Thursday, November 19, 2015

Is the Bible Immoral? Part 2: Did God Order a Genocide?

Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. (1 Samuel 15:3)

As we consider critics' claims that the Bible is immoral, one of the most cited examples comes from 1 Samuel where God commands King Saul to destroy the city of Amalek along with everyone and everything in it. Critics typically use words like “genocide,” “atrocity,” and “infanticide” to describe the account. It's a clever use of loaded words to make God seem capricious.

Critics usually quote verse 3 out of context. 1 Samuel 15:2 says, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt.” Critics don't include verse 2 because they intentionally want to omit God's motive for His command to Saul. Israel's encounters with Amalek began back in Exodus 17. After their flight from Egypt and during their wandering in the desert, the Jews were a nearly helpless people. They had no city, no walls, and no forts. They had to rely upon God daily for food and water. Deuteronomy 25:17-18 described it this way,

Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God.

At one point, while they were camped at Rephidim, the Amalekites came and attacked them. Moses told Joshua to lead armed men to resist the Amalekites and God gave the Jews the victory after a hard fought battle. Afterward, God made a promise to Moses:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and named it, The LORD is My Banner; and he said, “The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:14-16)

God could have rained fire down on Amalek just as He had done with Sodom and Gomorrah, but it was many generations later, after the Jews settled in the Promised Land and Saul had become the king, that God fulfilled His promise.
So God's command to destroy the Amalekites wasn't arbitrary but rather was His judgment on that city for their crimes against Israel. Critics call the event “genocide” because that sounds more effective to their cause than calling it “justice.” Here's something that might put this into perspective: we need to consider the attitudes of Americans right after 9/11. Do you remember the calls that we should bomb Afghanistan and the Taliban back into the stone age? Were we interested in genocide or justice?

Of course, some people aren't satisfied with this explanation. Some have asked, “Why would God command the babies to be killed?” There are a couple of other points we need to keep in mind.

First, we have to remember that not only did all the people of Amalek die but Saul also died. Every one of Saul's soldiers died too. Every Jew in Israel died. Every prophet mentioned in the Old Testament has died. The Bible says that it is appointed unto a man to die and then he is judged (Hebrews 9:27). Some die old; some die young; some die violently; some die quietly. The mortality rate among people is 100%. Death has reigned since the Curse and just like it came to the Amalekites, it will also come to all of us. To say that God was cruel in His treatment of Amalek is to deny that God judges all of humanity fairly.

There is still another point we must consider, a point which relates to God as our Creator. Read this passage from Jeremiah:

Then [Jeremiah] went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to [Jeremiah] saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 18:3-6)

No one can credibly deny that the vessel a potter makes belongs to the potter. If the potter doesn't like how the vessel turns out, it is his right to scrap it and start over. In this haunting passage, we are reminded that we are created by God and so are subject to His will.

Words like “genocide” and “atrocity” are misleading characterizations of God. The Bible gives us a complete picture of Him. He is not a tyrant who smites innocents on a whim. He is not a pacifist who will shower grace on vile, unrepentant sinners. He is Holy and Just. We all face the same fate – a grave. We all have the same opportunity – eternal life through Jesus. I will have to stand before God and give an account for my sins; my only plea will be the shed blood of His Son. Critics are welcome to tell God He's not being fair.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Is the Bible Immoral? Part 1

Some people criticize the Bible with the claim that it is immoral. That is, they believe the history recorded in the Bible and the commandments of the Mosaic Law offend our sense of right and wrong and so are evidence that the Bible is not the revelation of a good God. It's an excuse to not be a Christian or believe in God.

Critics who use this argument will also sometimes accuse Christians of picking and choosing which parts of the Bible we want to believe. If a Christian, for example, speaks out on the political issue of gay marriage, a critic might ask why doesn't the Christian also believe in executing homosexuals as commanded in Leviticus 20:13? This is an obvious attempt to undermine the Christian's credibility, claiming he appeals to the Bible when condemning homosexuality but ignores other parts of the Bible. If Christians feel we can ignore parts of the Bible with which we disagree, then how can we condemn the critic for doing the same?

Two of the most often cited examples of the Bible's immorality are probably God's command to the Israel army to kill the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15) and the Bible seeming to condone slavery (Leviticus 25:44-46, et al). I intend to discuss these two examples in more detail in my next two posts. In this post, I intend to discuss the weakness of these criticisms in general.

When responding to arguments like this, there are several points that should be kept in mind. The first, and probably the most significant, is to ask by what standard does the critic judge these acts to be “wrong”? If there were no God, then the universe is empty of morality. Everything that happens is nothing more than matter acting on matter. One man killing another is no more “evil” than a lion killing a zebra. When a person says it's “wrong” for God to command the Israelites to kill the Amalekites, it begs the question: wrong according to who? Obviously the Universe doesn't care what happens. The Israelites didn't believe it was wrong. What makes the critic's opinion on the subject the “correct” one? No one can call anything “wrong” without first acknowledging an absolute standard of right or wrong exists. There is no such standard in an impersonal universe. Objective morality exists only if God exists.

Moving on to my second point: We can see that the critic can't ever objectively say the Bible is wrong. At best, he can only say his sense of morality differs from how he understands the Bible. Ok, then what is the critic's point in raising this criticism? Is he trying to say there is no God because the Bible records things he finds offensive? You can see how that doesn't work. It would be sort of like me saying the Holocaust didn't happen because no dictator could be that cruel. This is a logic fallacy known as an argument from outrage.

Noted apologist for atheism, Richard Dawkins, wrote in his book, The Greatest Show on Earth, “Even if it were true that evolution, or the teaching of evolution, encouraged immorality that would not imply that the theory of evolution was false.” This is one of the few things on which Dawkins and I can agree. I would never try to attack evolution by saying Darwin was a racist. By that same token, though, someone claiming the Bible is immoral is not evidence that the Bible is not true.

We can see already that these criticisms of the Bible are built upon shaky foundations. Yet there are still a couple of more points we must consider. One thing is that God established the Law specifically for His people. When God established the Nation of Israel, it differed from other nations in that it did not have an earthly ruler – God was their ruler. The Jews lived their lives according to the Law and Judges were appointed to interpret the Law whenever a dispute arose.

Eventually, the people demanded to have a king like other nations. God relented and gave them Saul. Since then, we are subject to earthly rulers and laws during our lifetimes. The Law commanded that adulterers, for example, should be stoned. In the US, adulterers aren't executed but God is still the final Judge and someday we still must stand before Him to give an account for our sins. We are still judged according to the Law. However, the punishment for our sins is no longer necessarily at the hands of earthly rulers.

Finally, the Law was given to a fallen world. Some of the things it contains do not represent God's perfect will but rather are allowances God has made for sinful people who live in a corrupt world. Consider this passage from Mark 10:

And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. (Mark 10:2-9)

We see in this passage that when Jesus was asked about divorce, He explained that it was God's intentions that people never divorced. The Laws governing divorce were only written because of the hardness of our hearts. So even if the Bible seems to allow certain things, it does not necessarily mean the Bible “endorses” that thing.

I'll talk more about specific examples in my next couple of posts. For now, suffice it to say these are weak criticisms of the Bible.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Most Mammals Have 7 Cervical Vertebrae – Not Quite Enough to be Evidence for Evolution

Giraffes have seven cervical vertebrae (neck bones), the same number as humans. Given that the giraffe's neck is so much longer than ours, some people are surprised we have the same number of neck bones. The fact of the matter is that nearly every mammal has seven neck bones – mice, dogs, and even whales. I've heard it proposed that this is because all mammals are descended from a common ancestor which also had seven neck bones and so the nearly universal number of seven vertebrae is strong evidence for evolution.

A similar argument is often made concerning the bone structure of the forelimbs in tetrapods. Mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds all have representative species that have the homologous structure of humerus, radius, and ulna. The case is made that these limbs are similar because all these creatures have descended from a common ancestor which had the same structure.

I heard this argument – the one about giraffes having seven neck bones – online again the other day. The whole story sounds kind of contrived to me. I got to thinking about how I might be able to test that theory. Like any scientific theory, it should be able to make predictions. So, if different species which are descended from a common ancestor have the same number of cervical vertebrae, what else might I expect to be true?

The first prediction I might make is that if giraffes and humans have the same number of neck vertebrae due to common descent, then all mammals should have the same number of cervical vertebrae. Is this what we find? In short, no. Most mammals do indeed have seven neck bones but not all of them do. The two-toed sloth has 5-7 vertebrae, the three-toed sloth has 8-10, and manatee have only 6. So this prediction fails.

I might also predict that mammals should also have similar numbers of vertebrae in other parts of their spines. A quick look at Wiki shows this isn't the case. In the thoracic vertebrae, numbers vary between 12-15 in different species of mammals; in the lumbar region there are usually 6-7 but some species have 20; the number in the sacral region can vary between 3-10. Any similarity in the number of vertebrae exists only in the cervical area of the spine and even that isn't universal. Another failed prediction for the theory.

I would also think that if descent with modification were true, then there should be a discernible pattern in the number of ribs among mammals. There isn't any. Mammals have varying numbers of ribs between 6 and 15 pairs. Even in the famous horse evolution sequence, there are reversals in the numbers of ribs between oldest alleged ancestor and the “transitions” to the modern horse. Still another fail.

Now, since there is supposedly homology in the forelimbs of, say, mammals and birds, then could we also predict 7 cervical vertebrae among birds? We might, but birds have far more cervical vertebrae than mammals. So similar forelimbs in mammals and birds is supposedly the product of evolution and a different number of neck bones is also the product of evolution?  Fail.

Think about this too: all mammals (well, we've already seen it's not all mammals) have the same number of cervical vertebrae. Then could we expect something similar to occur among the members of other classes? Do all birds, for example, have the same number of cervical vertebrae? No. Do all reptiles? No. Do all amphibians? No. Why does common descent “explain” this common feature among mammals when we don't see a similar thing occur among the other classes of animals? Fail.

Finally, birds are alleged to have evolved from dinosaurs. If descent with modification is true, then wouldn't there be some correlation in the number of cervical vertebrae between birds and dinosaurs? Well, there isn't any. Long-necked sauropods had up to 19 cervical vertebrae. Most bipedal dinosaurs had less. Birds have up to 25. Fail.  Fail.  Fail.

Time after time, we see that things we might predict if evolution were true aren't found. Any claim that the common number of neck bones among mammals is evidence of descent from a common ancestor is nothing more than special pleading. If the same number of vertebrae is evidence for evolution, than differing numbers should be evidence against the theory. Of course, evolutionists don't see it that way. They're perfectly content with a theory that could explain the same number of neck bones in different species but doesn't require it. In other words, they have a scientific theory that doesn't really explain or predict anything.

Not a very good “theory,” is it?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Can Darwinian evolution produce a healthy society?

Evolution is amoral. If nature is all there is, then there is really no such things as good or evil. One man killing another is really no different than a lion hunting a zebra or an apple falling from a tree. They are all just descriptions of things that happen without an interest if they're right or wrong. Of course, we recoil at comparing murder to an apple falling from a tree. We know, almost instinctively, that murder is “wrong.”

It's this built-in sense of knowing some things are always wrong which suggests that maybe nature really isn't all there is. Maybe there's an absolute standard of what is right – a transcendent truth that trumps any individual's opinion. Where might this universal standard be? Some might suggest that our sense of morality comes from community. It's a collective agreement on what works best for society as a whole. Everyone is better off if people don't kill, steal, and cheat.

When we start looking to societal norms as “right,” we still cannot find solid grounds to identify any particular behavior as wrong. Most people consider slavery to be wrong. However, slavery was allowed in the US for 400 years – from the time of the early settlers to the time it was a flourishing, world power. How can we objectively say that we're right now and they were wrong then? When the Nazis were being tried after WWII, most of them claimed that their war “crimes” were legal in their society. Again, who are we to say that another people in another place are wrong and we're right? The bottom line is that if there is no immutable law that transcends human opinion, then might makes right. There are no, inalienable, God-given rights. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are only privileges the state lets us have.

I was on YouTube the other day and I was watching a debate between an evolutionist (David Silverman) and a creationist (John Rankin). Most debates of this kind focus on the evidence for or against the respective theories. However, this particular debate discussed the question, “Can Darwinian evolution produce a healthy society?” As usual, Silverman, the evolutionist argued that our moral values are basically evolved instincts to do what is best for the community. Blah, blah, blah. I've blogged about these types of comments before.

To his credit, though, Silverman was a little more candid about the idea that there is no ultimate right or wrong according to evolution. His opinion was basically, “whatever works is right.” But the most intriguing thing he said was that it is the very idea of “absolute truth” that is harmful to society! According to him, it's the religious zealots, the ones who think they know God's truth, who will strap bombs to themselves or fly planes into buildings. His is a clever tactic. Well, maybe not clever but certainly novel. He says on one hand that whatever provides the most benefit to the most people is “good” but believing there is a such thing as objective good is “bad.” Incredible!

I see a couple of flaws in his approach. Obviously, it contradicts itself. After all, how can he seriously say in one breath that there is ultimately no objective right or wrong, then in the next breath say that believing in an objective moral standard is “wrong”?

But the thing that really struck me is a point that seems to have completely escaped Silverman. His claim is that our sense of morality is an evolved trait that instinctively drives us to act in a way that's best for society overall. He further claims that religious dogmatism works against the best interest of society. What Silverman completely overlooks is that, if evolution were true, then our seeming irresistible urge to believe in a divine being is also an evolved trait. The overwhelming majority of people in the world today – indeed, the majority of people who have ever lived – all believe in some deity. So then, if evolution is true, there must be some sort of survival benefit to believing in God (or at least a god or gods)!

Once again we see the case of a flawed world view unable to measure up to its own standards. If our sense of right and wrong is an evolved trait, then our belief in God, another evolved trait, is instinctively right. Since the majority of people believe, then belief seems to be the preferred trait. Therefore, unbelief – aka, atheism – is morally “wrong.”

What we have is a paradox; if Silverman is right, then he's wrong.