bookmark_borderThe Demographics of Evidence About God: A Novel Argument Against Theism

Christian apologist Tom Gilson attempts to turn the tables on proponents of the argument from nonresistant nonbelief (aka the argument from divine hiddenness). According to Gilson, the fact of divine hiddenness is evidence for God’s existence. Before I quote Gilson’s argument from divine hiddenness to Christian theism, I first need to provide some context.
1. Gilson’s Defense Against the Argument from Nonresistant Nonbelief
In The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Religion, the eminent philosopher J.L. Schellenberg makes a distinction between objective and subjective types of divine hiddenness.

Though others have spoken of ‘Divine hiddenness’ or the ‘hiddenness of God’ differently, contemporary philosophers who employ such expressions usually have in mind either (1) that the available relevant evidence makes the existence of God uncertain or (2) that many individuals or groups of people feel uncertain about the existence of God, or else never mentally engage the idea of God at all. The first sort of hiddenness may be called objective and the second subjective. Of course there are various possible connections between these two, and both may consistently be affirmed.[1]

Gilson argues that the following is a successful defeater of Schellenberg’s argument.

An Answer To the Divine Hiddenness Argument
With that as background I begin to explore an experimental thought:
(1) Judaism and Christianity teach that God desires to make himself known to those whose hearts seek him.
(2) Judaism and Christianity teach that God’s self-revelation will be hidden from those who reject his holiness and righteousness.
(3) Therefore (1 and 2) knowledge of God is a matter of heart attitude as much as (or more than) evidences.
(4) But Christianity teaches that God is creator and true; therefore his creation should give a true witness (evidences) concerning his reality.
(5) Given (3) and (4), we would expect the world to provide evidence for God, but not to compel belief in God, leaving room for a decision of the heart.
(6) Therefore (5) we would expect God to have created a world in which evidences could be interpreted either as supporting or not supporting his existence.
(7) Those who know God affirm that there are objective evidences to support their belief in his objective reality, and deny that purported evidences against God are decisive.
(8) Those who deny God deny that those evidences count adequately for the existence of God, and/or affirm that evidences against God are decisive.
(9) Therefore (7) and (8) the world is such that, it is humanly possible to conclude either that God exists or he does not: belief in God is not compelled by the evidences.
(10) The world is such that the conditions in (5) and (6) are met.
(11) The state of the evidence is consistent with Judeo-Christian teachings (1) through (6).
The argument so far is a defeater for Schallenberg’s [sic] hiddenness argument against God, and I think rather solid as far as it goes.

Notice that, at best, Gilson’s argument only addresses objective hiddenness: it attempts to explain why the available, relevant, and objective evidence makes “God exists” uncertain in a way that “the sun exists” is not. It says nothing about subjective hiddenness, which, again, refers to the fact that “many individuals or groups of people feel uncertain about the existence of God, or else never mentally engage the idea of God at all.” Why does this distinction matter? Because there can be nonresistant nonbelievers with or without objective hiddenness.
Again, consider Schellenberg’s example of people who “never mentally engage the idea of God at all.” Gilson’s answer to the hiddenness argument does not explain nonbelievers of that type. (In fairness to Gilson, he might appeal to some other explanation for that fact or he might deny it is a fact.)
Or consider former believers who lost their their belief in God as a result of examining the evidence about God’s existence.  They had a good relationship with God when their doubts began to increase. Gilson’s “decision of the heart” theodicy does not explain them.
Thus, Gilson’s answer to the hiddenness argument is, at best, incomplete.
2. Gilson’s Divine Hiddenness Argument for Christianity
Let’s now consider Gilson’s divine hiddeness argument for Christianity.

(12) The Judeo-Christian understanding of God in (1), (2), and (3) was developed thousands of years ago.
(13) The state of the evidence in (11) having persisted for centuries, it is remarkable for its endurance.
(14) Both believers and unbelievers in God must acknowledge that no matter how strongly they hold to their own beliefs, thoughtful persons can hold to the opposite. Neither belief for nor against God is compelled by the evidence.
(15) Thus (from (14) the state of the evidence in (11) is also remarkably fine-tuned.
(16) This persistence (13) and fine-tuning (15) are suggestive of an intelligent guiding intentionality ruling over them.
(17) This guiding intentionality could only come from a personal God who has intended that state of affairs.

That’s the argument in outline. Steps (1) through (11) are defensive: they answer and undercut an argument against God. In (12) through (17) I attempt to go beyond that and show that God’s “hiddenness” may hint at something more positive. I do not claim it as a proof for God; it is not that strong. But it is at least intriguing, and, as I have said, suggestive. (emphasis mine)

I agree with Gilson that this is an intriguing argument. What should we make of it?
I think it would be difficult to support premise (13), even if we assume that (11) is true in the present day. But, in fact, I would go further and argue that (13) is probably false. Consider Richard Dawkins’s famous words about the link between Darwin and atheism.

Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

I am not exactly sure what Dawkins has in mind by the expressions “logically tenable” and “intellectually fulfilled atheist,” but I agree with him that biological evolution is evidence favoring naturalism over theism, evidence that humans did not “have” prior to Darwin. Overall, it seems to me that the weight of the evidence for and against theism has not “persisted for centuries.” Rather, it seems to me that for most of human history, the available evidence favored supernaturalism or theism. Most of the (alleged) evidence for naturalism (which entails atheism) wasn’t even discovered before two centuries ago, whereas most of the (alleged) evidence for theism was known before two centuries ago.
To support my point, I’m going to list a representative summary of the (alleged) evidence for theism and naturalism, along with the approximate date of its discovery.

(Alleged) Evidence (Allegedly) Favors When Discovered
Big Bang theory (universe has a beginning) Theism 20th century
Scale of the Universe Naturalism 20th century
Life-Permitting Data (aka so-called ‘fine-tuning’ data) Theism 20th century (?)
Hostility of Universe Naturalism 20th century (?)
Evolution (common ancestry) Naturalism 1800s
Biological role of pain and pleasure Naturalism 20th century
Flourishing and Languishing Naturalism Late 20th century
Problem of Evil Naturalism Thousands of Years Ago
Beauty Theism Thousands of Years Ago
Consciousness Theism Thousands of Years Ago (?)
Mind-Brain Dependence Naturalism 20th century (?)
Types and Distribution of Moral Agents Naturalism 20th century (?)
Objective Moral Values Theism Thousands of Years Ago (?)
Ethical Disagreement Naturalism Thousands of Years Ago (?)
Religious Experience Theism Thousands of Years Ago (?)
Intelligibility of so much of the universe without appealing to supernatural agency Naturalism 20th century

The precise dates of these discoveries are not important; what is important is the distribution of these discoveries over time. If this distribution is roughly correct, then that is evidence against (13).
In fact, the demographics of evidence about God is itself evidence against theism. Other than the problem of evil and perhaps ethical disagreement, most of the (alleged) items of naturalistic evidence became known only in the last two centuries and then only because of scientific discoveries. That state of affairs is antecedently much more probable on the assumption that naturalism is true (and the progress of science involves more and more correct scientific explanations, explanations which do not appeal to supernatural agents) than on the assumption that theism is true (and a correct scientific explanation could involve supernatural agency and so antecedently there is no reason to predict the progress of science would involve an increasing number of correct naturalistic explanations).
Notes
[1] J.L. Schellenberg, “Divine Hiddenness,” in Charles Taliaferro, Paul Draper, and Philip L. Quinn, ed., The Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Religion (second ed., Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 509-518 at 509.

bookmark_borderThe Slaughter of the Canaanites – Part 9

Clay Jones argues that Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children), but that this command and the obedience of the Israelites to the command was morally justified because the Canaanites deserved the death penalty for various serious crimes or sins which were violations of the laws of Jehovah (see his article “Killing the Canaanites”). Jones provides a list of the crimes or sins allegedly committed by the Canaanites which were (supposedly) deserving of the death penalty: idolatry, incest, adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality, and bestiality.
The Sin or Crime of Bestiality
The word “bestiality” does not occur anywhere in the Bible.  Thus, the word “bestiality” does not occur anywhere in the laws of Jehovah.  Thus, there is no explicit prohibition of “bestiality” in the laws of Jehovah.  However, we can compare the meaning of “bestiality” in ordinary English language, and then review the laws of Jehovah to see whether some actions are prohibited which would fall under the meaning of the word “bestiality”:
sex between a person and an animal
(http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bestiality)
There are verses in Leviticus that prohibit such sexual activity:
Leviticus 18:23 New American Standard Bible
23 Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion.
Leviticus 20:15-16 New American Standard Bible
15 If there is a man who lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death; you shall also kill the animal.
16 If there is a woman who approaches any animal to mate with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.
It appears that there is a bit of a double-standard here, in terms of men vs. women.  Men are to be put to death for having sex with an animal, but women are to be put to death merely for attempting to have sex with an animal (“approaches any animal to mate with it”).  This is SEXIST and unfair to women:
45. If Jehovah commanded that many Canaanite men and women be killed as the death penalty for violating the prohibitions in Leviticus concerning sex with animals, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to execute men only for actually having sex with an animal,  while executing women for merely attempting to have sex with an animal.
In a previous post, I argued that the sin or crime of beastiality was not deserving of the death penalty:
17. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of beastiality (i.e. sex between a human and a non-human animal), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the sin or crime of beastiality is NOT deserving of the death penalty.
Why should we have a law against having sex with an animal?  One concern might be for public health – sex with animals could result in transmission of new sexually transmitted diseases, especially from animals to humans (but also from humans to animals).  Another concern might be for the well-being of animals.  A non-human animal might be caused to suffer or might be physically injured by having sex with a human.  Even if an animal enjoys having sex with a human, this could be viewed as a sort of “rape” of the animal by the human, because a non-human animal is no more capable of giving consent to sex than is a baby or a young child.
But none of these reasons seem strong enough to warrant the death penalty, especially in view of the fact that the laws of Jehovah allow an adult man to violently rape a young girl without imposing the death penalty for that sin or crime.  So, even the violent “rape” of a non-human animal (which seems like the worst sort of case of having sex with an animal) cannot be justly punished with the death penalty by Jehovah’s laws, because that would mean treating the violent rape of a young girl by an adult man as something that is LESS SERIOUS than the violent “rape” of an animal by an adult man.
Furthermore, there are MANY different ways to injure or cause pain and suffering to animals.  Factory farming, for example, causes injuries and pain and suffering to millions of animals each year, but we have no laws that impose the death penalty on humans for such practices.  Some sadistic humans take pleasure in beating and abusing and even torturing animals.  Although we sometimes send people to prison for animal abuse, we don’t execute people for such crimes.  If it was the suffering and abuse of the animal that was the moral justification for prohibition of sex with animals, then Jehovah’s laws clearly miss the mark, because they fail to deal with the vast array of non-sexual ways in which humans cause animals to suffer.
Furthermore, it is clear that the laws of Jehovah concerning sex with animals are not based on a concern for the animals involved, because the laws command not only that the human involved be executed, but that the animal involved also be killed.  If the purpose of these laws was to protect animals from injury, suffering, and harm, then it makes no sense to kill the victim of the crime!
If sex with animals is considered to be wrong because non-human animals are incapable of giving consent to having sex, so that sex with an animal is a form of “rape”, then we should note that this justification is problematic.  If we want to prevent animals from having non-consensual sex, and if non-human animals CANNOT give consent (because like children they are unable to give consent) to having sex, then we have an obligation to prevent any and every non-human animal from ever having sex with any other animal (human or non-human).   According to this logic, ALL sexual intercourse by non-human animals would be considered to be “rape”.  Since we do allow non-human animals to have sex, even though they are not capable of giving consent to having sex, it is logically inconsistent to equate having sex with an animal with the sin or crime of RAPE.
We should be concerned about the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases being passed from animals to humans, but we should ALSO be concerned about non-sexually transmitted diseases being passed from animals to humans, and we allow all sorts of close interactions of a non-sexual nature between humans and animals, and those close non-sexual interactions ALSO have the potential to foster the transmission of diseases from animals to humans.  Apart from doing significant scientific investigation/study, it is not clear that sexually transmitted diseases that arise from humans having sex with animals is a greater health risk than diseases that arise from non-sexual interactions between humans and animals.  Even if sex with animals does present a greater health risk than non-sexual interactions with animals, it is far from clear that the difference is more than just a matter of degree.
I believe it is a good thing to prohibit humans from having sex with animals, but I do not see any reasonable justification for making such activity into a capital crime; sex with animals is NOT deserving of the death penalty.
In order to be JUST, the laws of Jehovah concerning sex with animals need to meet the following basic requirements:
R1. The laws of Jehovah must clearly indicate who falls under the scope of the law concerning sex with animals.
R2. The laws of Jehovah must state explicitly and definitely what conduct  constitutes a violation of the laws concerning sex with animals and that such conduct is prohibited.
R3. The laws of Jehovah must clearly indicate what punishment may be imposed for the sin or crime of  violating prohibitions concerning sex with animals.
Although the laws of Jehovah appear to give a clear indication of the SCOPE of the prohibitions concerning sex with animals, as I have argued concerning other prohibitions, the SCOPE is  the nation of Israel and does NOT include the Canaanites:
Leviticus 18:23 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)
23 Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion.
Since the pronoun “you” in this verse clearly refers back to the phrase “the sons of Israel” found at the beginning of Chapter 18 of Leviticus, the first prohibition against having sex with animals applies only to “the sons of Israel” (i.e. the men of the nation Israel).  The phrase “any woman” should be interpreted in keeping with the interpretation of the pronoun “you”, so “any woman” in this context clearly means: any Israelite woman.  It would be absurd and illogical to limit the scope of the first prohibition to Israelite men, but to hugely expand the scope of the second prohibition to include every woman in every nation.  So, the prohibitions concerning sex with animals satisfy (R1), but since the scope is limited to Israelites, it would be unjust to apply the death penalty to Canaanites for violations of these laws:
46. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanites as the death penalty for violating Jehovah’s laws concerning sex with animals, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to impose a severe punishment on people on the basis of laws which clearly appear to exclude those people from the scope of those laws.
What about the second basic requirement for a just law?  Do the laws of Jehovah state explicitly and definitely what conduct  constitutes a violation of the laws concerning sex with animals (R2)? I will argue that they are VAGUE and UNCLEAR as to what specific sexual activities constitute a violation of the laws concerning sex with animals.
The first thing to note is that the prohibition concerning MEN having sex with animals uses the same UNCLEAR language as the prohibition against men having sex with other men.  Here is the verse prohibiting men from having sex with other men:

Leviticus 20:13 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)

13 If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.

 This is followed a couple of verses later by the prohibition of men having sex with animals:
Leviticus 20:15 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)
15 If there is a man who lies with an animal, he shall surely be put to death;
The expression “X lies with Y” is a euphemism used in ancient Hebrew to mean roughly “X has sex with Y”.  But the use of euphemism makes both of these laws VAGUE and UNCLEAR, because a law, especially a law which carries the death penalty as a punishment, needs to be very clear and precise as to what conduct is prohibited.  We can see, based on a parallel passage in Leviticus 18 that the euphemism “lies with” is a way for referring to sex:

Leviticus 18:23 New Revised Standard Version (emphasis added)

23 You shall not have sexual relations with any animal and defile yourself with it, nor shall any woman give herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it: it is perversion.

It is reasonable to use Leviticus 18:23 as the basis for interpreting the phrase “lies with” in Leviticus 20:15, so we can conclude that the laws of Jehovah prohibit a man from having sexual relations with an animal, and that a violation of this law may be punished by the death penalty.  But if this is what the law against sex with animals means, then this law is VAGUE and UNCLEAR about what conduct constitutes a violation of this law, and thus this law is unjust.

The phrase “X had sexual relations with Y” is a vague and unclear statement, because it is unclear whether oral sex would count as an example of “having sexual relations”, and whether anal sex would count, and whether manual sex would count.  When President Bill Clinton famously asserted, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”, he was not lying, because the meaning of this phrase is VAGUE and UNCLEAR.

Miss Lewinsky and Bill Clinton had oral sex; she put his penis in her mouth and sucked and licked his penis until he had an orgasm and ejaculated.  But they did not engage in coitus; he did not insert his penis into her vagina and move his penis in and out of her until he had an orgasm and ejaculated.  Because it is unclear whether “having sexual relations” means strictly engaging in coitus or whether it includes other sorts of sexual activity (such as oral sex, anal sex, or manual sex), we cannot convict Bill Clinton of lying.  We can say he was being deceptive and using VAGUE and UNCLEAR language to mislead others, but what he asserted is NOT clearly false, because he used language which was (intentionally) unclear.

Such VAGUE and UNCLEAR language has no place in laws, particularly in criminal laws where serious punishments can be given to a person who is convicted of such a crime, and the death penalty is one of the most serious punishments that one can receive (apart from torture which we have eliminated as a legitimate legal punishment in the USA).

I, however, used the New Revised Standard Version above, as the basis for this interpretation.  The Revised English Bible provides an alternative translation to the key verse from Leviticus 18:

Leviticus 18:23 Revised English Bible (emphasis added)

23 You must not have sexual intercourse with any animal to make yourself unclean with it…

The phrase “X had sexual intercourse with Y” seems a bit more clear and specific than “X had sexual relations with Y”, and my American Heritage Dictionary (2nd College edition) supports my linguistic intuition here:

sexual intercourse:  Coitus, esp. between humans.

O.K., but what exactly is “Coitus”?  This term appears to have a fairly specific meaning, again from my American Heritage Dictionary:

coitus: The physical union of male and female sexual organs, leading to orgasm and ejaculation of semen.

Now we have clarity and specificity.

1.  “X lies with Y” means “X has sexual intercourse with Y”.

2. “X has sexual intercourse with Y” means “X and Y engage in sexual activity in which there is a physical union of male and female sexual organs [of X and Y] and in which the male has an orgasm and ejaculates semen.”

Therefore:

3. “X lies with Y” means “X and Y engage in sexual activity in which there is a physical union of male and female sexual organs [of X and Y] and in which the male has an orgasm and ejaculates semen.”

This very clear and precise definition of “X lies with Y” in (3) has some serious problems, however.  First on this definition, it is IMPOSSIBLE for one man to “lie with” another man, or to have “sexual intercourse” with another man, because on this definition, “X lies with Y” ONLY IF one of the two people has a female sexual organ, a vagina ( I suppose that someone could be born with both male and female sexual organs, but then it is not clear that such a person would be correctly categorized as a “man” in the view of the Israelites or of the author of Leviticus).

But it is clear that the author of Leviticus believes that it is possible for two men to be engaged in sexual activity that can be correctly categorized as “X lies with Y”.  Therefore, either the translators of the Revised English Bible were mistaken in their translation of Leviticus 18:23 (using the expression “sexual intercourse”) or else the definitions of “sexual intercourse” and “coitus” in my American Heritage Dictionary are mistaken.

Furthermore, if we go with the narrow definition of “X lies with Y” that is implied by this Revised English Bible translation of Leviticus 18:23, then the laws of Jehovah would allow (without any punishment imposed) the following sexual activities:

  • oral sex between men
  • anal sex between men
  • manual sex (mutual masturbation) between men
  • oral sex between a man and an animal
  • anal sex between a man and an animal
  • manual sex between a man and an animal
  • penile/vaginal sex between a man and an animal in which the man does not reach orgasm or does not ejaculate
  • oral sex with another man’s wife
  • anal sex with another man’s wife
  • manual sex (mutual masturbation) with another man’s wife
  • penile/vaginal sex between a man and another man’s wife in which the man does not reach orgasm or does not ejaculate
  • oral sex between a man and his mother (or sister or daughter)
  • anal sex between a man and his mother (or sister or daughter)
  • manual sex (mutual masturbation) between a man and his mother (or sister or daughter)
  • penile/vaginal sex between a man and his mother (or sister or daughter) in which the man does not reach orgasm or does not ejaculate

Most Christian believers would find such wide-ranging sexual freedom to be appalling, and would be inclined to doubt the divine inspiration of the laws of Jehovah if those laws permit all of these sexual activities to be engaged in without any prohibition or punishment.

We could tweak the definition of “sexual intercourse” to try to achieve a definition which was clearer and more specific than the obviously problematic phrase “sexual relations” but less specific than the very precise definition of “coitus” from my American Heritage Dictionary, but such tweaking would be arbitrary, and NOT well grounded in the text of Leviticus.  The problem is that Leviticus is VAGUE and UNCLEAR in ALL of the sexual prohibitions that we have been considering (i.e. “incest”, “adultery”, “homosexuality”, and “bestiality”).

Such unclarity leaves too much room for interpretation by a judge or jury as to whether or not a specific instance of questionable sexual activity is prohibited or not.  Thus, ALL of the sexual prohibitions found in Leviticus should be VOID FOR VAGUENESS.  ALL of these sexual prohibitions constitute UNJUST LAWS, particularly in view of the fact that violations of these laws may be punished by the death penalty.  The definitions of capital crimes must be very clear and precise, leaving very little room for subjectivity and different interpretations by different judges or juries:

47. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanites as the death penalty for the sin or crime of having sex with an animal, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the laws of Jehovah fail to state explicitly and definitely what conduct  constitutes a violation of the laws concerning sex with animals.

This problem also applies to the prohibition of “adultery” in the laws of Jehovah:

48. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of thousands of Canaanites as the death penalty for the sin or crime of “adultery”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the laws of Jehovah are VAGUE and UNCLEAR about what conduct constitutes “adultery” (because of the key phrases “lies with” and “sexual relations” are vague and unclear ). 

 The same problem applies to the prohibitions of sexual activity in the laws of Jehovah that fall under our concept of “incest”:
49. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of thousands of Canaanites as the death penalty for the sin or crime of “incest”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the laws of Jehovah are VAGUE and UNCLEAR about what conduct constitutes “incest” (because of the key phrases “lies with” and “sexual relations” are vague and unclear). 
I want to consider and reject one possible line of defense against the objection I have raised here.  Suppose that someone replies to my objection by arguing from facts and details about the meanings of Hebrew words and phrases found in various passages from Leviticus and  by arguing from facts and details of the content of Leviticus related to the beliefs and attitudes of the author of Leviticus towards sex, that there is an alternative translation and interpretation of Leviticus 18:23 which is less VAGUE than the translation of the New Revised Standard Version (i.e. “sexual relations”), and which is less NARROW and less SPECIFIC than the translation of the Revised English Bible (i.e. “sexual intercourse”).  Furthermore, suppose this responder to my objections was successful in showing that this alternative translation and interpretation avoids the problem of being VOID for VAGUENESS and is a better and superior translation/interpretation than the two alternatives I have described above.  Would such a response show my objection to be weak or faulty?  I don’t think so.
For my objection here to work, it is NOT necessary that the translations/interpretations that I have pointed to be shown to be CORRECT or even shown to be the BEST AVAILABLE interpretations in terms of the latest and greatest Old Testament scholarship and scholarship concerning the meanings of ancient Hebrew words and phrases.  The reason why this is so, is that laws are very practical in nature, especially laws that govern the everyday behavior of people in general.  Such laws, in order to be just laws, must be clearly written and easily understood by the common person.
I think it is a good and wonderful thing that a few people, perhaps one in a ten thousand people, become scholars and experts in the Old Testament and in the translation and interpretation of ancient Hebrew.  However, we cannot expect the average person to master Old Testament scholarship and the subtleties of translating ancient Hebrew.  Because of the practical nature of laws, especially laws that govern the everyday behavior of common folk, it would be UNJUST to impose the death penalty on a person who misunderstood one of the laws of Jehovah simply because that person fell short of being a competent scholar of the Old Testament or of the ancient Hebrew language.
If a case for an alternative translation/interpretation of Leviticus 18:23 rests on facts and details about the meanings of ancient Hebrew words and phrases and/or facts and details concerning the beliefs and attitudes of the author of Leviticus about sex, then such discussion is likely to require TOO MUCH of the common person on the street.  This would especially be true of ancient Canaanites who (a) were mostly illiterate, and (b) did not have possession of printed copies of the laws of Jehovah, and (c) did not have access to modern scholarship concerning the translation or interpretation of the Old Testament and of the ancient Hebrew language.
Thus, even if a solid case could be made that some alternative interpretation of Leviticus 18:23 was both clear and specific, but less narrow and less specific than the definition of “coitus” from my American Heritage Dictionary, this would probably NOT refute my objection, because the arguments for such a claim are likely to demand too much knowledge or effort on the part of the common person, or on the part of the average Canaanite.  Laws concerning the everyday behavior of people in general MUST be written in clear and specific language that does NOT require a significant amount of knowledge and learning on the part of people who are expected to conform their actions to those laws.
The laws of Jehovah do clearly specify the death penalty as the punishment for a violation of the laws that prohibit people from having sex with animals, thus these laws satisfy the third requirement for a just law (R3), but this just makes it all the more critical that the laws be clear and precise about what conduct constitutes a violation of these laws.

bookmark_border100 Key Psychology Studies Repeated

This is a bit off topic, but psychology has important implications for understanding religious belief and the absence of religious belief and rejection of religious belief.  One hundred key psychology experiments published in three top psychology journals in 2008 were reproduced to see if the same results were obtained as the originally published experiment.  The bottom line: about 2/3 of the studies did not hold up in terms of statistical significance, and “very few of the redone studies contradicted the original ones; their results were simply weaker.”
Key Psychology Studies Fail to Hold Up When Rechecked
 
 

bookmark_borderOn Admitting There Might Be Some Evidence for the Other Side

Note: I thought I had blogged this before, but a quick search didn’t turn anything up.
Have you ever noticed how rare it is for a person to admit there might be any evidence against their position, at least (or especially) when it comes to religion? I think this should make people suspicious about whether their cognitive biases are playing a larger role than they might like to admit.
People can mean different things by “evidence.” Solely for the sake of discussion, I’m going to define “evidence” in this post to mean “some fact which is more probable on the assumption that one hypothesis is true than it is on the assumption that another hypothesis is true.” In mathematical symbols, where E is evidence, H1 is one hypothesis , and H2 is a contradictory hypothesis, this means that E is evidence for H1 just in case Pr(E|H1) is greater than Pr(E|H2).
Let’s conduct a thought experiment. Without knowing what H1 and H2 are, assume that both are coherent (i.e., they don’t contradict themselves in the way “There are married bachelors” would) and that H1 is true.
Now ask yourself this question.

Q: “Assuming H1 is true, why does it follows that there is no (zero) evidence against H1 and for H2?”

Using the definition of “evidence” I’ve provided in this post, the correct answer is this.

A: “It doesn’t follow at all. It’s possible that there is some evidence, however small, against H1 and for H2 and that evidence is outweighed by other evidence, evidence which more strongly favors H1 over H2.”

Now let’s apply this insight to competing worldviews like theism and naturalism. Based upon the answer I just provided, it should be obvious that

(1) If theism is true, there could be evidence against theism and for naturalism.

and:

(2) If naturalism is true, there could be evidence naturalism and for theism.

I think it’s no small coincidence that Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne, who takes a similar Bayesian approach to evidence, thinks the total evidence favors God’s existence, but evil and suffering provides evidence against God’s existence.

“So, given both of these additional hypotheses, and conscious of the very short temporal span of human and animal life (and to a lesser extent of the limits of pain and suffering within that life that can be experienced), my own final verdict is that a God would not need to be less than perfectly good if he were to bring it about or allow to occur that amount of suffering that exists for the sake of the greater good that results. Still, the need for additional hypotheses in order to save theism makes the resulting theistic theory more complicated than theism on its own (bare theism), and so reduces the probability of bare theism. Put another way, bare theism makes it less probable that we would find evil of as great a degree as we do than it would be on background evidence alone, because theism is compatible with the evidence only if we add to theism a further hypothesis or hypotheses. Hence, evil provides a good C-inductive  argument against the existence of God. But it does not provide a very strong one, for the reason that providing life after death for many humans (not merely those who need compensation) and becoming incarnate to share their suffering are the kinds of acts that a good God might well do anyway–for they are good acts (and perhaps good acts of different kinds from the other acts of God that we have been discussing, and maybe even acts of best kinds), whether or not required in order for God justifiably to allow the amount of evil that occurs. … So, with e as the occurrence of the moral and natural evils known to us, h as the hypothesis of theism, and k as the background evidence considered in previous chapters, P(h|e&k) < P(h|k), but the former is not less than the latter by very much.”
Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (second ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 265-66.

I happen to disagree with Swinburne’s assessment of the strength of the evidence from evil, but that really doesn’t matter. With a clear (and rigorous) use of probability theory, Swinburne agrees that evil provides objective evidence against God’s existence.
Swinburne isn’t the only theist who admits this. Off the top of my head, I think I remember reading that philosophers Gregory E. Ganssle and Victor Reppert do as well. There are probably others.
Similarly, on the naturalist side, I’ve defended an argument from consciousness which says that consciousness is more probable on theism than on naturalism.
The moral here, I think, is that we should be skeptical whenever someone claims there is no (zero) evidence for something. Perhaps that is why the great philosopher Bertrand Russell, when asked what he would say to God after he dies if it turns Russell was wrong and God exists, is reported to have answered, “Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!” He didn’t say, “No evidence, God! No evidence!” Instead, he said, “Not enough evidence.”

bookmark_borderThe Slaughter of the Canaanites – Summary of Objections

Clay Jones argues that Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children), but that this command and the obedience of the Israelites to the command was morally justified because the Canaanites deserved the death penalty for various serious crimes or sins which were violations of the laws of Jehovah (see his article “Killing the Canaanites”). Jones provides a list of the crimes or sins allegedly committed by the Canaanites which were (supposedly) deserving of the death penalty: idolatry, incest, adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality, and bestiality.
The following is a summary of sixty objections that I have raised against Clay Jones’ proposed moral justification of Jehovah’s command to the Israelites for the slaughter of the Canaanites.

From Part 3:

1. If Jehovah commanded the killing of babies as capital punishment for a crime or sin, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to use the death penalty on babies.
2. If Jehovah commanded the killing of babies as capital punisment for crimes or sins committed by the babies, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to severely punish a person who is not capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong.
3. If Jehovah commanded the killing of babies as capital punishment for crimes or sins committed by their parents (or other adults), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to punish a child for the sins or crimes of their parents (or other adults).
4. If Jehovah commanded the killing of young children as capital punishment, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to use the death penalty on young children.
5. If Jehovah commanded the killing of young children as capital punisment for crimes or sins committed by the young children, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to severely punish a person who is not capable of fully understanding the difference between right and wrong or fully understanding the negative consequences of their wrong actions.
6. If Jehovah commanded the killing of young children as capital punishment for crimes or sins committed by their parents (or other adults), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to punish a child for the sins or crimes of their parents (or other adults).
7. If Jehovah commanded the killing of persons with significant mental disabilities as capital punishment, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to use the death penalty on persons with significant mental disabilities.
8. If Jehovah commanded the killing of persons with significant mental disabilities as capital punishment for crimes or sins committed by those persons with significant mental disabilities, then  JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to severely punish a person who is not capable of fully understanding the difference between right and wrong or fully understanding the negative consequences of their wrong actions.
9. If Jehovah commanded the killing of persons with significant mental disabilities as capital punishment for crimes or sins committed by their parents (or other adults), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to punish a person with significant mental disabilities for the sins or crimes of their parents (or other adults).
10. If Jehovah commanded the killing of thousands of wicked persons, as Jones asserts, then JEHOVAH IS CRUEL and UNKIND, because the killing of those persons (based on traditional Christian theological beliefs) ensures that not only will those persons be deprived of any further opportunities for pleasure or happiness in this life, but ensures that those persons will have no further opportunities to repent and thus ensures they will suffer and be in misery for all eternity.
11. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of idolatry (worshipping other gods besides Jehovah), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the sin or crime of idolatry is NOT deserving of the death penalty.
12. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of idolatry (worshipping other gods besides Jehovah), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the Canaanites were unaware of the law requiring that they not worship other gods besides Jehovah.
13. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of adultery, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the sin or crime of adultery is NOT deserving of the death penalty.
14. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of adultery, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the Canaanites were unaware of the law requiring that they not commit adultery.
15. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of homosexuality (i.e. sex between two or more males or between two or more females), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the sin or crime of homosexuality is NOT deserving of the death penalty.
16. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of homosexuality (i.e. sex between two or more males or between two or more females), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the Canaanites were unaware of the law requiring that they not commit the sin or crime of homosexuality.
17. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of beastiality (i.e. sex between a human and a non-human animal), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the sin or crime of beastiality is NOT deserving of the death penalty.
18. If Jehovah commanded the killing of the Canaanites as punishment for the sin or crime of beastiality (i.e. sex between a human and a non-human animal), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the Canaanites were unaware of the law requiring that they not commit the sin or crime of beastiality.
19.  If Jehovah commands the death penalty for adultery, homosexual sex, and sabbath violations, but let’s a rapist off with just a fine (and permanent access to continue raping the female victim), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because not only are adultery, homosexual sex, and sabbath violations not serious enough to merit the death penalty, but they are clearly less serious than rape, which is always non-consensual sex and often involves significant violence against the victim, and yet Jehovah commands a punishment for rape that is significantly less than the death penalty, and JEHOVAH IS CRUEL and UNKIND, because Jehovah condemns to the victims of rape to be married to their rapist, providing the rapist with permanent access to continue raping the woman or girl.
20. If Jehovah commanded the killing of thousands of Canaanites (men, women, and children) as capital punishment for sins or crimes they allegedly committed, and did so without requiring any trials to be held, and without requiring any witnesses to give evidence that any particular Canaanite committed some sin or crime worthy of death, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to condemn a person to death for allegedly committing a horrible sin or crime when no trial has been held to determine whether the person is actually guilty and no evidence of that person’s guilt has been given by witnesses.

From Part 4:

21. If Jehovah commanded the Israelites to take the land of the Canaanites, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because when one tribe or nation has settled in a certain geographic area and has been living on that land for a century (or for centuries) and another tribe or nation comes along and takes that land away from the tribe or nation that had previously settled there, then that is an act of land theft. 
22. If Jehovah commanded the Israelites to wage war against the Canaanites in order to take possession of their land, then JEHOVAH IS UNUST, because it is wrong to wage a war of agression for the purpose of expanding the territory or dominion of one tribe or nation.
23.  If Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter every man, woman, and child who lived in Palestine (the “promised land”) as the death penalty for certain serious crimes or sins, but not to do this to other tribes and peoples living outside of Palestine, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to distribute serious punishments (such as the death penalty) for certain crimes to people based on their geographic location.   
24.  If Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter people who were members of certain ethnic groups as the death penalty for certain serious crimes or sins, but not to do this to other ethnic groups, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to distribute serious punishments (such as the death penalty) for certain crimes to people based on their ethnic group.  
25.  If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) as capital punishement for the crimes or sins of idolatry, incest, adultery, child-sacrifice, homosexuality, and beastiality, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to punish some people with the death penalty for certain sins or crimes when one does NOT apply the same severe punishment to certain people that one likes or favors.
26. If Jehovah commanded the slaugher of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) as the death penalty for the crimes or sins of idolatry, incest, adultery, child-sacrifice, homosexuality, and beastiality, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because Jehovah’s laws are sexist and at least two of the laws invoked here are sexist (concerning incest and adultery), thus the use of the death penalty in this way is biased against women. 
27. If Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children) as capital punishment for certain serious crimes or sins, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust for a person accused of a capital crime to be condemned to death by a judge and jury who have an obvious and significant vested interest in the accused person being found to be guilty.

From Part 5:

28. If Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites on the grounds that the Canaanites were wicked and deserved to die, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because Jehovah should have been taking the exact opposite view and encouraged the Israelites to consider the very real possibility that they were engaging in SOCIOCENTRIC thinking, and simply rationalizing their evil actions by following the natrual irrational human tendency to believe what is in one’s vested interest to believe, and to believe that one’s own nation or people are good, right, just, and noble, while believing that the enemies of one’s own nation or people are evil, wrong, disguisting, unjust, and ignoble, that they were engaging in the universal and natural irrational tendency towards blaming the victim and dehumanizing the enemy.
29. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as a punishment for the crime or sin of “idolatry”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no clear indication in the laws of Jehovah as to who is in scope for the prohibition of “idolatry”.
30. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as a punishment for the crime or sin of “idolatry”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no clear specification in the laws of Jehovah as to what activity constitutes “idolatry”.
31. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as a punishment for the crime or sin of “idolatry”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no clear specification in the laws of Jehovah as to what punishment may be used for violation of the prohibition against “idolatry”.
32. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as a punishment for the crime or sin of “worshiping an idol”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because based on the opening of the Chapters stating this prohibition, the pronoun “You” in the prohibition appears to refer to the Israelites and NOT to the Canaanites.
33. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as a punishment for the crime or sin of “worshiping an idol”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no clear specification in the laws of Jehovah as to what activity constitutes “worshiping an idol”.
34. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as a punishment for the crime or sin of “worshiping an idol”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no clear specification in the laws of Jehovah as to what punishment may be used for violation of the prohibition against “worshiping an idol”.

From Part 6:

35. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as a punishment for the crime or sin of “incest”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no clear indication in the laws of Jehovah as to who is in scope for the prohibition of “incest”.

36. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as a punishment for the crime or sin of “incest”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no clear specification in the laws of Jehovah as to what activity constitutes “incest” nor is there a clear and explicit statement that “incest” is prohibited.

37. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as a punishment for the crime or sin of “incest”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no clear specification in the laws of Jehovah as to what punishment may be used for a violation of the prohibition against “incest”.

From Part 7:

38. If Jehovah commanded that thousands of Canaanites be slaughtered as capital punishment for the sin or crime of “adultery”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because Jehovah’s laws do NOT clearly indicate that the Canaanites fall under the scope of the prohibition of “adultery” (in fact they indicate that the law applies only to “the sons of Israel”).

39. If Jehovah commanded that thousands of Canaanite women be slaughtered as capital punishment for the sin or crime of “adultery” (as understood in Leviticus 20), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to impose the death penalty on women for doing something that men are allowed to do with impunity (i.e. be sexually unfaithful to their spouses).

40. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of thousands of Canaanites as the death penalty for the sin or crime of “adultery”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because either the laws of Jehovah are VAGUE about what conduct constitutes “adultery” (because of the word “friend” or “neighbor” in the law) or the laws of Jehovah are clear about what conduct constitutes “adultery” (because we interpret “friend” or “neighbor” to mean “an Israelite man”) but this law was violated by only a handful, at most, of Canaanites.

 From Part 8:

 41. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanite men as the death penalty for the sin or crime of homosexual sex, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to severely punish men for engaging in consensual sex with other men while allowing women to engage in consensual sex with other women with impunity.
42. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanite men as the death penalty for the sin or crime of “homosexuality”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no explicit prohibition of “homosexuality” in the laws of Jehovah.
43. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanite men as the death penalty for the sin or crime of having sexual intercourse with another man, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, becuase the laws of Jehovah are unclear as to what precise conduct counts as a violation of this prohibition.
44. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanite men as the death penalty for the sin or crime of having sexual intercourse with another man, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, becuase the laws of Jehovah give clear indication that this law applies only to Israelite men.

 From Part 9:

45. If Jehovah commanded that many Canaanite men and women be killed as the death penalty for violating the prohibitions in Leviticus concerning sex with animals, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to execute men only for actually having sex with an animal,  while executing women for merely attempting to have sex with an animal.
46. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanites as the death penalty for violating Jehovah’s laws concerning sex with animals, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to impose a severe punishment on people on the basis of laws which clearly appear to exclude those people from the scope of those laws.
47. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanites as the death penalty for the sin or crime of having sex with an animal, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the laws of Jehovah fail to state explicitly and definitely what conduct  constitutes a violation of the laws concerning sex with animals.

48. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of thousands of Canaanites as the death penalty for the sin or crime of “adultery”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the laws of Jehovah are VAGUE and UNCLEAR about what conduct constitutes “adultery” (because of the key phrases “lies with” and “sexual relations” are vague and unclear ). 

49. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of thousands of Canaanites as the death penalty for the sin or crime of “incest”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the laws of Jehovah are VAGUE and UNCLEAR about what conduct constitutes “incest” (because of the key phrases “lies with” and “sexual relations” are vague and unclear). 

From Part 10:

50. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as punishment for the sin or crime of “child sacrifice”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because Jehovah was in effect commanding the Israelites to engage in acts of child sacrifice on a massive scale to punish acts of child sacrifice.
51.  If Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter thousands of Canaanites in part as the death penalty for the sin or crime of “child sacrifice”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to show favoritism towards the Israelites by ignoring (or even promoting) “child sacrifice” among the Israelites, but then commanding the mass slaughter of other tribes or peoples for engaging in the same sort of activity.
52. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanites as the death penalty for violating a prohibition against “child sacrifice”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no explicit prohibition of the practice of “child sacrifice” in the laws of Jehovah.
53. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanites as capital punishment for violation of the prohibition against giving a son or daughter to the god Molech (i.e. Leviticus 20:2), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because this law should be Void for Vagueness (the law fails to clearly specify the conduct that is prohibited).
54. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanites as capital punishment for violation of the prohibition against giving a son or daughter to the god Molech (i.e. Leviticus 20:2), then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because the scope of this law is limited to the men of the nation of Israel, and does NOT include the Canaanites.
55. If Jehovah commanded that many Canaanites be slaughtered as the death penalty for “burning their sons and daughters in the fire” to Jehovah in violation of Deuteronomy 12:31, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because this law in Deuteronomy 12:31 should be Void for Vagueness (because it fails to clearly specify the conduct that is prohibited).
56. If Jehovah commanded that many Canaanites be slaughtered as the death penalty for “burning their sons and daughters in the fire” to Jehovah in violation of Deuteronomy 12:31, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because this law in Deuteronomy 12:31 clearly applies only to the Israelites and not to the Canaanites (since the law is clearly addressed to the Israelites).

57. If Jehovah commanded that many Canaanites be slaughtered as the death penalty for “burning their sons and daughters in the fire” to Jehovah in violation of Deuteronomy 12:31, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because this law in Deuteronomy 12:31 does NOT clearly state that the death penalty is to be the punishment for this sin or crime.
58. If Jehovah commanded that many Canaanites be slaughtered as the death penalty for “making his son or daughters pass through the fire” in violation of Deuteronomy 18:10, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because this law in Deuteronomy 18:10 should be Void for Vagueness (because it fails to clearly specify the conduct that is prohibited).
59. If Jehovah commanded that many Canaanites be slaughtered as the death penalty for “making his son or daughters pass through the fire” in violation of Deuteronomy 18:10, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because this law in Deuteronomy 18:10 clearly applies only to the Israelites and not to the Canaanites (since the law is clearly addressed to the Israelites).
60. If Jehovah commanded that many Canaanites be slaughtered as the death penalty for “making his son or daughters pass through the fire” in violation of Deuteronomy 18:10, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because this law in Deuteronomy 18:10 does NOT clearly state that the death penalty is to be the punishment for this sin or crime.

bookmark_borderNaturalistic vs. Supernatural Explanations

Take any ‘odd’ or surprising fact to be explained (e.g., cosmic fine-tuning, origin of life, consciousness, etc.).
I continue to be suprised that anyone thinks

“God caused/designed/did X for an unknown reason using a mysterious mechanism”

is a better explanation than

“X has an unknown naturalistic explanation, i.e., X is the result of an impersonal, unknown mechanism”

The first option, call it a “personal supernaturalist” (PS) explanation, involves both an unknown reason and an unknown mechanism. In contrast, the second option, call it a naturalistic (N) explanation 2 involves only an unknown mechanism. For this reason alone, it seems to me that, everything else held equal, N explanations should be preferred to PS explanations. And notice this is before we even compare the track records of PS and N explanations, which only makes things worse for the PS camp.
 

bookmark_borderThe Slaughter of the Canaanites – Part 8

Clay Jones argues that Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children), but that this command and the obedience of the Israelites to the command was morally justified because the Canaanites deserved the death penalty for various serious crimes or sins which were violations of the laws of Jehovah (see his article “Killing the Canaanites”). Jones provides a list of the crimes or sins allegedly committed by the Canaanites which were (supposedly) deserving of the death penalty: idolatry, incest, adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality, and bestiality.
In Part 5 I showed that JEHOVAH IS UNJUST if he used the idea of the death penalty for “idolatry” as part of a justification for the slaughter of the Canaanites. In Part 6 I showed that JEHOVAH IS UNJUST if he used the idea of the death penalty for “incest” as part of a justification for the slaughter of the Canaanites.  In Part 7 I showed that JEHOVAH IS UNJUST if he used the idea of the death penalty for “adultery” as part of a justification of the slaughter of the Canaanites.
I also plan to show that JEHOVAH IS UNJUST if he used the idea of the death penalty for “child sacrifice” as part of a justification for the slaughter of the Canaanites.  However, there is a good deal of historical information and complex historical issues surrounding “child sacrifice” in the Old Testament, so I want to put in a bit more time reading and studying before I lay out my objections to this proposed moral justification of the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children).
The Sin or Crime of Homosexuality
In a previous post I pointed out that RAPE is always non-consensual sex and often involves violence against the victim, and is thus a serious crime that deserves a serious punishment; while homosexual sex is generally consensual sex between adults and thus ought not to be punished as a crime at all, and certainly ought not be punished more severely than RAPE. (Also, when homosexual sex is non-consensual, it can just be considered RAPE, and thus wrong and deserving of punishment simply for that reason.)
But the laws of Jehovah are SEXIST, and so the violent rape of a young girl by an adult man is punished not with the death penalty, but with a fine, which is paid to the girl’s father (as compensation for damaging his property), and no compensation is given to the girl.  In fact, the man is required to marry his victim, and thus he gains the legal right to continue raping the girl whenever he wishes.  The absurdity of imposing capital punishement for the sin or crime of homosexual sex, while only imposing a fine and a mandatory marriage on a rapist, shows that JEHOVAH IS UNJUST and that JEHOVAH IS A SEXIST (and thus that Jehovah is NOT God).
Although the laws of Jehovah are SEXIST and treat women as pieces of property owned by men (girls and single women are owned by their fathers and engaged or married women are owned by their husbands) and thus women are treated UNJUSTLY by the laws of Jehovah, there is also injustice towards men that results from the SEXIST nature of the laws of Jehovah.  As I previously pointed out, only men can commit the crime of “incest” because the SEXIST laws of Jehovah fail to recognize the possibilty that women can also initiate sexual activity.  Thus JEHOVAH IS UNJUST towards men for making “incest” a crime that only a man can do.
The same problem occurs here with the sin or crime of “homosexuality”:
Leviticus 18:22 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)
22 You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.
Leviticus 20:13 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)
13 If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.
The sin or crime of “homosexuality” (i.e. homosexual sex) can ONLY be committed by a man, according to the laws of Jehovah.  But if homosexual sex is wrong for a man, then it should also be wrong for a woman. If men deserve punishment for homosexual sex, then women also deserve punishment for homosexual sex.  But because the laws of Jehovah are SEXIST, they focus on the actions of men, and largely ignore the actions of women, and they also assume that only men can initiate sexual activity, when in fact women are also capable of initiating sexual activity, including homosexual sex with another woman:
 41. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanite men as the death penalty for the sin or crime of homosexual sex, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because it is unjust to severely punish men for engaging in consensual sex with other men while allowing women to engage in consensual sex with other women with impunity.
To avoid the INJUSTICE involved in laws subject to being made Void for Vagueness, a law against “homosexuality” must meet at least these three requirements:
R1. The laws of Jehovah must clearly indicate who falls under the scope of the law concerning “homosexuality”.
R2. The laws of Jehovah must state explicitly and definitely what conduct  constitutes “homosexuality” and that such conduct is prohibited.
R3. The laws of Jehovah must clearly indicate what punishment may be imposed for the sin or crime of “homosexuality”.
First of all, the words “homosexual” and “homosexuality” do NOT occur anywhere in the Old Testament, so these words do not occur in the laws of Jehovah.  So, there are no laws against “homosexuality” per se in the laws of Jehovah.
42. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanite men as the death penalty for the sin or crime of “homosexuality”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no explicit prohibition of “homosexuality” in the laws of Jehovah.
But we know the meaning of the word “homosexuality”, so we can review the laws of Jehovah for laws that in effect prohibit homosexuality, even if the word “homosexuality” is not explicitly used in the laws of Jehovah.  My American Heritage Dictionary (2nd College edition) gives two definitions of “homosexuality”:
1. Sexual desire for others of one’s own sex.
2. Sexual activity with another of the same sex.
It would be unjust for Jehovah to impose the death penalty on someone just for having sexual desire for others of the same sex, especially since Jehovah supposedly created human beings and thus he is responsible for creating humans who have such homosexual desires.  Having a desire does not, however, mean that one must act on the desire, so it makes more sense to understand the sin or crime of “homosexuality” to mean engaging in sexual activity with another of the same sex.
The laws of Jehovah, as we have already seen, do not prohibit ALL “sexual activity with another of the same sex”.  The laws of Jehovah, for example, do NOT prohibit a woman from engaging in sexual activity with another woman.  The laws of Jehovah also do NOT prohibit a man from french kissing another man.  So, it is inaccurate and misleading to say that the laws of Jehovah prohibit “homosexuality”.  Rather, they prohibit only specific forms of homosexual activity between men.
Do the laws of Jehovah satisfy the second requirement for a just law against certain forms of homosexual activity between men?  There is a problem of VAGUENESS, because of the phrase “lies with a male as those who lie with a woman”.  Taken literally, a man would be committing this sin or crime just by lying down near another man without engaging in sex, since men often lie down near a woman without necessarily having sex with the woman.
But the authors of the Old Testament often used euphemisms for sexual intercourse, and this appears to be an instance of such a euphemism:
Other references to sexual intercourse also use ordinary words with a specifically sexual sense.  Among the most frequent is a Hebrew verb that means “to lie with” or “to sleep with,” with both primary and sexual meanings parallel to English useage. (Michael Coogan, God and Sex, p.9-10).
Given that “to lie with” is a common euphemism in the OT for sexual intercourse, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 should be understood as prohibiting sexual intercourse between men.
Presumably, this law concerns anal intercourse between men, since that is the closest analogue to ordinary sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.  This law of Jehovah does NOT prohibit anal intercourse between a man and a woman, nor between women (with the use of fingers or penis-shaped objects).  It is UNCLEAR whether this law of Jehovah prohibits oral sex between men or mutual masturbation between men, because it is not clear that oral sex or mutual masturbation were considered to be part of ordinary sexual intercourse between a man and a woman.
So, there is a significant degree of VAGUNESS and UNCLARITY in this law, a degree that would be unacceptable in a modern court of law in the USA, because it leaves too much room for interpretation by a judge or jury.  If Jehovah is omniscient and is a perfectly morally good person, then there is no good reason to lower our standards of justice for the laws of Jehovah, and if Jehovah was NOT omniscient or NOT a perfectly morally good person, then Jehovah was NOT God.  Therefore:
43. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanite men as the death penalty for the sin or crime of having sexual intercourse with another man, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, becuase the laws of Jehovah are unclear as to what precise conduct counts as a violation of this prohibition.
Since Leviticus 20:13 explicitly prescribes the death penalty for this sin or crime, the third requirement (R3) for a just law is satisfied by this particular law.
What about the SCOPE of the prohibition?  Does this law satisfy the first requirement (R1) of a just law?  Do the laws of Jehovah clearly indicate who must comply with this prohibition? Does this law apply to the Canaanites?  Once again, it is fairly clear that this law does NOT apply to Canaanites.  The key question here is:  What is the referent of the pronoun ‘you’ in Leviticus 18:22?
Leviticus 18:22 New American Standard Bible
22 You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.
The opening of Chapter 18 of Leviticus makes it clear to whom the word “you” refers:

Leviticus 18:1-5 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)

1 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
2 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘I am the Lord your God.
3 You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes.
4 You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God.
5 So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.

The word “you” occurs seven times in these opening verses of Chapter 18, and in each case this word clearly refers back to “the sons of Israel”  who previously lived “in the land of Egypt”.  Clearly the word “you” in Leviticus 18:22 refers to “the sons of Israel” (i.e. the men of the nation Israel) and NOT to the Canaanites.  Therefore, although the laws of Jehovah do clearly indicate the SCOPE of this law prohibiting sexual intercourse between two men, they indicate that the law applies to the Israelites, not to the Canaanites:
44. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of many Canaanite men as the death penalty for the sin or crime of having sexual intercourse with another man, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, becuase the laws of Jehovah give clear indication that this law applies only to Israelite men.
In conclusion, the laws of Jehovah do clearly indicate that the death penalty may be imposed for the sin or crime of a man having sexual intercourse with another man and thus the law prohibiting this satisfies the third requirement for a just law (R3).   This law, however, is somewhat UNCLEAR and VAGUE leaving it open to a judge or jury to determine whether oral sex between men counts as a violation, and whether mutual masturbation between men counts as a violation, and thus this law is unjust and should be made VOID FOR VAGUENESS and fails the second requirement for a just law (R2). Furthermore, although the SCOPE of this law is clearly indicated by the opening verses of Leviticus Chapter 18, thus satisfying (R1), the scope includes only Israelite men, not Canaanite men, and so the use of this law to impose the death penalty on a Canaanite man would be unjust.
Finally, Jehovah’s laws concerning homosexual activity are clearly UNJUST, because as a result of their SEXIST viewpoint they impose a severe punishment (death) on men for engaging in an activity that women are allowed to engage in with no punishment at all (i.e. having sex with another person of the same sex).
 
 

bookmark_borderA Moral Argument for God which Begs the Question against Theists

Reposting a comment I left on fellow Patheos blogger Bob Seidensticker’s blog, Cross Examined. Bob was writing about Geisler’s and Turek’s book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an AtheistBob quoted this passage from their book:

 If the atheists are right, then we might as well lie, cheat, and steal to get what we want because this life is all there is, and there are no consequences in eternity. (p. 68)

Bob’s response:

Wow—what planet are these guys from? How many atheists think that it’s fine to lie, cheat, and steal? Are the prisons filled with atheists? Do atheists not care about their reputations with their family and friends? Do atheists not have consciences?

Since you’ll agree, after a moment’s reflection, that atheists are indeed moral, maybe you should drop the “atheists have no morals” claim and wonder where they get their morals from. I predict it’s the same place where you do.

Atheism does indeed mean that “there are no consequence in eternity,” but (dang it!) there are consequences right here and now, so I’d better cancel my Saturday night orgy ’n bacchanalia.

What follows was my comment.

—-

I think this reply misses the mark. Joe Sixpack will read this and say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I think of atheists.” And apologists will surely respond, “Yes, there are atheists who do that, but they’re simply acting inconsistently with or better than their atheism.”

If you’ll indulge me, I think a better reply would be something like this:

Geisler and Turek claim that by ruling out the supernatural, Darwinists can avoid the possibility that anything is morally prohibited. In fact, Geisler and Turek are tearing down a straw man of their own creation by linking ‘everything is permitted’ with the wrong ‘-ism.’ Contrary to what Geisler and Turek claim, neither atheism nor Darwinism says everything is morally permitted. That’s what nihilism says.
In fact, at least in this instance, it is Geisler and Turek, not atheists, who are guilty of ruling out things in advance. Geisler and Turek can assume that atheism leads to nihilism only by assuming that some God-based theory of morality, such as the (Modified) Divine Command Theory is true.
But that assumption is hotly contested, even by other theists. If someone read only Geisler’s and Turek’s book, they’d think the choices were “Theism and God-based morality” and “atheism and no morality whatsoever.” But that’s false. Bare or ‘mere’ theism says nothing about whether morality is based upon God. The belief that morality is somehow based upon God is an extra belief, on top of theism. Thus, Geisler and Turek not only beg the question against atheists, but they beg the question against other theists also.
First, their argument begs the question against moral anti-reductionists (like G.E. Moore) who hold that moral facts and properties are not reducible to non-moral facts and properties. There are both theists and nontheists who hold this position.
Second, their argument begs the question against reductive moral naturalists who hold that moral facts and properties are reducible to natural, non-moral facts and properties. As before, there are both theists and nontheists who hold this position.

bookmark_borderKai Nielsen on Natural Law and Divine Command Theory

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Taylor Carr republished on The Secular Outpost with permission. The original post may be found on his blog, The Godless Skeptic.

It’s common to hear theists make the claim that there cannot be a moral law without a moral law-giver. C.S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, and several other prominent defenders of the Christian faith have given voice to this position in their writings and lectures. The association of religion with morality goes back a long ways in history, at least as far as Plato, but the most notable articulator of it in Christian thought is perhaps Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century friar and theologian. Aquinas’ view that morality must be grounded in god has been influential in both Catholic and Protestant circles and is reflected in two traditions known as natural law theory and divine command theory.The Canadian philosopher Kai Nielsen critiques both traditions in an essay featured in his book Atheism & Philosophy. On natural law theory – the view that we come to an understanding of the good through reason, in accordance with the “eternal law” of god – Professor Nielsen raises four main objections.
1. Natural law suffers from the same problems of justification as other moral theories. Nielsen writes:
For such a certain knowledge of good and evil, we require moral principles that can be seen to be self-evident to us or natural moral laws of whose truths we can be certain. But since natural moral laws are only self-evident in themselves (assuming we know what that means) and since it is God’s reason and not man’s that is the source of the moral law, we poor mortals can have no rational certitude that the precepts claimed to be natural laws are really natural laws. [p. 201]
2. Natural law begs the question with regard to what human beings are made for, or what they are in their essential nature – that is, creations of a god. Nielsen notes that this is a background assumption for which science has offered no support. Even if some day we discover that there are, in fact, certain characteristics held in common by all human beings, it does not follow that these must be in place for us to be properly called humans.
3. Proponents of natural law theory contend that conflicts and confusions on what things are good stem from a corruption of our natural inclinations due to sin or to ‘dark habits’. As Nielsen points out, though, we can rightly wonder what criteria are used to determine when a habit is dark or sinful. “What actually happens,” he observes, “is that those moral beliefs that are incompatible with Catholic doctrine, and as a result are called corrupt and sinful, are simply arbitrarily labeled as ‘unnatural’ and ‘abnormal.'” This shifts the focus from natural law conceptions to some other criteria allegedly rejected by natural law theorists, such as our own personal assessments of human nature or a statistical judgment of what is humanly ‘natural’, bringing us again to the question of what makes any of our natural inclinations right versus corrupt.
4. Natural law fallaciously attempts to derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’ Again, from Nielsen:

To discover what our natural inclinations are is simply to discover a fact about ourselves; to discover what purposes we have is simply to discover another fact about ourselves, but that we ought to have these inclinations or purposes or that it is desirable that we have them does not follow from statements asserting that people have such and such inclinations or purposes. These statements can very well be true but no moral or normative conclusions follow from them.

Natural law is often invoked in defense of Catholic doctrines, particularly when it comes to the Church’s positions on homosexuality and birth control. But what of the Protestant alternative? Unsurprisingly, Nielsen doesn’t think divine command theory – the view that good is what god commands, as god is himself the highest good – fares any better.

…a radically Reformationist ethic, divorcing itself from natural moral law conceptions, breaks down because something’s being commanded cannot eo ipso make something good. Jews and Christians think it can because they take God to be good and to be a being who always wills what is good. ‘God is good’ no doubt has the status of a tautology in Christian thought, but if so ‘God is good’ still is not a statement of identity and we must first understand what ‘good’ means (including what criteria it has) before we can properly use ‘God is good’ and ‘God is Perfectly Good.’

To treat the statement ‘god is good’ as an expression of identity would be to commit what G.E. Moore labeled the naturalistic fallacy. While this fallacy is often tossed about in criticisms of naturalistic ethics, there seems to be disappointingly little attention paid to the chapter on “Metaphysical Ethics” in the Principia Ethica, where Moore explains how it also applies to ethics founded on metaphysical truths, i.e. the existence of a god. Some theistic thinkers have taken this problem into account and argue that though good and god are not technically synonymous, there is nonetheless some relation between the two.
As Nielsen points out, however, this still leaves us without an understanding of what ‘good’ means. Even in tautological statements like ‘Wives are women’ and ‘Triangles are three-sided’, we know what women are and we know what it means to be three-sided. If ‘god is good’ is not an expression of identity, if it is not guilty of the naturalistic fallacy, then how are we to understand, much less believe, what is being asserted when we don’t understand what ‘good’ means? Nielsen puts it forcefully: “Morality does not presuppose religion; religion presupposes morality.”