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Continuing Discussion With Doug Crews

I did a podcast a while back (part 1 | part 2) where I answered some tough questions for Christians proposed by Doug Crews. My comment policy has comments closed after 30 days, since I’m trying to spend time coming up with new material and normally after that time additional comments tend to rate higher on the ignorance scale than comments left in a more timely fashion.

However, Doug’s discussion is an exception to the rule. I can’t re-open comments on that thread without reopening comments across the board, so I’m going to open this new thread.

And so, the discussion continues:

“I don’t believe that God should be tried in our courtrooms, since he is Judge over us.”

In my view, this is abrogating your responsibility to exercise moral judgment. You are placing yourself under the absolute control of a being who, if the Bible is to be believed, is in favor of slavery, infanticide, eldercide, and genocide (and recall all of that is just in Numbers 31:17-18). Shouldn’t you question the morality of such a being instead of accepting it wholesale and unquestioned?

No, it’s not. God is Plato’s form of the good. Morality is defined by him. There is nothing external to God that delineates his character, since he created everything. Therefore, what would I judge God by? Also, you fail to grasp that God’s command of genocide was a judgment against a sinful and rebellious people. Not seeing God as the good and the transcendent creator worthy of our worship and devotion is why you fail to see my side of this argument.

Further, please show me where God commands slavery. I don’t see it. I only see provisions for it, which isn’t the same as saying, “Go and make slaves for yourself. I am the Lord.”

Finally, this first point seriously contradicts your later points that morality is defined by society. If that’s the case, then morality is subjective, and changes over time. Judging God’s morality by the current incarnation of morality isn’t even fair. Your temporary morality has as its ground the current panel of Senators and Congressmen elected to office, who could be easily voted out next November.

If society is the ultimate ground of morality, then why were the Nazis wrong? As a society, they approved of Hitler. The SS gleefully carried out his genocidal orders, believing they were right and good to be doing so. Their society spoke; just because our society doesn’t agree with it has no bearing. Absolute morality doesn’t exist; morality is subjective and defined by society. Their society defined that as moral. Who are we to judge?

“He made you with the free will to do as you please, which is exactly what you’re doing. How is he culpable just by creating you?”

You can either keep free will, or God’s omniscience. Not both.

Why does everyone have such a hard time with this concept? Knowing it will happen and scripting it like a Hollywood movie writer are entirely different. J.P. Holding has a great discussion of that here, but I disagree with several points (as the main thrust of the article I’m linking to is to disprove a central tenet of Calvinism). Overall, though, it is an excellent summary of the difference between the passivity of knowing something, versus the activity of bringing it about.

Omniscience is the mere fact of knowing. It takes more than knowing the ultimate result of something to remove the free will of any agents involved in bringing about said final result.

“You’ve thoughtfully provided a litany of verses to prove me wrong, which when placed in their proper Scriptural and cultural context, don’t actually side with you:

* Matthew 13:49-50
* Mark 9:43-48
* Revelation 14:10-11
* Revelation 20:10, 15

Let’s examine each concept discussed.”

You can claim that the Bible is metaphorical, but the language is quite clear to me. The fact that it requires explanation to show that it means something other that what it plainly says is evidence to me that it is not divinely inspired.

You are wrong, now let me tell you why. The Bible wasn’t written yesterday, and for Doug Crews alone. The passages that I expounded were written between 50 and 95, which is over 2000 years ago. They weren’t even written in your native tongue of English. You are not the intended audience. In fact, Matthew, Mark, and Revelation all have different audiences. Matthew was for unconverted Jews, Mark wrote for the Romans, and John wrote Revelation to Christian leaders of seven specific churches in Asia Minor.

Since you have a totally different mindset than the intended audience of those Gospels and that apocalyptic prophecy, they require some explanation. The way you take those passages are not the same way that the intended audience took them.

Your argument boils down to, “I hear what you’re saying, and I can’t counter it, so I’m going to insist that you’re wrong anyway based my personal expectations of a divine message while forgetting that my personal expectations are largely irrelevant when determining truth.”

If you don’t think that those are metaphors when it is clear that the culture of that day would have taken them as such, the burden of proof is on you to show me why they aren’t metaphors.

Don’t tell me that you’re one of those skeptics who doesn’t think that literary devices are allowed in the Bible. I hate dealing with people like that.

“WOW. Okay, first of all, are you approaching this discussion with the presumption that you are correct (remember all of the first-person references to morality that you make?)? (snip) If I thought I was wrong, I would suck as an apologist.”

Yes, but it was *you* who took offense. I was just pointing out the apparent hypocrisy of taking offense at something that you are guilty of.

I have no response to that; none is needed. I’m only including it for the sake of completeness.

One question, though: Are you approaching this discussion believing you’re right?

“I hate when people refer to God as “my God” as much as people calling it the book of Revelations (you’ve pulled a hat trick on annoying me!).”

Cory, I assure you I am not trying to annoy you. I’ll plead Guilty on incorrectly calling it “Revelations”, and I will try to remedy that in the future.

As for “your God”, you have to understand that I do not believe God exists. I capitalize His name and pronouns out of respect for your beliefs, but don’t think for a second that I share them. The God you worship is just as unreal to me as the one worshiped by Muslims, or the one worshiped by Jewish people, or for that matter, Zeus and Thor.

Whether you believe that God is your God as much as he is mine is largely irrelevant to God, so I don’t know why I take exception. Every person belongs to God and is used by God, whether that person worships God or denies his existence (reference the fact that God refers to Nebuchadnezzer three times as his servant, in Jer 25:9, 27:6, and 43:10, even though Nebuchadnezzer was anything but by all outward appearances).

As for capitalizing the pronouns, I made a stylistic choice a few years ago to stop doing that because it makes proofreading a pain in the rumpus. The original MSS are uncial (ALL CAPS), so we have no way of knowing if the inspired authors intended that little quirk of grammar or not.

“Admitting that you’re a sinner is admitting that you need to be fixed, and if you’ve admitted that, then you are a cut above the atheists that I’ve talked to.”

Well, there’s always room for improvement, so I’m tempted to just agree with you here. But saying “I need to be fixed” is a little stronger that what I’m saying. It’s a little like the difference between “I could be a better driver than I am” and “I am unworthy of my drivers license”. So I think we still disagree.

But at least you admit that you fall short of a real moral standard that exists. That’s excellent. And a lot further than most atheists go. So we have one foot in the door. I’ll settle for that for the time being.

“As I’ve said before, all sin is deserving of death.”

We’ll have to disagree on this too. To me this is equivalent to saying “jaywalking is deserving of life in prison without parole”.

Not exactly, but I can see where you might think that would be the case.

Lacking a belief in God is working against you here. By falling short of the standard, even a teensy bit short of the standard, is still not measuring up to the standard. Each sin is a sin against God (see Psalm 51, specifically verse 4). And each offense against God is eternal in scope, since each offense indelibly marks our soul (itself eternal).

You’re looking at this from an earthly and time-bound perspective. God is neither of these things. Sins stay on us eternally, and can only be cleansed in a specific way (by the blood of the Lamb).

The point is not what we’ve done, but that (1) we have done it and can’t take it back, and (2) our nature is tainted beyond repair and must be cleansed as well. With both of those against us, it’s a wonder a holy and perfect God even gave us a second chance, let alone made the perfect sacrifice so that we could be cleansed and enjoy fellowship with him.

“The real point of [Numbers 31] is God’s judgment on sin; the writers of the Bible are trying to demonstrate God’s hatred of sin and his wrath on the unrighteous.”

And yet it was Israelite soldiers, not God, who were the instruments of that wrath. You haven’t answered yet whether you would be able to push a spear into the chest of a Midianite baby boy if God commanded you to.

First, there’s nothing wrong with the use of intermediaries. If entrepreneural humans didn’t use intermediaries, no business would ever get off the ground. Do you think that Bill Gates wrote every line of MS-DOS and then later Windows himself? Linus Torvalds developed the kernel of Linux by adapting UNIX for microcomputers, but do you think that Red Hat, Fedora, and Ubuntu all came from his hand?

Why, then, if delegation is acceptable for humans is God considered impotent for using it? Delegation does not denote inability to perform the task delegated. Delegation, in God’s case, means that he wants us to do the task, not that he couldn’t.

Why would that be the case? I don’t know. But God works through intermediaries. That is well-established in Scripture. As I’m fond of pointing out, when God told Joshua on several occasions that the enemies were given to him, Joshua still had to fight the battle. He didn’t order his troops to go out into the battlefield and sit down, on the logic that the Lord will prevail that day as prophesied. As Deuteronomy 29:29 says, there are things for God alone, and there are things for us. Instead of focusing on stuff that’s for God (such as why he doesn’t just do everything for us, though I don’t know any Christians that wonder that; mostly it’s just atheists that bring that up), focus on stuff we can and should do.

Would I run the Midianite through at God’s command? I’m not sure that I have that kind of ferocity in me. So, no, I don’t think I would. Perhaps it would be different if I were raised in Israelite culture and bred to be a warrior, but I can’t be sure. If God talked to me tomorrow and told me to kill someone, I wouldn’t do it unless that person presented some obvious threat to my family, me, or society at large. This branches off into some serious implications that I will discuss at length later. It’s time to create a special section of the site for Old Testament issues, like so-called changing morality and divinely commanded genocide. Look for that soon.

“‘It’s brave of you to admit [your pornography addiction] publicly. But don’t you wonder why God created you that way?’

Yes, yes I have. So?”

Okay, just wondering. I can explain a predeliction to pornography in a Darwinian universe as an unfortunate side effect of the male human’s visually stimulated sexual drive, but I cannot fathom why God would have chosen to create you to suffer with it.

You can explain my predilection to pornography by appealing to the male tendency to want numerous females to mate with, due to the fact that we desire to spread our genes around. Perhaps we subconsciously believe them superior to others, perhaps there are other reasons. Any way that you slice it, the male of the species wants to continue his genetic line, and the best way to do that is with a lot of offspring. Therefore, we desire lots of females with which to copulate.

As polygamy is out of fashion in modernity, fantasy is the only way I can express the urge to mate with many, many females. Does that about cover it?

In that frame, pornography addiction does make sense. Yet, when you factor in that God exists, to you, that suddenly stops making sense. Why?

God re-creates my spirit, refashioning it so that I am now good and therefore not predisposed to evil. However, the material world, of which my flesh is still a part, is fallen and therefore retains that predilection to evil. God has promised to remake the heavens and the earth so all taint of evil will be gone, but that is a long way off yet. Meanwhile, I struggle with things in my flesh.

Why? I don’t know. I’d like to know why God considers looking upon a female with lustful intent an act of evil, and I’d further like to know why he created me in such a way that it is struggle to avoid that.

As an answer is not forthcoming, so all I can do is persevere. I do trust God, and I trust that everything he does is for a reason. I may not understand it, I may not even fathom it, but I can give myself over to trust that God is doing it for the greater good, since he is the good (as Plato might say).

“The truth is, the ultimate grounding for your morality is your personal opinion, which is the reason that the pronoun “I” creeps into every phrase describing “morality” as you understand it. If you have nothing else to ground your morality in but mere opinion, then you might as well just declare it open season on everyone who annoys you.”

Ah, there is your misunderstanding. We as a society create our morality. The Bronze Age scribes who (I assert) wrote the Bible had no problem with brutality in war and everyday slavery. In 21st century America, these things are no longer moral. But for timeless God, they apparently still are.

Saying “We as a society create our morality” gets you out of the private judgment problem that I’ve alluded to, but not by much. So, society determines morals? How? Majority vote?

What happens if a powerful and deep-pocketed group of lobbyists successfully used public education, TV advertisements, and spread enough money, collected enough signatures, and managed to get our elected officials to enact a law lowering the age of consent for sex to 9, and set the legal marrying age to 13? Since society decided it, would it then be right to do that?

Careful how you answer!

Oh, and most of German society supported what Hitler did. Nazi officers willingly slaughtered Jews because they believed it was the right thing to do. Since their society dubbed it righteous, does that make it so?

“But I doubt you live that out consistently. If morality is mere opinion, then why are you making statements to me that assume killing children and enslaving people are immoral as though I’m going to share this opinion? I’ll answer: you know I’m going to share your sentiment. You know this because there is a real, objective morality that exists, and killing children and enslaving people is wrong by its standards.”

Then how do you explain the numerous passages in the Bible which condone or *demand* these things? If there is a real, objective morality that forbids killing children and enslaving people, then the Bible is clearly in violation of it.

Nope, nope, nope. Show me forcible enslavement in the Bible, please. It ain’t there. Despite atheistic attempts to rewrite history, the original abolitionists were Christians. Yes, they opposed the established churches, but they were still Christians.

I’m no Catholicism fan, but guess what? The Catholic Church ended forcible enslavement during the waning years of the Roman Empire. And guess what else? Pope Gregory XVI issued a papal bull, In Supremo, which condemned both the slave trade itself in the New World and racial slavery in general:

We, by apostolic authority, warn and strongly exhort in the Lord faithful Christians of every condition that no one in the future dare bother unjustly, despoil of their possessions, or reduce to slavery Indians, Blacks or other such peoples.

So if the Bible is so pro-slavery, why the heck was it Christians who ended slavery–twice?

“What, then, grounds the morality?”

Society. It’s not pretty, it’s not neat, it’s not without conflict, and it’s certainly not unchanging. I’m not vegetarian by any standard (quite the opposite, in fact), but I have long predicted that in 200 years people will look back at the times where we killed animals and ate their flesh as barbaric as we view the times 200 years ago when we still owned black people.

This still raises the same questions: if our society decided that it was appropriate for the age of consent for sexual activity to be 9, would it then be right? German society approved of Hitler’s actions, and Nazi officers gleefully carried out the order to exterminate Jews, believing they were doing the right thing. Does that make it right?

Our morality has changed since Biblical days, it has changed since Revolutionary times, and it is still changing.

Actually, our society has changed. Morality, overall, hasn’t.

It is still wrong to steal. It is still wrong to lie. It is still wrong to murder someone (except in self-defense). We should still honor our parents. But adultery is prime example of society changing but morality remaining constant.

It was once acceptable for men to marry more than one woman. Some societies reversed that, making it fine for a woman to have several husbands. Within that polygamous marriage, it was perfectly fine to have as much sex as your little heart could take. However, the moment that one of the partners had sex with a person not involved in the marriage, that was wrong and punishable by imprisonment in some cultures, or death in many others (such as Israelite culture, see Lev 20:20).

Regardless of the societal definition of marriage, stepping outside of it was still wrong. That’s my point about a real moral fabric that exists and is up to us to discover. We didn’t one day decide that slavery was wrong. We realized that it was wrong, and then took steps to correct the problem.

The problem is that our society has gotten far too tolerant. It was once considered immodest for a lady to show anything other than her face; I have female (Christian!) friends on Facebook who wear bikinis to the beach or the local water park and post the pictures. No scandal at all.

For me to suggest that, biblically speaking, there should be a scandal, I’ll be called every name but my own–perhaps even by other Christians! “Oh, that’s great,” people would condescendingly say to me, “blame your sister-in-law’s friend for showing off her nice body rather than just keeping your eyes to yourself, since you’re 33 and she’s 17. You should know better.” While they have a point, I’m not blaming the girl for making my eyes wander. I’m trying to call her to a Christian account for her actions. For that, I’m the asshole.

The point is, some things will change. But there is a fabric of morality that exists that won’t change. Just because some society somewhere deems something correct doesn’t mean that it is. Society doesn’t decide morals. Society discovers them, and doesn’t always do right by them.

We, looking back realize that that’s true. We know that Hitler was evil, despite the approval of German society at the time. We know, thanks to psychological facts, that 9 is too young to consent to sex and that intercourse at that age can cause permanent damage to the young person in question. Therefore, there must be a transcendent basis for these morals. We have to be aiming at something, and we are definitely judging by something.

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About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on November 13, 2010, in Apologetics, God, Morality, Religion, Roman Catholicism, Sin, Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Yow, that’s really long. I may have to tackle it in pieces.

  2. Cory-

    I’m going to try to keep this a little shorter than I normally would, as this much text tends to provoke a response of “tl;dr” from many people.

    But first, let me address your specific challenges as I see them.

    ***

    Cory: Further, please show me where God commands slavery. I don’t see it.

    (and later) Show me forcible enslavement in the Bible, please.

    Doug: Numbers 31:18
    “But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.”

    It’s clear to me that “keep alive for yourselves” indicates either A) slavery, or B) rape. Possibly both. They are not being let free, unless I’m missing a third option that would be appropriate for a Bronze Age tribe.

    All enslavement is forcible. Otherwise they’re just groupies.

    In addition, there are many passages in the Bible that discuss how to treat your slaves, but nary a one that says anything like “thou shalt not keep thy fellow man in involutary servitude”.

    See here, for example: http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/says_about/slavery.html

    ***

    Cory: Knowing it will happen and scripting it like a Hollywood movie writer are entirely different.

    Doug: I think I can sort of see where you’re going here. Some writers will tell you that their characters actions will surprise them sometimes, even as they’re being written by the author. So I can see how that could happen with Free Will and all that. But when the author (as opposed to The Author) finishes her manuscript and types “The End”, if she is not happy with how the story turns out she can always go back and edit before she submits her work. Obviously, God wanted you to suffer with a prediliction for pornography and for me to suffer in eternity for being an atheist. Otherwise he would have revised his cast of characters thusly:

    (OLD)
    Cory Tucholski: good Christian family man, but struggles against improper sexual urges
    Douglas Crews: good family man; ultimately doomed because he is atheist

    (NEW)
    Cory Tucholski: good Christian family man
    Douglas Crews: good Christian family man

    The fact that he did not indicates that either A) he wanted us to suffer, B) he could not predict that we would suffer, or C) he does not care if we suffer or not.

    ***

    Cory: The Bible wasn’t written yesterday, and for Doug Crews alone.

    Since you have a totally different mindset than the intended audience of those Gospels and that apocalyptic prophecy, they require some explanation.

    Your argument boils down to, “I hear what you’re saying, and I can’t counter it, so I’m going to insist that you’re wrong anyway based my personal expectations of a divine message while forgetting that my personal expectations are largely irrelevant when determining truth.”

    Doug: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Don’t put words in my mouth. I think I was quite clear in my response. I repeat my point: if the Bible is the ultimate truth of almighty, all-knowing, and all-powerful God, then it should be understandable to anyone at any time. The fact that Bronze Age symbolism must be explained a scant 2000 years later in order to be clear to a literate, well-educated reader indicates that it is not divine in origin.

    ***

    Cory: The point is not what we’ve done, but that (1) we have done it and can’t take it back, and (2) our nature is tainted beyond repair and must be cleansed as well. With both of those against us, it’s a wonder a holy and perfect God even gave us a second chance, let alone made the perfect sacrifice so that we could be cleansed and enjoy fellowship with him.

    Doug: I find the notion that “our nature is tainted beyond repair” to be profoundly psychologically damaging. You say that falling short of God’s (unreachable?) standard by even the tiniest bit is multiplied by the infinity of existence, and thus worthy of eternal punishment.

    You’re a father, as I am, so let me present you with this. In order to get dinner every night, my children must clean their rooms to the standards of a hospital surgery room. If they fail on even the tiniest measurement (and I use only the best instruments to test temperature, pressure, humidity, RPM, conductivity/resistivity, differential pressure, flow and level sensors, particle counters, electronic transmitters), then they are not worthy of dinner. Every night I tell them how they have failed me, and cannot in fact ever possibly succeed, but I forgive them and allow them dinner anyway. Am I a good father?

    (Now, I’ll bet you didn’t need this additional explanation that the previous paragraph was a parable, and not real. Am I correct?)

    ***

    Cory: First, there’s nothing wrong with the use of intermediaries. If entrepreneural humans didn’t use intermediaries, no business would ever get off the ground. Do you think that Bill Gates wrote every line of MS-DOS and then later Windows himself?

    Doug: Ah, but Bill Gates is not omnipotent. God is. Why are you doing his dirty work when he can just *think* and make it happen?

    ***

    Okay, now let’s tackle the big gorilla. Is morality timeless and unchanging from God, or is it defined by human society and thus malleable?

    You ask whether it would be moral for a German in the 1930’s to support Hitler, since his society made that collective decision. And I have to concede that point if I’m to be intellectually honest.

    But that’s monstrous! How can I say that? Well, it boils down to this simple concept: I am interested in describing the world as it really is, not how I wish it would be. So unfortunate results like Hitler being moral in the context of his own society are some of the results.

    Much like the evolution of our species, the evolution of our morality has no endpoint, no goal. Sometimes it runs backward or sideways, or changes course entirely. The danger of our morality evolving into a Nazi regime, or away from democracy, or into an Orwellian dystopia is very real and we must guard against it carefully.

    And the history is clear.

    Slavery was normal and expected in Biblical times, as was what we now would call genocide.

    The Catholic Church who you admire for helping to end slavery was the same one that tortured and killed thousands in the course of hunting witches that did not, never did, and never will, exist.

    Is it moral to deny voting rights to women, minorities, and anyone who doesn’t own land? The fine, upstanding, wise men who drafted the U.S. Constitution certainly thought so, and at the time this was deemed normal and justified.

    Should people of different races be allowed to marry? It wasn’t so long ago that this was considered immoral.

    Should people of the same gender be allowed to marry? You probably think they shouldn’t, but the tide of public opinion is changing and this will happen within our lifetimes. I, for one, see it as the moral and proper way of things.

    Should people be allowed to kill animals and eat their flesh? Well, of course! But in 200 years, when vegetable-based substitutes are commonplace and just as tasty, they may look back on 21st century carnivorousness as barbarism comparable to slavery.

    Should people be allowed to kill in self-defense? Of course! Everyone agrees on that. But in 500 years, when we have perfected the art of making backup copies of our minds and thus making death an inconvenience rather than an end, even this may change.

    And I want to repeat this point, because it’s critical: I want to describe the world as it is, not how I wish it was.

    Your perfect and unchanging morality from God is so abstract as to be meaningless. Is slavery wrong? Genocide? Should you be stoned to death for working on the Sabbath? Or for disrespecting your parents? All these things are in the Bible as God’s instructions for how to live our lives for him.

    Cory, you accuse me of placing my own human morality above God’s. And I agree with you, I do find mine vastly superior. But I think you do, too, at least a little:

    Cory: Would I run the Midianite through at God’s command? I’m not sure that I have that kind of ferocity in me. So, no, I don’t think I would. Perhaps it would be different if I were raised in Israelite culture and bred to be a warrior, but I can’t be sure. If God talked to me tomorrow and told me to kill someone, I wouldn’t do it unless that person presented some obvious threat to my family, me, or society at large.

    You have just admitted that you hold your own morality over God’s. Right here:

    “If God talked to me tomorrow and told me to kill someone, I wouldn’t do it unless…”

    Bingo! So when the chips are down, God’s morality is subject to your morality. I only know you through our interactions here, but this decision alone is enough to make you a better person than God could ever be.

    I’ll end here to keep the “tl;dr” responses down to 99%.

    (“tl;dr”, for those who don’t know, is internetspeak for “too long;didn’t read”).

    Thanks for the conversation, Cory. I’m really enjoying it.

  1. Pingback: Old Post, but New to Me « Josiah Concept Ministries

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