David Marshall gets owned in debate so the church refuses to post video…

David Marshall gets owned in debate so the church refuses to post video… October 24, 2013

A moment of Schadenfreude: David Marshall recently debated Phil Zuckerman on the issue “What provides a better foundation for civil society: Christianity or Secular Humanism?” and Marshall apparently got creamed. The debate was recorded and the church that organized it planned to upload it. But after their guy lost, they changed their mind on that. Zuckerman asked them when they will finally keep their word and upload the video material of the debate, this is the reply he got:

“When I called pastor Bryan [Hardwick], and asked him why they are refusing to post the video — even after repeated promises of doing so — he replied, “It just didn’t go the way we wanted it to go. We were not represented well.””

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/phil-zuckerman/adventure-in-christian-in_b_4124618.html

Here is the above linked article form the Huff Po by Phil Zuckerman himself:

On a hill in Roseville, California, just outside of Sacramento, sits Adventure Christian Church. The people at this successful Evangelical congregation are nice, friendly and civil.

Well, not exactly. Nice? — yes. Friendly? — you bet. But civil? — uh, that would be a definite no.

Here’s what happened:

Last weekend, on October 12, I was invited by Adventure Christian Church to participate in a “Great Debate.” My opponent was David Marshall, a Christian author, blogger and founder/director of the Kuai Mu Institute for Christianity and World Cultures.

The question at hand: “What provides a better foundation for civil society, Christianity or Secular Humanism?” David Marshall took the Christian position, and I took the secular humanist position.

Preparation for this debate had been underway for several months. It was a very professional deal. The associate pastors as Adventure Church know what they are doing; there was a lot of paperwork filled out, waivers signed and lots of pre-debate planning in terms of the format, rules, the moderator’s role, etc.

The folks at Adventure were generous hosts: they paid for my travel expenses, asked me what kind of water I liked to drink, provided nice snacks in the green room, and paid me an appreciated honorarium. And the church itself was most impressive: state-of-the-art big screens, big lights, big cameras, big audio systems, etc.

I was repeatedly told — via e-mail, as well as in person — that not only would the debate be video’ed by their expert video team, but the video of the debate would be posted on vimeo soon after the debate.

And so we had the debate. And I won. Now, that’s not my opinion — its the opinion of Adventure Christian church, because they now refuse to post the video on-line.

Instead, what they’ve done is post a series of rebuttals to the debate — refutations and criticisms. But they won’t post the actual debate. And they’ve disabled my ability to even comment on their posted refutations.

When I called pastor Bryan, and asked him why they are refusing to post the video — even after repeated promises of doing so — he replied, “It just didn’t go the way we wanted it to go. We were not represented well.”

There is a real irony here: the debate was about civil society — and here we see an Evangelical church acting quite uncivil.

One of my points during the debate was that if “Christianity” is the foundation of civil society, then all non-Christians in such a society will essentially be second-class citizens. They will be ignored, disrespected, or blown off (at best), or actually censored, oppressed, and persecuted (at worst). Adventure Christian Church couldn’t have proven my point any better: they have censored me — air-brushed me out — because my truths are just too, well, true.

I was actually quite stunned by Adventure Church’s not keeping their word and being so cowardly. And I shared my dismay with my friends, family and students. But then, yesterday, one of my students came up to me and said, “I’m stunned that you’re so stunned.”

“What do you mean?” I replied. “They were such nice people. And they repeatedly assured me that the debate would be put up on vimeo. Now they won’t do it.”

“Clearly you don’t know a lot of Evangelicals,” she replied. “Sure, they’re very nice. But if you say anything that goes against their party line, you’re out. They can’t handle debate, they can’t handle real dialogue. It doesn’t surprise me at all that they won’t show the video.”

I think my student may have gone a bit far. I don’t think all Evangelicals are like those at Adventure. I am sure that there are many, many evangelical Christians who keep their word, are open to debate and dialogue, and have the courage of their convictions.

But, unfortunately, that wasn’t my experience at Adventure Christian Church. They are indeed afraid to air the underling truth of my position: that no civil society can thrive if it does not exist upon a bedrock of democracy, and democracy is not a Christian value — it is not articulated anywhere in the Gospels, nor is it promulgated, in any way, by Jesus or Paul. Rather, democracy is a secular humanist ideal — something dreamed up and established by and for people.

But the good pastors at Adventure Christian church would you prefer not to know that!

[UPDATE: The Church has finally given in to pressure:

Dear Friends,

Earlier this month our church hosted a debate featuring Dr. David Marshall speaking on Christianity and Dr. Phil Zuckerman, sharing his views on secular humanism.

The night was designed to provide a platform for each to debate their views on civil society. We hoped to encourage a sharing of thoughts and ideas between Christians, atheists and the surrounding community.

After the debate, I honestly thought the video posting was my choice to make, and I was floored to learn that our decision not to post it was considered by some as evidence of close-mindedness. I apologize for not posting this debate earlier, and now that we have clearly heard from both presenters, we are posting the debate.

I hope that the conversation about civility can continue and might return to the civil tone in which it began.

Shalom,

Pastor Rick Steadman

Pastor Rick Stedman

[iframe src=”http://player.vimeo.com/video/77532575″ width=”500″ height=”281″] [UPDATE 2 – From David Marshall’s own website, where he has been involved with a scuffle with Jerry Coyne and others:

“Phil didn’t win, though. I’m posting a transcript of the debate on my blog, and have nothing to be ashamed of in my arguments — they are orthodox, reasonable, accurate, and telling. 

Phil is a class act, and I appreciated his coming, and the arguments that he made. I think the facts line up strongly on the side of Christianity, and Phil is humble enough to know he did not rebut my arguments. (As I did not fully rebut his, either.) “

But this was before David saw the debate video. After that, he stated, somewhat humbly might I add (kudos):

Watching the debate myself, I now understand Adventure’s action.  Parts of my presentation were, in fact, inarticulate and fumbling, and I failed to answer several challenges clearly.  I did in fact, lose the debate on style.  I think I will hang up that set of cleats — it is not, apparently, my forte.  In that sense, I did indeed let Adventure down. 

So there you go.]


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  • labreuer

    What are your thoughts on Phil Zuckerman admitting that Christianity has done a lot of good? I was a bit surprised that he admitted so much.

    In terms of the debate topic of whether it is better to build civil society on Christianity or secular humanism, it seems trivial to show that Christians have never succeeded at founding secular society on Christianity and have it work for long periods of time. This isn’t to say it isn’t possible, but at some point you stop trying to do something if nobody else has gotten it to work. This being said, when I was listening to Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy, I was struck by the number of barbarians he says the Catholic church converted and thus ‘tamed’. Now, I’m told that Russell’s history is pretty bad, so it’s not clear how reliable this is. That being said, this would provide a possible alternative to the apparent history of Christians when they get the reins of power. Maybe it isn’t quite as bad as we sometimes make it out to be?

    • Though I lean rather more towards philosophy in general, I must say that social science and psychology offer, for me, some of the strongest, and certainly empirical, arguments against God.

      So i think it was a fascinating debate topic, but I think Phil used stats which stack up a massive siege tower of attack on the ramparts of Christianity. To me, it was a knockdown. Yes, Christianity has probably done nice things, but society hadn’t advanced enough in philosophy and science to be able to grapple with leaving God behind. We are there now.

      Now Christianity has done a lot of bad things – I am happy to be writing a chapter in Loftus’ new book. But I do also realise that people do good and bad things because they are people, and that’s kind of what people do. To tease apart causality from correlation is important. The problem for Christianity, though, is that there are doctrinal and Scriptural passages which clearly motivate Christians to do shitty things.

      Slavery: The Bible was ‘wrongly’ used to countenance slavery. But God and/or Jesus could have easily stopped that from happening with some rather explicit ‘slavery is shit’ statements.

      • labreuer

        Slavery: The Bible was ‘wrongly’ used to countenance slavery. But God and/or Jesus could have easily stopped that from happening with some rather explicit ‘slavery is shit’ statements.

        The biggest problem I see with your statement is that you’re really asking for a change in human nature. Consider: how many people believe you when you say that they ought to want X more than Y? If we argue within the domain of Emotivism, we seem stuck in Nietzschean power-plays: person A will try to inculcate a culture of not holding slaves, but person B might be fine with it and be able to amass power. Arguably, this has happened in the US in the creation of an increasingly classist society. I’ve been reading Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue on the matter and it is fascinating. We either have a collective telos upon which we all agree to the same extent, or the will of some gets imposed on the will of everyone. I argue that the latter situation can easily turn into slavery of a kind that can be forever denied by those who hold to brittle definitions of words.

        A succinct way to state the above is that the letter of the law has inherent theoretical limitations; without being used to inculcate the spirit of the law, law is much weaker. Here’s why: humans will always game the system.

        I claim that the Bible commands moral attitudes which erode the very mentality which is required to justify slavery. It pushes for the spirit of the law. This is made especially clear in the NT; see Jesus’ note that mental thought-forms precede actions (such as adultery and murder), and that if we pretend this isn’t so, moral life sits at a local maximum that is not a global maximum. Consider the following two imperatives:

        1. Thou shalt not enslave thy fellow human being.
        2. Thou shalt release all slaves of thy ‘group’ every 7th year, and all slaves regardless of group every 49th year.

        My current understanding is that your argument implies that #1 is easier to obey than #2. I find this difficult, because #2 is a lower bar than #1. So we seem to be arguing about fundamental human nature. Are you with me so far? As you might see, the American Southerners never obeyed #2, even though it is there in the Bible.

        • I see this sort of answer a lot from Christians – the sort of “too much of a paradigm shift” – that to change human understanding so quickly is somehow beyond an omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity’s powers and ken. And with the same breath, somehow they can argue that Jesus is a new paradigm-shifting Messiah setting out a new covenant in an entirely revolutionary way.

          You are arguing that pragmatics are more important than moral laws or proclamations. Just a simple ‘slavery is bad’ would do. As Phil said in that debate so well, the UN declaration of human rights craps all over parallel (or not) claims about slavery from the Bible.

          It’s weak to offer the ‘we will always game the system’ when you simply can’t game a system which categorically says, if you take part in slavery, an evil act, you will go to hell.

          But more than that, God supposedly introduced some crazy laws, like the Law of the Leper (have you read that in its entirety?) – this much palava over nonsense, and yet abject failure to outlaw the exploitation of what ends up being entire peoples.

          • labreuer

            Just a simple ‘slavery is bad’ would do.

            I contest the counterfactual for which you are arguing: “If the Bible had outright said that ‘slavery is bad’, we would be in a better place, now.” How can we test the validity of this counterfactual?

            And with the same breath, somehow they can argue that Jesus is a new paradigm-shifting Messiah setting out a new covenant in an entirely revolutionary way.

            Much changed between ancient Israel and the Roman world into which Jesus was born. Furthermore, Jesus advocated self-sacrifice, whereas before, the law was that you [largely] got what you deserved. Jesus advocated a drastic rule-change.

            It’s weak to offer the ‘we will always game the system’ when you simply can’t game a system which categorically says, if you take part in slavery, an evil act, you will go to hell.

            Do you really believe this? I agree to the extent that “or you will go to hell” has some power over people, but how powerful is that motivation? I claim that it’s very limited. There were plenty of Popes who disbelieved it, else they wouldn’t have raped [so many?] boys. I argue that if the Israelites couldn’t obey a less stringent law, they were even less likely to obey a more stringent law. This just seems to be common sense; why do you disagree?

            But more than that, God supposedly introduced some crazy laws, like the Law of the Leper (have you read that in its entirety?) – this much palava over nonsense, and yet abject failure to outlaw the exploitation of what ends up being entire peoples.

            There are two modes of evaluating a system of thought. One is to try and get it to make the best sense you can, ignoring the bits that you can’t deal with for the time being. The other is to focus almost entirely on the bad parts, making the claim that if one part is bad, it all falls down. I largely choose the former mode with the Bible, because enough of it makes sense to me. If you require me to justify every bit of the Bible which appears bad, I will be unable to do it. There are bits I just don’t understand. One possibility is that God meant the Bible to be a bit like Plato’s dialogues, where the reader is challenged to discern between right and wrong. I’m not sure. There’s enough good for me to keep running with it and chipping away at the bits I don’t yet understand. If you find this intolerable, then I think we’re at an impasse?

          • Andy_Schueler

            I argue that if the Israelites couldn’t obey a less stringent law, they were even less likely to obey amore stringent law.

            And how do you explain the parts of the law that were both very stringent and also revoltingly evil? Stoning gays for example – don´t you agree that no law at all would have been better than at least 50% of the law as set out in Leviticus?

            One is to try and get it to make the best sense you can, ignoring the bits that you can’t deal with for the time being.

            One possibility is that God meant the Bible to be a bit like Plato’s dialogues, where the reader is challenged to discern between right and wrong. I’m not sure.

            Another possibility is, that it is a collecion of dozens of books written by dozens of people with vastly different theological agendas. Some parts of the Bible sound like Bullshit because they are Bullshit, some parts sound wise because they are wise, some parts contradict others because the parts were written by people with different agendas.
            Very few atheists say that the Bible, as a whole, is useless garbage and contains no beautiful prose and no pieces of wisdom whatsoever. But there are significant parts of the Bible that are simply useless gibberish and other parts that are simply bronze age barbarism.

          • labreuer

            Long answers; my apologies. I can make them shorter if that is requested; it just means there’s likely to be more back-and-forth.

            And how do you explain the parts of the law that were both very stringent and also revoltingly evil? Stoning gays for example – don´t you agree that no law at all would have been better than at least 50% of the law as set out in Leviticus?

            Intuitively, it seems like the Israelites would have been more willing to obey the stone-gays law than a no-slave law. So I’m not sure there is [psycho]logical incoherence in that example. As to your 50% question, I largely just don’t know. Now, I am well aware that many will call me ‘monster’ for saying that. I will merely retort that I insist on having an accurate view of human nature, and that those who would call me ‘monster’ tend not to truly admit to themselves that if they had been raised in Germany or Rwanda, they would likely have participated in a genocide.

            Not only did the Israelites live in a barbaric time, but it was subsistence-based living, with frequent famines. There were more ways their society could be torn apart, compared to ours. Now, I don’t know how threatening sexually transmitted were. If they were threating enough, stoning gays might be a local maximum, and more likely to be obeyed than “be monogamous in all types of relationships”. But I don’t know this. I do have reason to believe that prisons were difficult or impossible, due to the scarcity of food. Was there a better way, given all the exigencies experienced in that time and place, exigencies from which we are far removed? I don’t know, but there is enough doubt for me to not dismiss the Bible on this basis.

            In a comment on Loftus’ blog, I noted that the bits of the Bible I can be most confident about are the ones that I can bring to bear on my experiences in life. Much of Leviticus I cannot, except in a highly theoretical way. For example, I was treated like shit by many of my peers growing up, and this gave me a different view of human nature than most. So it doesn’t surprise me, like it surprises some, that human beings are capable of the atrocities committed within the last 100 years. But beyond this theoretical level, I don’t really have specifics for how to proceed. For example, how does one convince folks in India that rape is actually a bad thing? Perhaps merely telling them is the way to do it, but I’m not convinced. What about in Libya, or Saudi Arabia? I’m not so sure. Contrast this to some folks, who think you merely need to say what is right and wrong and others will believe you. I know humans do not work that way!

            By chance, are you watching either the TV series Revolution, or Defiance? I find them interesting, as they revert us to barbaric times in a sense, and ask how people would behave. They also challenge us to think about who wins in a competition for power. We’re very used to the good guy winning, largely if not exclusively by doing unambiguously morally right actions. I like it when that idea is challenged.

            Another possibility is, that it is a collecion of dozens of books written by dozens of people with vastly different theological agendas.

            I agree, this is a possibility. I suggest I try and improve the world via the way I interpret the Bible, and you try and improve the world your own way. Call it a friendly competition. For my part, I promise not to use violence except perhaps in self-defense, or just maybe in the defense of people who are obviously being forced to sacrifice for the benefit of others who are better off than them.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Not only did the Israelites live in a barbaric time, but it was subsistence-based living, with frequent famines. There were more ways their society could be torn apart, compared to ours. Now, I don’t know how threatening sexually transmitted were. If they were threating enough, stoning gays might be a local maximum, and more likely to be obeyed than “be monogamous in all types of relationships”.

            I just quoted a small part of what you were saying, but please try the following: read what you wrote again, and while you read it, remember for every sentence you read, that you are trying to defend a revelation from a frickin GOD.
            The excuses you think of could be discussed for flawed laws that were invented by humans, but that a GOD cannot come up with anything better than that is simply ridiculous.
            A God could easily get rid of infectious diseases and homosexuality, thus eliminating this problem completely. And if he´s too lazy for that, why not saying that gays should get married and be faithful, thus reducing their STD risk factors to the same levels as those of heteros, instead of torturing them to death?

            I agree, this is a possibility. I suggest I try and improve the world via the way I interpret the Bible, and you try and improve the world your own way. Call it a friendly competition.

            That´s cool. Although what I don´t get when it comes to Christians like you – why do you insist on keeping the Bible as it is? Why not improve it? Why not kick out the ugly stuff and emphasize the good stuff? Have you ever read the Jefferson Bible?

          • This answer, Andy, reminds me of the opening and second statement of Richard Carrier in debate against David Marshall recently. The way he played this kind of imperfect revelation as the problem of evil was really powerful. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooXCaMwTGD8

          • labreuer

            The excuses you think of could be discussed for flawed laws that were invented by humans, but that a GOD cannot come up with anything better than that is simply ridiculous.

            There are two senses in which your statement could be true:

            1. God knew of better moral laws and could have communicated them accurately.
            2. Granted an inability of the Israelites’ to change on a dime—accepting the claim that people change slowly if at all—God could still have ‘pushed’ the Israelites toward better behavior more effectively than he did. The rate-limiter in the equation was not Israel’s “hardness of heart”, it was God’s unwillingness/inability/ to be smarter about how he went about things.

            Are you affirming both #1 and #2? I don’t dispute #1, but I do dispute #2. I dispute #2 on the basis that if a person can’t (won’t) live up to a lower moral standard, he/she can’t (won’t) live up to a higher one. Do you dispute this? I know it’s not a sufficient basis for rejecting #2, but I’m not going to make a complete argument in a single post. Not knowing your precise stance, things go into combinatorial explosion-land.

            A God could easily get rid of infectious diseases and homosexuality, thus eliminating this problem completely. And if he´s too lazy for that, why not saying that gays should get married and be faithful, thus reducing their STD risk factors to the same levels as those of heteros, instead of torturing them to death?

            I don’t think I have a good enough answer for you. In the event that I try, please first tell me: what if I convince you that your objections don’t hold? Will that get us anywhere, or will your beliefs have changed indiscernibly? I really don’t want to play whack-a-mole with you; it’s tedious and boring.

            By the way, I agree that God could have gotten rid of infectious diseases. Is it actually your stance that the mere existence of infectious diseases is a logical disproof of either God’s existence, or at least his moral perfection?

          • Andy_Schueler

            1. God knew of better moral laws and could have communicated them accurately.

            2. Granted an inability of the Israelites’ to change on a dime—accepting the claim that people change slowly if at all—God could still have ‘pushed’ the Israelites toward better behavior more effectively than he did. The rate-limiter in the equation was not Israel’s “hardness of heart”, it was God’s unwillingness/inability/ to be smarter about how he went about things.

            Are you affirming both #1 and #2? I don’t dispute #1, but I do dispute #2.

            I´ll add a point 3 to the list: there are laws in the Bible that didn´t “push people towards better behaviour” at all – there are laws (and not few of them) that are simply arbitrary and / or stupid and / or downright evil and thus did the exact opposite.

            I had stoning of gay already – cruel + pointless (and even if there would have been an STD problem, this could have been solved much better). Or take Leviticus 21:17-18 – how is this not a worse than useless law that accomplishes nothing beyond promoting bigotry against physically handicapped people?

            By the way, I agree that God could have gotten rid of infectious diseases. Is it actually your stance that the mere existence of infectious diseases is a logical disproof of either God’s existence, or at least his moral perfection?

            Not, sure, I have never really thought that through. I personally don´t care that much about the problem of evil (at least not about most aspects of it – the problem of divine miscommunication actually does interest me somewhat), but I think I am an outlier in this respect. The problem of evil seems to be one of the most frequent reasons for why theists start doubting their faith – for people that never actually believed in a God to begin with however, it´s not that interesting (maybe I´m wrong though – could be just my personal bias).

          • labreuer

            I´ll add a point 3 to the list: there are laws in the Bible that didn´t “push people towards better behaviour” at all – there are laws (and not few of them) that are simply arbitrary and / or stupid and / or downright evil and thus did the exact opposite.

            How do you know this? Are you arguing just based off of common sense? How well do you know the socioeconomic climate back then? I’m skeptical of typical atheist claims in this arena, because they tend to be unwilling to do the requisite research to really show that things ‘would have been better’ without a given law. Clearly we can’t know that things ‘would have been better’—such is the nature of counterfactuals—but one can do more or less work to try to demonstrate it.

            Now, consider the case in which you convince that a law in the OT was just clearly bad—there is no possible excuse for it. What would you want me to do, in light of such an event? Ought I cease my attempt to systematize, since one error/wrong bit/whatever poisons everything? Or ought I continue, given that I think I’ve been able to make sense of so much?

            Or take Leviticus 21:17-18 – how is this not a worse than useless law that accomplishes nothing beyond promoting bigotry against physically handicapped people?

            I don’t know.

            Not, sure, I have never really thought that through. I personally don´t care much about the problem of evil, but I think I am an outlier in this respect. The problem of evil seems to be one of the most frequent reasons for why theists start doubting their faith – for people that never actually believed in a God to begin with however, it´s not that interesting (maybe I´m wrong though – could be just my personal bias).

            This was the error made by people when it came to the logical problem of evil: the argument looked good enough. That is, until Plantinga came by and blew it out of the water by showing that not only did they not have a valid logical argument (it was missing a necessary premise), but there was a plausible premise which obliterates any hope of it being logically sound.

            The same error, I claim, is made when people talk about what God would do, if he were to exist. People just make shit up. And this is what really irks me: people tend to do this while simultaneously not caring as much as their argument says they should care, about those who are less fortunate than they. I think God wants us to believe in ‘the good’ because we are convinced of it, not because we fear him or are mind-controlled by him. And guess what: the prevalence of ‘bad’ in the world is largely traceable to people who would rather have what they have, than sacrifice in order to make things better. This is blindingly clear in the modern world, where we could feed everyone. The problem of evil is that not enough people truly believe it is a problem, or at least they’re too selfish, cowardly, and lazy to do something sufficient about it!

            Now, the above sentiment can likely be grounded in something other than “I think God wants”. I challenge others to ground their arguments in something else, convince others of their viewpoint, and go and try and make the world a better place. If they can do it better than I, I’ll likely cede the point to them and dispose of my faith!

          • Andy_Schueler

            How do you know this? Are you arguing just based off of common sense? How well do you know the socioeconomic climate back then?

            Please explain how any socioeconomic climate (I don´t care if it´s historically plausible, make up whatever you want) could turn Leviticus 21:17-18 from “stupid bigotry” to “push towards the better”?
            I don´t deny that there are grey zones, but some things actually are just black and white.

            Now, consider the case in which you convince that a law in the OT was just clearly bad—there is no possible excuse for it. What would you want me to do, in light of such an event? Ought I cease my attempt to systematize, since one error/wrong bit/whatever poisons everything?

            Do whatever you want with it. I just don´t understand why you make your life so hard by defending the Bible per se, which then includes plenty of BS that is indefensible, instead of just kicking out the BS and keeping the good parts. I honestly don´t understand why progressive Christians don´t do that.

            And guess what: the prevalence of ‘bad’ in the world is largely traceable to people who would rather have what they have, than sacrifice in order to make things better. This is blindingly clear in the modern world, where we could feed everyone. The problem of evil is that not enough people truly believe it is a problem, or at least they’re too selfish, cowardly, and lazy to do something sufficient about it!

            I strongly disagree with that. There are many good things that a majority or even an overwhelming majority of people would agree with, but that cannot be easily put into practice because of all kinds of inertia.
            Take the war on drugs for example – I don´t believe for a second that a majority of politicians are stupid enough to honestly believe that the war on drugs is a good thing, and I don´t believe that you could not easily convince a majority of voters that the war on drugs is maximally counterproductive and downright evil. But it can´t be stopped overnight because it has become so entrenched in the system that there are dozens of side-problems that all have to be tackled simultaneously if you want to make things better. That´s just one example. The world has become ridiculously complicated and sometimes you just don´t know what to do even if you´d like to do the right thing.

          • o whatever you want with it. I just don´t understand why you make your life so hard by defending the Bible per se, which then includes plenty of BS that is indefensible, instead of just kicking out the BS and keeping the good parts. I honestly don´t understand why progressive Christians don´t do that.

            Amen brother. It amazes me consistently. The OT, to me, is insane. It is sooo difficult (impossible and incoherent) to defend. But then so would any ancient parochial text based on the minds of contemporary people, like the CH etc etc. It’s what we would expect if we treated it, like we should, as we would any other similar comparative book or tablet. When you have the flood stolen from the Epic of Gilgamesh, verbatim in parts, Moses’ birth from Sargon of Akkad and so on, then this is precisely what we would expect. None of these evidences is what we would expect from the one true God. Thus to make the one true God thesis even remotely work, one must jump through hoops as we see here. But even that does not make it plausible or probable.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Yeah…
            I really do wonder how proto-orthodox christians tried to refute Marcion´s views in the early days of christianity. The central tenet of his views, that the OT deity and the teachings of Jesus are simply incompatible in many instances, just seems to be so obviously true.

          • labreuer

            I must again apologize for the length of this post. I do learn to state ideas more succinctly, but it’s hard for me to do it without first having some back-and-forth with someone who has a good critical eye. :-/

            Please explain how any socioeconomic climate (I don´t care if it´s historically plausible, make up whatever you want) could turn Leviticus 21:17-18 from “stupid bigotry” to “push towards the better”?

            When I said “I don’t know”, I meant that I really don’t know. If you’re going to demand a plausible mechanism, I will be unable to satisfy it.

            I don´t deny that there are grey zones, but some things actually are just black and white.

            And if you drop a frog in boiling water he will hop out and go his merry way. I already noted that Leviticus has the Golden Rule, applied not just to one’s neighbor but also to the foreigner. So there is a tad of boiling water. At least it’s a bit warm.

            I just don´t understand why you make your life so hard by defending the Bible per se, which then includes plenty of BS that is indefensible, instead of just kicking out the BS and keeping the good parts. I honestly don´t understand why progressive Christians don´t do that.

            The Americans I run into these days have this apparent need to believe that humans aren’t so bad. The Nazis and participatory Hutus were just under bad influences from a few rotten apples. I find this attitude utterly appalling. This is a case of not acknowledging what is—no need to delve into ougth, as is my wont. It’s scary to believe that I could be capable of atrocities. So instead of understanding what it is that leads to Hitlerland, instead of understanding what it is that allows a few bad apples to spoil the whole bunch, we bury our heads in the sand.

            There’s a funny cognitive dissonance that goes with the above. Many of the same Americans believe that ‘people don’t change’. This seems to admit that it is very hard for, e.g., a racist to become not-racist. Actually, maybe this isn’t a cognitive dissonance, for what is really the case—in my educated opinion—is that many people are extraordinary malleable, at least in certain ways. See the Milgram experiment, and especially the falsified predictions in the Results section. Or check out The Third Wave and the Stanford prison experiment.

            What this indicates to me is that we really ought to examine our idea of what humans are like. The Old Testament does this for me; trying to find reasons for why the laws given were reasonable in their time prods me in this direction. I will happily admit that a law could not have been appropriate if someone makes the best possible case for it, replete with archaeological evidence, psychological evidence, knowledge of contemporary cultures, etc. Why do I set the bar so high? Because I am more sure on the slavery issue: that people just do not understand how much of slavery is a mental mindset and not just a behavior. Have you checked out the website How many slaves work for you??

            There are many good things that a majority or even an overwhelming majority of people would agree with, but that cannot be easily put into practice because of all kinds of inertia.

            I do not disagree that there exists “all kinds of inertia”. Where we might disagree is that I think that the only way to fight this inertia is for people to sacrifice of themselves with no guarantee that the sacrifice will have been worth it. I think more people have to care more to fight the ills that we see. Sadly, I don’t think enough people care enough—at least not in America.

            But it can´t be stopped overnight because it has become so entrenched in the system that there are dozens of side-problems that all have to be tackled simultaneously

            I agree with this as well. Much of the ‘badness’ has been institutionalized and delocalized—it’s hard to point to a specific person and blame him/her. This is why we must follow the example of Nehemiah and repent on behalf of not just ourselves, but our society and those who went before us. We must admit that we have adopted evil attitudes and thought-forms and rid ourselves of them. We must believe Jesus when he says that lustful thoughts/looks [statistically] lead to adultery (and I’d argue, rape), and hate turns to murder. But so many people refuse to believe this. And this is just is, not ought!

            The world has become ridiculously complicated and sometimes you just don´t know what to do even if you´d like to do the right thing.

            Welcome to one of my life projects. The first step, though, is ironically not-stereotypically-Christian: understand what is. Understand what human nature is truly like. Believe that I, labreuer, can be a terrible person unless I actively establish beliefs which could withstand the pressure of the mob. I’m looking for folks to join me on this project, but I might be a bit too weird/believe the wrong things for you to be at all interested. :-/

          • But all that said and done, you are essentially asserting that it necessarily takes 2,000 odd years to approach a decent moral state of affairs which was primarily a result of secular movements and the Enlightenment.

            Of course, if God IS omni (and the many posts and podcast segments I do on the incoherence of that idea aside), then his choices are perfect. So in some measure, this 2,000 years of moral fumbling through very bizarre and incremental murky revelation is the most perfect choice of revelation. It couldn’t be done better. God’s plan was to have people be enslaved for 2,000 years rather than simply declare “Er, no, don’t do that!”

            Remember, compensation does not equal moral justification, so you can’t pull the “it’s ok, it all gets evened out in heaven” ploy, if you were tempted.

            This is about the here and now, and to the outsider, it all looks rather implausible. If the UN can do a better moral job of revelation than God, then I’ll stick with secular institutions methinks.

          • labreuer

            But all that said and done, you are essentially asserting that it necessarily takes 2,000 odd years to approach a decent moral state of affairs which was primarily a result of secular movements and the Enlightenment.

            Because I believe in libertarian free will, I will not assent to your ‘necessarily’. This is how things turned out. People are really dumb and won’t accept when the evidence disproves their beliefs; what can I say? (Compare this to my Philosophy.SE question, Ought we only form beliefs based on sufficient empirical evidence?)

            Are you saying that the Enlightenment made little use of the cultural inertia provided it by the Roman Catholic Church and Christianity in general? I’d be skeptical of such a claim. Have you by chance read Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue?

            Remember, compensation does not equal moral justification, so you can’t pull the “it’s ok, it all gets evened out in heaven” ploy, if you were tempted.

            I’ve never really bought that. The only place I really use ‘heaven’ is in terms of those who self-sacrifice with no guarantee their sacrifice will be worth it. These people may have to believe in heaven to self-justify their actions. But this is highly theoretical; I’ve not been in a position where I had to self-justify this way. Maybe that makes me a bad Christian? Maybe I’m not risking enough to try and bless the world?

            This is about the here and now, and to the outsider, it all looks rather implausible. If the UN can do a better moral job of revelation than God, then I’ll stick with secular institutions methinks.

            Wait a second, to what extent did the UN codify ideas that already existed, and to what extend did the authors of the relevant bits come up with the ideas out of the blue? Furthermore, what kind of cause & effect relationships can we draw from said UN documents? These are crucial questions!

          • But God knew this in advance! Unless you are a process/open theist, these events appear to be set in stone. Otherwise prophecy doesn’t really work.

            Wait a second, to what extent did the UN codify ideas that already existed, and to what extend did the authors of the relevant bits come up with the ideas out of the blue?

            The same can be said for Mosaic Law or any other claim int eh Bible which utterly undercuts the claim to moral value from God, as if these diktats were not existent anywhere else. This is half the point of this conversation. These ideas did exist, and often better; and these ideas seem not to be the optimal moral revelatory decrees.

          • labreuer

            But God knew this in advance! Unless you are a process/open theist, these events appear to be set in stone. Otherwise prophecy doesn’t really work.

            I think your claim here is equivalent to the following thought experiment. Let’s say there’s a giant knob that has infinitely many detents, which God can turn to vary the kind of world he’s going to create. Does that mean that he can pick a world with truly morally free beings, who will do exactly what he wants? More specifically, can he first simulate such a world, and then reify it? Before I continue, does this make sense as a development of your point?

            With regard to prophecy, there are two options you aren’t recognizing:

            1. Inability to predict every detail doesn’t mean you cannot predict quite a lot.
            2. If God is interventionist, he doesn’t have to ‘let’ his prophecies be fulfilled, he can ensure they are. (Yeah, I see this as cheating, but hey.)

            The same can be said for Mosaic Law or any other claim int eh Bible which utterly undercuts the claim to moral value from God, as if these diktats were not existent anywhere else. This is half the point of this conversation. These ideas did exist, and often better; and these ideas seem not to be the optimal moral revelatory decrees.

            How do you measure ‘optimal’? That is the crux of the conversation from my point of view. :-)

          • I wouldn’t go down this slippery rabbit hole since God would not even create, and if he did would create either just a heaven, non-corporeal entities, or worse, but better than reality still, photosynthetic entities.

            See my talk on these types of arguments:

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tippling/2013/08/01/the-case-for-god-on-trial/

            So when you appeal to what God WOULD create, I don’t even think he would. At all.

          • labreuer

            I wouldn’t go down this slippery rabbit hole since God would not even create, and if he did would create either just a heaven, non-corporeal entities, or worse, but better than reality still, photosynthetic entities.

            Heh, I ran across the ‘mental entities’ and ‘photosynthetic humans’ bit on the evidential problem of evil post. It’s not clear that mental entities would not suffer. God is said to suffer in the Bible, so Christian theology at least objects to this claim. I recall reading a book (perhaps?) which had Freud complaining that mental suffering can exceed physical suffering by something like 100x.

            Let’s posit that suffering comes from some kind of objective wrongness. Are you arguing that an ideal world would have zero wrongness? That seems like it might be difficult, as the route to perfection seems to involve imperfection. I guess I’m channeling a bit of Augustine’s Privation Theory of Evil, here. If you’re tracking with me, would you reject the idea that getting to perfection requires going through imperfection?

            When you start positing things like ‘photosynthetic entities’ which aren’t plants, I wonder if you start wondering into not-fully-rationally-understandable territory. Here’s what I mean: you and I value rationality very highly. We love to understand things. I can imagine that God could have created a less sensible world that didn’t hurt as much. If you had a choice between more understanding or less suffering, which would you choose? (‘Both’ is an acceptable answer, in that one doesn’t always trump the other.)

            Where I’m really going here is to say that pain/suffering indicate that ‘something is wrong’. Not all things that are wrong are terrible; if I say something to my wife and she misunderstands it in a hurtful way, but lets me know with a facial expression in 500ms, I can correct myself within say 10s, such that the total amount of suffering was minimal. It’s not even clear that calling such miscommunication ‘suffering’ is a good idea. Anyhow, does it make sense for suffering/pain to increase in intensity until we recognize, “Hey, something really is wrong!” Or perhaps the ideal reality would prevent any and all ‘wrong’ states of being?

            See my talk on these types of arguments. So when you appeal to what God WOULD create, I don’t even think he would. At all.

            Oof, I’m not sure I want to take the time to watch very many 90m videos. I’ve already trod a lot of this territory; video format makes it quite hard to skip to the new/interesting stuff. I’m kind of a voracious reader, if you haven’t noticed. Videos are sometimes awesome, but lots of time slowwwwwww… It’s also difficult to properly criticize them; I like responding to quotations, and for me that means lots of re-winding to make sure I got the statement correct.

          • Andy_Schueler

            And if you drop a frog in boiling water he will hop out and go his merry way. I already noted that Leviticus has the Golden Rule, applied not just to one’s neighbor but also to the foreigner. So there is a tad of boiling water. At least it’s a bit warm.

            I think we misunderstood each other here. What I meant was not that whether the OT is BS or not is a black and white case, what I meant was, that there are shades of grey for some things in the OT while others are black and white cases. Leviticus 21:17-18 would be an example for a black and white case IMO.

            The Nazis andparticipatory Hutus were just under bad influences from a few rotten apples. I find this attitude utterly appalling. This is a case of not acknowledging what is—no need to delve into ougth, as is my wont. It’s scary to believe that I could be capable of atrocities.

            Oh yeah, that´s indeed scary. And since I am german, and spoke to several people who lived in the third reich, I tried to imagine several times what it would have been like to grow up in Nazi germany. To experience the propaganda 24 / 7, be part of the Hitlerjugend and eventually be drafted into the Wehrmacht. Would I have been different? I can´t be sure, those experiences would be so radically different from anything I actually experienced that it is very hard to imagine what would have happened. It seems to be undeniably true that most of us would be capable of commiting atrocities under the right conditions.

            Truth / propaganda is key here IMO. Such atrocities on such a massive scale require lies and a lot of people that believe those lies. Had the germans not believed that the Jews were subhuman monsters that were incorrigibly wicked and hat to be stopped before they ruin the world – I´m positively certain that the holocaust could not have happened as it did happen. And the same is true for other atrocities, you can even go back to the bronze age – look how conservative christian apologists (e.g. Paul Copan) “justify” the genocides described in the OT, it´s almost the exact same reasoning that the Nazis used. It´s classical ingroup / outgroup thinking carried to absurd extremes – the outgroup is not only strange and to be feared, it´s the biggest threat in the world and has to be stopped at all costs. You see this also on a much smaller scale with everyday racism. Many studies showed that people get less racist if they live in mixed neighborhoods and are thus forced to interact with other ethnic groups – and these interactions show them that their prejudices were unfounded. If people have accurate information about the world, it makes it a better place for all of us IMO.

            What this indicates to me is that we really ought to examine our idea of what humans are like. The Old Testament does this for me; trying to find reasons for why the laws given were reasonablein their time prods me in this direction.

            There is a simple and plausible alternative. Some laws were never reasonable, they only appeared to be reasonable to a bronze age barbarian because he didn´t and couldn´t know any better.

            I do not disagree that there exists “all kinds of inertia”. Where we might disagree is that I think that the only way to fight this inertia is for people to sacrifice of themselves with no guarantee that the sacrifice will have been worth it.

            No, I´d actually mostly agree with this. A problem though seems to be, that the people which would be willing to do that are usually not at all interested to go into politics – and that´s were such a “sacrifice” could accomplish the most.

            We must believe Jesus when he says that lustful thoughts/looks [statistically] lead to adultery (and I’d argue, rape), and hate turns to murder. But so many people refuse to believe this. And this is just is, not ought!

            Lust leads to adultery and rape?? Oh boy… Lets just agree to disagree here.
            Re hate, no disagreement in principle – Jesus is hardly the only one who figured that out though.

          • labreuer

            Leviticus 21:17-18 would be an example for a black and white case IMO.

            Ahh, I see. Well, you might be right. Lev 21:17-18 is an outlier for me, too. Although, here’s an interesting thought. I sometimes run into atheists who do not want to allow people with ‘deformed thoughts’ into their presence. That pattern-matches onto Lev 21:17-18 a little too strongly for me to utterly ignore. I’m not sure what else to say about it now, but thanks for bringing that passage up. If I run across people applying that idea in thought-land, I’ll now be more likely to see it.

            It seems to be undeniably true that most of us would be capable of commiting atrocities under the right conditions.

            Yep. So how can we fight this tendency? What beliefs, if adopted and held strongly, will best fight his? But wait, such beliefs are not about what is, so how can they be ‘reasonably believed’? This is a serious question; if I were to ask articulett, I would expect no good answer, but I hold you to much higher expectations. :-p

            If people have accurate information about the world, it makes it a better place for all of us IMO.

            I have no disagreement, here. That’s why I said that I’d love to see psychologists comment on the various bits of the Bible and what it alleges about human nature.

            There is a simple and plausible alternative. Some laws were never reasonable, they only appeared to be reasonable to a bronze age barbarian because he didn´t and couldn´t know any better.

            I guess that’s an ‘alternative’, but I find a statement such as yours to be way too simplistic. Now, perhaps you just didn’t elaborate when you could have, so let’s pretend that some naive person (not you) says it. I envision such a person as not really doing a proper simulation of what a ‘bronze age barbarian’ would be thinking. I think such a person would deny that he/she could have taken part in the Holocaust. I think that “he didn’t and couldn’t know any better” is, as-stated, a just-so story with zero—ZERO—predictive power. I hold out hope that the Bible, on the other hand, provides predictive power. But maybe it doesn’t. More experimentation needed, with extra carefulness needed to mitigate against confirmation bias. Although, the best way to mitigate confirmation bias is to expose people who think oppositely to you, to your ideas. :-)

            No, I´d actually mostly agree with this. A problem though seems to be, that the people which would be willing to do that are usually not at all interested to go into politics – and that´s were such a “sacrifice” could accomplish the most.

            Ahh, we do seem to be on the same track here. I agree. Fun fact: I know someone who met with Mitt Romney during the primaries, and found out that he really didn’t stand for much(!) Maybe this isn’t surprising, but it’s always different when someone whose judgment you trust makes such an analysis, vs. some pundit or random person saying that politician X doesn’t stand up for anything.

            Now, how can science help us out, here? It won’t provide ‘feet on the ground’, but surely it has something to say about how to get into politics but not make it suck so much? It is on this very topic that I see science being used so little! But perhaps I’m not looking in the right places.

            Lust leads to adultery and rape??

            I said ‘[statistically]’ very intentionally. But let’s grant what you’ve said: how much do you know about the thought-forms and beliefs which lead to people thinking adultery and rape are alright things to do? Even if ‘lustful thoughts’ don’t qualify, surely you think something does, and that these behaviors don’t just erupt out of the blue? On the other hand, I guess mere lack of intention might suffice; most drunk drivers who kill people don’t intend to, they merely are culpably grossly negligent.

          • Andy_Schueler

            I sometimes run into atheists who do not want to allow people with ‘deformed thoughts’ into their presence.

            What does that mean?

            Yep. So how can we fight this tendency? What beliefs, if adopted and held strongly, will best fight his? But wait, such beliefs are not about what is, so how can they be ‘reasonably believed’?

            Actually, I think to prevent atrocities, beliefs regarding what is are more important than their beliefs regarding what ought to be. Because we already agree on most of the oughts anyway. Think about any totalitarian regime and try to imagine what happens if you take away the power of the state to censor and manipulate the access to information. Would the holocaust have been possible without propaganda + censorship? I honestly don´t think it could have happened without an effective system of getting people to believe lies. If you believe that it is wrong to kill innocent people, especially children (an ought-belief), but also believe all of the Nazi propaganda (a set of is-beliefs), then you won´t see much of a problem with killing jews. Because you won´t believe that they are “innocent”, they are not even “people”… And if you don´t kill them, your family is in danger because the jews conspired to take over the world and are “out to get you”, so it becomes almost a necessity to kill them in order to protect your family.

            Now, how can science help us out, here? It won’t provide ‘feet on the ground’, but surely it has something to say about how to get into politics but not make it suck so much?

            To some degree, this seems almost unsolvable, at least not solvable based on the way our democracies work at the moment – because the people that you want in power are not interested in having this kind of power over others ;-).

            I said ‘[statistically]’ very intentionally. But let’s grant what you’ve said: how much do you know about the thought-forms and beliefs which lead to people thinking adultery and rape are alright things to do? Even if ‘lustful thoughts’ don’t qualify, surely you think something does, and that these behaviors don’t just erupt out of the blue?

            I don´t believe for a second that the difference between rapists and non-rapists is lust or lustful thoughts. Rapists are either sadists or people who only care about their own gratification and don´t care if they have to hurt others to obtain it (usually the latter).
            I see no reason whatsoever to believe that lust or lustful thoughts are bad in any way – desperately trying to suppress or fight them however is certainly bad, because it achieves the exact opposite of what you want to achieve, you start being obsessive about the issue. Stephen Fry phrased it well:
            “We like it [=sex], it’s fun, it’s jolly; because it’s a primary impulse it can be dangerous and dark and difficult. It’s a bit like food in that
            respect, only even more exciting. The only people who are obsessed with food are anorexics and the morbidly obese, and that in erotic terms is the Catholic church in a nutshell.”

          • labreuer

            What does that mean?

            Just take a look at articulett’s method of posting. I’m clearly deformed mentally in her sight, so deformed that she freely admits to using me as a means to an end. I don’t want to sound all hurt and crap so I’ll stop here. I’m not even sure that’s the best example of what I meant to discuss. The pattern is just compelling in some way…

            Because we already agree on most of the oughts anyway.

            Do we? I don’t think experiments such as Milgram, Stanford Prison, and Third Wave bear out what you claim. Indeed, they seem to oppose it quite strongly?

            Think about any totalitarian regime and try to imagine what happens if you take away the power of the state to censor and manipulate the access to information.

            I’m thinking of America as it is now, and where it stands with regard to what you’ve said. I’m at a bit of a loss. Many Americans don’t believe in objective facts. Most people think that making your opponent out to be a dick is an awesome way to behave. Money is extremely powerful in politics. It just doesn’t seem even close to the situation you’re describing.

            Would the holocaust have been possible without propaganda + censorship?

            I’m not sure; I’m not an expert on genocides. It certainly appears that the US had the knowledge of the Rwandan Genocide and did nothing to stop it when it could have. So we perhaps need to talk about precedence of oughts, and/or ‘how much sacrifice are they worth’ (value theory?).

            If you believe that it is wrong to kill innocent people, especially children

            Here’s where I struggle: there is slavery and child labor going on in the world—not murder for the most part—and some (more than some?) of the consumer goods in America come from this. So I question what people really believe in terms of whether it’s ok to take advantage of such people and how much advantage we ought to be allowed to take. I recognize the issue is a bit thorny in its details, but the fact that we are (on average) awfully lethargic about such things really bothers me. China is our biggest trading partner and we don’t care enough about its human rights abuses to hinder our economic trade with them in any meaningful way I’ve heard about. So I question a lot of this alleged moral belief. I’m skeptical.

            To some degree, this seems almost unsolvable, at least not solvable based on the way our democracies work at the moment – because the people that you want in power are not interested in having this kind of power over others ;-).

            Who was the first person to say that this is the best kind of person to have in power? Well, I’d argue that we ought to distribute power as evenly among people as they can handle. But I might be a bit odd in thinking this. Some significant fraction of people who participate in debates like these fancy themselves as philosopher kings who are up to the noble task of leading people who just aren’t intellectually up to snuff. (I’m not thinking of anyone on this blog btw.)

            I don´t believe for a second that the difference between rapists and non-rapists is lust or lustful thoughts.

            I didn’t say that lustful thoughts were a sufficient condition. But if I’m not idealizing how awesome it would be to have sex with another person, might I be less likely to… end up having sex with that person? Now, I might need to recant a bit, because I just recalled that a good deal of rape is about power. The actual sex bit might be largely irrelevant for some portion of rape. But I hold to my point that the ideas that you allow to rumble around in your head are very important in predicting what actions you are liable to commit. Actions don’t pop out of nowhere.

            I see no reason whatsoever to believe that lust or lustful thoughts are bad in any way – desperately trying to suppress or fight them however is certainly bad, because it achieves the exact opposite of what you want to achieve, you start being obsessive about the issue.

            Entertaining lustful thoughts is bad if they set up lies in your head about how awesome it would be to have sex with the person. In terms of suppressing, I agree—they must be replaced. At least the Puritans knew about the importance of this; I’m not sure how far back that knowledge goes.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Do we? I don’t think experiments such as Milgram, Stanford Prison, and Third Wave bear out what you claim. Indeed, they seem to oppose it quite strongly?

            Not sure about that. For the Milgram experiment, the subjects realized that what they did was wrong but were not strong enough to resist the orders from authority figures (i.e. – “oughts” were not the problem here, rather a lack of confidence and too much trust in real or perceived authorities). Re Stanford prison, I don´t know how much can be inferred from that really, I only know the info in the wiki article about it and I´ve seen a movie about it once – I find this criticism directed at the experiment very plausible:
            “Also, it has been argued that selection bias may have played a role in the results. Researchers from Western Kentucky University (Thomas J. Carnahan, PhD and Sam McFarland, PhD) recruited students for a study using an advertisement similar to the one
            used in the Stanford Prison Experiment, with some ads saying “a
            psychological study” (the control group), and some with the words
            “prison life” as originally worded in Dr. Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison
            Experiment. It was found that students who responded to the classified advertisement for the “prison study” were higher in traits such as social dominance, aggression, authoritarianism, etc. and were lower in traits related to empathy and altruism when statistically compared to the control group participants.”

            => a selection bias for people that are dicks would explain a lot. Not only for the Stanford prison, but also for many other things (e.g. investment banking – you have to be pretty much a complete sociopath to be successful as an investment banker).

            I’m thinking of America as it is now, and where it stands with regard to what you’ve said. I’m at a bit of a loss. Many Americans don’t believe in objective facts.

            I doubt that. I don´t think that the tea party for example doesn´t believe in facts – they just rely 100% on propaganda outlets who tell them that they should never trust the “liberal media” (i.e. EVERYTHING else). I tried the experiment of commenting on some right-wing websites (like the WorldNutDaily or Breitbart.com) just to see how those people tick – and they certainly do believe in “facts”. They just get their “facts” only from their trusted propaganda outlets and everything else must be wrong by definition because it was written by radical stalinist-fascist-nazi-socialist-maoist-communist-hitler-nazis. Propaganda works. Whether it´s the Nazis or the Koch brothers – it works.

            I’m not sure; I’m not an expert on genocides. It certainly appears that the US had the knowledge of the Rwandan Genocide and did nothing to stop it when it could have. So we perhaps need to talk about precedence of oughts, and/or ‘how much sacrifice are they worth’ (value theory?).

            I was talking about the people that commit genocides and other atrocities, not about those that could / should intervene. Intervening or not is IMO a much, much, much more complicated question – because you can make it worse, and even if you don´t, it´s hard to know how much it will actually cost you to intervene.

            Here’s where I struggle: there is slavery and child labor going on in the world—not murder for the most part—and some (more than some?) of the consumer goods in America come from this. So I question what people really believe in terms of whether it’s ok to take advantage of such people and how much advantage we ought to be allowed to take. I recognize the issue is a bit thorny in its details, but the fact that we are (on average) awfully lethargic about such things really bothers me.

            We already got much better in this respect than we used to be. The suffering of people that are not in our ingroup doesn´t affect us as much as the suffering of people that are. Even if we realize on a rational level that we shouldn´t think like that – it´s biology.
            But we have improved a lot and I think that TV deserves some of the credit for that. Think about recent catastrophes like the earthquake in Haiti, the number of volunteers that want to help out and the number of people that donate money to help the people that were affected is much, much higher than it used to be. And I think that this is partly because we don´t just read about it. Seeing some numbers and statistics etc., does not even come close to triggering feelings of compassion and an urge to help, as seeing the actual misery does. It also requires a certain degree of privilege to even be able to care about such things – if you are poor and have to work your ass off to provide for your family, the problems of people in the rest of the world, no matter how severe they are, will not bother you much, they will not even be on your radar. And the USA has a poverty problem, not a small one…

            Well, I’d argue that we ought to distribute power as evenly among people as they can handle.

            There are ideas along that line, see for example:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delegative_democracy
            – but implementing such things is a completely different matter. For the USA, it would already be significant progress to have 2-3 more political parties, because the two party system that it does have is little more than a bad joke.

            Entertaining lustful thoughts is bad if they set up lies in your head
            about how awesome it would be to have sex with the person[1]. In terms of
            suppressing, I agree—they must be replaced[2].

            1. I don´t see why.
            2. That sounds like a recipe for disaster. I can´t speak from personal experience here because I never was a christian (well, nominally I was (in germany, you usually become an official member of one of state-recognized churches as an infant), but I never believed any of that stuff) – but I´ve seen more than enough former christians who suffered terribly from this pressure of suppressing / replacing “unclean” thoughts.

          • labreuer

            Not sure about that. For the Milgram experiment, the subjects realized that what they did was wrong but were not strong enough to resist the orders from authority figures (i.e. – “oughts” were not the problem here, rather a lack of confidence and too much trust in real or perceived authorities).

            Au contraire, the problem IMHO was that the subjects were not strong enough themselves to resist the evil authorities. Their sense of ‘good’ or whatever you want to call it left them still-vulnerable to someone else telling them to do a terrible thing. It seems that your solution is ‘better authorities’, while mine is ‘better everyone’. Would that be an accurate analysis?

            => a selection bias for people that are dicks would explain a lot. Not only for the Stanford prison, but also for many other things (e.g. investment banking – you have to be pretty much a complete sociopath to be successful as an investment banker).

            Does this really matter? On the one hand you criticize for selection bias and on the other hand you admit that society allows for selection bias to concentrate dicks and cause stuff like the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Here again we have the question of whether we simply need ‘better authorities’ (better police), or better people, all around.

            I got a whiff of being on the other side of apologetics when reading what you’ve said, here. :-| Perhaps I’ve mischaracterized your reliance on authorities, but do you realize that passages like Mt 20:20-28 explicitly militate against ‘authorities’ as anything other than a temporary (e.g. parents being over kids) solution?

            and they certainly do believe in “facts”. They just get their “facts” only from their trusted propaganda outlets and everything else must be wrong by definition

            This is what I meant when I said they don’t believe in ‘facts’; sorry for the confusion. There’s believing what you’re told, and there’s trying to figure out what’s really going on.

            I was talking about the people that commit genocides and other atrocities, not about those that could / should intervene. Intervening or not is IMO a much, much, much more complicated question – because you can make it worse, and even if you don´t, it´s hard to know how much it will actually cost you to intervene.

            Hmmm, ok. Then I’d say the Holocaust would have been much less likely without propaganda + censorship. I’m not sure this restriction (to those who committed them) is valid, though. There is a problem with humanity such that it did not intervene sooner in the Holocaust and Rwandan Genocide. If you’re trying to say that we just shouldn’t allow cencorship and propaganda, it’s not clear that is a tenable route. It may be that if we want evil to be less (if we want to be a solution to the problem of evil), we must be willing to make the requisite sacrifices.

            This genocide topic is important, because it really digs into what humans are made of. It’s one thing to make a toy model of humans which says they can do this (you’ve not made much model at all so this isn’t a criticism of your position), and it’s another to make a model that lets you positively impact the situation. I kinda liken this to suicide prevention training I got, where it became clear that some things might one be tempted to say to a suicidal person are objectively wrong. Things are often called ‘fuzzy’; death brings a clarity to situations for those unwilling to reach that clarity beforehand.

            Barbaric times aren’t restricted to Bible times, nor 30 Years War, etc. We live in barbaric times. And we seem to suck at dealing with them, still. It strikes me that we’ve got something fundamentally wrong about how we think of our fellow human. That, or perhaps there just aren’t enough people willing to sacrifice for the well-being of others? That is a distinct possibility, and a fascinating one in the light of Jesus.

            But we have improved a lot and I think that TV deserves some of the credit for that. Think about recent catastrophes like the earthquake in Haiti, the number of volunteers that want to help out and the number of people that donate money to help the people that were affected is much, much higher than it used to be.

            Granted. Then again, how’s Haiting doing now? It’s easy to get people to care for a short period of time. What about a long period? Will Americans change their spending habits to increase the quality of life of other people? Will Americans accept a lower quality of life to help [economically] punish those who exploit people? Sadly, I don’t think so. Remember that the same old news gets boring after a while.

            There are ideas along that line, see for example delegative democracy – but implementing such things is a completely different matter. For the USA, it would already be significant progress to have 2-3 more political parties, because the two party system that it does have is little more than a bad joke.

            Interesting. I imagine shifting the power structure from whatever is to that would be a slow process. I think I’d go with the NT example on slavery: change hearts and minds first, then change structure. (Well, it’d be a feedback system, but there is the quesiton of how much one precedes the other.)

            1. I don´t see why.
            2. That sounds like a recipe for disaster. I can´t speak from personal experience here because I never was a christian […] – but I´ve seen more than enough former christians who suffered terribly from this pressure of suppressing / replacing “unclean” thoughts.

            1. Are you not of the opinion that believing lies is bad?
            2. If we go off of ‘the probabilities’ here, you are likely right. Have you observed though, patterns under which said replacing worked? I’d propose that it is more likely to work if one wants something which excludes the ‘”unclean” thoughts’ not as an end, but as a means to some other end. Give the baby a much cooler toy so he/she lets go of the object he/she has now. If all one wants to do is be ‘pure’ though, I completely agree. That is a terrible motivation. It leads horrible places.

          • To add to that, as far as genocide and harmony, ingroup/outgroup psychology, as Phil Zuckerman said in the debate, on every measure of religiosity there is, the strongly religious are the most racist, least ‘loving’, most in support of guns, the death penalty, etc etc etc – all the measure of what might be tolerant and ‘good’ characteristics. When Christians claim that they are more charitable, if you actually analyse the stats, they are only strongly charitable to ingroup causes – they give to their own churches etc. They are not UNIVERSALLY charitable and kind. They have a much STRONGER mistrust of outgroups. Christians, it seems, are not following the Good Samaritan. Such communities galvanise the ingroup/outgroup paradigm.

            Luke Galen of Reasonable Doubts has done heaps of work on this, and there are some fascinating papers.

            Essentially, when it comes to morality, it depends what type of God you believe in. Those who are more literalist and believe int he OT God are far more authoritarian, which permeates into their parenting etc. Yada yada

            The point being that even if you can rationalise the OT, it is actually more likely to make you not such a nice person from empirical studies.

          • David Marshall

            This is complete bull, Jonathan. It was a short debate, and I knew I wouldn’t have time to go into the toolies on this, but here’s my full response:

            http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2013/10/does-faith-in-god-up-murder-rate.html

          • “How do you know this? Are you arguing just based off of common sense? How well do you know the socioeconomic climate back then? I’m skeptical of typical atheist claims in this arena, because they tend to be unwilling to do the requisite research to really show that things ‘would have been better’ without a given law.”

            There is a lot of this appeal to ignorance. You don;t know the antithesis of this, and yet you are giving it the benefit of the doubt, no?

            “Now, consider the case in which you convince that a law in the OT was just clearly bad—there is no possible excuse for it. What would youwant me to do, in light of such an event? Ought I cease my attempt to systematize, since one error/wrong bit/whatever poisons everything?”

            Clearly human psychology will preclude this from happening, and you are who you are etc. But, you know, Marcion had a point. The OT IS pretty monstrous. And yes, we are different contextually etc. But all that does is show covenantal moral relativism, as Justin Schieber likes to call it.

            Are you essentially espousing skeptical theism?

          • labreuer

            There is a lot of this appeal to ignorance. You don;t know the antithesis of this, and yet you are giving it the benefit of the doubt, no?

            No, I don’t think this is an appeal to ignorance. I think it’s a case of the other person not having enough imagination. It fallacious to argue, “Because I cannot imagine how this could be good, it cannot be good.” It is being asserted that in a culture extremely differently than our own, with starvation a common phenomenon, under constant threat of war, that some moral command ‘could have been better’. There is a lot of uncertainty in that argument. Without that uncertainty being mitigated, any conclusions drawn will inherit much uncertainty. Where have I erred?

            Clearly human psychology will preclude this from happening, and you are who you are etc. But, you know, Marcion had a point. The OT IS pretty monstrous. And yes, we are different contextually etc. But all that does is show covenantal moral relativism, as Justin Schieber likes to call it.

            Not being an inerrantist, this is not precluded from happening. And I do not deny that the OT is ‘pretty monstrous’! That was a barbaric time! We have evidence that the Canaanites sacrificed their children by burning them alive. Absolutely horrific! And the Israelites, despite being commanded to do no such thing, decided it was a good idea! This is the kind of people you are dealing with. And saying that ‘it never happened’ is irrelevant, because we’re merely arguing about the world described by the text, not the actual world.

            The statement about moral relativism begs the question: is there a way to measure ‘better’ in the moral realm? As far as I know, the answer to that question has not been established. I’m convinced that with respect to that issue, we’re in a situation analogous to when modern science was just barely getting off the ground. But we could slip back into terribleness quite easily; the situation is extremely fragile.

            BTW you can use HTML blockquote tags. I know they’re more obnoxious to type, but I think they make it easy for others to read what was written once but read multiple times.

          • Anything’s possible (this is an extension of the logical problem of evil after all), but you are doing the possibiliter ergo probabiliter fallacy, and that doesn’t cut the mustard.

            Mine, as I have mentioned, isn’t a certainty argument, since nothing can be past cogito ergo sum. Mine is a “which hypothesis is more plausible and probable on the given data?”

            And it ain’t the God one.

            Without that uncertainty being mitigated,any conclusions drawn will inherit much uncertainty.

            But you are doing this in reverse. You are drawing a conclusion that the Bible should be believed, no? I am being properly skeptical. I won’t believe without good reason. You are having faith and believing based on “well, it could be that…” or “you don;t know that they didn’t…”

            And I do not deny that the OT is ‘pretty monstrous’!

            I think we have different ideas about this. I think you think the context of the OT is monstrous, but God’s revelation, if he is perfect etc, cannot be monstrous since that makes him monstrous. I think the OT being monstrous makes God monstrous and this means that it can’t in almost any way be true. And for a whole host of empirical, historical and archeological reasons. To me, it’s just another Epic of G or similar.

            PS I type too fast and loose such that the blockquote tags just piss me off. Sorry.

          • labreuer

            Anything’s possible (this is an extension of the logical problem of evil after all), but you are doing the possibiliter ergo probabiliter fallacy, and that doesn’t cut the mustard.

            Ok, then let’s temporarily assume that the proper way to reason is through Bayesian inference. In OTF, Loftus says “probabilities are all that matter”. So, I ask you, which universal prior ought I choose and why? Before making any observations, what ought I believe about ‘the probabilities’?

            Mine is a “which hypothesis is more plausible and probable on the given data?”

            Which data? Please be specific. I want to know how you have controlled for sampling bias, how you’ve properly attempted to falsify any counterfactuals you might be using, etc. I don’t know you well enough, but much reasoning in this domain done by atheists is manifestly not rational, unless you allow for utterly unjustified not-well-examined a priori claims about what an omni-God ‘would do’.

            You are drawing a conclusion that the Bible should be believed, no? I am being properly skeptical.

            I’m taking a risk in believing the Bible. I don’t say you should believe it like I am (in my at least quasi-skeptical manner), because I don’t know what you want, nor what your telos is, if you have one. I think the Bible contains deep truths people do not want to admit are true—and I mean about what is, in the realm of human psychology. See the middle section of this comment, where I talk about the Milgram experiment etc.

            I won’t believe without good reason.

            Can you define what ‘good reason’ is, without appealing to some purpose? I doubt you can, and I’ll bet you that you’ll say your purpose is to understand what reality is like—that is, science. I’m generally with you: science is fantastic at telling us what reality is like. It’s less good when the human factor comes into play, making certain bits of research politically incorrect. Ignoring that, I think that we all have beliefs about what ought to be, and that what constitutes ‘good reason’ for holding these beliefs is not entirely empirical. It has to depend on our idea of ‘the good’. I suspect that we necessarily have to form beliefs in advance of ‘sufficient evidence’ when doing research on ‘the good’. (I think perfect morality is infinite in description, necessitating a science-like research project on it.)

            You are having faith and believing based on “well, it could be that…” or “you don;t know that they didn’t…”

            Not quite. I advance beliefs in front of evidence some of the time, but not infinitely far. I tend not to do much with beliefs which don’t contact my experience. I can’t, because I’m pretty bad at theory in comparison to practice. Scripture comes alive when you live the stuff it talks about; it’s pretty dead otherwise.

            I think you think the context of the OT is monstrous, but God’s revelation, if he is perfect etc, cannot be monstrous since that makes him monstrous.

            Not being an inerrantist, I don’t need to hold this. I am tempted to keep believing this because of what I wrote in the comment I referred to above. That is, I don’t want to underestimate how terrible humans can be, how slow they are to learn, how reticent they are to learning that they’ve been wanting thing that lead to terrible places, etc.

            To me, it’s just another Epic of G or similar.

            Have you any thoughts on the fact that in the Babylonian creation myths, men were created as the slaves of the gods (with kings and emperors conveniently being divine image-bearers, able to boss the slaves around), while in Genesis 1, mankind (male and female) is created in the image of God, with no violence? This seems like a pretty important foundational difference.

            PS I type too fast and loose such that the blockquote tags just piss me off. Sorry.

            No worries. I use a text editor which autocompletes (Sublime Text 2), so its easy for me to do.

          • Goodness, there are too many massive questions to even remotely get into here. I don’t believe in intrinsic oughts for a start.

            See here:

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tippling/2012/11/28/oughts-and-morality/

            They are goal-oriented. So most of your questions need qualifying.

            On the data etc, I really do start with an OTF approach. I don’t see any difference between the parochial Hebrew history and any other parochial history. The text does not stack with empirical evidence etc. It needs EXTRAORDINARY evidence to support the EXTRAORDINARILY OUTRAGEOUS claims of the OT. We are talking miracles galore. BIG BIG miracles. We are talking mindblowing stuff which we reject out of hand in other holy texts. Yet, out of cognitive dissonance and embedding cultural mythology and baggage as fact before learning to rationalise (I should know, I have been directly involved in that teaching process at Catholic schools). etc etc. So there are many psychological primers to belief. As an outsider, I shouldn’t TRY to make one belief system work over another – that is special pleading. I need the standard of evidence to at least largely match the level of the claims.

            Have you any thoughts on the fact that in the Babylonian creation myths, men were created as the slaves of the gods (with kings and emperors conveniently being divine image-bearers, able to boss the slaves around), while in Genesis 1, mankind (male and female) is created in the image of God, with no violence? This seems like a pretty important foundational difference.

            When you nick stuff, it is the difference which count. This is the foundation of mimesis, for example. There is a movement from polytheism to a monotheistic paradigm – but the Bible even gets that wrong in places as we can see the Council of Gods and Asherah – a hangover from earlier times.

          • labreuer

            Goodness, there are too many massive questions to even remotely get into here.

            Granted. I was a bit like articulett in that post with tons of questions. Generally, I’m happy for you to chase whatever tangent you want to. But I do want a more specific answer to this:

            labreuer

            Before making any observations, what ought I believe about ‘the probabilities’?

            This seems like a possibly fatal bootstrapping problem, kind of like how (at least I’m told) that radical skepticism is a non-starter: you can’t escape it if you start there. Am I missing something?

            I don’t believe in intrinsic oughts for a start.

            That’s fine, but do you hold anything that could be characterized as ‘beliefs’ in the domain of ought? It certainly seems that this is unavoidable, unless you have no desires for where this country ought to go from here. Furthermore, such beliefs cannot be based entirely on evidence.

            The text does not stack with empirical evidence etc. It needs EXTRAORDINARY evidence to support the EXTRAORDINARILY OUTRAGEOUS claims of the OT.

            I do very little with said extraordinary claims. Here’s why: miracles ought not convince someone of a being’s deity. “Any sufficiently advanced technology appears to be magic.” All miracles ought to ever do is say, “Look here and consider that this might be true!” So I don’t seem to care nearly as much about extraordinary claims as most theists evidently do. I guess I’m weird in this way? Recall that I’m not a liberal Christian. :-|

            When you nick stuff, it is the difference which count.

            Yes, that’s my very point. Diff the two creation myths and in one, humans are slaves, while in the other, they’re created in the freaking image of God. That seems to merit some airtime!

          • Have you thought about possibly putting together all of your points, or at least the most pertinent ones, in a concise single piece and mailing me? I can then post it as a guest post for people to critique or agree with, or to interlinearly critique as a post in itself? These DISQUS comment threads get too scrappy.

            Thoughts?

          • labreuer

            I have thought extensively about this. The problem is I’m not sure where to start—there is so much interconnectedness. What about starting with something like my Philosophy.SE question, Ought we only form beliefs based on sufficient empirical evidence??

            Or were you thinking something directly in response to the, ahem, actual topic of this blog entry in particular? :-|

            I don’t think I’m really qualified to make a full blog post on whether secularism or theocracy (it was this severe a restriction, right?) would be the best form of government. I’m tempted to say that government should mandate certain behaviors, but no specific beliefs. People should be free to explore various belief systems which could generate the appropriate behavior. This would seem to be explicitly secular? If so, it would be a very short post. If we’re going to engage in a research project on ‘the good’, then we must be careful to ‘have no idols’—unchangeable ideas we regard as ‘perfect’ or ‘the best possible’. Kind of like how there are no sacred cows in science, but there are [finite, but large] barriers to questioning the more depended-upon tenets.

            Ok, so maybe it would be interesting to talk about “a research project into ‘the good'”? Maybe some sort of “continually evolving polis“, although evolution is undirected. Heh, that’s probably somewhat good, since ossified ideas of ‘the good’ are responsible for lots of terrible things.

          • I was thinking more about our discussions on slavery and second guessing god – pulling those ideas together as a sort of recap.

          • labreuer

            Hmmm; I think more research is needed.

            1. I’ve read these two articles on biblical slavery, but I don’t know how good they are. They were enough to instill in me a lot of skepticism about the premises upon which slavery-and-the-Bible arguments are often founded.
            2. I also have been meaning to look at the ‘biblical justifications’ used for New World slavery; the Cornerstone Speech is pretty terrible, but it may not be the best specimen.
            3. I only have anecdotal & theoretical support for my thoughts on ‘letter of the law’ vs. ‘spirit of the law’. It would probably be wise to look at some psychological and sociological research on the matter.

            I’m reticent to have a blog post on the above attributed to me, because that tends to give the idea “This guy strongly believes in that stuff.”, which is not a correct description. Most people seem to prefer hard evidence for #1-3 type things, before they admit that their current position (which may not be founded on hard evidence, but this is often irrelevant I have found out) might not be justified. That’s just my average experience in my thousands of hours discussing and debating with atheists.

          • sure – i was thinking of just doing a post along the lines of “some thoughts on…” so that we could have a blank slate to go at again.

          • labreuer

            Hmmm, maybe it could be rephrased as a request for evidence instead of statement of what the evidence indicates. Let me think about that; for now, it seems we can chase the other, better-formulated guest blog entry?

          • labreuer

            I missed this one, and it probably deserves its own tangent anyway. :-)

            Are you essentially espousing skeptical theism?

            I might, if I knew what the definition of it was. In OTF, Loftus repeatedly says that evidence must always precede believe, whether or not it’s tentative. I disagree: I think [tentative] beliefs sometimes have to precede the evidence. But that doesn’t mean we don’t test them when the evidence rolls in! Jesus tells us to judge a tree by its fruit for a very good reason: you can’t always judge an idea before it has become manifest in actions. One of the icky things about natural language is that we don’t always have a good grasp on the concept in someone’s head which is allegedly connected to a given piece of text.

          • very quick off to bed reply:

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

            I would suggest looking into it (that wiki article is shit), specifically wrt the problem of evil and Rowe.

            See my chat here:

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tippling/2013/09/04/evidential-problem-of-evil-a-highbrow-threesome/

            BED!

          • labreuer

            You might just be super-busy, but I’ve put up a few responses to your Evidential Problem of Evil – A highbrow threesome?. :-)

          • I am indeed super busy, though I plan on responding to at least some of your comments tomorrow. Thanks for commenting! I will try my hardest!

          • labreuer

            So much to do, so little time. Being a computer scientist and giant nerd, I would love to start formally describing discussions about the problem of evil, so that one could simply ask of some new argument: “What new things does this bring to bear on the age-old question?” The formalization wouldn’t be perfect—I don’t think finite formalizations ever are—but it might help save that precious quantity of time. Ahh, I love to dream…

          • Of course, the OT IS bullshit. There is plenty in there which beggars belief. This is ample evidence of that much.

          • You do realise the ridiculousness of your ad hoc position. So it is good and proper to have absolute moral laws on, say, the way you talk to your parents, and this is punishable by death. In fact, you have the 613 mitzvot and all of the weird ramifications of adhering or not. And yet you special plead that it MAY not be that declaring that slavery is bad would make for a better society vis-a-vis, er, slavery, That an all powerful God coming down and declaring it is bad would somehow be problematic, when God can come down and declare x and y about cleanliness and boiling goats in their mothers’ milk.

            I actually don’t think you really believe this, deep down. I think you have cognitive dissonance and your mind is playing tricks on you. Yes this is armchair psychoanalysis, but seriously, from an outsider, such a position is awfully ad hoc, with all due respect. Because to me it is frighteningly obvious. It is why it is funny when people like Copan come out with contortionist rationalisations, and much more honest when Christians like Thom Stark blow such theories out of the water.

            If we can do it with the UN charter, why not an omni God?

          • labreuer

            You do realise the ridiculousness of your ad hoc position.

            Not really. Much of the time when I have discussions like this, I find that people have irrational ideas of what an omni-*, morally perfect God would do. Furthermore, I find that when people criticize the Bible, they expend extremely little effort trying to understand how the original recipients would have interpreted it. Case in point:

            So it is good and proper to have absolute moral laws on, say, the way you talk to your parents, and this is punishable by death.

            See Jewish Virtual Library: Rebellious Son:

            It appears that this law was intended to limit the powers of the pater familias: the head of the household could no longer punish the defiant son himself, according to his own whim, but had to bring him before the elders (i.e., judges) for punishment. In earlier laws (eg., Hammurapi Code, nos. 168, 169) only the father had to be defied; in biblical law it must be both father and mother, and the father cannot act without the mother’s concurrence.

            If the above is true, then that law is an improvement upon contemporary morality. You are welcome to claim that God shouldn’t provide piecewise improvements but instead utter the standard of perfection straightaway, but that sends us to another tangent that we’re already having. Let’s continue looking at what that page has to say:

            There is no record of a rebellious son ever having been executed, except for a dictum of R. Jonathan stating that he had once seen such a one and sat on his grave (Sanh. 71a). However, it is an old and probably valid tradition that there never had been, nor ever will be, a rebellious son, and that the law had been pronounced for educational and deterrent purposes only, so that parents be rewarded for bringing their children up properly (ibid.; Tosef. Sanh. 11:6).

            If this is the case, then things seem to change quite a lot. For, when the atheist typically brings up stoning of disobedient children, they construct the image that it is a frequent occurrence. Apparently, it was not. I claim that one’s view of the matter should change in that light. You may not; this might be an impasse.

            Going back to your comment:

            And yet you special plead that it MAY not be that declaring that slavery is bad would make for a better society vis-a-vis, er, slavery

            Why is it that your stance is prima facie the correct one? We have two competing claims:

            1. Moral improvement is better accomplished through incrementally better laws than by presenting a perfect law straightaway.
            2. Optimal moral improvement comes from setting the bar as high as possible.

            I think common sense indicates that #2 does not work. Now, there is a way to mesh #1 and #2; Leviticus 19:18 contains the Golden Rule, and Leviticus 19:34 applies it to foreigners as well. (The Parable of the Good Samaritan was derived from Leviticus!) I just don’t see how setting the bar impossibly high from the get-go, in all respects, is a good way to do things. It doesn’t seem to work. Have you ever run into someone whose father would never be satisfied with how good they were? Do you know what that does to a person—if he/she doesn’t just outright rebel and leave?

            If we can do it with the UN charter, why not an omni God?

            The UN charter was made in the Twentieth Century. Furthermore, it’s not clear how much benefit it has brought about on its own! For example, is there any hard evidence that China behaves better due to it?

          • “Furthermore, I find that when people criticize the Bible, they expend extremely little effort trying to understand how the original recipients would have interpreted it. Case in point:”

            I have had this debate many many times and I full well understand the contextual argument, it just doesn’t float with me! Gotta shoot!

          • labreuer

            In that case, what do you have to say about the link I posted and excerpted? You betrayed zero knowledge of its contents, and its contents seem quite relevant to your point.

          • sorry, had to shoot. back now for a bit.

            How could I ‘betray’ zero knowledge about something I have simply nto commented on? Odd.

            Anyway, that aside… So one would expect that Mosaic Law would be a visible step forward, morally, on your theory, from the Code of Hammurabi (CH). But it doesn’t seem that way. Indeed, the COH appears in some parts to be more humane and civil than the Mosaic Laws (ML). So this works against your theory.

            For example, see Avalos’ treatment of such claims from Copan here:#

            http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/paul-copans-moral-relativism-response.html

            Where he points out that ML is a regression from the previous CH.

            Which means that God’s revelation is not progressive but regressive. There is an interesting use of Hittite Law to support this.

          • labreuer

            How could I ‘betray’ zero knowledge about something I have simply nto commented on? Odd.

            So my comment was a bit of hyperbole. What you did was introduce a known issue (stoning disobedient children), without letting me know you’ve done a shred of research on the topic. I shall now have to ask you, every time we talk about something, what research you have done and why you didn’t find it compelling, because I cannot be guaranteed that you’ll start off with that. It is a bit cumbersome, but I think I can train myself to do it.

            Why don’t you find the Jewish Virtual Library article compelling?

            Anyway, that aside… So one would expect that Mosaic Law would be a visible step forward, morally, on your theory, from the Code of Hammurabi (CH). But it doesn’t seem that way. Indeed, the COH appears in some parts to be more humane and civil than the Mosaic Laws (ML). So this works against your theory.

            This isn’t necessarily the case. I’m aware that the OT and CoH are related in the way you describe. But do we know the extent to which Israel’s contemporary cultures obeyed the CoH? We know that Ebla flourished circa the CoH as well as before. Then it got obliterated. Like the barbarians who decimated Rome, standards of morality likely sank. So the best comparison—and I’m not sure how well we can do—is to ask how Israel’s morality compared to those who were immediately around them. We need to ask, “Compared to what they otherwise would have done, how did the Israelites behave given the OT law?” That is the critical counterfactual we have to do our best to answer.

            Now, I admit that we have to do the best with what we’ve got. So yes, I’d admit that CoH probabilistically works against my case. Then again, a further examination of the law codes has CoH maintaining at least a three-tiered society: slave, freeman, noble. The OT has only two tiers: slave and freeman. We shouldn’t underestimate this difference. And I’ll qualify the word ‘slave’ with the fact—of which I’m guessing you’re aware—that slavery in ancient Israel was very likely much better than e.g. New World Slavery.

            For example, see Avalos’ treatment of such claims from Copan

            Thanks for the link; I’ll check it out when I next investigate the slavery issue in depth, unless you think that link bears on the above two paragraphs in a way that would further the discussion? I wasn’t very impressed with Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?

            This stuff is fascinating to investigate regardless of my theological inclinations, because we get to see what kind of progress could be expected of human beings, how they thought, etc. I wonder to what extent the written laws weren’t actually followed (Israel definitely sucked at following theirs); how much do we know about this?

          • If you have read Copan, I trust you have read Stark’s longer deconstruction of Copan? It’s free and here:

            http://thomstark.net/copan/stark_copan-review.pdf

            Pertinent to much on slavery and the usual Christian attempt to minimise its reality.

          • labreuer

            Yeah, I’ve at least glanced at it; I’ll bookmark it as well, thanks. My concern is that implicit in this stuff is the counterfactual claim,

            If only God had done it this way, things would be better.

            Now this can take [at least] two forms:

            1. God should have made human nature be different from what it is.
            2. Given human nature as it is, God could have interacted with humans better.

            #1 is hard to discuss and not immediately relevant if God doesn’t exist. #2, on the other hand, is extraordinarily important. In saying #2, we make claims about what human psychology is like. If we get this wrong, we do harm to any attempt to make the world a better place. I freely admit that the Bible, OT and NT, provide much of my basis for what humans are like. I think this matches reality. That being said, I would just love to see psychologists point out where the Bible got things right and wrong in its portrayal of people.

            I want to make the world a better place. I think you’d largely agree with the changes I’d like to make to it. But I must get my conception of human nature (yes, I realize some object to this term, but until they give me a better one, it’s convenient) as correct as possible in order to have any chance at making any sort of positive impact. For, I believe the system has built into it ways that people can ‘feel good’ about ‘doing the right thing’ (like helping the homeless), ways which will never fundamentally change the system. I want to change the system.

            I want to try and get a bunch of people together to create a Kingdom of Ends. This won’t be an exclusivist society where you have to cut all your ties with the outside world or any such crap. I just want to see what happens if people truly look out for each other in a way that, to me, seems very consonant with the NT. I think it could be awesome, for theist and atheist alike. Well, as long as the atheist doesn’t believe it’s acceptable to force others to sacrifice for oneself.

          • 1. God should have made human nature be different from what it is.

            2. Given human nature as it is, God could have interacted with humans better.

            #1 is hard to discuss and not immediately relevant if God doesn’t exist. #2, on the other hand, is extraordinarily important. In saying #2, we make claims about what human psychology is like.

            I think the issue is that you think God couldn’t (or wouldn’t), both options appealing to ignorance or unevidenced unknowns, allow our moral enlightenment to happen any quicker than it did. On any moral framework, we would all agree that this world would be better without 2000 years of slave trade. So if that moral enlightenment could have happened back yonder, surely this would have made a better world.

            But you seem to think that humanity wouldn’t have been ready for this. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest that many humans already showed such thinking in parts and places. The Ashoka and Qin Dynasty for a start, on slavery. I just think your appeal is thoroughly hopeful.

            It’s not as if God can’t intervene for the better – he did this incredibly often for the entire length of the Bible. And then went on a permanent holiday. So you have to say killing someone for picking up sticks is somehow a more important intervention than stopping slavery.

          • labreuer

            Argh, I was unable to sleep and kept my wife awake by shifting around. I care about getting this stuff right too damn much, it seems.

            I think the issue is that you think God couldn’t (or wouldn’t), both options appealing to ignorance or unevidenced unknowns, allow our moral enlightenment to happen any quicker than it did.

            I feel a tension between two possibly different things:

            1. The situation we have now, and whether there was a better way to get here.
            2. What an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect deity would do.

            As I’ve noted, I find that people love to use #2 in a deus ex machina fashion. I haven’t verified that every single instance of this led to logical incoherences or a suspicious kind of world (e.g. one where nobody is able to hurt anyone, but this requires one be unable to give all people but one some gift, which seems to lead weird places). I’ve seen enough of a trend to be suspicious of further attempts to say that if God really existed, things would be different. This is a counterfactual that I just can’t really get behind with a good argument, unless I’m willing to sacrifice something like A) humans’ ability to rationally understand the world; B) humans’ coming to be convinced of ‘the good’ apart from being manipulated toward it out of e.g. fear.

            Next, when we say that #2 would not lead to ‘the situation we have now‘, we obliterate much of the usefulness of thinking along #2-lines. Maybe this is just how reality is, but maybe it isn’t. I’m willing to take the risk that God really is hamstrung by his desire to e.g. train humans up to be gods—i.e. be forever increasing in wisdom (goodness), power, and knowledge. You don’t seem to want to go near there.

            Something that I’ve been increasingly discovering is that your idea of where we are now differs from mine in some profound ways. For example, it seems to me that you trust the letter of the law much more than I would ever dare to. I get a lot of the ‘seed’ of my idea about letter of law vs. spirit of law from the Bible, but I also employ that interpretation in life. I find that whenever humans are failing to obey the spirit of the law, adding more rules (as some humans are wont to do) almost never fixes the problem in the long run. It just adds more red tape.

            On any moral framework, we would all agree that this world would be better without 2000 years of slave trade. So if that moral enlightenment could have happened back yonder, surely this would have made a better world.

            But you seem to think that humanity wouldn’t have been ready for this. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest that many humans already showed such thinking in parts and places. The Ashoka and Qin Dynasty for a start, on slavery.

            We would agree that the world would be better without the slave trade. But here I return to #1, and say that we still learn very slowly. For example: the US government knew of a ‘final solution’ for the Rwandan Genocide, before the killing reached its peak. This ‘final solution’ came from someone inside the Hutu group who grew a conscience. Did the US intervene? No. Fifty years after the Holocaust and we have forgotten how terrible genocide is. Strike that; we just didn’t want to sacrifice of our own people and resources to help them out.

            So I think your argument reduces to the claim,

            3. An omni-* deity would have created humans with a different nature.

            This is awfully difficult to respond to. I mean, here we are, with the nature we have. If you say that an omni-* deity would have done things differently, that seems to be an undefeatable a priori which justifies you in believing that no such omni-* being exists, in an analytic fashion. But that seems awfully suspicious. Surely one cannot demonstrate that an omni-* deity doesn’t exist in this fashion?

            It’s not as if God can’t intervene for the better – he did this incredibly often for the entire length of the Bible.

            If you look at the extent to which God interfered, I think you’ll find it happened much less than ‘incredibly often’. But at this point, I think any attempt I make to argue for why he acted like he did will be met from incredulity on your part. It’s almost as if you’ve won the argument merely by stating it, on some sort of weird a priori ground. I don’t mean to have a crappy model of you, but based on past exchanges, you’ll reject out-of-hand any response I might give for why. Have I messed up somewhere?

          • I am struggling to keep up with all of these comments. Put your argument into one coherent pieces. Don’t make it too much effort on yourself – copy and paste as appropriate. You have done the work here, just compile it in one place.

          • labreuer

            “one coherent pieces”, eh? :-p

            My argument reduces to the question:

            Can we come up with coherent concepts of omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection which would plausibly lead to the creation of a world like we have now?

            This is like the ultimate top-down approach. At least in my line of work, it is pragmatic to do top-down and bottom-up design. So, is it ‘good’ to do the same with the traditional Christian God? It is often objected that this is

                (1) starting with a conclusion,

            which is in direct opposition to

                (2) starting from the evidence.

            It is often asserted that (1) is an invalid course of action, that (2) is always the way to go about things. But this is manifestly untrue in some domains. I think the answer to Ought we only form beliefs based on sufficient empirical evidence? is a firm No. Democritus’ Atomism was distinctly useful to science, although it took a long time for it to become falsifiable. I think it is difficult to maintain that Atomism came from (2)-type thinking, because we’re in danger of saying that I can look around and then come up with an idea, with little connection between what I saw and the idea. I claim it was valid to ‘tentatively believe’ in Atomism. But does this hold for a creator-God?

            We often answer questions like the above in a quasi-consequentialist manner. I say ‘quasi-‘, because we also tend to care about the means. That being said, we tend to ask whether it was ‘good’ to do a certain thing. So, we have books like Christianity is Not Great vs. What’s So Great about Christianity. Some argue that Christianity led to the rise of modern science, claims which are hotly disputed. Perhaps I haven’t done enough research, but arguing on a historical basis seems difficult.

            In an earlier comment, I argue that an attempt to apologize for nasty behavior in the OT stirs us to understand that ‘human nature’ is darker than many are wont to believe. To elaborate, see the predictions for the Milgram experiment:

            1. “fourteen Yale University senior-year psychology majors” predicted that 0-3%, avg 1.2% of participants would inflict the maximum (450V) shock.
            2. “forty psychiatrists from a medical school” predicted that 3.73% would inflict the 300V shock, and ~0.1% would inflict the 450V shock.

            In the actual experiment, 65% of participants inflicted the 450V shock. Many weren’t happy (“Subjects were sweating, trembling, stuttering, biting their lips, groaning, digging their fingernails into their skin…”), but they did it anyway. In my opinion, this is a colossal failure in understanding of ‘human nature’. If attempting to apologize for genocide texts in the OT corrects such misunderstanding, I claim that is evidence of ‘goodness’. This does not mean that terrible things can come from extrapolations from the genocide texts. Just like nuclear fission can be used to terrible ends, so can OT genocide texts.

            In conclusion, I think we deprive ourselves of a useful form of thinking about reality if we insist that either:

            A) The concept of an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect deity is incoherent.
            B) An omni-* deity would not create the type of reality we see, now.

            This is not the same as saying that everyone must try this ‘constraint matching’ program. It merely argues that if we judge premises by the fruit (results) they produces, a good case can be made that this ‘constraint matching program’ can provide valuable results.

            There is a possible path for pursuing A which I have not yet seen: consider at what point it is incoherent to start with { potent, sentient, morally decent } being and then take all of those attributes to ‘infinity’? Alternatively, note that one way to understand ‘omnipotence’ is to switch from “understand[ing] omnipotence in terms of powers” to “understand[ing] powers in terms of omnipotence”; see Infinite Power and Finite Powers.

          • OK, I will step back and concentrate on this comment, turning it into a further post to concentrate our efforts. I will probably try to get something done Sunday as i am super busy tomorrow.

          • labreuer

            Sounds good! Here’s the HTML in case you don’t have an easier way to access it. No worries on the timetable; it’d probably, ahem, be good for me to take a bit of a break and do other things I should be doing. I just find this stuff too fascinating!

          • cool – that’s a plan.

          • labreuer

            Hmmm, I saw the snarky title of How can we mere mortals state what God should do show up in my RSS feed, but you appear to have pulled it. :-| No worries, I’m guessing you’re busy; I just found the title amusing. It reminds me of the blog titles Peter Enns likes to use.

          • Andy_Schueler
          • labreuer

            Ahh, I’m glad I said something! Somehow, my RSS feed got

            /2013/10/27/

            instead of

            /2013/10/28/

            I’ll take a look!

          • I cocked up the scheduling and had to pull it and then reschedule it.

            I don’t think it is at all snarky, but a valid question which I hope I have given some proper thought.

          • labreuer

            We probably have different connotations of ‘snarky’. I like snarky when it’s not meant to kick someone behind the knee, and I didn’t take your post in that vein. :-) You should see my wife when she gets snarky, it’s a breathtaking sight + sound. The best so far was when she went off on how inane “finding your spiritual gifting” is—at least all instantiations of it she has seen.

          • I want to try and get a bunch of people together to create a Kingdom of Ends. This won’t be an exclusivist society where you have to cut all your ties with the outside world or any such crap. I just want to see what happens if people truly look out for each other in a way that, to me, seems very consonant with the NT. I think it could be awesome, for theist and atheist alike. Well, as long as the atheist doesn’t believe it’s acceptable to force others to sacrifice for oneself.

            A noble cause indeed. But does it necessitate (belief in) the Bible? Is it within secular human nature to do this?

            That was the point of the debate above, and Zuckerman most conclusively showed than on all measures, secularists do what you want better,

          • labreuer

            It could easily be the case that belief in the Bible is a detriment to such an endeavor. So should I actually spin something up on a Kingdom of Ends project, there will be no religious belief requirement. :-p I largely accept Zuckerman’s argument, by the way. At the very least, Christians haven’t figured out how to be in power and not absolutely suck at it [at least over the long haul].

          • What you did was introduce a known issue (stoning disobedient children), without letting me know you’ve done a shred of research on the topic. I shall now have to ask you, every time we talk about something, what research you have done and why you didn’t find it compelling, because I cannot be guaranteed that you’ll start off with that. It is a bit cumbersome, but I think I can train myself to do it.

            Why don’t you find the Jewish Virtual Library article compelling?

            Actually, that is pretty funny, because in the wealth of conversation here, I was letting you off the hook because you seemed to miss my point entirely and move the subject on to something slightly different.

            Sorry if I was not clear enough. I was comparing absolute moral laws for all sorts of things minor and major and then saying that slavery seems to have absolute moral laws which require it to be existent. But something like disobedient sons can be punishable by death whilst dealing in the exploitation of humanity in some pretty terrible ways is actually morally ruled in. There is a disconnect there.

            There are 613 odd laws with the bars going up and down and you special plead one set of laws on slavery to be fine given some kind of skeptical theism and ignorance, and being too much of a paradigm shift, whilst allowing all sorts of others to stand when their bars are either higher or lower. There seems to be a lack of consistency. And then there is the issue of, even in context, stoning people for all those other things that are just outright terrible rules. Just to appeal to context smacks of relativism which is what theists accuse atheists of all of the time. If context defines the acceptability of morality, then there is no room for the absolute decrees made within the bible.

            seriously off to bed now. laters.

          • labreuer

            But something like disobedient sons can be punishable by death whilst dealing in the exploitation of humanity in some pretty terrible ways is actually morally ruled in. There is a disconnect there.

            It is my understanding that the Israelite laws of slavery could be largely read to support people who fall on hard times and can’t support themselves or their children. So they would sell themselves into slavery/indentured servitude. Given the subsistence-based economy of the time, it’s not clear that plain old charity was really an option—although the Levites were supposed to do some of that. To some extent though, if you didn’t work (and work smartly), you literally couldn’t eat. That is, there wouldn’t be enough food for you. If this is the situation, the law about dealing with disobedient sons actually meshes well, because disobedient sons of the type described are unlikely to contribute to the growing of enough food in society.

            Now, the above could be hogwash. I haven’t researched the topic enough to know with much confidence.

            There are 613 odd laws with the bars going up and down and you special plead one set of laws on slavery to be fine given some kind of skeptical theism and ignorance, and being too much of a paradigm shift, whilst allowing all sorts of others to stand when their bars are either higher or lower. There seems to be a lack of consistency.

            I’m sorry, but I’m not a biblical scholar; I haven’t had the time to be systematic in the way you want. I’m forced to make generalizations and I don’t drop the whole thing when I find one seemingly-insolvent problem, because the rest seems to work sufficiently well.

            And then there is the issue of, even in context, stoning people for all those other things that are just outright terrible rules.

            Yes, and it was just an outright terrible age in which to live. The whole thought process of picking the less bad of two terrible alternatives is one that most people just cannot tolerate. I’m quite confident that there is enough uncertainty to tip the scales in either direction. If you say that there actually is enough certainty, I ask: do you bring any evidence to bear that has not been raised so far?

            seriously off to bed now. laters.

            This is fun. :-) Just FYI, I’ve discussed this stuff so much that it’ll take a bit of talking before you get to the point that you haven’t given me criticisms that I haven’t received before. I tend to be extraordinarily self-critical, so if I’ve received the criticism before, I’ve thought about it as best I could, until I get a new criticism or the old one is sufficiently rephrased so that I see things in a new way.

            It might help you to know that in my past I’ve been pretty badly mistreated by other human beings. I’m not an utter cynic, but I often find that I have a darker view of human beings than most—including Christians. I’m not going to name names, but if you look at certain of the people on Loftus’ blog and how they interact with me, you’ll find a lot of terribleness just waiting to jump out in actual behavior instead of just words. I’ve received that treatment all my life though (Christians included!), so I’m used to it. Now I just laugh at such people who think they’re being rational and believe things based on evidence and not being emotionally manipulative (for that isn’t rational, is it?). Sigh. I like talking to you, and in comparison to what I’m used to, this blog is heaven. How’s that for some irony?

          • This is a really common Christian tack, to minimise the impact of slavery through cherry picking the type of slavery and singing the praises of that type whilst also forgetting to see the bad points of that type, and of course forgetting the outgroup (military campaign related) slavery of outsiders.

            You will get, I hope, no such treatment from me. Humans are often very bad. It’s about changing causal circumstances to mitigate that. That is social care and social science for you!

            I hope you are now in a better place. But, as Amiel said, A belief is not true because it is useful…

          • labreuer

            This is a really common Christian tack, to minimise the impact of slavery through cherry picking the type of slavery and singing the praises of that type whilst also forgetting to see the bad points of that type, and of course forgetting the outgroup (military campaign related) slavery of outsiders.

            I don’t mean to minimize the impact. I do intend to accurately understand the slavery described in the Bible. Too many people think that the slavery described there is like the slavery in the New World. This just isn’t true; one can only say this by not looking at the complete set of slavery regulations. To what extent have you really examined the evidence on this issue? It’s not entirely clear that you have. :-/

            It’s about changing causal circumstances to mitigate that.

            That sounds a bit behaviorist to me. I like this criticism of B.F. Skinner. Anyhow, I agree in part: I also think core beliefs are important and must be inculcated. Letter of the law is woefully insufficient.

            Edit: Hmmm, this reminds me of The Third Wave; are you aware of it? I wonder what your proposed solution is to avoiding situations like that, in addition to the Milgram experiment and the Stanford prison experiment. I claim that inculcating strong beliefs about right and wrong are a solution; I know no better one. Do you? By the way, the way I’d do said ‘inculcating’ is through history and talking about how given stated beliefs corresponded to recorded actions. I don’t mean force people to believe certain things by rote. I just mean that we ought to let them know how terrible humans can be and what kinds of things can prevent them from being so terrible, and furthermore, have the promise of improving the plight of humanity.

            I hope you are now in a better place.

            Huh?

          • Balls, just lost a post…

            “1. Moral improvement is better accomplished through incrementally better laws than by presenting a perfect law straightaway.

            2. Optimal moral improvement comes from setting the bar as high as possible.”

            You keep mentioning these sorts of false dichotomies. We have other laws in the OT and NT which have the bar higher, as well as medium and low, over major and minor transgressions such that your statement above appears to be mere special pleading.

            Also, and crucially, we know slave trading was outlawed in other societies well before the NT. I would suggest looking into the Ashoka and the Qin Dynasty about which your writing betrays a distinct lack of knowledge…… ;)

            eg http://www.lse.ac.uk/economicHistory/Research/GEHN/GEHNPDF/Conf10_ClarenceSmith.pdf

            To think that God couldn’t devise a plan that would see the Bible not being used to countenance slavery for 2000 years is amazing. Does it better fit the thesis that God doesn’t exist (Ockham’s Razor and no ad hoc entities) or that God does exist and you need to mentally contort to explain?

          • labreuer

            You keep mentioning these sorts of false dichotomies. We have other laws in the OT and NT which have the bar higher, as well as medium and low, over major and minor transgressions such that your statement above appears to be mere special pleading.

            I’m sorry; I do have a tendency to make false dichotomies. Let’s approach this in the spirit of ‘less wrong’: wrong ideas can lead to less wrong ideas. I recognize that what I’m really doing is coming up with generalizations that may or may not hold. Is that so bad a place to start? I mean, they are falsifiable.

            Also, and crucially, we know slave trading was outlawed in other societies well before the NT. I would suggest looking into the Ashoka and the Qin Dynasty about which your writing betrays a distinct lack of knowledge.

            There is a difference between:

            1. The letter of the law.
            2. The spirit of the law.

            Enforcing #1 is a way to try and get people to adopt the desired #2, but it can be pretty sloppy. I claim the NT focuses almost entirely on #2, since that is the true and final source of behavior. If you think it is ok to use your fellow human being as a means to an end, you will find a way to do so within the letter of the law. That has been shown to be true in history again and again and again and again. Merely saying “no slavery” does not fix this!

            Second, it’s not clear that Christians militating against slavery would have been a good idea. Here and there I’ve seen documents about first-third century Christians paying to manumit slaves, but I haven’t collected them or analyzed them systematically. A charitable interpretation (given the uncertainty) is that they actually did get the message about slavery.

            Finally, the Christians were not in a position to impact law directly. In Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Richard Bauckham argues that the Gospels themselves were only written down as the last eyewitnesses were dying; he says this was for two reasons. First, historians at the time preferred to cross-examine eyewitnesses vs. read documents. Second, Christians at the time thought Jesus’ second coming would be soon, and thus didn’t bother to write stuff down until it became clear they were wrong.

            To think that God couldn’t devise a plan that would see the Bible not being used to countenance slavery for 2000 years is amazing.

            If you were to draw out a formal logical argument for this claim, I think you’d see quite a few holes in it. Briefly, I think you have much too high a belief in the idea that if God says to do something, people will do it. No, people tend to manipulate whatever ideology is at hand to get what they want. This is the way of humans. It is this we must fight if we want to bring about a better world. It is not an easy fight.

          • If you think it is ok to use your fellow human being as a means to an end, you will find a way to do so within the letter of the law.

            But God appears to do precisely this with every action in the Bible, pretty much. See my essay, God is a Consequentialist:

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tippling/2012/12/18/god-is-a-consequentialist/

            A charitable interpretation (given the uncertainty) is that they actually did get the message about slavery.

            This is indeed charitable – did traders and owners use the Bible to justify slavery for 2000 years? Yes. Could they have done this if the Bible had been clearer? No. Is the Bible ambiguous about the moral value of slavery? Yes.

            No, people tend to manipulate whatever ideology is at hand to get what theywant.

            Which is why revelations concerning such important matters as the exploitation of other humans need to be as clear as possible.

          • labreuer

            But God appears to do precisely this with every action in the Bible, pretty much. See my essay, God is a Consequentialist

            I will take a look—it’s close to bedtime for me, now. :-p I’ve gone back and forth about the above, myself. There’s an interesting conversation to be had about the “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” in Romans 9; Calvinists love to use that as fodder for predestination. I take more of a Habakkuk approach: if people are going to insist on using others as a means to an end, God is happy to use those people as a means to an end. That is, God treats them as they treat others. He is symmetrical. Anyhow, I’ll read your essay in a day or two.

            This is indeed charitable – did traders and owners use the Bible to justify slavery for 2000 years? Yes. Could they have done this if the Bible had been clearer? No. Is the Bible ambiguous about the moral value of slavery? Yes.

            You are still relying on the counterfactual claim:

            Had the Bible been more against slavery, less slavery would have happened.

            I’m just not convinced. Have you ever read the Cornerstone Speech? (WP) Here’s a tidbit:

            Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.

            Do you really think that the above would have been rectified by the Bible saying, “No slavery!”? Here’s why I say absolutely not: the above quote already makes Negroes sub-human, and thus laws which applies to people (made in the image of God) simply do not apply to Negroes. Negroes are like animals: we can do with them what we like.

            You appear to be under the impression that the letter of the law has more than a certain, limited amount of power. You don’t seem to understand how ready humans are to twist natural language to mean exactly what they want it to mean. Consider how much controversy there was in antebellum America about the return of fugitive slaves. Consider a very simple passage, Deut 23:15-16.

            “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him.

            There are a host of slavery commandments that the Americans violated (and others, like no kidnapping), but let’s just look at this one. Tell me: how did the American slaveholders rationalize themselves out of this very simple, easy-to-understand commandment? My answer is that they didn’t give a shit about the Bible except for cherry-picking a verse here and there. If I’m allowed to cherry-pick in this fashion, I can get the Bible to say virtually anything. There’s really no way to protect against this! You know that verse you wanted saying “No slavery!”? Gone. Cherry-picked out of existence. Poof!

          • You are still relying on the counterfactual claim:

            Had the Bible been less against slavery, less slavery would have happened.

            And yet you are trying to call me out on using the same logic! Gotta shoot to work – will read the rest of this later.

          • labreuer

            Fine; we’re both making positive truth-claims. Now: how do we test them? I think you’re a bit wont to believe that your counterfactuals are more likely than mine, and I want to know why. Is this why based on evidence? If so, what evidence?

            You go work and I’ll go to bed. Yay internet!

  • Pingback: How can we mere mortals state what God SHOULD do? | A Tippling Philosopher()

  • He didn’t get owned – he got absolutely murdered.

    • Too true!

      • David Marshall

        Nonsense. Phil failed to rebut, let alone refute, a single one of my major arguments — and they were powerful arguments.

        Phil’s own main arguments were weak and tangential. I spoke poorly at times, and he spoke well almost always, but on substance — which is what matters — it should be obvious to any serious observer that Christianity has proven itself the better foundation for civil society.

        • Andy_Schueler

          Either you are deluded and genuinely don´t understand why people think you´ve lost, no matter how often it is explained to you, or you are one of the sorriest losers I´ve ever seen.

          • David Marshall

            Andy: What would you, of all people, know about civility? Your posts are consistently rude and fanatical.

            Zuckerman conceded most of my points. Most of the evening, he didn’t even seem to be arguing against me — he argued in favor of democracy and kindness, as if I were contesting that. He did not really even make a case that Secular Humanism per se has beneficial effects on society.

            As for your typically irrelevant ad hominem — sore loser, deluded — those are just typical distractions from the issues, and false, as well. I have been quite willing to concede the flaws in my presentation, as is obvious to anyone who honestly reads my comments, above. You’re just not being honest.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Your posts are consistently rude and fanatical.

            Only when I talk to dishonest radicals like you.

            Zuckerman conceded most of my points. Most of the evening, he didn’t even seem to be arguing against me

            :-D
            Amazing. You really don´t get it, do you?
            Yes, he didn´t argue against you.
            Yes, he conceded virtually all of your points, going even as far as agreeing with your entire opening statement.
            No, you did not win on substance. You lost on style and you lost on substance. And I´ll not explain it to you again why, read my earlier comment (although I doubt that this will get in your skull, you seem to have an amazing ability of simply blending out all information that is inconvenient to you).

            I have been quite willing to concede the flaws in my presentation

            Yeah yeah “he had more style, but I won on substance!!”. No, you didn´t.

  • David Marshall

    Andreas: It has been remarkable to me to observe how many on-line skeptics were so eager to declare Phil Zuckerman the “winner,” even to say I “got creamed,” without actually hearing the debate. As epistemology goes, this makes us Christians, with our reliance on the gospels, look pretty darn good. I guess this is what they call the “criteria of embarrassment,” which Richard Carrier is so eager to disavow?

    But Phil didn’t win. Or I should say, he won on style (I did fumble, at times), but probably lost on substance.

    He did not refute, or much even challenge, my positive arguments.

    As for his own positive arguments, I’m not sure he made any big ones, really.

    That “Christians” (his word) wrote a Constitution without mentioning Jesus, is not evidence for what “Secular Humanism” can accomplish. That there is sometimes (if you focus the spotlight just right) a correlation between disfunction and religiosity in general populations, Phil himself does not claim proves causation. In fact, he says the causation probably works the other way around — in times of trouble, people turn to God. Yeah, the Bible says that, too.

    I was happy that Phil came, and I think he made a strong case for Secular Humanism by his style and fair-mindedness alone. And in my mind, that’s a good thing.

    I’m posting the transcript of the debate at christthetao.blogspot.com. Adventure was, admittedly, worried. But I’m happy to back up my arguments, and also explain them more clearly, for anyone who found them obtuse or weak.

    • Andy_Schueler

      It has been remarkable to me to observe how many on-line skeptics were so eager to declare Phil Zuckerman the “winner,” even to say I “got creamed,” without actually hearing the debate

      Could be. I (and several others I´m aware of) watched the debate before commenting on it here and in other forums.

      But Phil didn’t win. Or I should say, he won on style (I did fumble, at times), but probably lost on substance.

      He did not refute, or much even challenge, my positive arguments.

      No. He won on substance because most of your arguments were beside the point. How do you not get this? Zuckerman did not need to refute most of your arguments because their truth would not affect his case at all, he blindsided you by simply accepting your complete opening statement as true! You frame it as if Zuckerman could not refute your arguments and demonstrate that christianity is a horrible foundation for civil society – but that is not what the debate was about (bold because this has been repeatedly pointed out to you and you always ignore it).

      Zuckerman accepts all the good stuff of Christianity that you pointed out, and it doesn´t hurt his case ONE BIT, because he convincingly argued that secular humanism would allow a society to keep all the good stuff of christianity (and any other worldview) without demoting anyone to second class citizens.

      That there is sometimes (if you focus the spotlight just right) a correlation between disfunction and religiosity in general populations, Phil himself does not claim proves causation.

      Also completely and utterly irrelevant. Because Zuckerman did not argue that Christianity should be done away with and he did not need to argue that for his case.
      EDIT: Also, what are you talking about re “focussing the spotlight just right” – which notable exceptions exist except for India?

      But I’m happy to back up my arguments, and also explain them more clearly, for anyone who found them obtuse or weak.

      Unlike Zuckerman, I would disagree with at least half of your opening statement. But for the debate you had, that is irrelevant. One could easily grant you virtually all the arguments you made (which Zuckerman actually did) and Zuckerman would still be the winner.
      Your loss had next to nothing to do with style – I agree that Zuckerman is an exceptionally good speaker and that he would have easily trumped most others debaters when it comes to style, but you lost on substance as well!

      • David Marshall

        So I don’t know what the debate was about? I invited Phil to the debate. I suggested its title. Here it is, again:

        “What provides a better foundation for civil society, Christianity or Secular Humanism?”

        You do know what “foundation” and “society” mean, don’t you?

        Nothing is more ridiculous than the claim that the Gospel has transformed the world dramatically for the better, through charity, raising the status of women, spreading democracy around the world, helping inspire science, bringing about great reforms like ending footbinding and slavery, helping bring education and healing to hundreds of millions, but that all this has nothing to do with how Christianity provides a foundation for society.

        We were comparing the effect of two distinct belief systems. I gave evidence for my position. I am writing out the transcript of the debate now, and am still looking for any solid empirical evidence for Phil’s position.

        • Andy_Schueler

          Nothing is more ridiculous than the claim that the Gospel has transformed the world dramatically for the better, through charity, raising the status of women, spreading democracy around the world, helping inspire science, bringing about great reforms like ending footbinding and slavery, helping bring education and healing to hundreds of millions, but that all this has nothing to do with how Christianity provides a [BETTER] foundation for society [THAN SECULAR HUMANISM DOES].

          You prepared yourself for the wrong topic. And at least on a subconscious level, you seem to realize that, because you consistently avoid the title of the debate – see the words I inserted above in bold. Your job was not to argue that christianity is totally awesome, your job was to argue that it is a BETTER foundation than secular humanism.

          We were comparing the effect of two distinct belief systems.

          You argued that Christianity has transformed the world for the better. Zuckerman totally agreed with you and proceeded to talk about the actual topic of the debate – why he believes that secular humanism is a BETTER foundation than christianity.
          He won on style. He won on substance. Deal with it.

          • @google-35dca917e0c21397e5ff1b3bcf4aac59:disqus, I think that Andy has a point here. i think he conceded that there are some good things which Christianity can bring to the table, and perhaps you could choose the best of both and make the strongest. But if he was to side with one, it would be SH. And he gave rafts of evidence to back that up.

            The social science in this area really is quite strong. If you can take to pieces those stats, then go for it. But I would suggest that that is a tall order.

          • David Marshall

            Jonathan: Phil did not, in fact, seem to offer any evidence that Secular Humanism has accomplished much. He himself described the founders of the US as “Christians,” not Secular Humanists. I would say some were Christians, but none were SHs. Yet that was a large part of his argument.

            Phil also cited studies that correlate religiosity and disfunction from a satellite level. But he was smart enough not to claim that correlation demonstrated that religious faith caused that disfunction. In fact, in his published works, he argues that the causation works the other way — when in need, people seek God. Which is what the Bible also says.

            I have, in the past, offered a detailed critique of the sloppy attempt by Zuckerman’s colleagues to argue that religion causes disfunction (See “Does Faith in God Up the Murder Rate?” for the rebuttal you apparently think I still need to write.) I describe dozens of problems with such studies. But there was no time for that, nor was it necessary, because Zuckerman is smarter, and did not make the argument in the first place. So there was nothing for me to debunk. And still no argument in favor of SH.

            What is left, was a philosophical argument that in theory, people concerned with Heaven are going to be unconcerned with Planet Earth. But in my opening argument, I showed that empirically, that simply has not been the case. So again, there was nothing further for me to prove.

            Once I have the entire debate up in print at christthetao.blogspot.com, I plan to go through Phil’s comments systematically, and look for some solid argument for SH — maybe it came in the last five minute flurry, which I haven’t transcribed, yet.

            The title of this thread is nonsense. Phil Zuckerman himself does not claim that. (Even his Patheos post, was directed at Adventure, not me.) Whatever else is true, it is undeniable that both Phil and I offered serious arguments which the other side failed to debunk within the parameters of our debate. Declaring victory, still less “getting owned,” is completely unwarranted, intellectually. (Though many “rationalists” did so without even bothering to find out what the arguments were.)

          • Andy_Schueler

            Your strategy seems to be to completely ignore what we say and just repeat your BS ad nauseam until we give up.
            It worked, I give up – you won, everyone who watched the debate is an idiot for not seeing that and you totally didn´t ignore the reasons for why people think that you´ve lost. Now spread the word on your blog. I´m sure countless people will still care about what you have to say after your impressive and totally on-topic performance during the debate and your graceful handling of the aftermath.

          • David Marshall

            I just don’t like talking with you, Andy.

            It was a conversation for adults, about serious issues. It wasn’t about me, and it wasn’t about Phil. Grow up.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Yeah, fuck you too, David! (btw: it´s not a “conversation” if you simply ignore what everyone else says and just repeat your BS ad nauseam. And it´s all about you and your hurt ego at the moment, grow up.)

          • Easy, Andy! Though i do share your frustration at David in much of his approach, I value his contributions here and would hate to think that we could end up preaching to the choir here. Dissenting views are welcome, even if it seems a difficult challenge to convince David to see logically … he said provocatively…;)

          • Andy_Schueler

            That´s cool. If David pops up again, I´ll keep my distance – I strongly doubt that the two of us will ever manage to have a productive conversation… :-D.

          • David, thanks for your comments. I look forward to seeing the transcript when you have done it. I think that Phil’s style was certainly assured – he appears a very natural public speaker. That said, I DID think his points were substantial and more forceful than yours.

          • David Marshall

            Jonathan: Here’s most of the transcript, except for audience Q & A, which I haven’t done yet. It starts from my opening, and goes to the end, with links after each section:

            http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2013/10/marshall-zuckerman-my-opening-statement.html

            The truth is, Phil really didn’t even challenge my arguments, which cannot be casually waved away. He offered three main arguments in support of Secular Humanism, and against Christianity, but only one of them even pretended to offer empirical evidence for Secular Humanism. In the past, I have detailed dozens of problems with that argument, and it would have been well for me to work in a summary of those problems that evening. (As it would have been well for Zuckerman to seriously address my arguments.) But the difference is, my arguments showed both correlation and causation, while Phil’s showed only correlation.

            Rhetorically, the strongest part of Phil’s argument was that unanswerable fireworks display at the end. I have now answered it, as promised. It contains a large quotient of malarkey:

            http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2013/10/dousing-fireworks-response-to.html