe or not believe.

            Of course we have different assumptions. Everybody does. It's part of our variability as human beings. As for your assumption that our beliefs are subject to choice, I reject that.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            "But the exercise of reason is not either-or. It's like athletic performance. Some people do it better than others, but we don't say that the best athletes are the only athletes."

            So you are saying atheist are better at reason? I don't think that fits the data. Lots of very smart Catholics. Quite frankly, smart atheists are harder to find. Lots of people think atheism makes them smart yet the arguments they make show otherwise.

            Then there is the statement you made about not thinking ancients were less smart. If you really think that then why would modern western culture produce atheists when other cultures do not? I can see how underlying assumption have changed. I don't see how they suddenly got smarter.

            "Of course we have different assumptions. Everybody does. It's part of our variability as human beings. As for your assumption that our beliefs are subject to choice, I reject that."

            How do you explain how people convert if they don't have a choice?

          • Doug Shaver

            So you are saying atheist are better at reason?

            No, I am not saying that. I don't judge a person's ability to reason by the conclusions they reach. I judge it by the methods they use to reach their conclusions. I think it possible that a person can reason just as well as I do and yet disagree with me. What I don't believe is that all human beings reason equally well.

            Lots of very smart Catholics.

            Indeed there are.

            Lots of people think atheism makes them smart yet the arguments they make show otherwise.

            I agree with that statement 100 percent.

            How do you explain how people convert if they don't have a choice?

            People change their minds when they are confronted with whatever they regard as sufficient reason to change their minds. No American woke up on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, wanting to believe that the United States was being attacked by terrorists. But as soon as they saw what was happening on TV, they could not believe otherwise.

          • George

            how can one decide to believe or not believe? if god's existence seems obvious to someone, how can they just stop believing in it?

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            God gives us that choice. He can be obvious one moment and we can be tempted to forget about Him the next. At the end of the day you do just decide. Based on the evidence and based on the kind of person you want to be you decide.

          • Doug Shaver

            It suggests that PhD's in moral theology are not the ultimate answer to sin.

            Sin is a theological concept. I don't need an answer.

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            It is not the Jews or Egyptians that I am criticizing but the god. In exodus he is continually slaughtering thousands of innocent people. What did all the newborn Egyptians do to engender this justice? Why bother doing ANY of the plagues if the Egyptian army is STILL going to pursue the fleeing Hebrews and more slaughter. Why not just give then Egypt, after utterly devastating the army and population? Instead they are sent to another populated land where they are going to have to commit genocide continuously. And if you have read the news lately, they are still doing it.

            What we do not see is a bloodthirsty genocidal Jewish people and a turn the other cheek god trying to teach them and educate them in the kind of morality Christians now adopt. Rather it is the god who is encouraging and undertaking the slaughter himself.

            I don't believe any of this happened, I don't believe in sin. I can look at actual genocides

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            Continued, )

            In history and we can discuss why they might have happened. But to say that the continuous slaughter undertaken by god and on his explicit order is "strange stories" and a kindly equal rights god "working with" a troubled world beyond the pale.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            God did things differently than you would have done them. There are two ways to go with that. You can ask why that might be and try and learn or you can just assume God is defective. He is not as smart as you or not as moral as you or whatever. You choose the second option. That is the least logical choice to make but it allows you to sit back and criticize and that can be fun.

            "Why bother doing ANY of the plagues"
            You say this like it is impossible to answer. It is actually quite easy. You need to get your mind around one thing. God cares about religion. God wants to establish a new religion through Moses. How do you do that? You do mighty works. You show such awesome power to defeat their deities and their armies that it becomes almost funny.

            "Why not just give them Egypt, after utterly devastating the army and population?"
            Indeed. God needed to deal with them. He took them though the wilderness for 40 years. Why do that? The same reason why God often calls us to suffer. So we can become better people. So we can learn to obey. So we can see not just how powerful God is but how fragile our lives are.

            "What we do not see is a bloodthirsty genocidal Jewish people and a turn the other cheek god trying to teach them and educate them in the kind of morality Christians now adopt. "

            Good point. We don't see that because God is working up to that. It took a great deal of faith to walk into a land with stronger armies than yours and announce that everyone must flee or die. If God does not back you up you are in a lot of trouble.

            Yet it takes even more faith to do what St Paul did. To announce that all the pagan idols have to God. Jesus is the incarnation of the one true God. People tried to kill him and eventually did. Yet that civilization had advanced immeasurably from what existed in the middle east at that time. Helenists were more rational despite their occasional burst of violence.

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            So you think it is justifiable to kill innocent babies to start a new religion? You think is killing is a great work?

            And after all of these great works, the pillar of fire the parting of the Red Sea, they abandon him and worship an idol? The story is ridiculous. And the idea that he is working with them and reforming them is pretty weak. He gives them laws that tells them to stone disobedient children to death, I can't think of what they could have been doing that was worse, that this could reform.

            So god is working up teaching the Jews the true morality, by telling them to only beat their slaves so they don't die within two days, and to avoid pork? It just doesn't add up. He doesn't say things like have faith and defend yourselves against the amalekites, he literally tells Saul to kill their babies.

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            You say god is working with the Hebrews, he is reforming them. But you do not say how. When I read this I see the God either undertake the killing himself of order others to do it. I see no progression in morals no reform, I see either obvious or arbitrary rules enforces by brutal torturous killing. Constantly and repeatedly.

            To be clear, neither Dawkins nor myself approve of this in any way. Neither to we think that survival of the fittest is an appropriate basis for human social conduct.

            I am aware of the rationalizations Christians propose for these dark passages and I do not accept them. But feel free to explain it to me.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            "So you think it is justifiable to kill innocent babies to start a new religion? You think is killing is a great work?"

            I think God exhibited greatness in a way that they understood. He started with a few tricks. Moses' staff becoming a snake and so forth. They were unimpressed. Ancients were not nearly as credulous as atheists think. God kept raising the bar.

            Killing is a different thing for God than it is for us. God is the author of life. He has the right to take it away. God decrees that the wages of sin is death. So we all die because we all sin. Moreover we are given no certainty about when we or our loved ones will die. Anyone can die at any time.

            When we murder we take to ourselves something that is only for God. That is only God has the right to decide that a person should die. Accusing God of murder makes no sense. He has the right to take your life or my life at any time.

            "And after all of these great works, the pillar of fire the parting of the Red Sea, they abandon him and worship an idol? The story is ridiculous."

            They were trying to worship God through the calf. That is the way Egyptians worshiped their gods. They were copying that style of worship but they were not trying to worship another deity. It is still hard to believe because God just explained to them exactly how they were to worship. How to construct the ark and the tabernacle. It was all laid out in great detail.

            "He gives them laws that tells them to stone disobedient children to death,"

            Here you go again. Find a law you don't agree with and write off the whole thing because it does not match what you would have done.

            The death penalty for disobeying parents? Not sure how that compared with what other cultures of the day would do. Not sure how many parents would bring that charge. Still God wanted strong fathers. You might think that is unimportant.

            Why not pork? God did want the Jews to be separate from other peoples. A lot off the rituals and dietary laws had that effect. This is why they were no longer needed in the New Testament. The New Covenant broke down those barriers because it was strong enough to encounter other religions and win.

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            He exhibited his greatness in a way they understood? But they didn't understand. Even after all this, neither the Egyptians nor the Hebrews were convinced of his greatness. Immediately afterwards the Hebrews began worshipping idols and ignoring and complaining to Moses. The Egyptians ignored the entire incident, utterly erasing it from memory as if it never happened. But yes, it was greatness, int the same way that Lord Voldemort, Sauron and Darth Vader show greatness. It is not how people like Ghandi, MLK and Jesus show greatness.

            I am sorry but it goes contrary to my morality to suggest that just because you are the author of something you have the right to take it away. My morality says it is wrong to kill humans unless it is necessary to do so. Pretty much the only excuse is self defence. Showing your greatness is not an excuse for killing babies.

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            It's not just me that disagrees with stoning children to death for disobedience. Everyone disagrees with this. Even Hitler and Stalin would find it harsh. There are images of people being stoned to death on the internet. I cannot look at them, they are horrific. Are you honestly suggesting that you think this is law can in any way be called moral? On my morality hitting a disobedient child is wrong, even criminal. If anyone were to stone a child to death for ANY reason they should be imprisoned for life immediately, not called a strong father.

            Again show me the good passages in the Old Testament where God is reforming and preparing the Jews for Jesus. Jonah? I think we've had that discussion, anything else? Because to me it is just a constant litany of disobedience and slaughter. We haven't even gotten to Job yet.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            "He exhibited his greatness in a way they understood? But they didn't understand. "

            Some of them understood. Some did not. That is always the way with God. He leaves us a choice.

            "But yes, it was greatness, int the same way that Lord Voldemort, Sauron and Darth Vader show greatness. It is not how people like Ghandi, MLK and Jesus show greatness."
            The point is the people of that time were not ready for Jesus or MLK or Ghandi. They could only understand the language of force. Even after God turned the Nile to blood and took away the sun for 3 days, both images pointing to Jesus BTW, still Pharaoh thought he could just tough it out.

            "I am sorry but it goes contrary to my morality to suggest that just because you are the author of something you have the right to take it away."
            People die. If you think any death at all is proof that a 3 omni God could not exist then just say so. It saves a lot of trouble reading the Old Testament. If not, then what precisely is the difference between this and a flu bug that could wipe out many children in those days? God was not creating a new thing called child mortality. It was there. He was showing His power over it.

          • Doug Shaver

            That is always the way with God. He leaves us a choice.

            You say God is offering me a choice. Why should I take your word for that?

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            My word? You didn't choose to be an atheist? Evidence can be weaker or stronger for different people. At the end of the day everyone makes a choice. Even after miracles there are always some. Look at the Pharisees in John 9.

          • Doug Shaver

            You didn't choose to be an atheist?

            Nope. I used to be a believer and never wanted to stop being one. I stopped because I could not continue.

            Evidence can be weaker or stronger for different people.

            Maybe. Maybe not. But if I need to judge how strong the evidence is, whose judgment should I use if not my own?

            Look at the Pharisees in John 9.

            Why should I? The Bible is your authority, not mine.

          • Doug Shaver

            Ancients were not nearly as credulous as atheists think.

            I have seen no polling data on what atheists think about the ancients. What I believe about the ancients is that they were neither more nor less credulous than modern people are.

          • Doug Shaver

            There are two ways to go with that. You can ask why that might be and try and learn or you can just assume God is defective.

            There is a third way. I can decide that your beliefs about God are mistaken.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            Sure, that would be the second option. The point is that if you jump to that conclusion every time a passage is a little difficult then you won't get far with scripture.

          • Doug Shaver

            You can ask why that might be and try and learn or you can just assume God is defective.

            There is a third way. I can decide that your beliefs about God are mistaken.

            that would be the second option.

            Not unless you are God.

          • Doug Shaver

            God chose to offer humanity salvation. He entered a sinful world and worked in a way they could understand.

            You say so.

            You don't get it.

            Your say-so is not reason enough for me to believe so. Can you get that?

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            It is not like I wrote the bible. There is a story that goes from Adam and Eve right to the present day Catholic church. It covers all of history and is simply beyond what I or any other person could make up.

          • Doug Shaver

            It is not like I wrote the bible.

            You're endorsing it, Or rather, you are endorsing a particular interpretation of it. It's your responsibility to defend your endorsement.

            There is a story that goes from Adam and Eve right to the present day Catholic church.

            So says the Catholic church.

            It covers all of history and is simply beyond what I or any other person could make up.

            You say so.

          • Doug Shaver

            You think the use of deadly force is not justified to free a nation from slavery?

            It is for humans when they have no alternative. Did God have no alternative?

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            He could have just turned the Nile to blood. That would convince them. O wait! Never mind.

          • Doug Shaver

            You didn't answer my question.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            God always has an alternative. If God does good you still reject him because you can dream up a better way for him to do it? You call that rational thinking? If Jesus comes to earth and is 6 feet tall you reject him because he is not 7 feet tall. If you want to reject God then go ahead. Just don't pretend to be rational. You give reason a bad name.

          • Doug Shaver

            God always has an alternative.

            Well, then, the fact that we humans sometimes have to kill people in order to obtain or preserve our own freedom does not imply that God must kill people in order to obtain or preserve freedom for his chosen people, does it?

            If God does good you still reject him because you can dream up a better way for him to do it?

            I am not rejecting God. I am rejecting what you say about God.

            Just don't pretend to be rational. You give reason a bad name.

            You have not yet demonstrated a flaw in my reasoning, unless you think anyone must be irrational just to think it possible that you're mistaken.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            "Well, then, the fact that we humans sometimes have to kill people in order to obtain or preserve our own freedom does not imply that God must kill people in order to obtain or preserve freedom for his chosen people, does it?"

            God does not work apart from man. He works with man. He worked to get Moses educated on Pharaoh's court. He didn't magically beam knowledge into his head. You might think the ladder turns out to be better. So what? God didn't ask you. That is the flaw in your argument. That you can analyze a superior and reject it because it does not match your inferior mind.

            In Jesus time there were those who kept saying, "He can't be from God because He does not keep the Sabbath." It was a lame argument. Still people held onto it vigorously. No matter how strong the evidence got for Jesus' divinity they kept repeating this objection. They had a defeater argument, based on a bad understanding of the Sabbath, and refused to let go.

            This seems like that. Dig through the bible until you find something that does not make sense to you. Then hang onto it for dear life. It is a choice.

          • Doug Shaver

            "Well, then, the fact that we humans sometimes have to kill people in order to obtain or preserve our own freedom does not imply that God must kill people in order to obtain or preserve freedom for his chosen people, does it?"

            God does not work apart from man.

            Is that his decision, or does he not have a choice in the matter?

            That you can analyze a superior and reject it because it does not match your inferior mind.

            The only thing I'm analyzing is your words.

          • David Nickol

            Dig through the bible until you find something that does not make sense to you. Then hang onto it for dear life. It is a choice.

            Forgive me if I am misinterpreting you, but you seem to be implying that people who disagree with you are grasping at straws to maintain their self-deception and resist acknowledging the obvious truth, which you yourself proclaim. I it not possible that there are people who, examining all the evidence you have examined, honestly and sincerely come to a different conclusion?

            I think it is difficult for almost anyone to see his or her own beliefs as blindingly obvious and to be so bewildered that anyone would see things differently that it must be the case that those in disagreement are (1) unaware of all the facts, (2) if aware of all the facts, not bright enough to interpret them correctly, or (3) if aware of all the facts and bright enough to interpret them correctly, they are evil for willfully not accepting what is blindingly obvious.

            Both theists and atheists can play this game. Theists can claim that atheists are willfully resisting a belief in reality (God) because they resent the demands belief would place on them. Atheists, on the other hand, can claim that theists are willfully resisting a belief in reality (no God) because they are terrified by the thought of being alone, by the thought of death being final, and by the thought that the injustices of this world are not somehow going to be made up for in the afterlife.

            However, it seems to me this forum is for rational discussion of the cases for and against theism and for and against atheism, not for psychoanalyzing theists or atheists to look for underlying causes for why the "really" believe what they do.

          • David Nickol

            He could have just turned the Nile to blood. That would convince them. O wait! Never mind.

            Even if we take story of Moses, the plagues, and the exodus from Egypt to be historical (and there is unaccountably no historical or archaeological evidence that it actually happened), you still have to explain why God "hardened Pharaoh's heart," starting with the sixth plague, so that Pharaoh wouldn't comply with the demands of Moses.

          • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy Gritter

            "Even if we take story of Moses, the plagues, and the exodus from Egypt to be historical (and there is unaccountably no historical or archaeological evidence that it actually happened),"

            Is that the standard? If there is no archaeology or other historical documents confirming an account then we should just assume it is false? You have to know there are a ton of widely accepted documents you would need to throw out to be consistent. Any price to reject the bible I guess.

            "you still have to explain why God "hardened Pharaoh's heart," starting with the sixth plague, so that Pharaoh wouldn't comply with the demands of Moses."

            Can't say I know precisely what God was doing there. I do accept the fruitful tension between predestination and free will. The idea that God has a plan and yet we make free choices.

  • Josh

    I am a Catholic and I know what Dr. Wiker is saying, but I think the problem is that the argument from the Old Testament against God (and I'm not familiar with how Dawkins uses it) is not necessarily an argument on moral grounds. The problem it raises is that it seems contradictory for a good God and righteous people to command/commit the apparent evils done in the OT, you cannot believe in a good God who does evil. Thus, whether you think he has grounds to judge something good or evil, based on a Darwinist worldview, that does nothing to destroy the argument from the OT against the belief in a good God.

    Wiker says, "What, then, is left of Dawkins' case against the God of the Old Testament? Nothing at all." However, the objections raised remain and must be answered, and they can be. For example, Aquinas says: "it is in no way lawful to slay the innocent... [but] God is Lord of death and life, for by His decree both the sinful and the righteous die. Hence he who at God's command kills an innocent man does not sin."
    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3064.htm#article6

    Or as Jimmy Akin puts it:
    "It would seem that the point of departure for the discussion would be this: All life is a gift from God.

    Because all life is a gift from God, it is up to God to determine how much of that gift we receive. Whether he gives us a day or a century, it is his gift to give, and because it is a gift, it is not something we are owed. We therefore cannot claim that God is being unfair if he gives us one amount of this gift rather than another.

    In fact, he gives all of us an infinite amount of this gift because, once we are created, we will endure forever. After the resurrection, we will all–every one of us–have an infinite amount of physical life ahead of us. What we are discussing, therefore, is whether some of us receive an infinite amount of physical life plus a varying amount of finite physical life as well."
    http://jimmyakin.com/2007/02/hard_sayings_of.html

  • Ken Varga

    The peoples that the Israelites were commanded to destroy were ones that embraced and practiced the killing of children. God destroyed their evil cultures.

    On a related note, we are killing many of our own children on the altar of convenience and selfishness. God allows time for repentance. How much more time do we have?

    • Josh

      Exterminating entire peoples includes killing innocents, whether children, mentally disabled, etc. You comment is too simplistic.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Perhaps I'm missing something, but I don't see how this rejects Dawkins' argument. And I'm a believing Catholic. Atheists aren't saying that nature is moral. In fact they would say it's a-moral. But Christians do say that God is moral, so there is a different burden. What am I missing here?

    • Chee Chak

      Christians do say that god is moral.

      Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Christians say that god is good rather than moral. Below is something that Richard Dawkins said

      " Nature is not cruel, but is pitilessly, indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous -- indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose."

      That is a very bleak and sobering synopsis of reality for sure, especially for those who equate nature with "god". However...if there really is a creator, we can always hope that if that "entity" exists it not be malevolent or indifferent....and that "good" will prevail and that the universe will keep on unfolding as it should. A small addendum here if I may? I profess to no religion or belief in god, but am in the company of many other travelers through the journey of life and have studied and looked into the monotheistic traditions and have not yet seen any persuasive evidence that I find compelling or persuasive. I am in the camp of many agnostics and some atheists and physicists...... I just don't know.

      • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

        Well, I hope you are able to see the beauty and design of creation and find God there. I did. I was once an atheist. I can see that things might not be good or evil (people are good or evil, not events), but I do not see the lack of purpose. It seems to me that everything is working toward a purpose, though not clear to our human minds.

        • John Gonzales

          Dr. Dawkins also encourages his readers to recognize the beauty and elegance of the natural universe, but sans the invisible hand of a vainglorious cosmic contriver for whom nature is a second order backdrop to an elaborate scheme by which a tribe of warlike shepherds, arbitrarily chosen as special pets, will travail toward ownership of a plot of land in Palestine.

          • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

            Yes, but that's the best reason that proves him wrong. Such beauty doesn't get created by randomness. Beauty requires coordinating forces. It requires intelligence.

  • David Nickol

    The OP and the argument over it raise many classic questions, none of which, regrettably, the OP actually attempted to answer:

    • Is there a God?

    • Is the Bible the inspired word of God?

    • Assuming the Bible is the inspired word of God, how literally is it to be read?

    • What makes an action moral or immoral?

    • Are immoral actions immoral because God says so, or does God say immoral actions are immoral because they are immoral?

    • What does it mean to say that God is good?

    There are probably more that I am not thinking of. One of the reasons we cannot come to agreement regarding the OP is that even people who might superficially agree with each other in this thread may very well have different answers to some of the above questions than the people the seemingly agree with in this thread.

    • Mohammed Hanif

      David,

      I don't think Dr Wiker envisaged he would have to work out a full theodicy!

      I have followed your comments on the OP with interest. No one as yet seems to have adequately addressed your central concerns. I think W L Craig's defence seems to suggest that the slaughter of children can serve as a means to an end.

      May I ask how you would answer your own questions - that is if you are a Christian? For my part, I cannot see how the circle can be squared.

      Salaam,
      Hanif

      • David Nickol

        May I ask how you would answer your own questions - that is if you are a Christian? For my part, I cannot see how the circle can be squared.

        My answer would be that God did not order genocide. I think the people here are reading the biblical accounts too literally. I think when they believed something was the right thing to do, they considered it God's will. When they had military victories, they felt God was helping them. When they experienced military defeats, they thought God was punishing them.

        Additionally, as I pointed out somewhere, historians and archaeologists tend to believe the Israelites did not conquer Canaan by military force and wipe out the original inhabitants, but simply migrated there and became dominant. The story of Moses and Pharaoh has come up in the discussion, and once again I would point out that historians and archaeologists can find no traces of the exodus.

        If we accept the idea that God interacted with the Jews and various other peoples in historical times, I would suggest that he interacted with them in the same way he does today—too subtly to have his words and wishes placed in direct quotes.

        • Mohammed Hanif

          Thank you for your reply.

  • Jerry Kliner

    Dawkins sounds A LOT like the Marcion, who saw the "God of the Old Testament" in terms of the "demiurge". Just saying, the Church has dealt with this in the past and dealing with it in the present is fairly straightforward.

  • Proteios

    The fact we take Dawkins seriously is rather amusing. The man presents various straw man arguments, which he resolves in his favor in tidy fashion. Aside from creating a legion of lemmings who agree with him whether on merits or not due to their own alignment with their preconceived notions. This makes them better followers of the cult of Dawkins than most Christians I know, who struggle with eschatological questions. The atheistic lemmings of today lack intellectual depth. Freethinkers are anything but.

    • Michael Murray

      Gee thanks. That's certainly going to encourage dialogue.

      • Dominick

        Mr. Murray,

        Proteios’ initial statement is perfectly understandable. I do not follow Richard Dawkins, but judging from quotes like the one at the beginning of this article, I do not understand how any atheist can take him seriously. From this quote and excerpts from
        speeches I have heard, he comes across as rather childish; simply delighting in poking holes in things and making fun of people.

        How do statements such as the one quoted above further the
        understanding that there is no intelligent God or any spiritual realm? Is a basic assumption of this model that jealous
        petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freaks; vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleansers; misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bullies do not and cannot exist?

        A god bearing these traits may be unworthy of worship, but
        it does not follow that he is unreal. By what reasoning does Dawkins judge these traits to be objectionable in the first place?

        He just ends up coming off as a God-obsessed bigot. (My brother, who pays far more attention to him that I do, once noted that he hears as much about God in a Dawkins speech as he does in church).

        I think that if I was an atheist, fellows like Dawkins would irritate me.

        • Michael Murray

          So you haven't read his books but you want to pass judgement. Is it OK if I pass judgement on Catholicism without reading anything about it but just relying on quotes I read in the media ? This site is about moving past these cliches and trying for some mutual understanding of each others positions. Straw manning is the exact opposite of that aim. But feel free. There is a lot of it about.

          • Dominick

            It is perfectly justifiable to make judgments based on a man's public statements. They certainly don't give me any desire to look further into his material. (To be sure, many Christians do the same thing. I tend to not take them seriously, either.)
            To clarify, my statement was about taking Dawkins himself seriously. I did not intend to comment on atheism as a whole.

            But your point is well-taken. With what Dawkins books would you suggest starting?

          • Michael Murray

            With what Dawkins books would you suggest starting?

            It depends what you are looking for I guess. Certainly The God Delusion if you are interested in his thoughts on God. But before he became Arch-Athiest Number One :-) he was an excellent populariser of evolutionary science. I guess the Selfish Gene is very well known. I rather like the Ancestor's Tale.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Dominick (and Michael).

            Speaking from the perspective of someone without a background in either a scientific discipline or higher mathematics (like Michael, although Michael is not an evolutionary biologist, Prof. Dawkins' academic field of expertise) but with a general lay person's interest in science, I wanted to second Michael's endorsement of Dawkins as a brilliant popularizer of evolutionary biology.

            I've found Dawkins a lucid, compelling writer, highly imaginative, one with an infectious capacity for inducing enthusiasm and excitement for the discoveries and methods of science and possessed of the rare ability to relate principles and the discoveries in evolutionary biology over the past 150 years since the publication of "On the Origen of Species" in a manner accessible to intelligent and curious non-specialists without unduly "dumbing down" his exposition, all of which no doubt account for his occupying for more than a dozen years an endowed chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford.

            It would be nice if some commentators with actual expertise in evolutionary biology would weigh in on this (Michael: I know evolutionary biology is not your field of expertise; perhaps folks like Max Driffill, Noah Luck or Geena Safire, although I recall that Geena may have been banned at SN and I'm not sure about Noah). But until they weigh in, here are some additional thoughts for you, Dominick.

            Dawkins' first couple books, "The Selfish Gene" (1976), and "The Extended Phenotype" (1982), while nominally not addressed only to evolutionary biologists are still his most technical books and arguably the least accessible to the non-specialist audience.

            I do second Michael's recommendation of "The Ancestor's Tale" (2004), a magnum opus tour de force retracing evolutionary history through more than 3.5 billion years back to the earliest forms of eubacteria. But, at more than 600 pages of comprehensive history, that requires a real commitment.

            Two other excellent choices are "The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design" (1986) and "Climbing Mount Improbable" (1996).

            In the next tier, perhaps "Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder" (1998) and "River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life" (1995).

            Of his two most recent books, "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution" (2009) contains a more detailed presentation of the evidence accumulated upon which biologists rely when they say things like "evolution is fact" (as distinguished from various explanations/theories offered for the mechanism(s) by which evolution proceeds). (Also worth investigation in this regard, if this is an area of real interest of yours, are Jerry Coyne's "Why Evolution Is True" (2009) (Prof. Coyne is an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Chicago) and Ernst Mayr's "What Evolution Is" (2001) (Prof Mayr was an comparative zoologist at Harvard and is widely regarded as the father of of the "modern" synthesis of evolutionary biology and genetics.)

            Prof. Dawkins' most recent, "The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True" (2011) you may safely skip over, as it is written and intended for a younger audience.

            As for "The God Delusion" (2006), you have to decide for yourself whether to read it. It marks a very different Richard Dawkins from the professorial, elucidator instructing us in the intricacies and wonders of evolutionary biology in his other books I've mentioned. TGD is polemical. While prevailing wisdom accords TGD virtual gospel status with a few other works published in the last decade by the likes of Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens, its tone and style are so far different from that displayed in his writings on evolutionary biology that I personally would not recommend it as a starting point for anyone interested in working their way into Prof. Dawkins' oeuvre.

            I'd certainly put Prof. Dawkins at the top echelon of the science "popularizers" of recent decades. Other candidates would include Steven Gould (an incredibly erudite and literate polymath, with more than twenty books for non-specialists, including several full-length treatments and many compilations of his almost thirty years of monthly essays which appeared in Natural History magazine, addressing a stunning array of topics in the historical development of modern science and evolutionary biology) and E.O. Wilson, a colleague of Gould's at Harvard for decades (although Dawkins, Gould and Wilson have many areas of disagreement between them) in the realm of evolutionary biology.

            Others include Carl Sagan, in the realm of astronomy and general science writing, and Richard Feynman (probably the most accomplished from a technical scientific perspective of the bunch) and Brian Greene, in the realms of physics and cosmology.

            Unless you're a candidate for admission to Cal Tech or MIT, you may not be likely to benefit from Feynman's "Six Easy Pieces" and "Six Not So Easy Pieces," adapted from his infamous physics lectures to incoming Cal Tech freshman during 1961 and 1963. But, several other of his books, like "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out" (1999), "The Meaning Of It All" (1998) and "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" (1985) contain many delightful essays with Prof. Feynman's ruminations on science, scientific methodology, reason and rationality, and the relation between science and religion. Brian Greene's several books on cosmology are, I think, more accessible than the several "popular" books by Stephen Hawking published over the past couple decades.

            Enjoy your adventure. It's a great, mind-opening, illuminating ride!

          • Michael Murray

            Nice summary Greg. I'm also a great admirer of Gould's natural history writing. They were some wonderful essays. A great loss.

            Sadly Geena Safire is among the banned. That was awhile back with the big purge that lead to Andrew G setting up Estranged Notions. Noah was banned more recently. Max Drifill is still with us.

          • Dominick

            Great. I appreciate your responses Michael and Greg. Thank you both and take care.

  • Dave

    It is true that the God of the Hebew Scriputres does not seem to be the same God depicted in the New Testament. There is a simple explanation. The God of Abraham was inherited from the concept of deity of Mesopotamia and Canann where the gods were "Anthropomorphic". These folks worshiped a God that was invented by man in MANS image, not the God we know who made Man in HIS image. It wasn't until the "Axial Age" after the Babylon captivity that the Jews began to understand God as a transcendant omnipotent being -- thanks mainly to the hellinistic influence shortly thereafter (and therefore ready for the incarnation). As the Jews up until this time practices a form of Anthropotheism, their God had all the traits of man both bad and good which unfortunately give people like Hawkins ammuntion in their hatred of God.

    • Nick_from_Detroit

      Sorry, Dave, but you're wrong. It's the same God in both the Old & New Testaments.
      God had to deal with the people as they were after the Fall, not before. Every time He tried to show them how to take the easy path, by setting up boundaries (what most people call "the rules"), they always ended up rebelling. This is what the Old Testament Scriptures show over and over again, e.g., the books of Exodus, Judges, Kings, etc.
      The only purpose of the O.T. is to point to the promised Messiah, Who will save the people from themselves, because two thousand years of history (2,000 B.C. to A.D. 1) show that we can't do it on our own.
      God Bless!

      • Dave

        Actually Nick we do not disagree here. Of course it's the same God in the OT and the New. My point was that the authors of the OT (probably abound 400-600 BC) had a different concept of deity than the Jews of Jesus time which is the same concept we have in the NT (a God who transcends mans understanding). Anthropomorphism means that man gives to God man's traits both bad and good. Therefore, the God of Abraham's time and even up to David was a God who had vices as well as virtues -- just like the men who defined him. And because the Jews practiced anthropotheism until after the Babylon Capitivity, their scriptures relayed the same understanding of God as in man's image. Therefore, Dawkins and his ilk are given ammunition to attack our God as evil when he takes the God of the OT out of context when he knows full well that the Jewish concept of God changed when it did. (See "The Origins of Biblical Monotheeism and The Early History of God " by Mark S. Smith)

  • Peter

    "So we've rejected the God of the Old Testament for Dawkins' atheistic account of evolution, only to find out that many of the traits Dawkins marked as repugnant are ensconced in natural selection"

    Evolution by natural selection is not repugnant, nor is it indifferent. It is a form of secondary creation employed by God to create humans, sentient species who seek their Creator. To that extent it is good. Once humans arrive on the scene they have the ability to counter the negative effects of natural selection on their species.

    The evil associated with natural selection occurs only because humans either selfishly refuse to do anything or, worse still, actively engage in that evil. The evils of natural selection when applied to humans only occur because humans have chosen to allow them or even promote them.

    Evolution is not repugnant. Without it we would not be here. It is tantamount to saying that our existence is repugnant.

  • Michael Murray

    It is perhaps worth noting that Dawkin's opinion is not new or unique to him. If you read on in The God Delusion he explains:

    Those of us schooled from infancy in his ways can become desensitized to their horror. A naif blessed with the perspective of innocence has a clearer perception. Winston Churchill's son Randolph somehow contrived to remain ignorant of scripture until Evelyn Waugh and a brother officer, in a vain attempt to keep Churchill quiet when they were posted together during the war, bet him he couldn't read the entire Bible in a fortnight: 'Unhappily it has not had the result we hoped. He has never read any of it before and is hideously excited; keeps reading quotations aloud "I say I bet you didn't know this came in the Bible . . . " or merely slapping his side & chortling "God, isn't God a shit!"' Thomas Jefferson - better read - was of a similar opinion: 'The Christian God is a being of terrific character - cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.'

  • CoF89

    I just don't understand atheists, If God does not exist at all for them, against who they are fighting? A non-existent enemy? I say, if you're an atheist, thanks to God.

    • Michael Murray

      The idea of gods exists. Religion exists. What is so difficult about that ?

      • CoF89

        Where do you think those ideas came from? From nothing, like your beautiful and complex universe? LOL!
        Sorry man, but life with no God has no sense.

        • Michael Murray

          life with no God has no sense.

          Argument by personal incredulity.

        • Michael Murray

          By the way you asked for an explanation of who (what?) atheists are fighting against. I gave you one. You changed the subject. Was that because you didn't like the answer ? Let me flesh it out for you. Here are some things many atheists don't like about religion and its impact on the world. Reasons why they become activists against religions. Reasons for the whole rise of "new" atheism.

          Terrorism. Denial of women's rights as people. Denial of people's rights to control their fertility. Denial of gay peoples rights as people. Damage to the economic system by ruining science education. Creation of trauma in children over hell. Creation of guilt in people over natural sexual functions. Denial of women's right to bodily autonomy. Overpopulation. Dangerous attitudes to the global future caused by belief that imaginary God will save us. Dangerous attitudes to HIV/AIDS prevention.

          I guess you will just say LOL again. But for a lot of people these are legitimate reasons to be opposed to religion.

          Of course they aren't all reasons to fight against Catholicism. I'll let you pick the ones that are.

          • Fr.Sean

            Hi Michael,
            I don't know if you watched this http://www.strangenotions.com/barron-hitchens/ but the same frustration Fr.Barron had with Christopher Hitchens is a similar frustration i get when i read your posts at times (which is meant as a compliment)

          • Michael Murray

            If I am frustrating as Christopher Hitchens that is high praise indeed!

          • CoF89

            Another atheist blaming God for things that WE'VE MADE!

            Let me flesh it out for you why atheists have no reason to blame God.
            Terrorism? What God has to do with that? Is he that gives the order to explode buldings? Islamics follow a very weird "god", totally different from Jew-Christian God, if you study the history of this monoteistic religions you'll see whats this difference is.

            Denial of women's rights as people?? Have you ever studied the bible? his context? I think you're confusing man's opinion with God's opinion.You're totally wrong saying this kind of bullshit,

            Denial of people's rights to control their fertility. Denial of gay peoples rights as people. God's doesn's denies anything, He gives free-will for people do whatever they want, but they might suffer some consequences.

            Damage to the economic system by ruining science education.? WHAAAATTTT? Really? Galileo Galilei, René Descartes, Nicolas Copernicus, Gregor Mendel,Marie Ampère, Alessandro Volta,Leonardo da Vinci...and the list goes on. Despite of being great scientists, they were all Catholics, who were sponsored by the church. Sorry to dissapoint you...

            Creation of trauma in children over hell. Creation of guilt in people over natural sexual functions. Denial of women's right to bodily autonomy. Overpopulation. Again, you're blaming God for things that WE do wrong, God doenst denies anything, we have free-will. As we have extremists atheists that often says bullshits, we have some extremists that might say some bullshits as well,but if you wanna know the true, just study the God's word.

            Dangerous attitudes to the global future caused by belief that imaginary God will save us. Dangerous?? Try to be a better person is dangerous? Being honest, loyal to your family, do charity, help people...is this all dangerous attitudes? Once again you're totally misinformed what being a christian means, you're confunsing religion with religiosity.

            Dangerous attitudes to HIV/AIDS prevention. How do you explain thousands of christians in Africa helping people, giving up of their own life to help othres, donating money, time, medicine... The Roman catholic church that condemns using condons, cause, sex is a sacred thing to be done just after married. I don't agree 100% with that too, but, I'm pretty sure that is not the issue, people there don't use condons cause they don't have access to it, they have no knowledge about sex education, or they just dont like using it.

          • Michael Murray

            Another atheist blaming God for things that WE'VE MADE!

            Oh dear what a long post against a straw man. You could have read mine and saved yourself the trouble. I said

            Here are some things many atheists don't like about religion and its impact on the world. Reasons why they become activists against religions.

            Can you spot what is different about what I said and what you replied to ? I said religion. You said God.
            The God bit was just in your imagination. Which is we atheists have been telling you all along.

          • CoF89

            Ok then...For what you've sad, you fight against religion, not God. I understand you, sometimes people do bad things in the name of religion, or using religion as an excuse, but they can do whatever they want, we're free. If you study the history of religion, specially christianity, they've done great things (some bad too, but way more good things), specially related to science and education. The roman catholic church is the "mother" of medieval universities in europe, and a lot of libraries. The monasteries used to help people with food and shelter. the crusades ended religious sects that made human sacrifices with children. This is all history, see for yourself. What atheism have done to the world? Lets imagine a place where atheism is the official " religion", I'm picturing USSR, North Korea, China, Camboja...where more than 100million people have died by starvation, or were murdered with no reason...cause like Dostoiévski said: "If God doesn't exist, everything is allowed".

  • John Gonzales

    This just isn't a particularly thoughtful or sophisticated rebuttal to Dawkins' book. Dawkins has frequently said that while natural selection is impersonal and amoral human beings need not be. Nor does an attempt to personify natural selection in any way refute Dawkins' characterization of the god of the old testament or the morality of those depicted therein. There are so many legitimate grounds on which Dawkins might be fruitfully challenged, but this is a self-congratulatory and generally fatuous effort.

  • Andy Rhodes

    I'm an ex-Christian. I don't write this to fight with anyone. I'm honestly trying to learn and understand various points of view.

    I understand that objective morality is usually not a foundation that atheists attempt to stand on. Dawkins is calling certain sections of the Bible and Christian doctrine "evil" from the perspective of normative human rights such as is found in the multitude of related modern documents and social/legal movements.

    This article didn't attempt to explain or defend God's actions in the Old Testament, as your approach focused on an undercutting of Dawkins' moral perch he uses to judge God and religion. It was effective in pointing out how Dawkins does not have unrestricted access and power in knowing and enforcing morality. But, how can the Darwinian problem of evil (animal and human suffering because of the natural order) not be placed squarely on God's shoulders? God made all that is. Even if the Garden of Eden story is literally true, how can the entire structure of the universe be based on entropy/death/life, etc., and be simply a terribly rough consequence of Adam and Eve's sin?

    Many conservative Christians have told me something like that “the whole notion of equal innate human rights is very difficult to justify without a high view of the sanctity of human life, which you certainly don’t get from materialism”, I partly agree in that it is hard to argue for transcendent ethics without supernaturalism. But, transcendent ethics might not be necessary, especially given that modern society is far more productive, healthy and peaceful than pre-modern Christian culture was.

    The moral instinctual pattern in all known people groups does not clearly link itself to transcendent morality. Given the great variety (and many times contradictory nature) of moral systems and the fact that other types of apes and dozens of other species categories demonstrate compassionate tendencies outside their nuclear family along with behavior analogous to varying degrees to that of humanity regarding guilt, shame, pride, love, sorrow, depression, fear, dread, etc., a natural basis for morality is easily explainable apart from a transcendent source.

    During various points in modern history, when people (including those of marginalized groups) have felt free and safe enough to speak their minds about what a fair and ideal world would look like, they have most often said that they desire a society that provides opportunities for life, liberty, security and the pursuit of happiness, much like that of the type of Enlightenment humanism that supports the philosophical foundations of the Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, Declaration of Human Rights, Geneva Conventions, Unitarian Universalism and United Nations. Why isn’t that enough? If the golden rule can be generally appreciated and the avoidance of severe pain and trouble be fixed as a utilitarian goal for society, and the results of this type of morality and sociology have been working so progressively well for the past 300 years, why go back to a traditional religious worldview

  • Andy Rhodes

    Where does ultimate morality come from? Is there a higher standard by which
    we can hold God accountable for “sins” and “abuses” against the creatures of the universe? Or are all of God’s actions automatically and perfectly wise, fair and best?

    My view is that true, deep morality is contained in some combination of religious texts, humane philosophy, biological history/operation, careful evaluation of
    spiritual experience, individual conscience and what can be observed of what practices/beliefs are effective in protecting and encouraging flourishment for people and the rest of the natural world. I don’t know how much of the Bible is “God-breathed”, but I do think I know what basic morality is and how the history of spirituality and science has (imperfectly) revealed more and more to universal human consciousness.

    There is a common negative reaction that people have to multiple actions that God takes in the Bible, such as direct or indirect genocide, punishing people eternally for finite sins, misogyny, slavery, seasonal and colonial warfare, theocracy, animal sacrifice, etc. It is reasonable and unsurprising for people to respond this way. If God did not want us to confront these atrocities from an ethical standpoint, then what was the point of giving humanity a deep sense of conscience and an invitation to “come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18)?

    How and where do we get an unchanging, fixed and universal standard from
    God in the Bible? He changes many times. If the only conservative Christian answer is some type of progressive revelation, I don't accept that. Surely, it would have been very helpful for God to tell Adam and Eve immediately after the fall to not have slaves, treat women unfairly, kill entire societies because they practiced other religions and go to war so often. God apparently didn't do this in Genesis and he certainly did the very opposite in the later directions to the Jews on how to
    live.

    Recently, I spent time with a conservative Christian friend with whom I've been having these kinds of discussions in the past (she read many of my blog postings also). She decided to re-read parts of the Old Testament in response. She was appalled by much of God's inhumane attitude and actions toward His creation. It made her uncomfortable and scared to see this fact in a new light. Conservative
    Christianity typically justifies aspects of God's behavior that appear abhorent in much of the Bible by saying that God is excused due to His total perfection. Yet, God made humans with inherent dignity and for Him to so readily violate this is shocking and deplorable. Our innate sense of ethics is repeatedly jolted by the biblical God's contradictory and seemingly immoral and excessive tirades, murders and divinely inflicted natural disasters. God is unwilling, throughout the holy
    books, to give a remotely comprehensive or rational explanation of this dilemma.

    I'll share a related quote by philosopher and historian Thomas Dixon from his 2008 book, Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction (page 56):

    "We might say that God moves in a mysterious way - which certainly seems have been the case if we are to believe the many religious tales of wonders and miracles throughout the ages - but is that a good enough response? If God created us and our moral sense, then why do God's own ways of acting in the world seem to us not to meet our own standards of what is just and good?"

    In a way very similar to how I used think of this subject when I was a conservative Christian, this friend challenged my interpretation of our dialog by saying there was likely a very good reason (though rarely understood) that God didn't "dump every single bit of info he had to improve our livelihoods from day 1". She also subscribed to the "idea of God hiding large portions of himself in order that any sort of communion with Him is only possible to those who are willing to spend time and energy seeking him out". I replied that God waited from 100,000-300,000 BCE until about 3,000 BCE to begin sharing anything substantial about Himself and this information was very slow to reach the rest of humanity, especially when one considers how many moral contradictions are contained in the Bible's teachings that prevented even remotely humanistic values to be understood consistently. Only during the past two hundred years has the Christian world begun to fundamentally shed the atrocious aspects of large parts of biblical faith, such as slavery, misogyny, seasonal/colonial warfare and theocracy - and this was largely because they were forced to do so by a increasingly humanistic worldview in Western society. Surely, there were many sincere “seekers” in that incredibly long amount of time, but the message they may have heard could have repelled them - for very good and humane reasons. Meanwhile, people suffered not merely from ignorance about God's supposedly primary character attributes (love, justice, holiness, power), but also regarding the causes and solutions to disease, brutality, famine, poverty, social/ethnic/gender inequality, etc. How can this be fairly explained?

    One Christian philosopher has remarked that only 2 percent of the Earth's human population existed before Christ and so that's not as potentially negligent as God choosing to not reveal Himself in a salvific way to the human race for 100,000 years. Yet, if the estimates of total historical world population that I've seen in professional academic studies are correct, in that approximately 100 billion people have ever lived, then 2 billion people languished without revelatory assistance
    from God. That's still a very large number: 2 billion people.

    And all this doesn't include the hundreds of millions of years in which tremendous amounts of non-human animal suffering occurred because it was built into normative ecology.