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May 16

Is everything in the Bible true?

Oxford philosopher Peter Millican, in this free series on philosophy (you should download it and listen to it – it’s free!), raises a very simple challenge to biblical innerancy. I’ve adapted it slightly below:

1. Commanding genocide is not morally praiseworthy.

2. Every act of God is morally praiseworthy.

3. God commands genocide in the Bible.

4. Therefore, not everything in the Bible can be true.

This is just a more formal representation of the type of argument you hear all the time. You may have heard something like, “How can the word of God contain all these atrocities?” I think this syllogism is actually quite powerful (even if we may have to adapt it slightly to meet a few objections).

I can see a few ways out of the problem – say that genocide can be morally praiseworthy when God commands it (huh?), say the bible is not inerrant, or say that not every act of God is morally praiseworthy. I don’t think any theist wants to take the third route, so let’s just consider the first two.

The first is to say that, if God commands it, then genocide is morally permissable and I would assume even praiseworthy. As far as I can tell, that is what Divine Command Theory – the moral theory of William Lane Craig – would entail. I would say we have some real problems with this view, but I’ll save criticism for it unless someone wants to comment and defend DCT.

So, we’re left with the idea that the Bible is not inerrant. And that, whether you’re a theist or not, is a very sensible conclusion.

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  1. Julia Bondanella

    Do not quote Millican (whose work I know) without the EVIDENCE. PLEASE OFFER THE SPECIFIC PASSAGES IN THE BIBLE TO SUPPORT THESE CLAIMS….

    For example, where does God command genocide?

    This is from someone who has taught the Bible and is sympathetic to your claims. Do not allow your statements to be disputed, because you have not offered EVIDENCE.

    Thanks.

  2. Mike

    Deuteronomy Chapter 20

  3. Naqut

    Murdering the innocent first born children and babies of the Egyptians. I’m sure that you could never claim that murdering babies is even remotely moral.

    Was it Hitler ordering the Nazis to exterminate the entire Jewish people, or was it God ordering the Jews to exterminate the entire Midianite people?

    Oh right. Both of those happened.

  4. jd

    The fundamental issue with this argument is you base the whole argument off of #1 — meaning the premise of your argument is that you think you know what is “morally praiseworthy.” Because you think you know what is right and wrong, then that serves as your basis to “judge God”, as silly as that sounds. It’s like a clay pot judging the potter. A better premise is to assume God is right and therefore my “right” should be based off that, instead of defining my own. Then if things don’t make sense, #3, then you can search and find the solution. On that foundation and with #2 and #3 being correct then #1 doesn’t make sense to me and #4 is inconclusive. The means i need more wisdom to understand #1.

    Basically what you’re saying is akin to “I think things should be this way, and because it’s not, then it musn’t be true”. I am saying its your fundamental assertion that is flawed.

    Anyway, would you rather believe in yourself or in God — you don’t even know if you’re going to wake up tomorrow morning

  5. Mike

    I’m sorry, but my argument does nothing of the sort. In fact, it assumes God exists and that everything God does is morally praiseworthy. [Edit: Also, the conclusion was just that not every word of the Bible is true – not that God did evil]

  6. Naqut

    Only a fundamentally sick and morally perverted person could ever condone the murder of newborn babies.

    I dare you to disagree with me.

  7. zaq

    Naqut:
    “only a fundamentally sick morally perverted person could ever condone the murder of newborn babies”
    the key word there is “person”. It ceases to be morally perverted when God does it, cuz it’s you know, God’s job.

    You keep saying God murders babies, but all humans die, does that mean God murders all humans? How can God be judged for killing one human at 2 and another at 80?

    Mike:
    Is sparing women and children genocide?
    Deuteronomy 20:14 “But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; “

  8. Divinar

    This “clay pot” has no problem judging the “potter”.

    If the God of the Bible is real, and is as described in the Bible, then he is not worthy of my worship. I may have nothing else that can hurt him, but he evidently desires me to worship him, so I will fight him with what weapons I have.

    In truth, I do not believe in any gods. But I could accept Thor, or Odin, or even Zeus, as a being who could earn my respect, and worship. But not the YHWH of the Bible.

    Satan killed about 10. YHWH killed over 2 million, enumerated, and as many as a billion not counted individually.

  9. Mike

    zaq,

    I was borrowing the word genocide from Millican, but I’m fine with changing it as perhaps it’s too loaded these days. I would hardly consider it merciful to take the women and children – that could mean some pretty bad things. All that being said, I could give several examples which do specifically mention women and children if you’d like. I don’t think many would dispute that this sort of thing happens in the Bible. Rather, they usually take one of the two paths I described – say it’s ok when God commands it or say the Bible isn’t completely true. My hope is that people will take the latter, lest they some day think God has commanded them to kill me.

  10. zaq

    I would like the examples. I would bet that in the examples you find, when God commands “murder” it’s against nations or people that have serious morality issues. In this specific case, the nations that inhabited Israel practiced immoral sexual acts, idol worship, and human sacrifice.

  11. Mike

    So did the Jews. I find it very strange that you would defend this activity rather than say the Bible didn’t get it all right. You wouldn’t even have to give up God being all good.

    Ok, here are a few starters:

    2 Kings 2:23-24 – several children murdered by bears for making fun of Elisha’s bald head (those evil doers!)

    Hosea 13:16 – slash open pregnant women’s bellies and break children on the rocks (are you going to say we should punish the children and unborn for the sins of their ancestors?)

    1 Samuel 15:3 – more killing of women and babies is specifically prescribed.

    That should be enough, since all I need is one example. There are several more.

  12. Mike

    I have to say – I’m very surprised at all the responses from theists here and on the FA Facebook Page. It seems like an easy decision to say, “Ok, not everything in the bible is 100% correct.” You can say that and still even maintain the idea of a good God. By choosing the other route, you are endorsing something that seems intuitively monstrous and I would say you give up any claim to moral objectivity. You have clearly shown that whatever God says to do is good. Now that doesn’t seem controversial when God only tells you to do things like love your neighbor, but how about when God tells you to kill your neighbor? You side with Abraham who would kill his own son because he thought God told him to do it. That theists feel drawn to defend this act gives me great pause.

  13. zaq

    I’m afraid you might need more than those. This is what happens when passages are tossed around out of context.

    To start with, the Jews never offered human sacrifices. It is strictly forbidden, and one of the few sins that carries a death sentence (leviticus 20:2).

    The closest case of Jewish-human-sacrifice is Abraham and Issac, but that was the point of the test. Abraham spent his life fighting against the rampant idol-worship and human sacrifices of his day. So God wanted Abraham to demonstrate that he believed more in what God told him to do than in what he thought God wants. God tested his belief by asking him to bring up his son Issac for a sacrifice – the exact sin which Abraham had been preaching his whole life that God didn’t want from us. Since Abraham fully-believe God always knows what is best, he brought Issac up to sacrifice him, and as it turned out God only wanted the Abraham’s commitment of bringing Issac up on the alter, not the actual slaughter of Issac.

    So you ask: “You side with Abraham who would kill his own son because he thought God told him to do it.”

    I side with Abraham who KNEW that God commanded him to do it, and God doesn’t command anything that isn’t Good. There was no question to Abraham that God was communicating with him. God had already demonstrated to Abraham on other occasions that the prophetic dreams he was having were real, and from God. Also, God previously entered a covenant with Abraham sealing with him that from Issac, Abraham would become a great nation. So Abraham went into this with full knowledge that God would hold to his promise, and Issac would be somehow still be able to fill the covenant.
    _____

    2 Kings 2:23-24 – “And he went up from there to Bethel, and he was going up on the road and some little boys came out of the city and jeered him, and said to him, “Go away, baldy; go away, baldy!”

    1) Even if it was literal, the “little boys” here were not children, but were actually full-grown adults from a nearby town where the name of the people translates into “little boys” [imagine if “American” translated into “little boys” in Hebrew]. 2) There were 42 of them. This wasn’t just a couple kids mocking Elisha, this was a mob that was threatening to kill Elisha (“go up” is a reference to Elisha’s master Elijah, who just ascended to heaven).
    _____

    Hosea 13:16 – “Samaria shall be accounted guilty, for she has rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword, their infants shall be dashed, and their pregnant women shall be ripped up.”

    1) This is a prophecy, and Rambam teaches that the prosthetic visions shouldn’t be taken literally. 2) The passage says Samaria will lose a war where the conquerors will kill their children and women. That means Men killing women and children, not God. God is just ceasing to protect them from the harm that evil-men cause.
    _____

    “are you going to say we should punish the children and unborn for the sins of their ancestors?”

    Yes. “Exodus 20:5-6 I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

    To say otherwise wouldn’t reflect reality, children frequently suffer as a result of their parents misdeeds. I’m not saying a court of man could ever punish a child for a parents sins, but God is well within his Rights to do so. Now, this doesn’t mean God is actively punishing a child, but rather He is not turning his attention toward helping the child as he does for the righteous. Additionally, this is only if the child also hates God (as children usually follow in their parents footsteps), if the child doesn’t hate God and keeps God’s commandments, then God would turn His attention to him.
    _____

    1 Samuel 15:3 – “Now, go, and you shall smite Amalek, and you shall utterly destroy all that is his, and you shall not have pity on him: and you shall slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.’ ”

    Ah, Amalek. I thought we might get here. Amalek is a classically troubling case. It IS the Only nation that God commanded to completely wiped out, but the Jewish people took mercy and failed each time. Amalek was the first nation to wage war against the Jews solely for being Jewish, and they ingrained their antisemitism in their children. Also, among Amalek’s many depravities, they openly practiced bestiality, which is why their animals were also marked for death.

    Rambam, via Wikipedia, has this to say on it: “Maimonides explains that the commandment of killing out the nation of Amalek requires the Jewish people to peacefully request of them to accept upon themselves the Noachide laws and pay a tax to the Jewish kingdom. Only if they refuse must they be physically killed.”

    What child or infant would choose death instead of agreeing follow the secular courts of law and not to murder, steal, worship idols, eat from live animals, or have sex with animals or family members?
    _____

    “You have clearly shown that whatever God says to do is good. Now that doesn’t seem controversial when God only tells you to do things like love your neighbor, but how about when God tells you to kill your neighbor?”

    If God sets the date for EVERYONE’s deaths, why would He be culpable for specific ones?

    Would God be more culpable for commanding one nation to kill another depraved-nation than He would be for unleashing an Earthquake on them to complete his will that they be destroyed? The way I see it, once God commanded the Jews to do something, they become a messenger of God, no different than an Earthquake. It is a terrible sin for one Nation to wipe out another WITHOUT the direct command of God, from a prophet who could demonstrate that their message is from God. However, once God commands it, the act ceases to be Evil because the messenger becomes an extension of God, equivalent to a force of Nature.

    In addition, God already said he wouldn’t wipe out a city that had 10 righteous people living there (Sodom and Gomorrah), so if God is saying to wipe Amalek out completely, then there are fewer than 10 moral people in the entire nation.

    _____

    “It seems like an easy decision to say, “Ok, not everything in the bible is 100% correct.”

    There’s a difference in saying the Bible is “not correct” and “that interpretation is not correct”. If there is something that seems wrong, I find that it usually results from a misunderstanding or oversimplification of the text.

    _____

    I’m very surprised at all the responses from theists here and on the FA Facebook Page. In a good way or bad way?

  14. Mike

    I dare suggest you don’t really believe in this approach, but are simply committed to a double standard with some special reasoning in place for your holy book of choice.

    Let’s see if this is correct. Do you think we should condemn the terrorists from September 11 for following their book to its logical conclusion?

  15. Mike

    By the way, I’m looking at the Hebrew and I see no support of your claim that little children is a translation issue. And your other claim that it was a threatening mob also has no support.

  16. zaq

    “Do you think we should condemn the terrorists from September 11 for following their book to its logical conclusion?”

    Of course I think the terrorists should be condemned for the 9/11 attacks. There is a distinction that should be made between following a book with God’s command and people following the direct commandment of God within the books of the Bible. Within the Bible, the people are following the direct command of God from a prophet that could demonstrate a direct connection to God, not a book. Followers of the Torah/Bible/Quran/whatever are following a book, and to commit murder based on it is illogical. It’s a good thing the Torah doesn’t actually command its followers to kill for God, only the people in the story. Even the command to wipe out Amalek is more about wiping out their immoral practices and antisemitism than it is about killing individuals.

    ______

    “By the way, I’m looking at the Hebrew and I see no support of your claim that little children is a translation issue. And your other claim that it was a threatening mob also has no support.”

    Talmud Sota 46b
    “What means ‘little children’? — R. Eleazar said: Ne’arim [children] means they were bare [menu’arim] of precepts; ‘little’ means they were little of faith. A Tanna taught: They were youths [ne’arim] but they behaved like little children. R. Joseph demurred to this: But perhaps they were so called after the name of the place; for is it not written: “And the Syrians had gone out in bands, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid”, and the question is asked by us “a maid [na’arah] and little”? And R. Pedath explained: She was a little girl from a place called Ne’uran! — In this passage her place is not specified, but in the other their place is specified.”
    So likewise, these “children” are only called that because they are from Ne’uran.

    Mob: A large disorderly crowd or throng.
    Would 42 people angry about losing their job fit that definition?
    The Talmud says the passage should be read “Go up, thou who hast made this place bald for us!”. Rashi says that the ‘land was bald for them’ because Elisha sweetened the nearby bitter waters (in the preceding paragraph) and these people made a living selling fresh water to the locals, who had no fresh water to drink.

  17. zaq

    And again, “Go up” makes the mob threatening. They didn’t say “Go away” they said “Go up” which means to Heaven – dead. And it’s a direct reference to Elija, Elisha’s master who recently ascended to Heaven.

  18. Mike

    Zaq, I’ve been considering whether or not to respond about the Bible verses. I think I’m going to let that one go because I think we agree on the essential point – that there are points in the Bible where either violent acts are commanded by God or brought about by God directly. Our difference is whether or not those acts are justified. I started to write a response to what you’d said and realized that isn’t really where I want to steer the conversation. I’m the one who brought it up, so it’s my fault.

    Now, I do want to get back to my question I asked and your answer. So, I asked if you thought the acts of 9/11 should be condemned and you said you did. Your reason was that following a book is not the same as following a prophet with direct access to God. Well, that is an interesting response. Do you believe in following the 10 commandments even though they are just clear statements in a book? I presume your answer is “yes”. The reason you have no problem following commands in a book is because you believe it to be the infallible word of God. But so do they and their book clearly says to kill infidels. So that line of defense actually only will work if you don’t hold to inerrancy because, if the book cannot be wrong, then it’s just as good.

  19. zaq

    I’m glad you brought us back on track.

    “there are points in the Bible where either violent acts are commanded by God or brought about by God directly.”
    Agreed, however I disagree that ‘violent acts’ brought about by God are “not morally praiseworthy” (your first premise). This logic proof doesn’t account for ‘violent acts’ that are ‘morally praiseworthy’. Is commanding the death of murderers immoral? Let’s say there was a nation where it was the social norm to commit murder. Would it still be immoral for God to command their genocide? I think it is only “not morally praiseworthy” for MAN to command genocide. If God is commanding it, then it is “morally praiseworthy”. This proof just doesn’t really work.

    “If the book cannot be wrong, then it’s just as good.”
    Not if the book commands you to kill based solely on the book.

    We both agree that you can’t go around killing other nations. However, I amend it to “… without direct proof from God that you should.” That “proof” can’t be a book written by God. We agree on that, but I say that there is a way to prove God’s existence, a prophet who could perform signs (cause or predict natural wonders, like an earthquake) as proof that God is behind their actions (like Moses did with the 10 plagues and splitting the Red Sea in Egypt). If God commands a Prophet to commit a violent act, we know it is moral, because God is the one commanding it. However, I didn’t see any Islamic Prophet performing “miracles” with nature for the world to see before 9/11, as such, they were just a bunch of evil people committing murder because a book told them to.

    “The reason you have no problem following commands in a book is because you believe it to be the infallible word of God.”

    My ancestors are the people in the Torah who were brought out of Egypt at the hand of God, and that’s why I follow its commandments. But the reason I have no problem following commands in a book is because the book commands us to act morally, and gives excellent guidelines for how to live morally.

    It’s true that I follow my book for the same reason they follow theirs – we believe ourselves to be decedents of the people in our books. However, the Quran contains a commandment for its followers to commit murder, not the Torah. Which is why you could argue that their book has a morally wrong commandment in it, but not mine. I have no problem following the 10 (or any of the other 603) commandments in the Torah, because none of them command the followers of the Torah to commit genocide. As “inconsistent” and “contradictory” that atheists say the text is, I’ve never found any without a perfect explanation for why.

    Even though the Bible says to wipe out Amalek, do you see Jews sponsoring terrorist attacks in Germany (who are probably Amalek)? No, because that’s an illogical commandment to receive from a book, and it’s even more illogical to follow it. Instead, Jews fulfill the commandment to ‘wipe out Amalek’ by making noise over the name “Haman” (a decedent of Amalek) when we publicly read the “Megilla of Esther” on Purim. And we fulfill the commandment to ‘remember what Amalek did to us’ by reading the Torah chapter on Amalek once a year. I know, I know, following the Torah’s laws really make us into a terrifying murderous bunch of people.

  20. tim d

    while i am sympathic to your aims, i think your logic sucks.

    the alleged call for genocide is in the “historical” old testament (torah) and the new testament is the book of christian beliefs.

    more importantly…

    1. Commanding genocide is not morally praiseworthy

    would be true of humans–although it is something of a value judgement–but how can you say it is also true of dieties? Doesn’t god-hood grant one a few get-out-of-jail-free-type abilities?

  21. Mike

    Zaq:

    I’m not actually arguing for the absolute correctness of the proof. If I thought it were air tight, then I wouldn’t have pointed to ways out of the problem in the original post. I agree with the first premiss (or some modified version of it – stick in babies or something). So, I don’t have a problem with the conclusion. If you don’t want to accept the conclusion, then you have to deny one of the premises. I’m not saying you can’t deny the premises. That option is competely available, but then I think you’re left with odd things, like trying to justify mass killings. It’s really not so different from the Euthyphro dilemma. You are giving up objective morality to say that whatever God commands is moral.

    And I actually don’t think the death penalty is morally good, just as an aside.

    “Not if the book commands you to kill based solely on the book.”

    I’m not sure what you mean here. If you have a book and you have a belief that the book can’t be wrong, then you can’t really do much better than that. Think about it – it can’t be wrong. So, if it commands something, and it says that command is from God, then it is just as good as God saying it right to your face. I don’t see why killing should matter if its God’s commands that are moral, not our ideas of objective morality.

    Maybe I should make sure of something, though. Do you agree with the idea of biblical infallibility or innerancy? This is really only applicable if you do. You said in your comment you believed because it was the book of your ancestors, so maybe you do think the Tanak can be wrong.

    “Even though the Bible says to wipe out Amalek, do you see Jews sponsoring terrorist attacks in Germany (who are probably Amalek)? No, because that’s an illogical commandment to receive from a book, and it’s even more illogical to follow it.”

    Again, I just want to stress that if you believe the book absolutely cannot be wrong, then it would be illogical NOT to follow it. Don’t you think?

    Tim d:

    What “sucks” about my logic? It is a valid argument, but an issue can be made over the soundness of the premises. I fully expected that. I’m not actually defending the premises (I mean one of them is about the acts of God and I’m an atheist). Rather, what I’m doing, as I said to zaq, is highlighting which premise you have to deny in the syllogism. It sounds like you would also deny the first premise.

    By the way, the Hebrew Bible is part of the Christian Bible, so the point would still apply.

    As far as whether God gets a free pass because he doesn’t have the same moral obligations as humans, that again brings us back to the Euthyphro dilemma.

    There is nothing wrong with the logic of the argument; it’s valid, like I said. You just have to realize that it’s really about either accepting it or denying one or more of the premises. It’s not about defending the absolute truth of the premises. If I were going to defend something about God as true, I would have to make the premises about God be conditionals.

  22. Lorna H

    @ Zaq…. You said, ” I have no problem following the 10 (or any of the other 603) commandments in the Torah, because none of them command the followers of the Torah to commit genocide.”
    Does that mean that you condone the stoning death of anyone who works on the Sabbath, or the stoning death of a teenager who is disobedient to his parents, or the stoning death of a woman who commits adultery, or the stoning death of a homosexual, or the stoning death of a woman who is thought not to be a virgin (no way to really know, as there is not always blood after a first intercourse) on her wedding night? Or maybe you believe yourself to be defiled and unclean if you sit on the same couch as a woman in her period? And the list goes on and on…603…..

  23. zaq

    @ Lorna H “Does that mean that you condone the stoning death of anyone who works on the Sabbath, or the stoning death of a teenager who is disobedient to his parents, or the stoning death of a woman who commits adultery, or the stoning death of a homosexual, or the stoning death of a woman who is thought not to be a virgin (no way to really know, as there is not always blood after a first intercourse) on her wedding night?…”

    No.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_and_corporal_punishment_%28Judaism%29
    “In Jewish law, the death penalty is more of a principle than a practice.”

    The penalty just lets us know the severity of the law which carries it. The Jewish laws essentially make it impossible to be sentenced to death.

    “Or maybe you believe yourself to be defiled and unclean if you sit on the same couch as a woman in her period?”

    No & “defiled” is definitely the wrong word.
    It is a commandment to not have relations with a woman in her period – that’s considered “unclean”. To prevent couples from doing this, they are cautioned against sitting on the same couch, a surface where they can come in contact with each other or feel each others movements and become tempted to have relations. Basically, don’t put yourself in a situation where you will be tempted to have forbidden relations.

  24. zaq

    “Maybe I should make sure of something, though. Do you agree with the idea of biblical infallibility or inerrancy?”
    “You said in your comment you believed because it was the book of your ancestors, so maybe you do think the Tanak can be wrong.”

    Infallible, yes.
    Inerrancy, sort of. I believe the Tanak is all true, but not literal.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_inerrancy:
    “In Judaism there had never been a belief in the literal word of the Hebrew Bible, hence the co-existence of the Oral tradition. [the Talmud]”

    So where you see something in the Bible that is is “wrong”, for me, it means there is something that we are misunderstanding about what the Bible says. Then I’d look into the commentaries and find the oral-tradition’s explanation on why it says that. The oral-tradition on the other hand is not infallible or inerrant (there is some debate on this), and as a result Judaism is rather flexible compared to other religions.

    But, that doesn’t really effect questions on morality.
    “If you have a book and you have a belief that the book can’t be wrong, then you can’t really do much better than that. Think about it – it can’t be wrong. So, if it commands something, and it says that command is from God, then it is just as good as God saying it right to your face. I don’t see why killing should matter if its God’s commands that are moral, not our ideas of objective morality.”

    I don’t think a book telling you do something is on the same page as God telling you to do it directly. While I agree that each of the commands would be commands from God, I can’t see how they’re equal. A direct command from God would remove any doubts as to whether you are actually being commanded by God. You personally would be aware that God is real, his command is real, and He should be feared if you disobey His command. He would be the primary source of the the command, rather than a secondary, less reliable source. If you were commanded by God directly, you would have no choice but to obey God. This is what’s shown in the story of Jonah, when Jonah runs away from God’s command to go to Ninveh. The forces of nature drive Jonah to Ninveh because he was commanded there by God. That’s much more compelling than “the book told me to”.

    “Again, I just want to stress that if you believe the book absolutely cannot be wrong, then it would be illogical NOT to follow it. Don’t you think?”

    No, only if you KNOW the book to be absolutely true, then it would be illogical Not to follow it, but to just “believe” it is correct, then it’s definitely not logical to follow it’s command to kill. Islamist extremists are guilty of following a ‘book on morality’ which tells them to do immoral things. It’s illogical to follow their ‘book of morality’, and would be a good reason to say ‘maybe their book isn’t from God’, but it doesn’t effect the God portrayed in the Bible

    I think these are the moral questions that arise:
    Is it immoral for God to kill anyone? (I say no)
    Is it immoral for a Man to kill someone? (I say yes, but only if God gives you a direct command)
    Is it moral for a Man to follow God’s direct commandment to kill? (I say yes)
    Is it moral for a Man to follow God’s indirect command to kill (ie. from a book)? (I say no, that is Immoral, and there is no command like that in the Bible. And any book that commands its followers to kill is not by God, like the Quran.)

    Extra credit: Is capital punishment immoral?
    Do you not support the death penalty, because it would mean the possibility of putting an innocent man to death, or because you think it’s wrong to kill murderers? I’m against it too, but only because of the fear that an innocent man would be sentenced to death, for instance, I think it’s morally good to kill Nazis.

  25. zaq

    @mike ^

  26. San Diego Dave

    “I have to say – I’m very surprised at all the responses from theists here…”

    Really Mike? Because, usually the point of an argument like this is to undermine Christian/Jewish theism because you KNOW that most traditional Christians/Jews will have a very hard time giving up the truth of the Bible and will end up trying to defend genocide (or so you would see it). Thus the purpose of such an argument is both to unsettle the Christian/Jew and to show how strong belief in religion will lead to people defending “ridiculous” or “monstrous” beliefs (primarily for the benefit of anyone “on the fence”). So, I have to say that I find your supposed “surprise” to be a bit disingenuous, especially when coupled with your “easy” solution of just saying that the Bible isn’t totally true. I think you and I both know that that’s not an “easy” answer.

  27. Mike

    @zaq

    I still disagree about the book point, but I will have to try and come up with another way to say my point b/c I don’t just want to repeat myself. Maybe I can think of a better illustration to make my point.

    Also, I think there’s a difference between sayign something is not immoral and saying it’s morally praiseworthy, as I laid out in premise (2). Would you say that God killing someone is morally praiseworthy? I have a hard time seeing how it would be. I think we’re just going to have a fundamental disagreement here. I can’t get into the frame of mind that thinks it’s a praiseworthy act.

    @San Diego Dave

    I’m sorry if you think I’m being disingenuous. I’m not surprised that they want to hold onto the conclusion, as you say. That is in fact the point of the argument. There would be no sense in spending my time to argue for a conclusion I know everyone already wants to accept. But I used the argument b/c it does surprise me that they will deny one of the premises. That is what I find surprising. I’m showing what they have to “bite the bullet” on to maintain the conclusion and no one seems to mind. So, yes, I find that surprising.

    By the way, after studying the Bible I don’t see how you can not recognize that there are contradictions. So it actually does seem like an easy answer to me. I wrote another post about contradictions in the Christian gospels. This was just another flank of the same argument – philosophical rather than biblical.

  28. San Diego Dave

    Mike, I’m sure you don’t want to get into this (at least not in this comment thread, as it doesn’t pertain directly to your post), but over the years I have found that most supposed “contradictions” in the Bible are either (1) a failure to account for the genre of the book in question, or (2) an unwillingness to allow for a possible solution (in other words, where 2 texts COULD be in contradiction, but they could just as easily be reconciled if the reader is willing to show a little charity). This applies to the gospels as much as any other books.

  29. Mike

    For me, Dave, it’s a question of whether we want resolutions to be possible or probable. It’s my opinion that the responsible move is probable. Possibility allows in too much nonsense. I think many theists would agree with me on this.

    And as far as the genre goes, if people are recognizing the way these books function, then they probably won’t also be defending their absolute airtight historical correctness.

  30. San Diego Dave

    Of course, I would agree. I would just say that the vast majority of possible solutions to proposed contradictions are quite probable. 🙂

    And yes, sometimes genre negates absolute historical correctness. But then, that’s not really the issue in terms of inerrancy. Genesis 1, for example, is not a scientific explanation of the creation of the universe, so we need not assume that the Bible teaches in literal terms that the universe was created in 6 24-hour periods. Likewise, Jonah may be an extended parable, so there may never have been a literal man who was literally swallowed by a giant fish. None of that negates inerrancy.

  31. Tim D.

    You asked :

    [[What “sucks” about my logic? ]]

    Your confusion of your personal value judgements with logical arguments. I already spelled it out

    the alleged call for genocide is in the “historical” old testament (torah) and the new testament is the book of christian beliefs.

    more importantly…

    1. Commanding genocide is not morally praiseworthy

    …would be true of humans–although it is something of a value judgement–but how can you say it is also true of dieties? Doesn’t god-hood grant one a few get-out-of-jail-free-type abilities?

    That is…the god of the old testament clearly believes “I made you so I can break you”

    How can that be inconsistent?

    if you want to disprove religion, why not start with science?

    Or point at the total lack of evidence of soul or heaven or hell…ghosts? etc…

  32. Mike

    Tim, there is quite a bit wrong there. The logic is the valid structure of the argument. The value judgment was simply a single premise. I can support it with a wide variety of ethical theories, including ones with which I don’t agree. So your assertions are plainly false and you have misrepresented me. I’m afraid you are the only one confusing things. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but you shouldn’t go insulting someone when you clearly don’t understand the topic – namely, logic.

    Your other assertions are likewise either blatantly false or unsupported.

  33. zaq

    Mike,

    “I think there’s a difference between saying something is not immoral and saying it’s morally praiseworthy ”

    Agreed. I’ll draw a distinction from now on.

    “Would you say that God killing someone is morally praiseworthy?”

    Was it morally praiseworthy for God to kill my grandma?
    Was it morally praiseworthy for God to kill Gandhi or mother Theressa?

    I don’t see how God can be morally-anything. I can understand saying “God’s action looks ‘not morally praiseworthy’ from a human perspective”, however when we’re talking about God, we’re talking about a Being to which human characteristics cannot be attributed. It’s just as illogical to say God is hungry, as it is to say God is morally praiseworthy. Morality is a concept that only applies to humans, the entire book of Job expounds upon this. Could you ask if it’s morally praiseworthy for a lion to kill a gazelle? No, morality is only applied to humans.

    “The logic is the valid structure of the argument. The value judgment was simply a single premise.”

    Even though the structure is valid, that does not mean the argument is valid. If even a single premise is false, then the entire argument invalid (false premise). I disagree with the validity of each premise and the conclusion that if God is not morally praiseworthy and therefore not everything in the bible is true.

    Gen > ~MP <– I agree this is true for humans, not God. (morality according 'human standards' cannot be applied to God – see Job) (false premise)
    God = MP Gen <– God does not command genocide. (false premise)
    (God = ~MP) <– It is equally illogical to call God not morally praiseworthy.
    ∴ ~bible <– the Bible actually says that God is not "moral" in human terms (Job), so proving God is not what we would call 'morally praiseworthy' only affirm what the Bible says.

  34. zaq

    EDIT: the end didn’t paste correctly

    Gen > ~MP <– I agree this is true for humans, not God. (the Bible says morality according 'human standards' cannot be applied to God – see Job) (false premise)
    God = MP Gen <– God does not command genocide. (false premise)
    (God = ~MP) <– It is equally illogical to call God not morally praiseworthy.
    ∴ ~bible <– the Bible actually says that God is not "moral" in human terms, so proving God is not morally praiseworthy only affirm what the Bible says.

  35. zaq

    crap, sorry – it keeps cutting this out when i post

    God = MP – It is illogical to call God morally praiseworthy. (false premise)
    God > Gen – God does not command genocide. (false premise)

  36. Mike

    I’m travelling and don’t have time for an in-depth response, but I’ll point to this link for now on validity versus soundness in logical arguments: http://www.iep.utm.edu/val-snd/

    Thanks for the comments and discussion and I’ll be back in a few days.

  37. zaq

    ok, so your argument is valid and unsound.

  38. Mike

    Yes, I understand that you feel that way, but you’ve done nothing to show it. We’re inevitably playing an intuition game about such matters. I don’t see any good reason to think that God does not owe any moral obligations if we grant him some kind of omni-trait, like omnibenevolence. In fact, I think the possession of such a trait clearly implies these obligations.

    I fully recognize that you think God does not owe us any moral obligations, but I do not share such an intuition and I suspect many would agree with me. I actually think it might be the case that deep down everyone actually agrees with me on this point, but I have no way to really support that claim, of course.

  39. Mike

    Well apparently Wes Morriston (professional philosopher for those who don’t follow these people like they are celebrities in US Weekly) has published an argument very similar to this one. It’s summarized for the lay person by John D. of Philosophical Disquisitions here: http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com/2010/03/did-god-command-genocide-part-1-problem.html

    Check it out if you’re interested in this argument. John has a good site too; it’s worth a look.

  40. George Jenkins

    Did not realize there was a response coming about five days after the last previous, hence the late response.

    WRT to probability: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” Hence my response to your first link is:
    1. We will say there are only 40 alleged inconsistencies in the whole Bible*(Your words)

    2. We will grant an extremely high probability to each inconsistency and say that there is a 100% probability that a resolution is correct
    What is the collective probability, given (1) and (2) above? It is 100%. Conversely, there is over a 0% chance that the position of inerrancy is incorrect.

    You see it is all in your bias and your belief systems. There is no reason to assume that any biblical passage has only a 95% chance of being right. The error is in the assumptions, not the Bible.

  41. Mike

    Thanks for the comment, George. I think you meant this for my other post on probability. No matter, though, it’s all in the same general area. Such things in ancient history are probability-based, like it or not. So you’re assertion of 100% just begs the question.

  42. Ryan

    “You see it is all in your bias and your belief systems. There is no reason to assume that any biblical passage has only a 95% chance of being right. The error is in the assumptions, not the Bible.”

    The assumption of Biblical inerrancy is the real bias here. If you enter the debate with the intent to resolve the problem rather than to consider it and its possible solutions as objectively as possible, your mind will almost inevitably locate patterns in the Bible that either don’t exist or don’t mean anything. We find the same behavior among conspiracy theorists, partisan hacks, those who are quick to associate correlation with causation, scholars of other literature (as a student of it, I should know), and various other groups. Unfortunately, it is very easy for our brains to be misled in this way and many others. We really have to be mentally vigilant and submit our thoughts to peer or scholarly review to counter the imperfections in our rationality.

    Now, you should take Mike’s argument for what it is. He did not design it to analyze every apparent Biblical error in great depth, but simply to account for the chances of inerrancy when given so many apparent errors. He was even generous enough to claim that each problem had a 95% chance of resolution when he could have simply assigned 50% instead. If you genuinely believe that each problem has a convincing resolution–and you might want to question that belief of yours if you haven’t even confronted every claim of error–then simply conclude that the Bible has beaten the odds and move on. But don’t think for a second that it is in any way rational to start off with the belief that it is all true, otherwise you will be a slave to apologetics rather than a free thinker.

  43. George Jenkins

    Hi Mike,

    It really is an assumption. It can be nothing else and no amount of words can make it other. One of the things I have discovered in debating evolutionists, Hindus, Muslims, Old Earthers, abortionists, agnostics, atheists, etc., etc. is that granting them the initial assumption loses you the argument. Grant me an assumption about the wavelength of light and I will prove to you that black is really white. I applaud your debating skills, but your assumptions are still that assumptions. There is no reason to assume anything in the Bible is not 100% correct, unless one is predisposed to errancy in the Bible. Then you arbitrarily choose 95% as your probability number. Choose the purity of Ivory Soap(a passage in the Bible should be at least as pure as Ivory Soap,eh) and your whole argument falls apart. Then the probability of Biblical inerrancy becomes 79.88%. Arguments like this come down to who sets the assumptions and defines the terms in the debate. My position: the Bible is 100% true in every passage. All you have to do prove me wrong is find a passage that is not true. Statistics and probability prove nothing in cases like this. Indeed, they never really prove anything. They merely, give a probabilities. If one went back in history and chose 40 situations of low probability((some with much less likelihood than 95%), say the evacuation at Dunkirk, Hannibal crossing the Alps with elephants, the English at Agincourt, the Greeks at Thermopylae, the British at Rourke’s Drift, etc.) and did your calculations one would get the probability that at least one of them did not happen. Yet they all did.

    And no, “The Bible could be partially God-inspired and partially true right?” If that were the case, then by definition you win the argument on two counts because 2 Tim. 3:16 says, ” All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: ” It does not say “some” or “most’, but it does say “all”.

    As I said, “All you have to do prove me wrong is find a passage that is not true.” Statistics will not do it.

    sincerely,

    George

  44. George Jenkins

    Ryan has hit the true debate on the head and as such agrees with my basic premise; namely, “You see it is all in your bias and your belief systems.” No way around it.

    To debate on the possibilty of the Bible being wrong is, to my mind, a waste of time and energy when the answer can be so easily arrived at: as I said above, “All you have to do prove me wrong is find a passage that is not true.” and I lose the agrument.

    You can use your free thinking to attack the Bible. I use it to try to understand the difficult passages. The ones that are seemingly contradictory, like how could Jesus say the lilies were arrayed better than Solomon. Didn’t He know about DNA?

  45. Mike

    George, this is more question begging. Look at your analogy. You picked out true things in history in advance and then say they’ll all be right. Rather, you should pick out claims and then test them.

    On the thread that brought you here I offered a threefold critique of inerrancy: the subject of this post, improbability, and disagreement with science (like a literal Adam and Eve). You rest back upon possibility even though I’ve discussed in several places how that position doesn’t really help you and you ask for me to prove you wrong. My reply – I already have. DNA disproves A and E. A morally praiseworthy being does not slaughter others. And the overwhelming odds (less than six billionths of a percent likelihood) are in my favor.

  46. Mike

    Another problem with your analogy, by the way, is that those things aren’t tied up in the same claim like biblical inerrancy. That’s what makes us multiply the probabilities.

  47. George

    I picked out things with high probability of not coming true: yet they were all true. My point is probability proves nothing. To pick out things that cannot be known, leads to nothing but debate………….unless one chooses to pick one and resolve it; which I have suggested you do. Using your own words, “Rather, you should pick out claims and then test them.” Amen.

    Your choice of 40 things that you do not even list from a collection of 66 books that were written over several millenia is one set. My set was events from history that had a low probability of being true.

    Your probability argument does not lead to anything more than endless discussion of statistical uncertainty and resolves nothing. If you have a way to prove the Bible is wrong, do so. If it satisfiesyou to set up a situation where you feel comfortable concluding from your own set up that the Bible is probably wrong, that is your choice.

    DNA analysis does nothing more than support Genesis. The Bible: Eve is the mother of all living. DNA: Everyone on earth is descended from one woman. Doesn’t get much clearer than that. QED

    It may surprise you to know that God(whom I presume you are referring to as your “morally praiseworthy” entity) has sent death to all (It’s just a matter of timing.):the exceptions, Elijah, Enoch, and those believers alive at Christ’s return.

  48. Mike

    George,

    I want to offer some constructive criticism and I want to be clear that this is not meant to demean you. Your logical skills could use some help.

    You are committing elementary fallacies, like begging the question, and you don’t seem to care. If you don’t appreciate making valid arguments, then why should I spent my time discussing this with you? We need to at least have some agreed upon ground rules to have a civil discussion.

    You are creating a straw man out of my probability argument, which leads me to believe you don’t really understand the point. From your last comment, it sounds like you are saying we should go back prior to the event and say what’s the probability it will happen. That is not related to what I am doing at all. I’m talking about the role of historians to try and find out what probably happened in the past – it’s not predictive. The probability comes from the incomplete information we are forced to use.

    You’re conclusion about DNA is very strange and I would guess you don’t really know that much about the subject.

    Finally, as Thomas Hobbes said, when you put two words/phrases together that have contradictory meanings, you only produce nonsense. I would say that God committing “moraly praiseworthy genocide” (which is essentially what you are arguing) is a perfect example of that.

    There are other issues I have with your comments, but that should be enough to get a sense of the scope of the problem. I want to engage in discussion with visitors to my site, including those who disagree. I think of the posts as the general argument and then you can really hammer out some details and clarifications in the comments with a good discussion. However, if that discussion isn’t grounded in logic, then it isn’t really accomplishing much. You don’t seem interested in reasoning toward a position – only in asserting your own correctness and then shielding yourself in possibility. I’ve been there before, but eventually the curtain dropped and I saw these arguments for what they are.

  49. George

    Mike,

    I am not offended. I am just disappointed that you cannot see the problems with your position in these three areas.

    Firstly, you choose a probability argument in which you choose the set and the respective probabilities in each member of the set and use it to arrive at your conclusion that the Bible is probably wrong. If one grants your basic assumptions then your conclusion is probable. What you do not seem to grasp is that I do not buy your assumptions. If you want to debate probabilities that is your right. Go for it. If you want to determine whether or not the Bible is totally true, go for it and prove it wrong in one instance. The first position leads to endless discussion based on probabilities and resolves nothing; the second resolves the debate. Do you want the answer or endless mind games? Incidentally, I have taken Master’s level courses on probability. The difference that I perceive between us is that I want answers while you want discussion.

    Secondly, I have recently retired from the position of research scientist at the University of New Brunswick. I do understand a bit about DNA. You seem to ignore the evidence that is placed before you and to be unable to separate the data from the interpretation.

    Thirdly, I believe the common term that applies to your reference to Hobbes is “oxymoron”. As I said in the other blog, God has not just chosen some to die; He has appointed us all to die, you and I included.

  1. Morality and the Bible | Atheist Dave

    […] Is everything in the Bible true? (foxholeatheism.com) […]

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