bookmark_borderPress Release: Has Evangelist Ravi Zacharias Misrepresented His Academic Credentials?

The following is a guest post by attorney Steve Baughman aka “Friendly Banjo Atheist,” who asked me to post it on his behalf.
On a related note, Internet Infidels, Inc. has published rebuttals or critiques of Zacharias in the past. See “An Emotional Tirade Against Atheism” by Jeffery Jay Lowder and “That Colossal Wreck” by Doug Krueger. A theme of both critiques is that Zacharias consistently tears down straw man versions of atheism in general and atheist morality specifically. It would be ironic, therefore, if the claims in this press release are true. Not only would it be the case that Zacharias misrepresents atheist morality, but also that he engaged in immoral behavior (dishonesty) in order to give the false impression that he has more scholarly authority than he actually has. 
PRESS RELEASE: August 24, 2015
“When intellectuals violate morality in any academic discipline, implicitly or explicitly, it leads to lawlessness and the concoction of science fiction.”
Ravi Zacharias in The Real Face of Atheism (p. 58.)
Who We Are
We are two atheists and a Christian who are concerned that a prominent evangelist, Mr. Ravi Zacharias, has engaged in misconduct that undermines academic integrity and misleads the public.   We issue this press release with two primary goals in mind. First, we wish to draw attention to what we believe are the dishonest practices of Ravi Zacharias.  Second, we hope the facts presented here will prompt professional journalists and investigators to continue the work we have started.[1]
(1.)  We believe that the problem of professional evangelical Christians exaggerating their academic credentials deserves much more media attention and public discussion than it currently receives.  There is much grumbling even within Christian circles about the practice of honorary degree recipients using the “Dr.” title. But the issue has not gone mainstream yet. See and
Steve Baughman is an attorney and part time philosophy student at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.  He holds a Masters Degree in Asian Studies from University of California at Berkeley. He is the creator of the YouTube channel Friendly Banjo Atheist, which first presented the matter of Mr. Zacharias’ credentials to the public.
Tom Lunol has a B.S. in Mathematics from U.C. Santa Barbara and an M.S. in Computer Science from USC. He worked for Microsoft before moving to a position at New York Life.
Andy Norman teaches philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University.  He writes about fair-minded reasoning and the philosophical foundations of humanism.  He has a PhD from Northwestern University and has published widely on the norms of responsible discourse.
Questions may be addressed to Steve Baughman at
About Ravi Zacharias
Ravi Zacharias is a world renowned Christian evangelist who has written over a dozen books. Former White House counsel, Chuck Colson, called him “the great apologist of our time.”  Mr. Zacharias maintains a busy travel schedule lecturing all over the world. He resides in Atlanta, Georgia, where his ministry, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), is headquartered.  RZIM has numerous overseas offices and maintains a staff of over 100 people.  According to Mr. Zacharias’ website, his weekly radio program, “Let My People Think”, airs on over 2,000 outlets worldwide.
Ravi Zacharias frequently preaches about morality and the moral bankruptcy of atheism.
Summary of Concerns
The Cambridge Claim
Ravi Zacharias has claimed for many years that he was a “visiting scholar at Cambridge University.”  He presents this claim prominently in his press bios and in his memoirs.  He makes frequent mention of it in his public appearances.  It is by far the most impressive item in his academic portfolio.
The claim is false.  The University of Cambridge press office has confirmed the same to us.
We recently contacted Mr. Zacharias and informed him of our belief that he has misrepresented having been a “visiting scholar at Cambridge University.” We informed him of our intent to go public with this information and we asked him for a response. None came.
Shortly thereafter Mr. Zacharias deleted the claim from his official website bio.
The “Dr. Zacharias” Claim
Ravi Zacharias refers to himself in his official bio and in the videos released by his ministry as “Dr. Zacharias.” He frequently appears at academic institutions where the title “Dr.” is generally understood as indicating that the subject has completed a doctoral program.
Mr. Zacharias has no doctoral degree.  He has a Masters of Divinity degree and has done no doctoral work.  He has been awarded multiple honorary doctorates by Christian schools.
Prior to receiving a complaint from us, the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics, of which Mr. Zacharias is a founding member, claimed at its website that Mr. Zacharias “has been conferred a Doctor of Divinity degree from both Houghton College and Tyndale College and Seminary, Toronto, and a Doctor of Laws degree from Ashbury College, Kentucky.”
After receiving our complaint, the OCCA changed their website to add the term “honorary doctoral degrees” to Mr. Zacharias’ bio.
Curiously, shortly thereafter the OCCA deleted the reference to the degrees as honorary even though there is no question that Mr. Zacharias’ doctoral degrees are all honorary.
After yet another complaint from us several days ago, it appears that the OCCA has yet again inserted the term “honorary doctoral degrees” in Mr. Zacharias’ bio.
As of our Press Release date, Mr. Zacharias fails to disclose in his own website that his degrees are honorary.  (See
The Details of Mr. Zacharias’ Misrepresentations
The Cambridge Claim
In his memoirs Mr. Zacharias states the following:

By 1990, the load of ministry had gotten so heavy that I decided to take a sabbatical for the first time since I had started in the ministry. I spent part of that year at Cambridge University in England with my family, and it was a very special time for us.
I was invited to be a visiting scholar, and I decided to focus my studies on the Romantic writers and moralist philosophers. (Walking from East to West, p. 205, emphasis added)

Until several weeks ago, Mr. Zacharias’ website bio at stated, “Dr. Zacharias has been a visiting scholar at Cambridge University.” Mr. Zacharias is frequently introduced at his university appearances as having been “a visiting scholar at Cambridge University.”  The claim also appears on the jacket of his book, The Real Face of Atheism. 
A Google search of [“Ravi Zacharias” “visiting scholar at Cambridge University”] reveals thousands of pages in which the claim is repeated.
The claim is false, and Mr. Zacharias withdrew it shortly after we asked him for a response to our concern that he had misrepresented his Cambridge visiting scholar status.
How do we know it is false? We contacted the University of Cambridge Office of External Affairs and Communications and asked whether Mr. Ravi Zacharias was ever a visiting scholar at their university.  We were told in writing the following:
“We can confirm that Mr. Zacharias spent a sabbatical at Ridley Hall in Cambridge.”
“Attending lectures and classes at the University of Cambridge whilst on sabbatical at Ridley Hall would not confer University of Cambridge Visiting Scholar status on a student. Ridley Hall is not a constituent part of the University of Cambridge and has different criteria for granting Visiting Scholar status.”
Insofar as it is exclusively the province of the University of Cambridge to decide who constitutes a “visiting scholar” at their institution, we believe it to be established beyond dispute that Mr. Zacharias’ visiting scholar claim is false.
Anticipated Defenses from Ravi Zacharias
1. The close connection between the University of Cambridge and Ridley Hall justifies the claim. 
We are unable to ascertain whether Mr. Zacharias now concedes that the Cambridge claim was false.  We note that his website was recently changed to state that “Dr. Zacharias has been a visiting scholar at Ridley Hall, Cambridge (then affiliated with Cambridge University, now more recently allied with Cambridge and affiliated with Durham University) where he studied moralist philosophers and literature of the Romantic era.”
We acknowledge the close affiliation between the University of Cambridge and Ridley Hall.  Both are in the town of Cambridge, and both are part of the Cambridge Theological Federation. We are told that cross-registration is permitted. We are eager to know if Mr. Zacharias now claims that it was this close affiliation that justified his “visiting scholar at Cambridge University” claim.
We believe it to be a misleading practice to claim to have been a “visiting scholar” at one institution by virtue of one’s doing a sabbatical at a different “affiliated” institution.  We note that Mr. Zacharias’ supervisor at Ridley, Dr. Jeremy Begbie, who taught at both Ridley and Cambridge University, draws a very clear distinction in his own Curriculum Vitae between Ridley Hall and Cambridge University. (See ).
2. The visiting scholar claim is accurate because Mr. Zacharias attended classes and lectures at Cambridge University while on Sabbatical at Ridley.
The University of Cambridge has told us in writing that “Attending lectures and classes at the University of Cambridge whilst on sabbatical at Ridley Hall would not confer University of Cambridge Visiting Scholar status on a student.”
Apparently unaware that Cambridge University sets its own criteria for visiting scholar status, Mr. Zacharias’ supervisor at Ridley, Dr. Jeremy Begbie, made the following written statement to us in response to our question as to whether it was accurate for Mr. Zacharias to call himself a visiting scholar at Cambridge University.  “Yes, Ridley Hall was (and is) not formally a constituent college of the University.  However, I arranged for Mr. Zacharias to attend lectures and classes at the University. In that sense it is accurate.” (Emphasis original.)
We have two concerns about this statement from Dr. Begbie.
First, we have learned that in response to a recent inquiry from Biola University, a major Christian university, RZIM included a statement from Dr. Jeremy Begbie confirming that “Ravi Zacharias was a visiting scholar at Ridley Hall Cambridge in 1990, under my supervision.”  Does Dr. Begbie retract his prior claim to us, or does he believe that Mr. Zacharias was a visiting scholar at both institutions?
Second, in our prior correspondence with Dr. Begbie, we asked him what title Ridley had given Mr. Zacharias, whether it was “visiting scholar, visiting fellow, visiting student or something else.”  Dr. Begbie responded “I do not recall the title we gave him.”  We are eager to know what facts Dr. Begbie has since accessed that now make him recall that Mr. Zacharias was a “visiting scholar” at Ridley.
3. The vagueness of the term “visiting scholar” justifies Mr. Zacharias’ use of it.
We acknowledge that the term “visiting scholar” is used both formally and informally.  In its formal sense it carries great prestige, especially at respected institutions like Cambridge. In its informal sense, as Dr. Jeremy Begbie’s note to us shows, it can mean nothing more than attending lectures and classes for a short period at some affiliated institution while on sabbatical at another.
The difficulty for Mr. Zacharias is that he clearly intends us to understand his “visiting scholar at Cambridge University” claim in the formal, prestigious sense.  It is, quite simply, the crown jewel of his otherwise very unremarkable academic history.  It is a claim he has trumpeted loudly and widely.
To be sure, Mr. Zacharias may now urge as his defense that he intended the claim to be understood informally (perhaps as nothing more than him attending lectures and classes at Cambridge while he was at Ridley.)  But the more Mr. Zacharias drifts from the formal/prestigious conception of the term “visiting scholar,” the more the public will be justified in feeling deceived. Why make such a big issue of it in the press materials if it was an informal arrangement involving nothing more than “attending lectures and classes”?
We await clarification from Mr. Zacharias and we urge media professionals, as well as concerned clergy and students, to pursue this matter with Mr. Zacharias and his ministry.
Remaining Questions about the Cambridge University Claim
We believe that Mr. Zacharias’ deception is clearly established. Nevertheless, we believe that we might gain greater clarity as to the depth of that deception if several outstanding questions be answered.
Who invited Mr. Zacharias to be a visiting scholar at Cambridge?  Did Mr. Zacharias formally take classes at Cambridge? Or did he merely audit? Were these graduate classes?  (See p. 205-206 of Walking From East to West where Mr. Zacharias claims to have been invited to be a visiting scholar at Cambridge University.)
We hope others will be more successful than we have been in obtaining information from Mr. Zacharias about these significant matters of concern.
The Honorary Doctorate / “Dr. Zacharias” Claim
Ravi Zacharias routinely refers to himself as “Dr. Zacharias.”  The honorific appears in his press materials, in the videos posted by his ministry on YouTube, and in his website bio.  When we called his office and asked to speak to him, his personal secretary answered with “Dr. Zacharias’ office.”
Ravi Zacharias has no academic doctorate, only a Masters of Divinity.  He has multiple honorary doctorates, all from Christian institutions.
After Mr. Zacharias received criticism for this practice in the first Friendly Banjo Atheist video, he removed several of the references to himself as “Dr. Zacharias” and replaced them either with “Mr.” or just “Ravi.” But he continues to use the title in that same website bio, only less frequently.
After we complained to the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics, an entity of which Mr. Zacharias is a co-founder, they added the term “honorary doctoral degrees” to Mr. Zacharias’ bio at their website.  Curiously, they removed it several weeks later.  After we complained several days ago about this change the OCCA yet again added the term “honorary doctoral degrees” to Mr. Zacharias’ bio.
Mr. Zacharias does not use the term “honorary doctorate” in his own website bio at  Instead he states that he “has been honored with the conferring of six doctoral degrees, including a Doctor of Laws and a Doctor of Sacred Theology.”
We note our concern that Mr. Zacharias refuses to put the term “honorary doctorates” in his bio.  Furthermore, we find the language cited in the previous paragraph to be confusing, vague and idiosyncratic.  “Honored with the conferring of” does not tell the reader that his doctorates were merely honorary. We know of no way to account for the choice of this language and the absence of the term “honorary doctorate” in Mr. Zacharias’ bio other than an intent to obfuscate and deceive.
We note also that the use of the honorific “Dr.” by one whose doctorates are only honorary, though widely practiced (Benjamin Franklin and Maya Angelou did it), is also widely condemned by ethicists and protocol experts. It is also indisputably misleading, and all the more so when done in conjunction with regular appearances in academic settings where the honorific “Dr.” is widely understood to indicate that a rigorous course of advanced study and original research was completed.
The Associated Press Stylebook says “Do not use Dr. before the name of an individual whose only doctorate is honorary.”
The author of Academic Ceremonies: a handbook of traditions and protocol told us in writing that “one would never refer to oneself as a doctor by virtue of an honorary degree.”
Even Asbury University, one of the institutions that conferred an honorary doctorate on Mr. Zacharias informed us in writing that “As a general rule, Asbury University – which utilizes Associate Press style as its foundation – does not refer to a recipient of an honorary doctorate issued by the University as “Dr.”
There appears to be no question that the title as used by Mr. Zacharias is misleading. Simply put, when Mr. Zacharias appears at college campuses to speak on matters of ethics, philosophy, culture, history and science and holds himself out as “Dr. Zacharias” it is very likely that most of the audience (on site and online) will believe that he has an academic doctorate.
Not only does Ravi Zacharias take no steps to disabuse them of this notion, he furthers it by repeated use of the honorific as well as by the confusing language in his website bio.
Given that the purpose of the practice can only be self-aggrandizement, we are concerned that Ravi Zacharias has placed his public image ahead of general standards of honesty.  We are also concerned that Mr. Zacharias engages in these practices in academic settings where students are required to uphold certain ethical standards that he himself does not. Indeed, we believe that undergraduates at many institutions of higher learning are held to higher standards of academic integrity than Mr. Zacharias holds himself.
Other Concerns:
1.            Failure to follow basic standards of honesty in public speaking
In Ethics in Public Speaking, James Kudooski states the obvious:  “Ethics in public speaking demand that you are honest and accurate in the information you are presenting to your audience. Do not mislead your audience intentionally. Do not distort the facts to suit your aim. If you are not sure about a piece of information or fact or statistics, don’t use it!”
In one of the first Ravi Zacharias lectures that we viewed, he attempts to prove the inspiration of the Book of Daniel by showing that although it was written in the 6th century B.C.E. it predicted accurately the rise and fall of Alexander the Great two centuries later.  In making the argument Mr. Zacharias twice emphasized the 6th century dating of Daniel.
Upon investigating Mr. Zacharias’ claim we learned that contemporary Old Testament scholarship widely agrees that Daniel was written two centuries after Alexander the Great.
The question is not about the dating of Daniel.  One need not be an expert in the dating of ancient document to see deception by Mr. Zacharias here. He undoubtedly understands that the 6th century date is (at best) hotly contested, yet he gave no indication of that to his unsuspecting audience of college students.
We are concerned that a speaker who does not accept that this violates a speaker’s duty of honesty to the audience does not belong on college campuses in any capacity as a speaker.
See Exposing “Prophecy” and Evangelist Ravi Zacharias
2.            Mr. Zacharias’ misleading claim to have “lectured at the world’s most prestigious universities.” 
Mr. Zacharias claims to have “lectured at the world’s most prestigious universities.” See for example the jacket of his book The Real Face of Atheism.  In his autobiography he states,

“I have spoken on almost every major campus – Berkeley, Princeton, Cornell, you name it.  If we haven’t been to a major school it is more often than not because we haven’t had the time to accommodate the request.” Walking from East to West, p. 209.

We are concerned about the extent to which Mr. Zacharias’ claim implies that his appearances at such universities have been pursuant to invitations from the faculty or the institutions.  It is our understanding that Mr. Zacharias’ appearance at prestigious universities has been primarily, if not exclusively, pursuant to invitations from student clubs and Christian evangelical organizations. For instance, many of Mr. Zacharias’ appearances at prestigious universities have been sponsored by the Veritas Forum, a Christian campus ministry that promotes discussion “about life’s hardest questions and the relevance of Jesus Christ to all of life.”  Mr. Zacharias has been closely connected to the organization, appearing in their promo video and writing the preface to the Veritas founder’s book.
3.            Is Ravi Zacharias a “scholar”?
It is an open question whether Ravi Zacharias qualifies as any kind of scholar at all.  Not only has he no doctoral degree, to our knowledge he has published nothing in scholarly journals, done no peer-reviewed research, and his academic qualifications are limited to his having a Masters of Divinity and having held the chair of evangelism and contemporary thought at a missionary training school, Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, NY.
[1] We believe that the problem of professional evangelical Christians exaggerating their academic credentials deserves much more media attention and public discussion than it currently receives.  There is much grumbling even within Christian circles about the practice of honorary degree recipients using the “Dr.” title. But the issue has not gone mainstream yet. See and

bookmark_borderThe Slaughter of the Canaanites – Part 7

Clay Jones argues that Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children), but that this command and the Israelites obedience 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 Adultery
To avoid the INJUSTICE involved in laws subject to being made “Void for Vagueness”, a law against “adultery” must meet at least these three requirements:
R1. The laws of Jehovah must clearly indicate who falls under the scope of the law against “adultery”.
R2. The laws of Jehovah must state explicitly and definitely what conduct  constitutes “adultery” 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 “adultery”.
The sin or crime of “adultery” is explicitly prohibited in the Ten Commandments:
Exodus 20:14 New American Standard Bible
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
Deuteronomy 5:18 New American Standard Bible
18 ‘You shall not commit adultery.
The Ten Commandments, however, do not specify or define what conduct constitutes “adultery” (R2), nor do they indicate the punishment for “adultery” (R3).
But the Ten Commandments do provide clarity about who falls under the scope of this law (R1).  The word “you” in this commandment has a clear referent in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5:
Exodus 19:1-6 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)
1 In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.
2 When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain.
3 Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel:
4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself.
5 Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine;
6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”
Exodus 20:1-2 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)
1 Then God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Deuteronomy 5:1-6 New American Standard Bible
1 Then Moses summoned all Israel and said to them:
Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully.
2 The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb.
3 The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today.
4 The Lord spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire,
5 while I was standing between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain. He said,
6 ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Obviously Jehovah did not bring the Canaanites “out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”.  It is clear in both Exodus 20 and in Deuteronomy 5, that Jehovah is giving the Ten Commandments to ISRAEL, more specifically to “the sons of Israel” (because Jehovah was a sexist).  It is clear from the context that the pronoun “you” found in the Ten Commandments refers to “the sons of Israel” and thus the scope of these laws does NOT include the Canaanites. Therefore, although there is a clear specification of the scope of the law against “adultery” (R1), the scope does NOT include the Canaanites, and thus:
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”).
The book of Leviticus provides some clarification about what conduct constitutes “adultery” (R2) and about what punishment may be imposed for this sin or crime:
Leviticus 20:10-12  New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)
10 ‘If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
11 If there is a man who lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.
12 If there is a man who lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have committed incest, their bloodguiltiness is upon them.
Although verse 10 by itself does not clearly define “adultery,” it does give us a big clue: “adultery” is something that a man does “with another man’s wife” and “with his friend’s wife”.  But just doing something with a “friend’s wife” is obviously not deserving of serious punishment.  If I play checkers with a friend’s wife, it would hardly be just to kill me for playing that game with her.  Verses 11 and 12, however, appear to provide specific examples of adultery, and both involve a man who “lies with” another man’s wife, namely with his father’s wife (vs. 11) or with his son’s wife (vs. 12).  So, based on this passage from Leviticus Chapter 20, one may reasonably infer that in the laws of Jehovah:
Definition of “adultery” (as used in Leviticus)
The sin or crime of “adultery” occurs when a MAN has sexual intercourse with the wife of one of his friends or with the wife of one of his relatives.
This interpretation of “adultery” is confirmed by a sexual prohibition stated in an earlier chapter of Leviticus:

Leviticus 18:20 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)

20 You shall not have intercourse with your neighbor’s wife, to be defiled with her.

The first thing to notice here is that this is a SEXIST understanding of “adultery”.  In the English language, the ordinary meaning of “adultery” includes sexual unfaithfulness of either husband or wife, but on the meaning of “adultery” in the book of Leviticus, a husband can have sex with any woman he wants to, so long as she is not already married to another man.   A woman, on the other hand, is prohibited from having sex with any man other than her husband, on pain of DEATH:
In the Ancient Near East and the OT (Lev. 18:20; 20:10; Deut. 22:22) adultery meant consensual sexual intercourse by a married woman with a man other than her husband..  However, intercourse between a married man and another woman was not considered adultery unless she was married. (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p.23) 
This understanding of “adultery” is clearly sexist and unfair to women, thus:
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).
The second thing to notice about the above understanding of “adultery” is that it is VAGUE and UNCLEAR.  This law appears to fail to meet the second criterion for just laws (R2). When is someone considered to be a “friend”?
Are all of my neighbors automatically considered to be my “friends”?  What if I have never had a conversation with one of my neighbors, would that person still be categorized as a “friend” just because he lived on my block?  What if I have a long-standing disagreement with one of my neighbors about noisy late-night parties?  What if I hate this particular neighbor?  Is that person still considered, for legal purposes, to be my “friend”?  And if ALL of my neighbors are considered to be my “friends”, how far does my neighborhood extend?  Is it just the people on my block?  If I walk three blocks away from my house, is it OK to have sex with another man’s wife who lives in that area? or do I have to travel to a completely different city? or to a different state? or to another country?
The most plausible interpretation of “friend” (alternatively translated as “neighbor”) is given by a modern translation of this verse:
Leviticus 20:10 Good News Translation (emphasis added)
10 If a man commits adultery with the wife of an Israelite, both he and the woman shall be put to death.
In other words “friend” (alternatively translated as “neighbor”) in this context means “an Israelite man”.  This fits well with my previous point about the SCOPE of this law (and of the Ten Commandments in general) being limited to “the sons of Israel”.  This also fits with a conservative Jewish interpretation of this passage and the prohibition of “adultery”:
 10 And a man who commits adultery with [another] man’s wife, committing adultery with the wife of his fellow the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
 committing adultery with the wife of his fellow: [Thus] excluding the wife of a non-Jew. [From here,] we learn that [the legal status of Jewish] marriage cannot be held by a non-Jew. — [Torath Kohanim 20:105; Sanh. 52b]
(from a Jewish commentary on the Torah available at
If the legal status of Jewish marriage “cannot be held by a non-Jew”, then it would NOT be possible for a Canaanite man or woman to commit “adultery” unless the Canaanite man was having sex with a married Jewish woman or the Canaanite woman had converted to become Jewish and then married a Jewish man.  Neither of those events was likely or common.
So, we might be able to set aside the problem of the VAGUENESS of this law against “adultery” by interpreting “friend” or “neighbor” to mean “an Israelite man”.  But if we do so, then the prohibition of “adultery” would NOT provide a JUST basis for slaughtering Canaanites, because very few Canaanites would have been guilty of having sex with the wife of an Israelite man (or of being that wife).
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.
Leviticus does clearly state that the death penalty may be given as the punishment for the sin or crime of “adultery”, so the third requirement (R3) for a just law is satisfied.  We have seen that the law against “adultery” satisfies (R1), but that the law only applies to “the sons of Israel” and NOT to the Canaanites.  We have seen that this law should either be “Void for Vagueness” because of the unclarity of the word “friend” (or “neighbor”), or else we can adopt the most likely interpretation of this word, and understand the definition of “adultery” to be “having sex with the wife of an Israelite man”, in which case very few Canaanites would have been guilty of this sin or crime.  Either way, JEHOVAH IS UNJUST for using this law against “adultery” as the basis for the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children).

bookmark_borderCharles Pidgen on the So-Called “Naturalistic Fallacy” in Meta-Ethics

A common objection to reductive moral naturalism (aka ‘ethical naturalism’)  is the so-called “naturalistic fallacy.” This fallacy comes into flavors: logical and semantical.
The Logical Form
This version of the naturalistic fallacy is normally referred to as the is-ought fallacy, the fact-value fallacy, or, in honor of its author, Hume’s Law.  The source of this form of the naturalistic fallacy is the following passage by Hume.

In every system of morality which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not.  This change is imperceptible, but is, however, of the last consequence.  For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, it is necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for others, which are entirely different from it. (A Treatise on Human Nature, Book III, Part I)

Although this passage is often used to support a distinction between facts and values, the passage does not accomplish that.  As Charles Pidgen writes, “For Hume is making a simple logical point.  A conclusion containing ‘ought’ cannot (as a matter of logic) be derived from ‘ought’-free premises.”[1]  Hume’s logical point does not refute the ontological claim of reductive moral naturalism.
To understand why, consider an analogy with the biological concept of species.  There is a similar gap between conclusions about species and premises that make no mention of them.  A conclusion containing ‘species’ cannot be derived from ‘species’-free premises.  Yet nobody proposes a fact/species distinction or alleges that there is a realm of irreducible species facts.
Therefore, metaphysics does not create either gap.  Rather, as Pidgen writes, “It is the conservativeness of logic that creates the gap.”[2]  But this entails that the gap is logical, not ontological.
The Semantical Form
In his historic book, Principia Ethica, G.E. Moore introduced and defended the theory of moral anti-reductionism (aka ‘ethical nonnaturalism’) over and against moral reductionism.  Moore argued that moral reductionism is fatally flawed since moral facts and properties cannot be reduced to other types of facts and properties.  To support his claim, Moore advanced what he called “the open-question argument.”  According to Moore, no matter which naturalistic definition of good we consider (X), it is still meaningful (and hence an ‘open question’) to ask whether X is good.  So, for example, if an ethical naturalist claims that goodness is identical with pleasure, the nonnaturalist could reply, “Rape gives rapists pleasure, but is it good?”  Does Moore’s argument succeed in refuting ethical naturalism?
Moore’s argument may well be successful in showing that goodness is not strictly a synonym with any non-moral word.  Thus, semantic naturalism would be false; moral words would not be synonymous with non-moral words.  But, even if that were the case, moral words and non-moral words might both stand for the same property.  To use an example outside of meta-ethics, consider the relationship between water and H2O.  As Pidgen explains:

Water and H2O are identical.  Yet ‘water’ is not synonymous with ‘H2O’ even though they stand for the same stuff.  ‘Water’ expresses a pre-scientific concept accessible to children and savages – roughly, the colourless, tasteless fluid that falls from the sky and is found in lakes and rivers.  ‘H2O’, by contrast, expresses a scientific notion.  You can’t understand it fully without a modicum of chemistry.  People did not find out that water is H2O by meditating upon meanings.  Empirical enquiry did the trick.  Semantic naturalism might be false but synthetic naturalism might be true.   That is, moral properties might be identified with natural properties by means of empirical research rather than conceptual analysis.  Thus semantic autonomy, which says that moral words do not mean the same as any others, does not entail ontological autonomy – that moral properties are not identical with any others.[3]

Thus, neither the logical nor the semantic forms of the naturalistic fallacy succeed in refuting the ontological claim of reductive moral naturalism.
[1] Charles R. Pidgen, “Naturalism” A Companion to Ethics (ed. Peter Singer, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), p. 423.
[2] Pidgen 1991, p. 424.
[3] Pidgen 1991, pp. 426-27.

bookmark_borderJonathan MS Pearce on Christianity and Inter-Testamental Moral Relativism

Jonathan MS Pearce recently posted a very interesting argument. Pearce starts with the fact that there are important differences between Old Testament ethics and New Testament ethics. If Divine Command Theory were true, however, he argues that this would be an example of “inter-testamental moral relativism.”

bookmark_borderInteresting Book On an Argument for Moral Realism

I haven’t read this book, which was published last year. I’m posting this based solely on the description provided here.
As someone interested in metaethics generally, I think the book looks very interesting. I’m skeptical, however, of the claim that “were it not for the existence of moral facts, we would not be able to perform ordinary speech acts such as promising.” I guess I’ll have to read the book to find out how Terence Cuneo defends that claim.

bookmark_borderChristian Philosopher Richard Swinburne on One Type of Moral Argument for God’s Existence

“Now if the basic moral principles are analytic, the existence of what they describe cannot provide an argument for the existence of God.  An argument could only take off from the truth of some or all synthetic moral truths (e.g., from the fact that it is wrong to drop atomb bombs on Japan rather than from the fact that it is wrong to kill people who will not certainly come to life again).  Now the fact that certain moral truths hold can only confirm, add to the probability of, the existence of God if it is more likely that those moral truths hold if there is a God than if there is not.  Now the synthetic truths that actions, a, b, c, d, are obligatory (or right or wrong as the case may be) depend on a, b, c, d, possessing certain natural properties Q, R, S, T, which analytically make them obligatory (or whatever).  So if there is to be an argument to the existence of God from certain actions being obligatory it will have a structure somewhat as follows: actions a, b, c, d, are obligatory; they would not be obligatory unless they were Q, R, S, T.  It is more probable that there are actions which are Q, R, S, T, if there is a God than if there is not; therefore the obligatoriness of a, b, c, d, confirms the existence of God.”
Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God, pp. 177-178.

Thus, according to Swinburne, analytic moral principles cannot provide an argument for the existence of God.  And an argument from synthentic moral truths to the existence of God would have to look like this in general form:
(1)   Action a is obligatory.
(2)   Action a would not be obligatory unless it possesses natural properties Q, R, S, T.
(3)   It is more probable that there are actions which have natural properties Q, R, S, T if there is a God than if there is not.
(4)   Therefore, the obligatoriness of a confirms the existence of God.
Now consider Craig’s argument that if atheism is true there would be nothing with rape.  As Swinburne argues, fundamental moral principles must be analytic.  And, surely, if any moral principle is analytic, the principle, ‘rape is wrong,’ is analytic.  Thus, the wrongness of rape cannot provide an argument for the existence of God.  But can a synthetic moral truth concerning rape provide an argument to the existence of God?
Let action:
a  =df. Ted Bundy’s rape of an innocent woman
Let natural properties:
Q =df. rape violates the desires of its victim;
R  =df. rape causes suffering; and
S  =df.  rape degrades the victim.
According to Swinburne, here is how an argument from the objective wrongness to the existence of God would have to proceed:
(1)   Ted Bundy’s rape of an innocent woman is objectively wrong.
(2)   Ted Bundy’s rape of an innocent woman would not be objectively wrong unless it violated the desires of his victim, caused her suffering, and degraded her.
(3)   It is more probable that there are actions which violate the desires of victims, cause suffering, and degrade victims if there is a God than if there is not.
(4)   Therefore, the objective wrongness of Ted Bundy’s rape of an innocent woman confirms the existence of God.
If this is fair example of the kind of argument Swinburne was describing–and I am not completely sure that it is–this example strikes me as a very odd argument for God’s existence. Re-read what (3) says. It is equivalent to the conjunction of :
(3.1) It is more probable that there are actions which violate the desires of victims if there is a God than if there is not;
(3.2) It is more probable that there are actions which cause suffering if there is a God than if there is not; and
(3.3) It is more probable that there are actions which degrade victims if there is a God than if there is not.
All of these strike me as bizarre, counterintuitive ‘predictions’ of theism, to say the least. If this is (were?) the only way to get a ‘good’ moral argument for God’s existence, then the prospects for such an argument (would?) look dim.

bookmark_borderStop Telling Me to be Respectful of Others’ Beliefs

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Alyssa (aka the Atheist Nerd Girl) republished on The Secular Outpost with permission. The original post may be found on her blog, Atheist Nerd Girl.

As an outspoken atheist I’ve come across the “be respectful of others’ beliefs” sentiment many times when expressing my thoughts. The funny thing about it is I’ve been told that sort of thing by fellow atheists on several occasions. It’s as though they feel they’re being very nice and protective of the religious group being criticized. I see where they’re coming from, because of empathy we don’t want to see others feelings get hurt because we know what hurt feelings can be like. But I must say I greatly disagree that having people censor themselves is a respectful route to take, and I don’t think it’s important to protect people from getting hurt feelings.

Whenever I’ve been told to be respectful of religious beliefs one of my immediate thoughts has been, well what about my beliefs? I don’t think telling someone they can’t share what they believe is very respectful. Being told to essentially shut up and it’s wrong for me to share doesn’t feel good, but yet those with the intention of protecting how others feel are fine with doing it to me and other atheists. It’s happened to me on many occasions and each time it was very frustrating, and it always feels like a double standard that it’s applied to atheists. I would never tell a believer to not share their thoughts and opinions, I respect their right to say it, but I also have a right to question them or say why I think it may be ridiculous or illogical.

I think immediately making the assumption that someone’s feelings will get hurt by criticism is more condescending than respectful. That especially goes for the atheists that think fellow atheists should use kid gloves or not speak out against religion at all. To me, it gives off the vibe that the religious can’t handle it and we are to be extremely sensitive like they’re children. For whatever reason, I’ve noticed a shift in our culture with the idea that it’s mean to tell people they’re wrong. I think it’s far crueler to keep people in the dark and in some ways encourage their ignorance. It reminds me a little bit of Plato’s “The Cave”. Also, by giving into the idea that telling people something is wrong is mean, many are helping to encourage ignorance and the many willfully ignorant can cry bully when they are told they are wrong. It’s feelings over logic and I think that can become a recipe for disaster. For example, could you imagine if teachers graded based on students’ feelings and beliefs rather than whether or not they were right or wrong?

When I say something about religion or the religious, my intention is not to insult but to criticize. Many don’t think there’s much of a difference but I think there’s a huge difference. An insult has the intention of just being abusive and disrespectful; a criticism has the intention of pointing out flaws to encourage thought and discussion. I don’t see my criticisms as completely right and I try to express myself in a civil way. I like to be challenged on my ideas; it helps me develop them further when people do challenge them. With an overly politically correct culture, many have equated religious beliefs to race and act as though questioning beliefs is the same as racism or bigotry. Beliefs are not set in stone like skin color, and the major religions are not exclusive to certain races. Many beliefs can be very harmful and destructive for individuals and society. Beliefs can also change when presented with different arguments and evidence. So for the people that tell me and other atheists to essentially shut up by saying “be respectful of others’ beliefs”, you’re actually doing more harm than good.


bookmark_borderIt Takes More Faith to Be an Atheist Than to Believe in God?

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.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere, you’ve probably heard someone, somewhere, say at some point: “I think it takes more faith to be an atheist than to believe in god.” Maybe you’ve even said it yourself. I’ve seen this amusing little remark bandied about in too many contexts to recount here, but most recently it’s been said to me on my last YouTube video, and said in person by my girlfriend’s sister. What does it mean?There’s an image that’s drifted around the internet for quite some time now that seems to sum up exactly what people intend when they say that it takes more faith to disbelieve than it does to believe. It describes atheism as, “The belief that there was nothing and nothing happened to nothing and then nothing magically exploded for no reason, creating everything and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason what so ever into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs.” This is not just a gross over-simplification of the views of many atheists, it’s also riddled with strawman fallacies and confuses abiogenesis with atheism. One can easily, without inconsistency, reject the idea of a god and yet assent to the fact that we don’t know how everything came into being. Sometimes having no explanation is indeed better than clinging to a wrong one.
The general point behind the ‘more-faith-to-be-an-atheist’ remark is that atheists believe more fantastical things on less evidence than theists do; we make more and bigger assumptions. Is this true, though? To really address the issue, one would have to unpack the particular assumptions each believer thinks atheists rely upon, but we’ve already seen some indication that not all of these assumptions are fairly derived from the atheist position. Atheists of the ancient world knew nothing of the Big Bang or evolution by natural selection, yet still counted themselves non-believers for other reasons like suffering, divine hiddenness, and the various objections to the so-called arguments for god. By itself, atheism says nothing about the origin of the universe, the nature of morality, and so forth. To be an atheist is simply to not believe in gods.
Now, you might ask, ‘If you don’t know how the universe began, why are you an atheist instead of an agnostic?’ It seems to me that there is a long-running misunderstanding about these two terms. A theist is one who believes god exists. An agnostic is one who doesn’t know if god exists. An atheist is one who does not believe god exists. Here the agnostic might seem like a middle ground, but it becomes clear that this is not the case when we recognize the difference between belief and knowledge. For centuries, philosophers have understood knowledge as justified true belief, which would make knowledge a very special kind of belief. Although there are some problems with the justified true belief definition, they do not impact this distinction between knowledge and belief. You can believe something and not be justified in believing it, and you can also believe something which is not actually true. Thus, agnostic is more like a subset of theism and atheism, where an agnostic theist is someone who doesn’t know if god exists, but believes anyway, and an agnostic atheist is someone who doesn’t know if god exists, and so does not believe. Hence, I’d technically call myself an agnostic atheist.
‘But,’ you say, ‘god explains how the universe began. It takes less faith to believe that then it does to believe we came from nothing without a god.’ Recall what has just been said about belief and knowledge, though. I don’t know how the universe came about, but I do believe the god explanation is not a good explanation, largely because the concept of god has its own share of philosophical challenges and problems. This is no more an inconsistency than it is to believe in god even when you don’t know for sure if he exists. This is where the ‘more-faith-to-be-an-atheist’ charge is really stretched thin to the point of breaking, too.
Theists may see god, the Big Bang, moral values, and similar things as inextricably bound together, but these are assumptions which the atheist has no reason to grant. History has seen plenty of gods that are not creators or moral law-givers, so why assume that things like origins and moral values are even in the same ball park with theism and atheism? I make no assumptions about how the universe began, or about the nature of morality, nor do I need to in order to consistently be an atheist. My atheism is not directed at some abstract cause of the cosmos, or some vague ground of moral value; it’s directed at the concept of god, which is so much more, and has been understood as much more by many theists throughout the centuries. Who has faith in just a cause of the cosmos, or just the ground of morality?
The charge that atheism takes more faith than theism rests on a fallacy of equivocation. The faith that the Christian has in his god – faith that impels him to repent, to forgive, to love, to praise, to worship – is by no means the same as the faith that atheists are accused of having with respect to a creatorless origin, eternal matter, life from non-life, or moral value. If faith is belief based on evidence, then saying the atheist has more of it should mean the atheist has more evidence! If faith is belief in spite of evidence, is that really all that Christians mean when they say their faith gives them strength – believing in spite of the evidence gives you strength? If faith by itself is a virtue, then those who decry atheism for requiring too much faith are quite confused. If faith is only virtuous insofar as it is focused in the right direction (and god presumably lies at the end of that direction), then the equivocation is made readily apparent.
Individual atheists may have faith in many things. A scientist may take it on faith that our universe is just one among many. A philosopher may take it on faith that Leibniz’s theory of the monads accurately describes the fundamental constitution of the universe. But in what sense are these uses of “faith” at all like the theistic use of faith? I would say there is very little, if any, commonality. Multiverses and monads (according to some conceptions) would not be a new kind of thing to our experience in the way that god is a new kind of thing, existing eternally and outside of our space-time universe. If all our beliefs rest on faith, if everything is faith, as Greg Boyd suggested in a recent episode of the Unbelievable podcast, we reduce the religious concept of faith to a mere act of inference, and we muddle the concept of inference with a term that defies clarity and fecundity. This I take to be a lose-lose scenario.
On the one hand it’s tempting to respond to the more-faith-to-be-an-atheist remark with a ‘who cares’. Atheism is a claim about belief in god(s), not the beginning of the cosmos, the source of moral value, or anything else, and so the accusation of faith playing a part in other areas seems inconsequential and hardly relevant. Just because the theist endows his god with responsibility for such things does not mean they arede facto the domain of deity. On the other hand, it’s not difficult to tell that there are often ulterior motives behind the remark. It is sometimes said with a smug and mocking tone, suggesting hypocrisy and short-sightedness on the side of the non-theist. Any concession to faith, even noting the equivocation, sounds like an admission of guilt to many who simply want to pigeon-hole others and confirm their own biases.
It takes no faith to doubt the invisible, to question the intangible, to challenge the ineffable. I’m not even sure how one could begin to make sense of an argument aiming to show something so backwards. As I see it, these debates over who is burdened with the most faith in their worldview are as fruitless and conceited as debates over who is the more rational human being. If we can manage to get past such petty and unhelpful gesturing, we will find it easier to understand one another, to consider evidence and arguments in a less partial manner, and to learn a greater appreciation for our world as the complex, nuanced, and multi-layered world that it is. And this is the real sin of the more-faith-to-be-an-atheist remark: it masks its lack of substance by perpetuating the age-old us vs. them mindset. As beckoning as that may seem to our reptile brains, isn’t it about time we start to recognize that it’s only us?