I'm going to comment on this post:
In critiquing atheism, one approach is to pick on the highbrow atheists, viz. Graham Oppy, Theodore Drange, Jordan Sobel. That's attacking the strongest version of atheism.
However, the average atheist doesn't operate at that level. The atheists you run across on the Internet are generally like Casper Rigsby. Even though he's inept, he's representative of the garden-variety atheist.
Moreover, these are stock objections to Christianity, so it's sometimes worth responding to atheists like him, since that's a more realistic sample group:
There are certain questions that no biblical literalist can answer honestly. This isn't to say that they can't answer these questions at all, but only that any answer they give is either an evasion of actually answering the question, or the answer is absolutely fallacious.
The way he frames the debate is prejudicial. He doesn't define a "literalist." And he attempts to discredit intelligent answers in advance as "evasive." In other words, if you give an intelligent answer, if you qualify his crude formulations, that's "evasive."
1. Can you make a moral judgment against rape or slavery using only scripture?
So when the literalist is taken to task on this and asked to justify his moral judgment based on a strictly biblical worldview, they run into a problem.
He has the simple-minded notion that this is a matter of prooftexting. But Christians can also appeal to Biblical principles:
i) Rape typically inflicts devastating psychological harm on the victim. As a rule, we should avoid harming the innocent. That's a prima facie principle in Biblical ethics.
ii) Even in situations where, through misconduct, the culprit has forfeited his ordinary immunity not to be harmed, we need to avoid types of punishment that are morally or psychotically damaging to the punisher.
iii) Rev 18 condemns the Roman economic system, based on chattel slavery. Cf. R. Bauckham, "The Economic Critique of Rom in Revelation 18," The Climax of Prophecy (T&T Clark 2000), chap. 10.
iv) As I recently said, whether slavery is morally condemnable depends on what kind of slavery you're talking about, how someone becomes enslaved, and the viable alternatives.
All things being equal, a Christian could condemn slavery on the grounds that in a fallen world it's generally imprudent to give one person that much power over another.
Likewise, it denies the slave the freedom to exercise his duties to God (i.e. his duty to obey God in all things). A slave must do whatever the master tells him to do rather than what God tells him to do.
Moreover, unless the slave had done something to forfeit his freedom, liberty should be the default condition.
There are, however, situations in which a person can, through misconduct, forfeit his freedom.
Likewise, there are situations where the lesser evil principle the best available option.
The problem they run into is that there is absolutely zero scripture that says these acts are acts of moral turpitude. They can search the bible till their fingers fly off, and not once will find a single scripture that says rape and slavery are morally wrong.Not even one.For the part of rape, there is a guideline for what to do if someone rapes your virgin daughter. This issue is addressed from the perspective that one's daughter is one's property and that the act of rape diminishes the value of that property. Apparently, to make amends for the damage of that man's property, the rapist is to marry the girl whom he attacked and violated and give her dad some money. Nowhere in this scripture is there any mention that the act of rape itself is a morally reprehensible act.
Casper's characterization is ignorant and confused:
i) The Bible treats presumptive rape as a capital offense (Deut 22:25).
ii) But Casper fails to draw the elementary distinction between provable rape allegation and unprovable rape allegations. Even in the age of hitech forensics, rape is often hard to prove:
Physical evidence is not as common as CSI would have us believe. Fluids and fibers are rarely present to expose the bad guy. Medical exams are not the smoking guns that will tell us once and for all if a woman was raped. Cases can be proven with either circumstantial or direct evidence. Both are welcome in court, but direct evidence is a lot more satisfying in a YouTube world where everything is caught on tape. Because sexual abuse is intrinsically a private act, direct evidence is usually only provided by the victim.
So the Mosaic law also deals with hypothetical cases of seduction or alleged rape–for which there's no proof or presumption. Does Casper think men should be convicted and punished on bare accusations? Even blue ribbon liberals at Harvard Law School disagree take issue with that one-sided approach:
For quite some time Christians of all stripes, but especially the literalist crowd, have argued that atheists and secularists lack an objective basis for moral judgment.
Casper is ignorant of what his own side is saying. This isn't just a Christian characterization of atheists. Many secular philosophers admit that atheism can't justify moral realism.
My secular ethical position and worldview says implicitly that rape and slavery are morally reprehensible and unethical acts. Furthermore, my worldview can back up that assertion from a strictly objective logical stance. And most importantly, any Christian who wishes to justify a moral judgment against these acts, must actually acquiesce to a secular ethical reasoning to do so.
i) He offers no supporting arguments for his contention.
ii) Even if (ex hypothesi) secular ethics could ground objective moral norms, according to physicalism and naturalistic evolution, which is the default view of modern atheists, a human is just a temporary, fortuitous collection of particles. In what respect is it wrong to damage an entity like that?
iii) Consider a hypothetical scenario in which a pandemic renders most women infertile. For the human race to maintain a replacement rate, the few fertile women must produce as many children as they are capable of bearing. But what if they refuse? Should the human race become extinct?
On that scenario, a secular ethicist could justify rape on consequentialist grounds.
2. Would you sacrifice your child if god asked you to?
To begin with, the question is confused. This could mean either of two things:
i) Would you sacrifice your child if God actually asked you to?
ii) Would you sacrifice your child if you thought God asked you to?
The first formulation (i) grants the existence of God. But in that event, does Casper think a person should refuse God? Is that realistic?
The second formulation (ii) raises questions of verification. A person might ask, which is more likely: God asked me to sacrifice my child, or I'm losing my mind?
You see, despite what many Christians want to believe, the bible makes it very clear that god has, and therefore could again, ask for someone to murder their own child as a sacrifice.
i) The question ("Would you sacrifice your child if god asked you to?") is equivocal. It could mean either of two things:
a) If God asked you to sacrifice your child, would you go through with it?
b) If God asked you to sacrifice your child, would you begin to comply with the request? Would you make preparations?
ii) The Bible presents Gen 22 as a one-time event to confirm the Abrahamic covenant. An unrepeatable type of event in redemptive history. Redemptive history is irreversible.
iii) God doesn't allow Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. So, based on precedent (Gen 22), I wouldn't sacrifice my child if God asked me to, since the only time God ever asked anyone to do that, God's initial command was followed by a last-minute prohibition.
The moral of the story is not how it begins, but how it ends. God forbad Abraham to carry out the command.
Therefore, if precedent is my cue–which is Casper's set-up–then I should refrain from human sacrifice, even if God tells me to.
iv) In the nature of the case, Gen 22 is an unrepeatable test, because we know that God was bluffing. Once God tipped his hand, that gambit can't work a second time. A bluff is only convincing if your opponent doesn't know you're bluffing. It's something you can only try once.
Christians will point to the scripture of Abraham's near murder and sacrifice of Isaac and say, "See. God stayed his hand, which shows that god would never ask me to do that". Of course, they overlook the other bits of scripture where god actually did allow a child sacrifice.
i) But that means Casper is backpedaling from his original question.
ii) The fact that God allows child sacrifice doesn't imply that we should practice child sacrifice. That's a non sequitur. The fact that God permits evil doesn't mean it's permissible to commit evil.
They also conveniently overlook the fact that god supposedly sacrificed his own son to himself on humanity's behalf.
That's fatally equivocal. The divine Son Incarnate is hardly equivalent to "child" sacrifice. It's more like a suicide mission by a soldier to save innocent lives.
3. Is it acceptable to cherry pick the bible and only follow the parts you agree with?
Of course, if you live in any civilized society, you actually can't follow the bible literally. Let me rephrase that. You can follow the bible literally, but you'll end up dead or in prison. In civilized societies the notion of murdering your child for disobedience seems barbaric.
i) That simply begs the question.
ii) Does he mean "child" in the chronological sense or biological sense? If a 17-year-old commits murder, the fact that he's someone's child shouldn't exempt him from capital punishment.
4. How did animal X get from point Y to point Z after the great flood?
This may seem like a weird question, but it just takes some understanding of the variables at play here.You see, animal X can be any number of animals, from kangaroos and Tasmanian devils, to any number of other regionally specific animal, such as my favorite, the penguin.Point Y is actually not a variable, but is actually a set location. That location being ancient Mesopotamia.And finally, point Z is any variable geographic location.So, this question could be worded like this:"How did penguins get from ancient Mesopotamia to Antarctica?"Or"How did kangaroos get from ancient Mesopotamia to Australia?"Now, I'll go ahead and spoil the fun here, and tell you that there is not one single word in the bible about how this happened. The bible claims that two of every animal, a male and female, got onto the boat. We assume they got off the boat at the same spot the boat landed, where Noah and his family got off. That would be a mountain in the Arab region of the world. So how did penguins get from there to Antarctica? And how did kangaroos get to Australia?The bible has nothing to say on the matter. But science, on the other hand, has a lot to say about it.First off, science tells us that it is nearly a physical impossibility for one male and one female to preserve a species. Especially a species that often only produces one or two offspring in a lifetime. If infant mortality doesn't wipe them out, genetic disorders due to inbreeding almost certainly would.But let's assume that they live and mate and repopulate. They certainly can't do this in a state of persistent migration. So it seems that there would need to be at least some period of repopulation before migration. If that's the case, there should be evidence of this. But I can promise you that no one is ever going to dig up penguin or kangaroo remains in Baghdad. The reason no one will ever dig up remains of those animals in the Arab region is because those animals have never lived in that region of this planet. In fact, penguins have never existed anywhere above the equator other than the Galapagos islands.
His objection suffers from multiple confusions:
i) Casper is too unsophisticated to realize that his question is terribly anachronistic. When a modern reader interprets an ancient text, he should try to project himself into the thought-world of the original audience. The real issue isn't how a modern reader would try to answer that question, but how the original reader would answer that question.
Imagine that you're a Jew in the ANE. If you ask yourself, "How did animal X get from point Y to point Z after the great flood?" how would you answer that question?
Given your view of the known world, how is that even a problem?
ii) You see, Casper is beginning with a map of the globe, a list of specialist species, then posing some logistical challenges. But why should that be the frame of reference? That's substitutes a modern perspective that's very different from the viewpoint of the original audience. Flooding the known world (i.e. the Near East) would be a local flood.
It's not about crossing natural barriers (the Atlantic ocean, the Pacific ocean, the Rocky mountains). That's extraneous to the outlook of the original audience. That superimposes an alien interpretive grid on the ancient text.
iii) Now Casper might exclaim that that proves his point. They didn't know any better. But even if that's the case, his objection is confused. It's a hybrid interpretation in which he incoherently combines modern geography with the local viewpoint of the original audience. But that's not exegesis. That conflates two things that don't go together.
iv) However, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Noah's flood was a world-wide event. To begin with, contemporary creationism doesn't believe that every specialized species was on the ark. Creationism makes allowance for adaptation, speciation, microevolution. Some of today's specialized species derive from generalized species.
v) The US contains many species that didn't originate in the US. How did they get here? Not on their own steam. Rather, they were brought here. For instance, some hunters introduced the European wild boar into parts of the US as a game species.
By the same token, ancient mariners could introduce exotic species into native habitat. In some cases this was deliberate. Livestock and game species. In addition, domestic species that escape become feral animals. Some of them interbreed with compatible wild animals, producing new species. You might also have stowaways.
vi) There are remote islands in the Pacific ocean with fauna and flora. Even Darwinians don't think the wildlife originated on those islands. So they speculate on how it got there.
vii) Some creationists postulate that animals rode ocean currents on natural rafts (mats of tangled vegetation and debris) to new locations.
viii) Which raises the possibility that some land animals outside the ark survived. They could feed on carrion. If so, it wouldn't be necessary to repopulate all the land animals from the sample on the ark. The ark contained a representative sample.
ix) Darwinians face a parallel problem in accounting for biogeography. For instance:
And don't even get me started on the weird history of biogeography. The weird thing in biogeography are the disjunctions - places where very similar species are separated by an ocean. Sometimes the species are on islands, and sometimes on separate continents. One explanation was vicariance - animals and plants got their modern distribution on land masses that are no longer there. In Darwin's day, this was the favorite explanation of a guy named Edward Forbes. He speculated that land bridges used to connect continents (like Europe and North America) so that species now separated by oceans used to have a much larger range on land that sank into the ocean. Then Darwin argued that Forbes was wrong and instead championed the occasional lucky dispersal across oceans to account for these disjunctions. Darwin even did experiments like floating seeds in saltwater to see how long they could go and still germinate. Then came plate tectonics and suddenly vicariance got some new life. There weren't land bridges, but the continents used to be all connected. Then plate tectonics and biogeography developed to the point where scientists decided that many disjunctions were much younger than the continental split, and so we're back to the occasional lucky dispersal as Darwin hypothesized. Today it's sort of a mix. Vicariance and dispersal are both invoked depending on the situation. I could go on and on. Madagascar is fascinating case study. You should look it up some time.
5. How did carnivorous dinosaurs supposedly eat plants before the biblical fall of man, when their teeth and digestive systems were not equipped to process a vegetarian diet?
i) Speaking for myself, I don't think all prelapsarian or prediluvian animals were herbivorous.
ii) However, creationists like Jonathan Sarfati postulate that predators had dormant genetic programs that were switched on after the Fall or flood.
Casper is too lazy to acquaint himself with the creationist literature. He raises question that have already been answered.
Now, he might take issue with the answer–but he doesn't even know what the answers are, even though these are readily available.
6. Can god tell a lie?
This is a variation of the old “can god make a rock so heavy that he can’t lift” question. The major difference here is that I address the issue from a strictly philosophical standpoint without invoking the science of physics. I find this to be a more appealing route, because religion is all about philosophy. So my tact has always been to fight bad philosophy with good philosophical arguments.So what we have with this question is a classic paradox situation. If god is omnipotent then god can do anything including lying. However, the bible says that god is the epitome of goodness and that lying is an act of moral turpitude. So no being which is wholly good could possibly also be a liar, and yet any being which cannot lie cannot also be omnipotent, because being incapable of lying would be a limitation that no omnipotent being should be beholden too.
This reveals his utter ignorance of philosophical theology. In Scripture and philosophical theology alike, omnipotence is not a self-referential attribute. It doesn't concern what God can do to himself. Rather, it's about what God can do in reference to everything that's not God. God's creative power. Miracles. providence. His field of action in relation to the world.
Casper commits an elementary category mistake. The fact that God's moral nature precludes him from doing certain things has no bearing on divine omnipotence–for that was never the object of divine omnipotence.
Another very good variation of this question is to pose the paradox of omniscience versus free will. In that form, the question becomes whether or not man can have free will while god simultaneously has omniscience. The paradox there lies in the idea that if god is omniscient and can honestly know exactly what will happen in the future, then mankind can't have free will. And if mankind has true free will, then god can't be omniscient.The reason for this paradox is very simple. You see, if you have true free will, then god can't know for sure what you will do until you choose to do it. And if god is omniscient, then he knows every choice you're going to make even before you make it and there can be no choice to stray from that path. So we see that the two ideas, just like god being benevolent and omnipotent, are mutually exclusive to one another.
Yet another example of his pig-ignorance of philosophical theology. There are many theologians who acknowledge the the dilemma between libertarian freedom and divine foreknowledge. Some relieve the dilemma by denying libertarian freedom, while others relieve the dilemma by denying divine foreknowledge.
That, however, is not a restriction on omnipotence. God's inability to perform a pseudotask is consistent with omnipotence.
These sorts of philosophical paradoxes are the bane of most literalists who debate these issues. The biggest reason why they can't address them honestly is that they don't really understand the terminology and ideas at play. Many of them conflate omniscience with prescience. Prescience being the ability to know all possible future outcomes but not determinately, and omniscience being the ability to know the distinct and exact future with absolute determination.
He doesn't tell us how he came up with his quirky definitions. In his confused and ignorant way, he seems to be groping at the distinction between foreknowledge and counterfactual knowledge.
From a biblical perspective, god is said to be omniscient and know the exact future with absolute certainty. We are told more than once that all things go according to god's will and that nothing can negate this. We're told that every plant and animal on earth bends to the will of god. This means that there are no accidents and there are no choices, but that everything is already predetermined and there can be no veering off the path.
He illustrates his ignorance of historical theology. There are major theological traditions, like Augustinianism, Thomism, and Calvinism, that embrace that conclusion.
7. Is observable physical evidence more important and valid than what the bible claims to be true?
i) That assumes there's no observable physical evidence that corroborates scripture.
ii) Moreover, "observable physical evidence" isn't more important or valid than other kinds of evidence. Take abstract objects.
8. Is there any amount of evidence that would change your views?
i) It doesn't occur to Casper that we can't change our views in toto. Our view of the evidence is, itself a viewpoint.
In order to change our views on something, we must privilege our views on other things. Not all beliefs are coequal. Some beliefs are control beliefs. They furnish the standard of comparison by which we evaluate other beliefs. Everything you believe can't up for grabs. If that were the case, you'd have no benchmark.
To change your view in light of the evidence assumes an interpretive framework. What counts as evidence? What is possible, impossible, probable, or actual? That depends on what you think the world is like.
ii) Christian faith isn't just one of those garden-variety beliefs that's subject to revision or rejection. To take a comparison, suppose I asked you: Is there any amount of evidence that would change your view concerning the reality of time?
The short answer is no. It's hard to see how my belief in the reality of time could be falsifiable. How could my experience of time be illusory? What kind of evidence could even possibly count against the reality of time? Time is too fundamental.
iii) Not every view has an alternative. You can change your views if you have something to fall back on. But what if the view in question hits bedrock?
9. What physical proof is there that your particular god even exists?
i) That's a prejudicial question. It's like asking, what's the physical proof that transfinite numbers exist? What's the physical proof that possible worlds exist?
Why would we expect physical evidence in the case of nonphysical entities?
ii) That said, there can be physical evidence for a nonphysical God. A nonphysical God can do things that have physical effects. Effects that are traceable to the agent. Examples include the argument from miracles, teleological argument, and (Leibnizian) cosmological argument.
With this one question I can destroy the notion of faith as it pertains to the biblical literalist.You see, one cannot have both proof and faith. The two, as with many other ideas I've mentioned, are mutually exclusive. The reason for this is that faith is the belief in something which cannot be proven, so if you have proof you can't have faith because proof negates faith. No one needs faith to believe that which is proven to be true.
Once more, this illustrates his ignorance of historical theology. Different theological traditions or representative thinkers have differing definitions of faith.
But to take one prominent example, Warfield defined Christian faith as knowledge based on testimony. Historical knowledge.
Notice that that's not a distinctive religious epistemology. To the contrary, most of what we know is based on testimonial evidence.
First, we must understand that god requires faith in him, not a book.
Classic false dichotomy. To have faith in God is to have faith in revealed truths about God.
10. Do you believe hell is a justifiable punishment for a simple lack of belief?
No one is published for "simple lack of belief," but culpable lack of belief.