God’s Atrocities in the Old Testament

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 24, 2009 in Ethics,General Atheism,William Lane Craig

God helps Israel slaughter the Amalekites.

Christians believe their God is all-good and all-loving. Atheists counter that, according to Christian’s own Bible, God is instead “the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (as Dawkins puts it).

For example:

  1. In Genesis 7:21-23, God drowns the entire population of the earth: men, women, children, fetuses, and animals.
  2. In Exodus 12:29, God the baby-killer slaughters all Egyptian firstborn children and cattle because their king was stubborn.
  3. In Numbers 16:41-49, the Israelites complain that God is killing too many of them. So, God sends a plague that kills 14,000 more of them.
  4. In 1 Samuel 6:19, God kills 50,000 men for peeking into the ark of the covenant.
  5. In Numbers 31:7-18, the Israelites kill all the Midianites except for the virgins, whom they are allowed to rape as spoils of war.
  6. In 2 Kings 2:23-24, some kids tease the prophet Elisha, and God sends bears to dismember them.

And the atrocities go on and on.

Christian apologist William Lane Craig offers the standard evangelical responses in his podcast on the topic. Let me respond to Craig point by point.

“This is a singular event.”

Craig says these horrifying commands of God are a singular event related to the conquest of Canaan.

Wrong. Even the few examples I gave above are not focused on the conquest of Canaan, and there are hundreds more atrocities performed by God or at his command, scattered throughout the Old Testament.

Second, even if it was a singular event, why would this matter? The Oklahoma City bombing was a singular event for Timothy McVeigh, but we couldn’t possibly say McVeigh was “all-good” despite this. Likewise, even if God only commanded genocide “a few times” during the conquest of Canaan, would we then be justified in calling him all-good? No. At the very least, such a god momentarily lapsed into an anti-social psychotic fit.

“God gave Canaan to the Israelites.”

Craig says God gave Canaan as a gift to the Israelites, so they had to wipe out the other people groups who were living there. First, this doesn’t explain away all the other atrocities committed by God throughout the Bible. Second, I’m sure the other tribal groups felt their God had given them that land, too. In fact, people groups in Israel and Palestine are still fighting over this.

Third, why couldn’t God just have these other people groups move, for Christ’s sake? There was plenty of empty land available! Heck, even shoving them off to Siberia is better than cutting to pieces all the men, women, children, animals, and fetuses of neighboring tribes. What a maniacal twat!

“Back then, things were different than modern warfare, in which we distinguish non-combatants.”

Craig says there is a distinction to be made between modern and ancient warfare. In modern warfare, we avoid killing innocent women and children and other non-combatants. But then, Craig doesn’t explain how this is any different from ancient warfare. Surely the Israelites could distinguish unarmed women and infants. In fact, it would have been even easier to do so, since everyone was killed one at a time by a sword or bow, not by missiles that destroy entire buildings.

“All this would prove is that the Bible is incorrect, not that God doesn’t exist.”

True. Biblical atrocities don’t disprove an all-good God (though, the abundance of suffering in the world just might). Biblical atrocities could just as well show that the Bible is incorrect – but this only makes Judaism and Christianity look all the more like foolish human inventions. Or it could mean that God exists, but is incredibly evil – in which case he is not worthy of worship or obedience. Or it could mean that Yahweh was invented to justify the human thirst for power and bloodshed – as seems to be the case with so many other gods.

“God can do whatever he wants.”

Craig says that because God is God, he can do whatever he wants. So, if he wants to violently destroy an entire nation of innocent people, he is morally allowed to do so. But what kind of “morality” is this? How awful! Craig really seems to believe that even things like genocide and rape can be moral if God feels like it.

“God gave us life, and he can take it away when he wants.”

How atrocious. When scientists are able to create new living beings that have desires and can feel pain, will we then be morally permitted to torture, rape, dismember, and murder them if we feel like it? This seems to be what Craig is arguing.

“Genocide is God’s punishment for sin.”

Craig says that before he sent the Israelites in to slaughter the Canaanites, God waited for the wickedness of the Canaanites to become so great he could allow it no longer. So, genocide is God’s punishment for sin. But what about all the infants and animals? Were they guilty of “sin,” too?

Laughably, Craig points out that one of the “abominable” sins of the Canaanites was that they were killing innocent children as human sacrifices. So, the punishment for killing innocent children is… killing more innocent children? Woah.

As for the children murdered at God’s command, Craig’s excuse is that this was another “object lesson” for the Israelites, who were commanded not to have sex with someone outside their race. So, God has the Israelites kill all the Canaanite children to prevent the Israelites from later interbreeding with them.

So, murdering innocent children is morally better than sleeping with someone of another race. Holy shit how racist and horrifying is that!? This, from a “respectable” Christian philosopher!

Finally, Craig says he believes in the doctrine of infant salvation; that babies will go to heaven if they die before they reach an age where they can make a decision about Jesus (even though there’s nothing in the Bible about that; it just feels nice). So, Craig says, “the destruction of these children was in fact their salvation.” In this way, Craig says that when God has innocent children violently slaughtered, he “does no wrong to them.” I guess you’d have to believe “God told me so” in order to believe something so awful!

This reminds me of the Spanish conquistadors, who would baptize infant Native Americans and then bash their brains out so they would go to heaven instead of growing up to worship their native gods and go to hell. And, if Craig’s right, why not kill all infants, or at least those most likely to grow up as non-Christians, in order to get them through the loophole to heaven?

And just to add the icing on this moral shitcake, Craig finishes by saying, “If anybody is wronged by this… it would seem to be the Israeli soldiers themselves… because… of the brutalizing effect on them of having to go and kill women and children.”

I don’t even know how to respond to this kind of thing. I guess we should pity the Nazis for having to rape and kill so many Jews because they thought God wanted them to do so.

Nazi belt buckle: "God with us."

Summary

This podcast, in which Craig defends a genocidal maniac as the most morally perfect being who ever existed, is a perfect example of how dogma can twist even the brightest minds. Craig does intellectual cartwheels to defend his invisible friend, instead of just admitting that “Yeah, maybe Yahweh is just a myth like the other 5,000 gods out there.”

But I know how this works. I used to believe all these things, too. Christian dogma gave me these horrifying moral ideas, too. Only my escape to reality allowed me to develop a better moral sense.

P.S. If anyone thinks what I’ve said is invalidated because I used “naughty words,” you need to examine your moral priorities, along with your basis for thinking some words are permissable but not others.

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{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

John March 24, 2009 at 9:32 pm

Great stuff.

The applied politics of the tribal genocidal “god”.

Plus Craig tells us in no uncertain terms that he is a very sick puppy, and what his politics are really all about. And those of his right-thinking religionists at the “Discovery” Institute etc etc etc.

Are you familiar with http://www.jesusneverexisted.com

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lukeprog March 24, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Thanks for the kudos.

jesusneverexisted.com immediately sends up red flags. Regarding the first paragraph on that site: I'm not persuaded by the arguments that Nazareth didn't exist in the 1st century, and I have no idea whether or not the 12 disciples existed. Certainly, it these things have not “been known” by scholars for over 200 years – in fact, nearly all scholars would reject those two claims!

Much of what the website claims is true, but much of it is suspect. Since it's difficult to separate truth from fiction on the site, I'd rather avoid that source altogether. There's lots of shoddy mythicism work out there. If you want to study mythicism, I'd stick to more reliable work: Richard Carrier, Robert Price, G.A. Wells, etc.

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Alden March 25, 2009 at 12:18 am

I find it interesting that many atheists spend so much time discussing the morality of a being they claim doesn't exist. The reality is, of course, that whether God is good, evil, or otherwise doesn't matter, unless He does exist. Even then, the issue of God's morality is fairly academic, as he came first, and yes, can do whatever he wants. The only practical question at that point is “how am I going to deal with this God?”

If someone is completely satisfied that God doesn't exist, then talking about his non-existent morality is a little like a guy who spends all his time talking about the girl who just dumped him; it sounds a bit obsessive. Or, it's possible that some may be looking for moral reasons to reject a belief in God, in which case it would seem that morality is more of an issue than they admit.

I am talking generally; I honestly haven't figured out where or if you would fit in the above analysis. But again, I do find it interesting that the morality of alleged non-existent beings appears to be such a big issue.

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Tory Phoenix March 25, 2009 at 1:53 am

It isn't that fact that we don't believe. Its the fact that so many people do believe. They take the sick tales of a man being asked to kill his own son as a sacrifice to 'GOD' and they portray it as the ideal way to be. That's insane and sick. Any person in today's society that would do such a thing and claim that 'GOD' told him to do it would be locked up fast enough to spin his head off. Even they bible bruising Christian's would be behind him being locked up because they recognize that he's mentally ill. Yet they can't seem to reconcile that with the fact that their own belief's say they should be defending and praising him for his faith.

It's these people that seem so detached from reality and the implications of their beliefs that also find it necessary to force their belief's on other. These same people are those that refuse to believe in evolution, who pray over their children rather then getting them medical treatment, who accuse me and anyone that doesn't agree with them of “persecuting” them. Not because we are, but because we won't simply bow to their demands of special treatment. Because we demand that we teach our children only facts in school, and that the church keep is “GOD Damned” hands out of government.

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nal March 25, 2009 at 5:32 am

Alden:
I find it interesting that many atheists spend so much time discussing the morality of a being they claim doesn't exist.

Atheists discuss the morality of a being that theists claim exists. It is theistic claims that are discussed.

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anselm March 25, 2009 at 6:12 am

I'm sorry, but atheists have no standing to lecture regarding the violent and oppressive implications of Christian belief when the experience of atheist government features Stalin, Mao, Kim Jong-Ill, etc. Atheists who have most prominently achieved political power have not been known for “tolerance” and refraining from “imposing their views on others.”

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anselm March 25, 2009 at 6:45 am

I believe a Jewish reader would be somewhat whipsawed by your sympathy regarding the holocaust after you condemn their religion (which has defined and preserved them as a people for 3,000 years through unspeakable persecution) as one invented by Jews so they could indulge “their thirst for power and bloodshed”, but put that aside.

You say:

“True. Biblical atrocities don’t disprove an all-good God (though, the abundance of suffering in the world just might). Biblical atrocities could just as well show that the Bible is incorrect – but this only makes Judaism and Christianity look all the more like foolish human inventions.”

Elsewhere on the blog, you say:

“And the case for the Resurrection is a historical one that can be made without appeals to Christian doctrine.”

If a skeptic accepted that God raised Jesus from the dead based on the historical case, why would the issue of Old Testament violence be crucial at that point? If you accept the resurrection, and therefore that God has vindicated Jesus as his Son, wouldn't that determine the truth of Christianity for you? Then the proper exegesis of the Old Testament becomes an “in-house” issue among Christians, where theologians differ in their interpretations. As Greg Boyd points out here http://tinyurl.com/c9f2rl , Christian faith is simply not what is at stake in resolving the issue of violence in the Old Testament.

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lukeprog March 25, 2009 at 7:00 am

As most Christian apologists – including Craig and Lewis – understand, the probability of the resurrection depends heavily on the probability of the existence and activity of Yahweh. Not just any powerful magical being, but Yahweh. Since the identity of Yahweh is traditionally very wrapped up in the claims made about him in the Bible, the Bible's account weighs heavily on the probability of traditional views of Yahweh. If you are a liberal Christian who denies the truth of most of the Bible (unlike Craig and Lewis), and only accepts the existence of some kind of abstract powerful being who resurrected Jesus, then that's a different matter and we must (just as before) attend to the specific arguments given in support of such a god and the resurrection of Jesus.

But even the resurrection of Jesus would only be a small step toward vindicating Christian doctrine. Christianity is not merely the claim that some kind of transcendent being exists, and used his magical powers to raise Jesus from the dead. Christianity also (typically) claims that (1) that god is the creator of the universe, (2) that same god is highly interested in human affairs, (3) that same god is the source of all moral values, (4) a special invisible realm called “heaven” exists, (4) a special invisible realm called “hell” exists, (5) Jesus still lives in some kind of magical super-body in the “heaven” realm, (5) humans have eternal souls that survive physical death, (6) Jesus can and will send these souls to heaven or hell upon the physical death of their carriers, based on certain criteria, (7) the identity of Jesus and this god are somehow very closely linked.

And that is an extremely minimal Christianity that says nothing about prayer, worship, commandments, the authority of scripture, divine action, specific moral commands, the Holy Spirit, or many other things. You can't smuggle all these extra propositions along with the bare arguments for the existence of some kind of transcendent being and his decision to raise a man from the dead.

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anselm March 25, 2009 at 7:33 am

The problem with your argument is that the resurrection (if it is accepted as historical) vindicates Jesus and his radical claims and throws a cloak of authority over the Bible and all the “extra propositions” you discuss. (This is why the “minimal facts” argument for the resurrection is so powerful: once the resurrection is established using evidence even skeptical scholars accept–including what they accept regarding the religio-historical context of the resurrection–the implications for biblical authority are clear). As Boyd puts it:

“Now, since I have historical and existential reasons for concluding that Jesus is the Son of God, it seems reasonable to me to conclude that God had something to do with providing the oral and written meta-narrative – the biblical narrative — that anticipates (in the Old Testament), looks back to (in the New Testament) and interprets Jesus’ coming. I thus have reasons for accepting that the Bible is inspired. What is more, reading the Gospels as generally reliable historical documents (see the above mentioned works ["Lord or Legend?" and "The Jesus Legend" by Boyd and Eddy] for arguments supporting this assessment), it appears that Jesus himself viewed the Old Testament as God’s Word and that he saw himself and the community of his followers as carrying on this same Spirit-inspired authority. Since I believe Jesus is the Son of God and have made him Lord of my life, I’m inclined to think he was correct in his basic theological views, and thus correct in his assessment of the biblical tradition. (I have other reasons for believing the Bible is God’s infallible Word, but these are my main two).”

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Kevin March 25, 2009 at 8:52 am

Well done. This notion that “God gave us life, and he can take it away when he wants” has always struck me as especially absurd, and you knocked it down perfectly. In spite of what Christianity says about the intrinsic value of human life, comments like this make it clear that we are a mere means to whatever capricious ends God may have. We are property.

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Alden March 25, 2009 at 10:09 am

nal, my point exactly. However, logically the morality of a being says nothing about the existence of the being.

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Alden March 25, 2009 at 10:15 am

Tory, it IS actually the fact that you don't believe. If you really want to take issue with what Christians believe, then start there, not with what some atheist claims that Christians believe. I've seen very few – if indeed, any – atheists who accurately represent orthodox Christian doctrine, including those who have been raised in the church. Granted, there are some very questionable, legalistic churches who according to Paul in Galatians, are teaching no gospel at all.

As to the revelation of God in the Old Testament, the New Testament writings indicate that God was imperfectly revealed in the Old Testament, and that we are to start with the person of Jesus as the truest representation of God that we have.

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Alden March 25, 2009 at 10:20 am

Anselm, I believe you are correct. While God must be presupposed to believe “God raised Jesus from the dead,” the historicity of the resurrection is believable on its own merits, which then supports Jesus' claims of divinity.

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Alden March 25, 2009 at 10:37 am

Kevin, nothing has in fact been knocked down. While the current state of atheism depends heavily on modernism & rationalism, it seems that very, very few atheists understand the philosophical basis for their presuppositions. Most atheistic arguments depend on claims and presumptions which have not been proven in themselves. A common response to this is often, “well, Christianity depends on presuppositions, too.” Yes, I believe that is the case; however, for atheists, it is internally inconsistent.

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Gary March 25, 2009 at 11:51 am

I think your 5000 other gods refernce is low. My dad just got back from a missionary trip to India and reported that they have over 300 million gods in Hinduism alone.

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Teleprompter March 25, 2009 at 12:21 pm

Orthodox Christian doctrine? Please explain.

Doesn't Christianity misrepresent itself enough on its own? So many denominations and traditions, competing for influence, it can be astounding to observe them all try to represent the “true” Christianity.

Unfortunately, almost any time that someone presents a major argument against some idea in Christianity, there will still be a large percentage of believers who also disagree with the stated idea.

I think it is more productive to examine Christianities than it is to examine Christianity as if it is one, singular, unfragmented tradition.

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Teleprompter March 25, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Really? So if a religion posits the existence of a certain type of god (which has a certain type of morality), and it can be shown that characteristics associated with the concept are not in line with the claims which have been made, wouldn't that undermine the claims of existence (as in, X exists and X is like such and such, but if X can be shown to not be such and such or if no X can be such and such, then it would be irrational to believe the claims that X exists in such and such form as originally suggested)?

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lukeprog March 25, 2009 at 12:34 pm

“The problem with your argument is that the resurrection (if it is accepted as historical) vindicates Jesus and his radical claims and throws a cloak of authority over the Bible and all the “extra propositions” you discuss.”

Holy crap no.

As I wrote earlier:

If we have evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, they say, that confirms the truth of Christianity’s claims (p 28). Here begins the apologist’s habit of jumping way beyond what the evidence says. If we have evidence that Jesus rose from the dead, what does that show? That Jesus rose from the dead. And that’s it.

Evidence for the Resurrection would not tell us if Jesus was God or man. It wouldn’t tell us whether he wanted to preach the end of the world or start a non-violent movement or save our souls. Did Jesus offer salvation to Gentiles, or just Jews, or nobody? Was his God the violent Jewish god Yahweh, or another god? Did he consider the Jewish Bible scripture or not? Did he send the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? Would he agree with Matthew’s version of the gospel, or John’s, or Paul’s, or nobody’s? Was Jesus even trying to start a religion? These and other questions would remain unanswered by the evidence, even if the resurrection could be proven.

And of course, early Christians who believed in the Resurrection had different answers to all these questions.1 The Ebionites thought Jewish law and ritual must be observed. The Marcionites thought that the god who sent Jesus had to be different than the vicious, genocidal god of the Jews. Gnostic Christians thought salvation came by learning secret truths. Basilidean Christians believed in 365 heavens, each with its own god.

The New Testament records such disagreements, too. Did Jesus say the Law would never perish (Matt. 5:17-19) or that it perished with John (Luke 16:16)? Is salvation only for the Jews (Matt. 15:24; Matt. 10:5-6; John 4:22) or also for the Gentiles (Acts 13:47-48)? Will salvation come to all who call on the Lord (Rom. 10:13; Acts 2:21.), or only to those predestined to be saved (Acts 13:48; Eph. 1:4-5; 2 Thes. 2:13; Acts 2:47)? Is anger itself a sin (Matt. 5:22) or not (Eph. 4:26)? Many times, the New Testament mentions other Christian groups that teach a “different gospel” (1 Tim. 1:3-7, 2 Tim. 2:17-18, 1 Cor. 15:12, 1 John 4:1-3, 2 John 1:7), for example that Jesus never had a physical body. Paul thought Christians should abstain from sex altogether,2 but luckily for Christians, other leaders of the church disagreed – otherwise Christianity may not have survived more than a few generations.

The simple fact is that basic Christianity – what C.S. Lewis called Mere Christianity – depends on an astounding number of outlandish, often magical claims for which we do not – in some cases, cannot – have good evidence. This was not a problem when the religion began, when people had no need for evidence. But the modern Christian apologist – having grown up with a respect for evidence and reason but also a committed faith in the unprovable claims of Christianity – finds himself in quite a bind. He must always hope that a tiny shred of ancient, fragmentary evidence can verify just one claim of Christianity, and thereby verify all the others.

But it doesn’t work that way. Evidence that Joseph Smith really received the golden plates from the angel Moroni would not show that God exists, that he is good, that we will be punished for our “sins,” that dunking your head underwater cleanses you of sin, that we can speak in a holy language, or that the New Jerusalem will be built in America. Each needs its own proof. And even if Jesus rose from the dead, that does not give us any indication that Yahweh is God, that he is good, that he will torture disbelievers in hell and send believers to heaven, that salvation comes from belief in Jesus, that there are no other gods, or that Jesus listens to millions of prayers simultaneously. Even if the Resurrection is proved, we still have no evidence to support the other claims of basic Christianity. They are as unproven as the claims of Mormonism or Islam or Jainism or Norse mythology.

Each proposition needs its own evidential support unless it follows logically from a premise already proven. None of the Christian doctrines logically follow from “Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead.”

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anselm March 25, 2009 at 1:24 pm

That's quite a remarkable position you take there, one that I doubt many atheists would be enthusiastic about. If the proposition “Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead” is conceded, it is Game Over for the atheist. Yes, there is systematic theology and exegesis to still be done (and it is an interesting field to study, even as an amateur like myself–you, like former atheist Greg Boyd, might make a good theologian! Come on in, the water's fine).

Let's look at what is conceded if the truth of the statement “Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead” is granted:

1) Yahweh exists (!)
2) The resurrection happened (!)
3) It did so in a religio-historical context in which Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament, thus vindicating the biblical narrative and his radical claims (!)

The “argument from authority” (which is weak if the authority is a mere human) becomes irresistible once you concede that the authority is Yahweh and that Yahweh exists. Accepting the bible as infallible is a minor step after accepting that paradigm-shattering truth.

As Wolfhart Pannenberg said: “The resurrection of Jesus acquires such decisive meaning, not merely because someone or anyone has been raised from the dead, but because it is Jesus of Nazareth, whose execution was instigated by the Jews because he had blasphemed against God. If this man was raised from the dead, then that plainly means that the God whom he had supposedly blasphemed has committed himself to him…The resurrection can only be understood as the divine vindication of the man whom the Jews had rejected as a blasphemer.” (in “Jesu Geschichte und unsere Geschichte”).

I seriously doubt many atheists would be as sanguine as you are that Christianity would still not be considered proven if the proposition “Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead” were considered proven.

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Geoffrey of Ballard March 25, 2009 at 3:18 pm

One can see why Marcion had such a strong following for hundreds of years. He dropped the Hebrew Bible altogether.

Even now, it's hard to find Christians who fully embrace the Old Testament as a timeless source of morality.

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Kevin March 25, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Nice red herring. Care to address the issue at hand? Even on the Christian view of things, is it not internally inconsistent to claim that action X is immoral, but then say it is acceptable for God to do action X? If you have a defense of this notion that God can do whatever he likes with us, I'd like to hear it. I don't see how any defense of this can end without either denying that God is morally good or denying that such atrocities as genocide, the murder of innocents, and so on are morally good.

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lukeprog March 25, 2009 at 4:36 pm

No, (3) does not follow from “Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead.

Obviously, I do not concede the proposition “Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead.” In fact, I find it absurd. But that is another debate, one that I shall happily have as I write for this blog. :)

All I'm saying is that the hundreds of propositions that make up Christianity do NOT follow from “Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead.” This would certainly defeat naturalism and atheism, but it would not demonstrate Christianity in all its bizarre codes and creeds.

It does not even follow that Yahweh is all-powerful, or all-good, or reveals himself to humanity truthfully. It does not follow that Yahweh revealed himself in Genesis, or in The Wisdom of Solmon, or in Gnostic texts. It does not follow that heaven or hell exist. It does not follow that “failed apocalyptic prophet” is the correct historical view of Jesus, nor that “Jesus the revolutionary” is correct, nor that “Jesus the wisdom sage” is correct, nor that “Jesus the cosmic atoning Savior” is correct. It does not follow that our surviving accounts of his claims to divinity are reliable. None of these follow from “Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead.”

This is, however widely accepted, a Christian conceit – an attempt to smuggle in even more un-evidenced “truth”. Christians hate to provide proper justification for the propositions they so confidently assert – probably because they don't have proper justification for such ideas as heaven, hell, cosmic atonement, souls, Jesus' magical powers, God's loving nature, or even the existence of God.

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anselm March 25, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Given the religio-historical context in which Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead, I'm afraid it DOES follow that the bible which preserves the evidence of that resurrection is vindicated; the resurrection did not occur in a vacuum, as Pannenburg (and all mainstream scholarship) points out. However, we obviously will have to agree to disagree on that issue :)

However, any individual who accepted the proposition “Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead” yet simultaneously believed that the truth of that proposition had no implications for the veracity of the bible or the Christian faith would have a very, very strange mental process.

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lukeprog March 25, 2009 at 7:35 pm

I'm dumfounded. Sorry, I just don't get it. Can you try once more to explain to me how the truth of the Bible follows from “Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead”? To me, this is like saying that the truth of “War and Peace” follows from the fact that the War of 1812 happened.

No, the resurrection, if it happened, would not have occurred in a vacuum. It happened in a religious context, a social context, a political context, a philosophical context, a geographical context, and much more – just like everything else that has ever happened. How does this support the notion that the truth of the Bible follows from the proposition “Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead”?

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marcion March 25, 2009 at 7:58 pm

“Third, why couldn’t God just have these other people groups move, for Christ’s sake? There was plenty of empty land available! Heck, even shoving them off to Siberia is better than cutting to pieces all the men, women, children, animals, and fetuses of neighboring tribes. What a maniacal twat!”

Because a god who only appears to you in incense or anointing oil (i.e. canabis) induced religious visions (i.e. hallucinations) can only speak to the people who are using. Plus, a tribal god never talks to the other tribe, so how could he tell them to move?

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lukeprog March 25, 2009 at 8:11 pm

Good points. I am now persuaded. :)

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marcion March 25, 2009 at 9:10 pm

One of the ingredients in the anointing oil or incense used by the Hebrews is “sweet Cinnamon” (otherwise translated as sweet calamus) according to most translations. The Hebrew phrase, however, is something to the effect of kana bineh, and some people have conjectured that it actually means Cannabis. Isn't it at least possible that the glory of the Lord really did fill the Tabernacle way back in Moses day in the form of smoke from incense and that Jehovah really did appear and talk to them….howbeit in a narcotically induced hallucination? or that the anointing oil poured on the heads of the priests really did set them apart from the regular people by enabling them to have visions that the unanointed could never have since they were not high?

see here for some sources
http://www.equalrights4all.org/religious/bible.htm
http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/Bible/calamus.htm

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MountainKing March 26, 2009 at 3:26 am

“Most atheistic arguments depend on claims and presumptions which have not been proven in themselves”

Could you specify that?

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Codswallop March 26, 2009 at 6:32 am

“No standing?” So the notion that atheists can't comment on violence and oppression stems from the idea that they're just as bad as believers? By your own standard, you have no standing either.

Your real issue seems to be not with atheism, but with maniacal power, totalitarian control and cults of personality, examples of which litter the Bible and subsequent history like used Dixie cups at a Protestant Eucharist. Stalin, Mao et al certainly qualify, but so do the god of Israel and his proxies, including Moses, Joshua and the many warlike kings of the Bible. The despotisms that characterized Christian Europe from the time of Constantine until very recently do not speak well for believers over non-believers. Do the perpetrators of Christian atrocities have “standing?”

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anselm March 26, 2009 at 7:26 am

I think we have hit a wall because we are almost speaking different languages, particularly regarding the concept of “historical context.” It is probably because we have read different material in our intellectual development. It is lengthy, but I would recommend you read N.T. Wright's trilogy on “Christian Origins and the Question of God” (see http://tinyurl.com/dmcppl ). (Of course, I would be glad to read a selection of your choice, too). This common reading would more likely give us more common intellectual ground.

You reaction to these works would make an interesting series of blog posts, as well :)

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lukeprog March 26, 2009 at 8:06 am

Dang, I was hoping how you would explain that something like “A special realm outside of spacetime where good people go exists” could logically follow from “Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead.” I'm still dumfounded by that.

Perhaps we'll have to come back to this after I've read your perspective.

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Alden March 26, 2009 at 8:45 am

Not at all. Judaism and Christianity, for example, only claim to have partial revelations of who God is. It's actually written in both Testaments. It is illogical to try to show that God doesn't exist because our understanding of him is incorrect. It's like saying Lincoln didn't exist because the various biographies of him are inconsistent and perhaps incorrect.

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Alden March 26, 2009 at 8:55 am

Tele, to start with the basics, all Christians adhere to the Apostle's Creed. Most, if not all, adhere to the Nicene Creed (with some disagreement between east and west on a fairly insignificant phrase that was added by the West). There are disagreements on many things, but not the essential elements of Christianity.

These creeds were established early on in the Church; there may be some who call themselves “Christian”, but if they deny the core elements of the faith, they define themselves as outside of orthodoxy (small “o” – distinguishes it from Eastern Orthodox), or in other words, heretics. Ignore the heretics, focus on the orthodox.

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Alden March 26, 2009 at 9:19 am

You can start with Godel's Theorem, or the history of epistemology. You can start with Hume's attack on causality, which no one to date has been able to refute. The only way most atheistic arguments can stand is to ignore these issues.

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Alden March 26, 2009 at 9:27 am

What red herring?

In answer to your questions, which I no doubt you'll find completely inadequate, here's Paul's rhetorical argument from Romans 9:

“But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?”

You may not like it, but the logic is irrefutable. That's not to say that God is arbitrary as most man-made gods; but the fact remains that if He is God, our opinion isn't worth a whole heck of a lot.

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Kevin March 26, 2009 at 1:18 pm

The red herring in your original reply consisted of changing the subject to the “claims and presuppositions” of atheism, instead of dealing with the issue of God violating his own rules. I'm accusing God of not being consistent with his own moral rules, not with being inconsistent with secular morality.

As for Romans 9, I don't see any logic here, just assertions and appeals to power and fear. This passage is useful for deflecting uncomfortable questions, but it does nothing to adequately address why we either can't ask such questions or why we can't expect an answer. Other than the fact that God doesn't want to be bothered by the inquisitiveness he supposedly gave me, why can't I ask questions of him? Because He said so, I guess.

This line of defense–that we cannot question the ways of God–has other problems too. If we humans are not in a position to judge God, then not only can we not condemn his actions, we can't praise them either. If we cannot judge God, then we cannot judge that he is good and holy. We just have to take God's word for it that he is, in spite of his actions, or decide to believe that whatever God does is good because, and only because, it is God doing it.

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FrodoSaves March 26, 2009 at 9:27 pm

You've got to hand it to him at least. He was certainly imaginative. Sending bears to dismember children? That's the kind of thing only an omniscient mind could come up with. Or maybe nature.

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lukeprog March 26, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Check it out. I was looking at my reply to you, where I wrote “Dang, I was hoping how you would explain…”

On the page, the word “AM” appeared right on top of the “was”, so that it looked like those famous words of Yahweh “I AM.” I was like “Woah, God is talking to me on my own atheist blog!”

And then I realized it was really just that when a threaded conversation gets so squished over to one edge like this, the date gets pushed onto a second line, as in:

Yesterday 11:06
AM

instead of

Yesterday 11:06 AM

Here's a screenshot.

Funny!

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anselm March 27, 2009 at 7:58 am

Cool! The Tetragrammaton! Socrates (as portrayed by Peter Kreeft) would be impressed! see http://tinyurl.com/ca2eqe

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marcion March 27, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Actually I think Elijah came up with that one and God supposedly said “Ah! Good idea Elijah!”

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marcion March 27, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Or actually, that one was Elisha, because it was after Elijah had been taken up by a whirlwind into heaven. That's why the kids were saying “Go up thou bald head!” In other words, “Why don't you ascend to heaven too, and get out of here?!!”

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MountainKing March 28, 2009 at 1:00 am

My previous reply seems to be lost, so again: I don´t see how what youre citing specifically concerns atheism. So what is your point exactly? I guess you mean something like what you posted in another thread:

“Materialistic, scientific criteria are by definition limited; however, science cannot prove that this is, in fact, proper. When it's all boiled down, science relies on faith in materialistic presuppositions. You have no basis, therefore, to question Christianity at all, except by experience and choice.”

The main argument for naturalistic science is: it works. You have to claim there are different ways of gaining knowledge in a non-naturalistic way. You believe in a god who interfered with our naturalistic world and you wouldn´t have any knowledge about him if he didn´t. Every miracle, vision, prophesy, the creation, the resurrection and whatever your faith relies on: it all showed “naturalistic” results. People (supposedly) SAW jesus after he died, they SAW him walking on water and so on, they used their naturals senses. Theres no reason why you couldn´t test naturalistic events with the mnethods of natural sciences even if they had non-natural causes. You could still verify that they exist, just maybe not where they came from.

But according to what we know at the moment and how tests of similar claims worked out it seems highly unlikely that they did really happen. We will never be able to prove they didn´t , thats true but it is NOT true that they are beyond science.

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Lorkas June 12, 2009 at 12:57 pm

lukeprog: # 2. In Exodus 12:29, God the baby-killer slaughters all Egyptian firstborn children and cattle because their king was stubborn.

An addition: their king was stubborn because God made him so. God “hardened pharaoh’s heart” (Exodus 9:12), guaranteeing that God would be able to slaughter all of those innocent firstborn and blame it on Pharaoh. What a bastard!

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Anonymous August 30, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Hm, I usually like your posts, but here you don’t seem to give any good arguments against what Craig said. Sure, I’ll admit that many things Craig said don’t make too much sense, but all your refutation just amounts to “I don’t like this God and his morality!”. If it’s logically consistent, then I see no reason why one should reject it, and the emotional responses you give pretty much amounts to appeal to the consequences.

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gary uselton December 15, 2009 at 3:05 pm

joseph Smith (Mormon) told his followers that an angel told him that if he didn’t start getting lots of teen age pussy, god was going to kill his ass. guess what? they bought it. why would it surprise anyone that people believe that despite condoning rape and genocide, God is great and good. I am considering saying that God gave me a revelation that if I didn’t have sex with 10 beautiful women every night, he was going to kill my ass too. It would be just my luck that nobody would believe me and I wouldn’t get any teen age pussy. Hats off to Joseph.

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mad_dog January 13, 2010 at 5:54 am

Hi, I am an atheist, I know beyond every possible doubt that there is neither God nor afterlife.

I completely agree with the author of this website that belief in God can not provide us with an objective morality, as shown clearly by these examples, which more generally illustrates the Euthyphro dilemma g : is something good just because God stipulated it is (in which case it is arbitrary, for God could state one ought to love ones foes as well as ordering the slaughter of the folks of Canaan. ) or did God ordered it because it is good (in which case there exists an objective standard of goodness independent of God) ?
However, I believe that the same challenge could be posed to any form of atheistic moral realism.
Over the past decades, numerous discoveries in neurology and evolutionary psychology have shown beyond any reasonable doubt that our moral intuitions ultimately stem from the shaping of our brain by evolution and that WITHOUT any such emotional intuition, no moral system can be built from reason alone.
This is well illustrated by the study of the brains of psychopaths: since they lack the moral emotions, they don’t consider as true most fundamental moral principles (like avoiding to create suffering, trying to promote the happiness of others) although they are quite able to reason well.
This shows the truth of David Hume’s famous principle that moral truths are the projection of our gut’s feelings on an indifferent and cruel reality : since one can not derive an “ought” from an “is”, moral truths are the expression of our emotions which we mistakenly consider as features of the objective reality.
No moral system can be created without the appeal to at least one kind of intuitions, the brute facts of nature never lead to moral duties and obligations.
Now, I want to state a version of the Euthyphro dilemma which shows the impossibility of defining an objective atheistic morality: is something good just because Evolution hardwired this conviction into us (in which case it is arbitrary, for Evolution could have lead us to believe that murder and torture are right ) or did Evolution produce our current beliefs because they are good (in which case there exists an objective standard of goodness independent of Evolution) ?

Let me now develop the first point: there is an extremely great number (perhaps even an infinity) of planets where intelligent beings like us could have evolved. Given the huge dimension of the sample, it is more than likely that many such intelligent beings have evolved conceptions of morality which would appear completely disgusting to us.
Imagine for example a species of giant lizards ( or whatever else if you’ve more imagination than I :) who were shaped by natural selection to value power, violence , selfishness in so far that it remains compatible with the interests of the group. When invading a city and killing or enslaving all its inhabitants, their brain generate a warm feeling of happiness, satisfaction.
When however confronted with weakness among their own folk, they feel an overwhelming indignation, anger, rage which lead them to kill the individual guilty of failure , and after having done that, their brain awards them with an intense feeling of pleasure.
Now imagine such beings arrive at our earth and conclude based on their evolutionary intuitions that it would be moral and perfectly good to enslave all human beings capable of working and to kill all others.
What would an human atheist and moral realist say to these lizards? Do they ought to behave in a way coherent with the moral intuitions they have and slaughter or enslave all humans ?
My contention is that it would be completely impossible to show to these creatures that killing innocent beings is wrong: all moral systems developed by humans which would justify this conclusion can not be deduced from the mere consideration of natural facts , they all crucially depend on one or several moral intuitions , which are not shared by the intelligent lizards, so there would be no common ground upon which one could argue that something is right or wrong.
Now, a defender of godless moral realism could agree with me it is fallacious to rely on evolution to define an objective morality in the same way it would be fallacious to rely on the commandments of a deity. But he could then argue that there exists a moral standard independent of Evolution upon which moral realism would be based.
The problem of this argument is the following:

As I have said, no moral system can be grounded by mere logic or factual analysis alone, at some point moral intuitions (due to Evolution) are always going to come into play.
Take for example the possibility of torturing a baby just for fun: almost every human being would react with disgust and say it is wrong. Neuroscience has proven that such reaction does not stem from a rational consideration of all facts but rather from instinctive gut feelings.
Afterwards, people try to rationalize their belief by backing them up with arguments and mistakenly think they feel this disgust because of their reasoning although it is the other way around.
Based on rigorous experiments in the field of neuroscience, Jonathan Haidt shows that in the case of moral reasoning, people always begin by getting a strong emotional reaction, and only seek a posteriori to justify this reaction. He has named this phenomenon ‘the emotional dog and its rational tail’: http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/articles/haidt.emotionaldog.manuscript.pdf
And since one can not derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’, there is no way to prove that ‘one ought to not torture a baby for the fun’ by a reasoning based on fact alone, at one moment or an other , one is forced to appeal to emotions.
For example, saying to a intelligent lizard they ought no to do that because the baby is cute, because he is innocent, because he has an entire life before him would completely beg the question for our intelligent alien, which would then ask: “why does the baby’s beauty, innocence, or the fact he has still many years to live implies one ought not to kill the baby ?”. After one or two hours of circular reasoning, the honest human would be coerced to recognize it is so because these things sounds intuitively bad for him.
Concerning the objectivity of morality, I am neither a moral relativist nor a moral subjectivist but a proponent of an error theory: moral statements and truths are in fact nothing more than the products of our emotional intuitions , but because of the hard-wiring of our brain, we erroneously believe they correspond to some external facts of the objective reality and try to derive them from pure natural facts, committing the is/ought fallacy.
For those interested in the line of thinking presented here, I highly recommend you to read Joshua Greene’s dissertation, where he clearly demonstrates the true nature of morality and develops a coherent error-theory.
http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~jgreene/GreeneWJH/Greene-Dissertation.pdf
To conclude, although I am not a moral realist, I do think there is a place for ethic in each human life.
But instead of using moral absolutes such as “good”, “evil”, “right”, “wrong”, “ought”, “ought not”, referring to spooky concepts whose existence is as likely as the presence of an invisible yellow unicorn on the surface of Mars, I prefer to employ the language of desires, which correspond to indisputable facts:
We, as human being, love infant life and desire baby to growth and become happy, therefore if we want our desires to be fulfilled, then we ought not to torture babies for the fun. Contrarily to moral realism, the ‘ought’ I have used here is hypothetical and not categorical.
In the same way, I can not say the atrocities we find in the Old Testament are objectively wrong, because I don’t believe in the existence of such moral absolutes, but I can express my convictions in the following manner: if we want our intuitive feelings of love, justice and charity to be respected, then we ought to reject many books of the Old Testament as being pieces of barbaric non-senses.
The traditional moral discourse “The God of the Bible is morally wrong, we ought to fight Christianity, we are morally good whereas religious people and so on and so forth” seems to me to be completely flawed because it involves the existence of spooky moral absolutes which have no place in a scientific view of the world.
I really appreciate the critical thinking of my fellow atheists when applied to religion but I am really sad to remark they fail to apply it to their own cherished beliefs like the existence of an objective morality.

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lukeprog January 13, 2010 at 10:57 am

mad dog,

I agree with you that evolution has not provided us with accurate morality detectors. I reject all moral systems based on moral intuition.

Greene and Haidt are doing very exciting work.

Desirism, the moral theory I defend, proposes reforming definitions for moral terms such that they no longer fail to refer.

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manicstreetpreacher March 14, 2010 at 3:02 am

Thanks for posting this podcast, Luke. I came across a radio interview and essay by Craig on this issue and posted my own analysis for my blog.

Why has no debate opponent ever hauled Craig up on his appalling take on the God of the Old Testament? It completely undermines his argument from objective morality, since he clearly knows that murder and torture are wrong independent of God.

It is also one of the most grotesque pieces of “reasoning” that I have ever encountered. Only a theologian could dream up this garbage.

After I published my piece, I came across this comment by Richard Dawkins posted on his website debate forum:

Theological justification for genocide Part One

Richard Dawkins >> Mon Apr 21, 2008 8:22 am

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5767

One of our commenters on another thread, stevencarrwork, posted a link to this article by the American theologian and Christian apologist William Lane Craig. I read it and found it so dumbfoundingly, staggeringly awful that I wanted to post it again. It is a stunning example of the theological mind at work. And remember, this is NOT an ‘extremist’, ‘fundamentalist’, ‘picking on the worst case’ example. My understanding is that William Lane Craig is a widely respected apologist for the Christian religion. Read his article and rub your eyes to make sure you are not having a bad dream.

Richard

That just about says it all.

MSP

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lukeprog March 14, 2010 at 11:43 am

manicstreetpreacher,

Yup!

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Rhys Wilkins April 6, 2010 at 3:41 am

After having a quick flick through some of the atrocious events depicted in the Old Testament, I have to say I am revolted, disgusted and downright appalled that apologists continue to gleefully spruik the Anselmian picture of Yahweh as a “being of maximal greatness” in this day and age. Do they not see the irony? Are they so frustratingly thick that they do not realise the ontological argument actually renders the Biblical God extremely fucking un-likely?

Screw me sideways and call me a bitch, I can conceive of so many things greater then the Genocidal Space Daddy of the Bible that it makes my head spin faster then Uncle Fester fresh off a crapulous feast of Miami’s finest cocaine! Jeffery Dahmer is an example I thought of off the top of my head. How about Ed Gein? Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? Joseph Mengele?

Any Christian who promotes the ontological argument, put down your Bible, crawl into a corner and hang your head in shame.

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Kefergus June 17, 2010 at 11:04 am

Alden: You ask why atheists are so interested in what they do not believe. That’s like asking someone why people read fiction, watch television or even dream. Do I believe that last week’s episode of The Simpsons was based on truth? Of course not, but I’ll probably watch another episode. This is how I view Christianity and its followers. I find the whole situation incredibly fascinating. How can so many people believe in what seems ridiculous to me? How can so many people viciously argue so many contradictory points? How can someone condemn homosexuals to hell and still wear cotton with wool, two abominations in the OT? Why do they believe that God is all-knowing and yet still interested in the trivial lives of men? How is it that the son of God died on the cross only to be resurrected and yet there is very little known about him beyond The Bible?

Faith is a very interesting thing. I find very little reason in faith alone and cannot understand why so many people do. Its as if they’re all broken and I want to pick their brains and fix them. I want to understand them. Its like a psychologist being concerned with his/her patient: you try to tell them that there is no such thing as brain-sucking goblins from Mars and that the voices in their head don’t give good advice and that maybe with medication their symptoms will improve… but the patient refuses medication and further counseling.

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jeff April 3, 2011 at 6:45 am

IMIRIh 41 BRING forth your IDOLS did they PREACH to you see they can’t speak they can’t DO ANYTHING all they do is cause confusion. spalms 115 and spalms 135 thier IDOLS are FALSE cant speak can’t hear cant smell and those that make them shall become like them. Jeremiah 10 they nail their IDOL down like a scarecrow it can’t move can’t speak can’t move must be carried these are nothing but the WORK of CON men.john 10 jesus christ sais his sheep hear his voice and another voice thy will not follow and if another person tries to preach to them they WILL FLEE from him. jeremiah 5 the priests bear rule on their own authority what will you do when your judged my word is not inside them. Now here is the kicker john 5 son of man voice goes back in time mathew 16 jesus christ claims to be the son of man.‎1 cor2 mind of CHRIST preached internally and john 16 sais the spirit of truth comes in the future. Ezekiel 13 lying prophets of ISRAEL my word is not inside them saying god sais god sais god sais wrote hoping mankind would CONFIRM their WORDS. all of this is EASILY verifiable

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Miles July 3, 2011 at 3:57 am
robert williams July 23, 2011 at 8:44 am

The ONLY instance in the Old Testament where God commands killing IS the Caanan episode. The Caananites were descendants of Cain, who slew his brother Abel and then lied to God about it. He was exiled and became the first of the pagan tribes which would later become the Nations of Islam. God foresaw the troubles this would incur his Chosen peole in the future and ordered all the Caananites slain, which the Jews did NOT accomplish. They spared the women and sired children with them, believing, in error, that this would solve the problem. They were wrong. And that is why we are still fighting in the Middle East today.

You have a very clever sight. Please note that God does all the killing in the Old Testament, save for the Caanan episode. Islam, on the other hand, has God ordering man to do his dirty work. A real God would not need the help of Nazi’s, or Islamics to accomplish His goal.

I respect your belief in not believing, but sometimes I feel that aethists are as bad as Christians in trying to undermine and convert others to their way of thinking. Can’t you respect those of us who DO believe in God? I have not sacrificed , nor killed, anyone. I just find my faith in something larger than myself to be comforting. Your belief in nothing seems to instill anger at those who do believe in something. Here is a short story from the Talmud;

Once a man was visiting a small town for the weekend. He attended the local services at the synagouge. When it was time to honor some of the congregants with Torah blessings, he noticed that the Rabbi was calling random people to be blessed, without regard to name, age or community status. After the service he went to the Rabbi to complain about what he perceived to be an unfair practice. The Rabbi said, “You have been here only one day, and yet you feel that there is no order here? I have a list, and I make sure that everything is in order. We are only on this earth a short time, and God has a list, too. Everything is in order.”

The point here is that we never get to see the whole, bigger picture. So how can we judge what is fair, or not?

Respectfully,

Robert Williams

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Stephen B Gray November 1, 2011 at 9:48 pm

By claiming that killing the infants was their salvation, Craig unwittingly gives a defense of abortion. Why did God let Canaanites conceive the children to begin with, and if they are conceived, why does he not abort them? (He’s already the greatest abortionist in history.) Abortion would prevent the Israelite soldiers from experiencing the horror of having to murder women and children, which might even give the soldiers indigestion!

Craig has crossed the line from saying preposterous things to just plain lying. That’s a situation which every apologist crosses sooner or later. Their arguments are so pitifully weak that they must resort to lies and distortions. Their resort to reason is superfluous.

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Stephen B Gray November 1, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Christianity is:
God to the people: I created you with a default destiny to burn in Hell for forty trillion years–and that’s only the beginning. If the pain doesn’t kill you, the boredom will. The only way you can avoid that is to believe that I lovingly had my son tortured and killed to forgive you for sins that you never did. By the way, the threat I am saving you from is myself, your loving God. In other words, I killed myself to save my corrupt creation from myself. If this does not make sense, it’s your own fault.

Christianity is:
… the belief that a narcissistic Jewish zombie who is his own father can make you live forever if you pretend to eat his flesh and drink his blood and telepathically tell him you love him so he can remove an evil spell from your soul that is present in everyone because a woman made from a rib was persuaded by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree. If you don’t believe this, you are doomed.

Christianity is:
… A perfect, omnipotent god of love deliberately created flawed beings so that he would have to kill almost all of them and start over so he would have to send himself down among them and sacrifice himself to himself in order to allow himself to forgive those flawed beings for having the flaws he himself created in them. (Ariex)

The curious may ask why God had to make Eve from Adam’s rib when he made Adam from nothing. The answer is that after making Adam, God ran out of nothing.

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