On Christianity and Slavery: You Would Think…

It’s a funny thing about Christianity and slavery, as I said in a comment just now.

You would think that if some person showed up on the scene in a society where slavery was totally ingrained—ingrained in moral philosophy, in law, in its conception of what it means to be human, in the economy, and in the social order—and planted a deeply revolutionary and powerful idea that resulted in the relatively quick though gradual and peaceful dissolution of the whole institution of slavery in that culture and many others besides (even if not every culture in the whole world for all time forever), that person would get some credit for having done something good.

You would think that, wouldn’t you?

Update 3/5: How This Discussion Turned Out So Far

 

Comments

  1. Doug

    Yessir — indeed you would… unless, of course, there were some significant irrational bias against doing so, I suppose.

  2. BillT

    I was going to comment on this in the origial post. In all of recored history there is just nothing like what began 2000 years ago in Israel. All in three years without having witten a word, lead an army, conquered any lands, overthrown any ruler. That person that showed up acted like no one else ever had yet became the most inflential person in world history. Hmmmm….. who could he have been?

  3. William Brown

    Yes, unless one was so enculturated (some might use he word ‘brainwashed’) into an Enlightenment paradigm and worldview, that one would go to any extreme of denial to avoid admitting of anything beyond the merely physical.

  4. Zim

    You would also think that person, and his followers, would have made a number of very clear and unambiguous statements about why slavery was bad, such that there was no possibility that the most serious and educated followers of that person, and the written Testaments about him, could become people who would defend slavery based on the inerrancy of those Testaments, accuse people with other interpretations of being liberal and loose with the text, split denominations into pro- and anti-slavery over the issue, defend slavery to the point of war even, and then have the pro-slavery denominations fight a 100+ year rearguard action against civil rights even after slavery had been abolished at great cost.

  5. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Zim,

    You have written a rebuttal of sorts (an argument from silence) that doesn’t address what’s in the OP, so I can’t help wondering what you think of what’s written in that original post.

  6. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Note, by the way, that the NT specifically denies your apparent theory that religious leaders (including those who claim to follow Jesus) should always be characterized by getting everything right. The abuse of religion — and how to avoid it — is one of the most prominent themes of all in the Bible. It’s well supported in theory as well as in description.

  7. Zim

    What do you mean I didn’t address what’s in the post? I pointed out a huge gaping hole in your argument. You should explain why Christians in the southern US got slavery so amazingly wrong — and not just Christians, but conservative, literalist, inerrancy-believing Christians. And why descendants of this tradition continued being the rearguard for racism rather than the leaders for civil rights, all the way up until the 1990s at least, which is when Bob Jones University finally got around to removing the ban on interracial dating, and when the Southern Baptists finally got around to apologizing for slavery.

    Re: “Note, by the way, that the NT specifically denies your apparent theory that religious leaders (including those who claim to follow Jesus) should always be characterized by getting everything right.”

    I was talking about Jesus himself, and the New Testament writers themselves. Presumably they, at least, should be held to a higher standard than normal folk. Seeing as they are supposed to be divinely inspired and inerrant and everything.

  8. BillT

    “…defend slavery to the point of war even, and then have the pro-slavery denominations fight a 100+ year rearguard action against civil rights even after slavery had been abolished at great cost.”

    You’re descibing Democrats here correct? On the other hand God fearing southern Christian Republicans supported civil rights and many prominent southern Christian Republicans like Dr. Martin Luther King were civil rights leaders.

  9. Victoria

    @Zim (#7)
    They got it wrong because they failed to appreciate the meaning of what Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
    3:16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.

    People mis-handle the Bible and get it wrong because they come to it with the wrong motives – rather than humbly seeking the illumination and teaching of the Spirit of God (and this assumes that the person actually does have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit – if you don’t have Him, you do not belong to Christ; not everyone who claims to be Christian is one), to have God’s Word teach him what is true, to correct the errors in his thinking, to reprove him when he fails to obey and correctly apply what it says, and to train him in thoughts, words, and deeds to behave in a way that pleases God (righteousness – it is a learned skill, like an athlete or a soldier, practicing again and again until it becomes second nature, so that one automatically does the right thing).

    Rather than letting God’s Word guide them into making the right choices regarding slavery (i.e, Am I obeying the spirit of “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”?), they had already decided that they were going to use slaves for selfish monetary gain, and sought to rationalize that decision by twisting Scripture to suit their own agendas.

    If you have not done so yet, I suggest you read the original thread that spawned this one (I think Tom has a link in his post), since this thread assumes the context of the other one.

  10. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Zim, I still don’t know what you think of the OP.

    If you poke around on this blog you’ll find my explanations for why they got it so wrong in the South.

  11. G. Rodrigues

    The point is not that some (many?) Christians got and did some (many?) things wrong; of course they did. In fact that is what Christian doctrine *predicts*. The point rather is that there is a *principled* critique of slavery, as well as of other iniquities, *within* Christianity. The only thing our skeptic commenters can do is take hold of whatever Christian moral merchandise does not offend their sensibilities and tastes, give it a polishing so as to obscure their source, and then try to haggle their counterfeit goods.

  12. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    There’s a disturbing anachronistic single-issue focus here, too: that if Jesus and the apostles didn’t condemn Southern chattel slavery, they were ethically deficient.

    Southern chattel slavery didn’t exist in the 1st century. There was nothing at that time that matched it for society-wide approval of inhumanness and brutality. In fact it was roundly condemned and prohibited in advance, as for example 1 Tim. 1:10, Col. 4:1, and Ephesians 6:9.

    The slavery that was practiced then just wasn’t the slavery that has been practiced more recently. If it had been, however, these two instructions would have been enough to outlaw it. Southern slaveholders ignored these verses. They were not (in spite of all the press some of them have gotten to the contrary) using the Bible in any possibly responsible manner whatsoever, when they tried to find support there for their slavery. They were instead using the Bible to rationalize the patent evil they wanted to do.

    That’s the anachronistic part. Then there’s the single-issue part: that no matter what else Jesus and his followers did that was good for the poor, the oppressed, the spiritually weak and lost; no matter what else they may have taught the stronger and more powerful about how to live ethically with their strength; no matter that Jesus died for all, and that the primary purpose of his coming was to open the way to eternal life—no matter about all of that, and no matter about the things I said in the original post: they didn’t condemn (anachronistically) Southern chattel slavery, so they were ethically deficient.

    This have every appearance of rationalizing, just as clearly (though not as egregiously) as the Southern slaveholders’ rationalization. It’s in service of a similar spirit: the desire to do what one wants. I do not accuse anyone here of taking that spirit to the same depth of evil as the slaveholders, but they clearly want to move in the direction of independence from God.

    The slaveholders rationalized their actions by saying “The Bible endorses slavery like this!” but they were wrong.

    People today rationalize their independence from God by saying “The Bible endorses slavery like that!” but they are wrong, too.

    Tell me, Zim: suppose Jesus and the apostles had condemned slavery just like you wish they had, rather than condemning Southern-style chattel slavery in advance of the fact as they in fact did, and also rather than instituting a radically new and revolutionary idea into culture that led to the demise of slavery without revolution or bloodshed.

    In other words, suppose instead of doing it in that arguably wise manner, they had done it the way you think they should have done. What would you do with the rest of the Bible, and with God?

    Oh, and one other thing: are you morally superior to Jesus and his followers, on account of this one single issue?

  13. Mike D

    So, you’re talking about Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who ended slavery in Japan in 1590?

    The Bible clearly does endorse “slavery like that”. It says slaves are your property, regulates how terribly you can beat them, and says they’re your slaves for life. The exceptions that made it less barbaric only applied to Hebrew slaves. In my review of Glenn Sunshine’s chapter on this topic, I cited verse after verse flatly contradicting his exact words. Do you guys even read your own Bible?

    http://www.theaunicornist.com/2012/10/an-atheist-reads-true-reason-chapter-15.html

  14. David Marshall

    Mike: I hope you dealt more effectively with Sunshine’s chapter, reading both his words and the Biblical texts he cited more accurately, than you did with mine:

    http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2012/10/a-gnu-unicorn-misses-point-on-faith.html

    Because frankly, you rather botched my chapter.

    I’m not an inerracist. Maybe the OT was too generous with slave-owners. (Though we forget to ask, “What was the alternative?” In Herodatus, if you don’t enslave those you defeat in battle, you kill them. The ancient Jews were faced with the same choices. And in a sense, I wonder if slavery was really worse than a POW camp in Cuba?)

    Anyway, Tom is right. There is no doubt that the Gospel provided the inspiration for worldwide abolition in modern times, and widespread freeing of slaves even before then:

    http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2011/10/abolition-of-slavery-early-years.html

  15. JAD

    Tom wrote (#13):

    There’s a disturbing anachronistic single-issue focus here, too: that if Jesus and the apostles didn’t condemn Southern chattel slavery, they were ethically deficient.

    To their credit Christians did not condone abortion and infanticide within their own communities. However, we have no record of them, as far as I know, trying to abolish these practices in Roman society at large. Why don’t the skeptics criticize Jesus and the apostles for that as well? A rather curious over sight, isn’t it? 🙂

  16. Keith

    @Tom, #13:

    “… and also rather than instituting a radically new and revolutionary idea into culture that led to the demise of slavery without revolution or bloodshed.”

    I’ve read this sentence a dozen times, and I’m coming up dry.

    The Civil War was “without bloodshed”?

  17. Keith

    Tom, even accepting your argument, I’m left unsatisfied: the Bible does a poor job of condemning slavery. A few hundred years of slavery in a uniformly Christian culture (and that we’re even having this argument), show the Bible’s condemnation of slavery leaves much to be desired.

    Why is that?

    If God knew the verses you cite were going to be insufficient, why didn’t He do better? Any of us, with our 20 centuries of hindsight, could write something better.

    If the Bible is the inspired word of God and a perfect moral guide, why is it so genuinely bad at conveying those moral truths?

  18. Keith

    @G. Rodrigues, #12:

    That one set of Bible verses can be used to argue against another set of Bible verses, resulting in principled arguments both for and against slavery, is not a strong recommendation or indication of clarity.

  19. Holopupenko

    Evidence of a limited mind:

    Tom, even accepting your argument, I’m left unsatisfied: the Bible does a poor job of condemning slavery.

    Similar fallacious assertions:

    I’m left unsatisfied: (1) the Bible does a poor job of condemning female circumcision; (2) The Bible does a poor job of condemning phrenology; (3) Halliday, Resnick, Walker Fundamentals of Physics does a poor job of condemning cold fusion.

    Source of limitation: atheism.

  20. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Keith, re: #20:

    ???

    (I’m trying to figure what you’re affirming about the Bible in specific, because your version here was not exactly transparent in meaning.)

  21. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Also, regarding clarity (#20), see the paragraph beginning “The Ancient Near East (ANE) was vastly different from 21st century Western culture—much more so than most of us have begun to suppose” in this article, and ask yourself whether your judgment against the Bible’s clarity is well-informed.

  22. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Keith,

    Your knowledge of history is truncated by more than a millennium. I wasn’t talking about the Civil War. I was talking about late- and post-Roman Europe.

    RE: #19, see #13.

    And please answer this question: do you or do you not see the magnitude of the moral revolution Jesus initiated by doing this, and do you or do you not give him credit for it?

  23. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Also concerning #19: I’ve written answers to this question several times. You’ve seen at least one of them. I’d like to know whether I’m communicating effectively. How would you summarize my answer? What do you think I’m saying?

  24. JAD

    Keith,

    I am going to ask you the same question I asked Mike above @ #16.

    From where did you get your idea of human rights?

  25. zim

    A coupla points:

    1. “That’s the anachronistic part. Then there’s the single-issue part: that no matter what else Jesus and his followers did that was good for the poor, the oppressed, the spiritually weak and lost; no matter what else they may have taught the stronger and more powerful about how to live ethically with their strength; no matter that Jesus died for all, and that the primary purpose of his coming was to open the way to eternal life—no matter about all of that, and no matter about the things I said in the original post: they didn’t condemn (anachronistically) Southern chattel slavery, so they were ethically deficient.”

    First of all, the idea that there is some radical sort of difference between Southern chattel slavery and slavery as practiced in the Biblical world is dubious at best. Both involved one person owning another, and owning the products of their labor. Both involved the owner having the right to keep their slaves in line through physical violence. There were several different flavors of slavery in the ancient world, it is true, some of them milder than others, but many forms did have these key features of slavery. And, heck, the Bible itself recognizes the oppressive and undesirable nature of being a slave, every time it contrasts slavery with freedom, which happens a lot. The thing that the Bible isn’t clear on, though, is telling people they shouldn’t own slaves.

    Second, this wouldn’t be an issue at all if we were talking about the Bible as a remarkable but flawed human book. Humans make mistakes all the time. The problem is that claims are being made, e.g. by conservative evangelicals on this website, that the Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant, and that e.g. Jesus and the apostles were divinely-inspired. Recently this very blog claimed the Gospel writers were “witnesses to the greatest moral genius of all the ages”. https://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2012/12/trilemma-or-quadrilemma-answering-the-legend-critique-of-lewiss-lordliarlunatic-argument/

    One would think, with all the more genius flying around, that a clear statement or two about how you’re not allowed to own other people might have made an appearance. Instead, we basically get tacit acceptance of slavery, especially if you go with the literal words of the text — a fact which the Southerners noted, and exploited regularly to great effect.

    2. “The slaveholders rationalized their actions by saying “The Bible endorses slavery like this!” but they were wrong.”

    What if you are wrong, and the Bible is actually OK with slavery, and you are just engaging in wishful thinking in the service of your apologetics mission? Historians seem to disagree with you about the clarity of the Bible on this point, see:

    When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War

    http://books.google.com/books?id=_baERyhrtRgC&lpg=PA203&dq=hen%20Slavery%20Was%20Called%20Freedom&pg=PA62#v=onepage&q=hen%20Slavery%20Was%20Called%20Freedom&f=false…By John Patrick Daly

    e.g., pp. 37, 60, etc. Just search on “Bible”.

    3. “Tell me, Zim: suppose Jesus and the apostles had condemned slavery just like you wish they had, rather than condemning Southern-style chattel slavery in advance of the fact as they in fact did, and also rather than instituting a radically new and revolutionary idea into culture that led to the demise of slavery without revolution or bloodshed.”

    Brief note: the assertion being made here and in the OP is that Christianity introduced “a radically new and revolutionary idea into culture that led to the demise of slavery without revolution or bloodshed.” Various problems: (1) the golden rule, if that’s being referred to, wasn’t radically new; (2) what demise of slavery? it was practiced in the New World almost from 1492, for instance, and had precursors before that, and this is in an age of massive Church power (inquistions, for instance); (3) even if we can discuss gradual and peaceful “the demise of slavery” within, say the Roman Empire (or was it just that the empire collapsed?), it would still be the case that the demise of slavery came far too slowly for all those who lived and died in slavery after Jesus but before slavery’s “demise.”

    “In other words, suppose instead of doing it in that arguably wise manner, they had done it the way you think they should have done. What would you do with the rest of the Bible, and with God?”

    I would take slightly more seriously the claims that the Bible writers, and Jesus and the apostles, were moral geniuses, and also the claim that they were divinely inspired.

    Finally, in response to this:

    BillT says:
    February 28, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    “…defend slavery to the point of war even, and then have the pro-slavery denominations fight a 100+ year rearguard action against civil rights even after slavery had been abolished at great cost.”

    You’re descibing Democrats here correct? On the other hand God fearing southern Christian Republicans supported civil rights and many prominent southern Christian Republicans like Dr. Martin Luther King were civil rights leaders.

    Heh! It takes some chutzpah to ignore the history of the two parties on race issues. They basically switched sides over the Civil Rights movement. Which is how the democratic south turned republican, actually.

  26. Debilis

    @ Keith (#20),

    I feel that this is already a very big concession from what is generally claimed. That is, the non-theist position on this argument seems to be moving from “the Bible unambiguously supports slavery” to “who knows what the Bible says?–It should have been more clear”.

    But I think we should add a couple of ideas to this:
    1. Early modern chattel slavery didn’t exist in the Roman Empire at the time the New Testament was being written (it was something more like indentured service),
    2. The earliest Christians were in no position to affect public policy, and
    3. Paul treats slaves (indentured servants) with far more respect in his letters than the other writings we have from the time.

    When these things are factored in to consideration, it begins to make perfect sense both why the New Testament says what it does and why abolitionism was led by Christians (as opposed to the deists).

    I’d say that this is one more case of the anachronistic reading of the Bible via Enlightenment propaganda.

  27. BillT

    “Heh! It takes some chutzpah to ignore the history of the two parties on race issues. They basically switched sides over the Civil Rights movement. Which is how the democratic south turned republican, actually.”

    This, of course, the fantasy of the Democrats. Truth is, the Democrats who opposed civil rights were liberal on all the litmus test issues of their day. It was Lyndon Johnson that eviscerated the enforcement provisions from Eisenhower’s 1957 Civil Rights Act. An act that was opposed exclusively by Democrats including liberals like Wayne Morse of Oregon, Warren Magnuson of Washington, James Murray of Montana, Mike Mansfield of Montana and Joseph O’Mahoney of Wyoming along with Harry Byrd, Robert Byrd, Allen Ellender, Albert Gore Sr., J. William Fulbright, Walter F. George, Russell Long and Richard Russell. That same Lyndon Johnson who said “I’ll have them n****** voting Democratic for two hundred years.” when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. But the Democrats have been rewriting this history with their friends in the press and academia for decades now.

  28. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    It’s probably time to change the subject. I have a policy against politics on this forum (see the link above the combox). Thanks.

  29. Post
    Author
  30. SteveK

    This…

    And, heck, the Bible itself recognizes the oppressive and undesirable nature of being a slave, every time it contrasts slavery with freedom, which happens a lot. The thing that the Bible isn’t clear on, though, is telling people they shouldn’t own slaves.

    Seems contradictory.

  31. Neil Shenvi

    I’m still trying to figure out what 1 Tim. 1:10 can possibly mean except “Slave-trading is evil and is wholly contrary to the gospel.” Here are some different translations of the word ‘ἀνδραποδισταῖς’:

    slave traders (NIV)
    enslavers (ESV)
    kidnappers (NASB)
    menstealers (KJV)

    Can someone explain how this can be read except as an unequivocal condemnation of chattel slavery, which could not have existed without enforced enslavement?

  32. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Easy. You can read it any way you want, if your commitment to reading it any way you want outweighs your commitment to reading what it says.

  33. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    The same goes for Col. 4:1 and Eph. 6:9. Both of those can clearly be interpreted to support southern-style chattel slavery. All you have to do is ignore what they say and substitute instead what you prefer that they say.

  34. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    And still we wait for someone—anyone—who has been accusing Christianity of moral fault with respect to slavery, to say, “You know, whatever else you might say about Jesus, he really did introduce a revolutionary new idea into society that led to over time to the lasting and peaceful (even if not perfectly lasting or perfectly peaceful) dissolution of the institution of slavery.”

    We still wait for anyone to show where that has been done by anyone else.

    We still wait for someone to articulate anything other than, “wow, that Bible of yours sure is awful!” in spite of that.

    I’ll come back to Zim’s comment in a moment, since in some ways it’s an exception.

  35. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    zim, you raise some interesting points, but you show a radically one-sided and incomplete view of ethics, social history, and the way change is accomplished in the world.

    First, there is indeed a radical difference between chattel slavery and OT/NT slavery. You refer to historians in part 2 of your comment; I suggest you do the same with respect to part 1.

    You’re right: the Bible doesn’t tell people they shouldn’t own slaves. It merely says not to steal people for slavery, to treat them fairly, not to threaten them, and to remember that they and you the slaveowner both have a common master in heaven. But hey, that’s no moral advance over slavery as we commonly conceive of it in our day.

    Anyway, you rush to judgment and presume that making that an immediate blanket prohibition of slavery would have been an unmitigated good. You do not understand OT Hebrew slavery practices. You do not understand the contrast between that practice and the practice of surrounding nations. You do not understand in particular how people’s thinking progresses over time.

    Let’s take a more contemporary issue to illustrate this. Suppose you believe in gay “marriage” (I cannot help but apply the quotes around it) and you think it represents moral progress. I do not believe that, but the fact that many people do believe it makes it useful as an illustration. Suppose further you think that the goodness of gay “marriage” is obvious and rather comprehensive: that gay “marriage” is at least as good as heterosexual marriage, and that there is nothing bad about entering it into law.

    That is the viewpoint of the early 21st century. Suppose then God had the same idea, and had said so back in the early Hebrew centuries. Why not? It is (per the hypothesis we’re considering for illustration’s sake) an unmitigated good.

    (I am speaking as a madman here, by using this as an illustration this way; but I can hope that you might see it differently and see the validity of the message I’m hoping this illustration will serve.)

    Even in that case the problems that would have caused would have been insurmountable at the time. There was at the time a strong association between sex and pagan religion. To have engage in relations with prostitutes of either sex, or with animals, or with the dead—all this was typical of pagan temple practice.

    Further, there was at the time a strongly and widely held cultural opinion that marriage was for men and women just because marriage was the foundation of family. Marriage just meant a certain kind of man-woman relationship.

    And this was a widely entrenched view everywhere around the world: entrenched not only in opinion and belief, but also in social structures, relations between families, the way economies were run, the way goods were passed from one generation to the next, the way men and women respectively were regarded, the way sex was regarded, who made decisions about who married whom, what money or property changed hands when persons were married, and on and on.

    Simply to say in the midst of that, “it’s okay for a man to marry a man” would have been impossible. It would have been meaningless in that culture. (In fact I think it’s still meaningless, but that’s off the topic of my illustration). In order for that statement even to have meaning, human cultures would have had to develop entirely new ways of thinking about virtually everything related to marriage. That change only took place in the early 21st century. In fact, as recently as 1980, when I was already a college graduate, gay “marriage” was literally unthinkable. College professors who think it’s obvious now never even entertained the thought just a couple decades or so ago.

    Now, let’s return to reality: slavery is not good. Suppose back in the time of the Exodus God had prohibited ownership of slaves. Do you have any idea what social upheaval that would have caused? Do you have any idea the impact on the poor? On the economy in general? On warfare? Do you have any idea what it would have taken to adjust to such an abruptly new and revolutionary command? Do you think it would have been an unmitigated good to outlaw all forms of slavery at that time? Do you have any knowledge basis for thinking that? Or is that (as I suspect) a rather ignorantly formed opinion?

    Similarly for NT slavery: do you have any idea what would have happened to the movement of Christianity had Jesus made a blanket “do not own slaves!” command? Here’s my guess: the movement would have been squashed economically and by military force. People would have continued to own slaves as always. And the gradual dissolution of the institution that I wrote of in the OP never would have come about.

    Second, you write:

    2. “The slaveholders rationalized their actions by saying “The Bible endorses slavery like this!” but they were wrong.”

    What if you are wrong, and the Bible is actually OK with slavery, and you are just engaging in wishful thinking in the service of your apologetics mission? Historians seem to disagree with you about the clarity of the Bible on this point, see:

    What-if arguments are no help. The reason I know what the Bible says with respect to slavery is because I’ve read it.

    Third (a) I was not referring to the Golden Rule, but to the radical equality of worth that Jesus and the apostles conferred on all people. (b) History did not take a time-out from 33 AD to 1492, and (c) Yes, slavery was for some people (not all—and if you don’t know why you don’t know enough about ancient slavery) a serious evil that continued after Jesus’ time. I suppose you can confidently affirm that those people’s lives would have been immediately and forever liberated by the fledgling, small Christian movement had Jesus just given the word? If you think so, you need to learn more history.

    Here’s the sum of it: you don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m sorry, but it’s true.

  36. Victoria

    You’re right: the Bible doesn’t tell people they shouldn’t own slaves. It merely says not to steal people for slavery, to treat them fairly, not to threaten them, and to remember that they and you the slaveowner both have a common master in heaven. But hey, that’s no moral advance over slavery as we commonly conceive of it in our day.

    And, as I have tried to explain (over on the original thread that spawned this one), Roman civil law had a procedure known as manumission whereby a slave could legally obtain his or her freedom, to become a freedman or freedwoman. Paul encourages slaves to do that if they get the opportunity ( 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 ). However, the slave’s master had to agree to grant manumission, so Paul’s exhortations to Christians who happened to have slaves would have certainly included granting manumission if his slaves asked for it.

  37. JAD

    The skeptics showing up here need to do a little home work first. What are the differences between “indentured servitude”, which in the 1600’s was used to allow poor white Englishmen to emigrate to the new world, and the OT system of “slavery”? Admittedly indentured servitude wasn’t a perfect system but was it slavery? IMO the OT system, if carried out according to the OT law, was actually much better. Maybe the confusion is that we are calling something slavery which really isn’t.

    http://www.ushistory.org/us/5b.asp

  38. zim

    Neil Shenvi says:
    March 4, 2013 at 11:39 am

    I’m still trying to figure out what 1 Tim. 1:10 can possibly mean except “Slave-trading is evil and is wholly contrary to the gospel.” Here are some different translations of the word ‘ἀνδραποδισταῖς’:

    slave traders (NIV)
    enslavers (ESV)
    kidnappers (NASB)
    menstealers (KJV)

    Can someone explain how this can be read except as an unequivocal condemnation of chattel slavery, which could not have existed without enforced enslavement?

    Well, “kidnapper” and “menstealer” are not necessarily the same thing as “enslaver”. The King James Version, which is probably almost the only translation people were reading in the 1800s in the US, says “menstealer.”

    And, not all slaveowners got their slaves through kidnapping/menstealing. They could be inherited, bought, gained through war, etc. One of the nicer forms of slavery in the ancient near east (although not the only form of slavery back then, nor morally acceptable on its own terms) was to “volunteer” for slavery to pay debts, avoid starvation, etc.

    Furthermore, whatever punch Timothy 1:10 might legitimately have (I can’t judge the translation issue, except to say that it looks like enslaver/slave-trader might have only become the more popular translation in more modern translations), it is rather severely undermined by Tim. 1:6:

    1 Timothy 6

    New International Version (NIV)

    6 All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. 2 Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare[a] of their slaves.

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Timothy+6&version=NIV

    …although the translation issue is variable there as well:

    http://bible.cc/1_timothy/6-1.htm

    Still, “you would think” that the moral geniuses that wrote the NT would have found room for at least a line or two about “If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’re not allowed own slaves. I’m not saying we should launch armed rebellions to free all slaves everywhere, that would just get us all killed, but us Jesus-followers won’t own slaves.” Something like this would be necessary to make Tom’s theory something more than a fanciful apologetic argument trying to paper over the problem based on wishful thinking.

  39. Neil Shenvi

    Zim,
    “And, not all slaveowners got their slaves through kidnapping/menstealing. They could be inherited, bought, gained through war, etc.”

    Yes, that’s exactly the point! Tom and others have been arguing all along that Greco-Roman slavery was predominantly a form of debt repayment or indentured servitude that is totally distinct from chattel slavery. That is why 1 Tim. 1:10 is so pertinent to the latter. How could chattel slavery ever have begun if slave-trading/kidnapping/enslavement were recognized as grossly immoral, exactly as the Bible teaches here? And can you explain why you think the Bible endorses a system (chattel slavery) which is necessarily founded on a practice that it explicitly condemns?

    “it is rather severely undermined by Tim. 1:6:”

    No. The point in question is whether the Bible explicitly condemns chattel slavery (18 centuries in advance). It does. If you feel that the Bible also should have condemned 1st century Greco-Roman slavery, then I think you need to address the arguments presented by Tom and others.
    -Neil

  40. Victoria

    @zim (#41)
    How does 1 Timothy 6:1-2 (in the context of the letter, and in the context of everything else Paul says about slavery, see for example my #39) ‘severely undermine’ 1 Timothy 1:10, seeing as the Greek word translated ‘kidnapper or slave trader’ is ἀνδραποδιστής (andrapodistes, a composite word that literally means ‘one who puts men under his feet’. It was used in ancient Greek to mean slave dealer (see here:

    (ἀνδραποδιστής; andrapodistḗs). A person who made another person into a slave (ἀνδράποδον, andrápodon) was an andrapodistes (Aristoph. Equ. 1030; Lys. 10,10). The criminal act ἀνδραποδισμός ( andrapodismós) comprised two different criminal deeds. One consisted in that the perpetrator took possession of a free man by force or trickery (cf. for this Pl. Leg. 879a) to sell him into slavery (delict of freedom) and the other was directed against the owner of a slave and consisted in the theft of…

    .

    or here, where the scholars refer to the word as used by the classical Greek authors (which is probably why the word appears only once in the NT ( and not at all in the Septuagint ), making it harder to elucidate the meaning – it is probably not koine Greek.

    Did you not bother to read the commentaries from the links that you referred us to? That should have been enough to disambiguate the text for you…or are you one of the skeptics who just pull Bible verses out of their contexts, without a proper exegesis and historical-cultural analysis?

  41. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Also, zim, did you not notice that believing masters were described as “devoted to the welfare” of their bondservants (an alternate, and according to many, better translation)?

    This is not slavery as you are thinking of it. This is much closer to indentured servitude. It’s not the same as freedom but it is a significant moral advance for that culture at that time.

  42. JAD

    Here is Copan’s take on the Philemon matter, where a runaway slave by the name of Onesimus is sent, by the apostle Paul, back to his Christian master Philemon.

    As an aside, it has been alleged that Paul’s returning the runaway Onesimus to his owner Philemon is a step backward toward Hammurabi. This is a false charge. Paul knows Philemon well and thus encourages this brother in Christ to receive Onesimus back as a “beloved brother” (v. 16) and “no longer as a slave” (vv. 12, 15, 17). Paul, who had declared that in Christ there is “neither slave nor free” (Galatians 3:28), could appeal to Philemon based on (a) Paul’s personal knowledge of Philemon (who wasn’t a physical threat to Onesimus—which Exodus 21:16 presumes); (b) the spiritual debt Philemon himself owed Paul; and (c) the new brotherly relationship in Christ between Onesimus and Philemon. Thus Paul elsewhere can appeal to Christian masters—who have their own heavenly Master—to treat their slaves justly, impartially, and without threatening (Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1). And if slaves can gain their freedom (1 Corinthians 7:21), Paul encouraged this. Surely, this is dramatic departure from Hammurabi!

    http://www.paulcopan.com/articles/pdf/God-is-great.pdf

  43. Zim

    It looks like we’re just poorly rehashing a debate that’s been had in much more detail before, before the Civil War. I recommend everyone read:

    Religion and American Culture Vol. 10, No. 2, Summer, 2000

    The Use of the New Testament in the American Slave Controversy: A Case History in the Hermeneutical Tension between Biblical Criticism and Christian Moral Debate

    Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1123945

    The arguments of both sides of every passage we’ve been talking about are discussed, including 1 Timothy 1:10, the slavery-was-a-nice-thing-back-then argument, the secret-undermining-of-slavery argument, etc. The Southerners, basically, won in terms of matter-of-fact interpretation of the Bible. The abolitionists were the ones who had to be creative and rely on moral intuition to tell them what the Bible said about slavery.

  44. Victoria

    That word, (ἀνδραποδιστής; andrapodistḗs), is also supposed to be used in the Papyrus collection that dates back to the Imperial (Roman Empire) era, in the same context, but I haven’t found the specific reference yet. If anyone wants to start searching the database, it is here.

    @zim – if you are going to base your arguments on word usage and translation issues, then the proper way is to start with the Greek text and find out how the words were used in their contemporary settings – that is a proper historical research methodology.

  45. Victoria

    The Southerners, basically, won in terms of matter-of-fact interpretation of the Bible. The abolitionists were the ones who had to be creative and rely on moral intuition to tell them what the Bible said about slavery.

    That’s right – it takes spiritual discernment and wisdom, and prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit to truly understand the Bible, not an agenda that one is seeking to rationalize and justify by deliberately mis-interpreting the text.

    We have already explained this before (see #9).

    This is one thing that the skeptics just don’t understand about the Bible. The abolitionists were not being creative or relying on their own moral intuition – they were listening to the Holy Spirit and relying on His wisdom and illumination of what He had inspired Paul (and the other authors) to write in the first place; they addressed the issues facing Christians living in the Roman Empire of the mid-1st century AD – the writers assume that context, which they don’t bother to explain, because their readers understood that context.

  46. David Marshall

    Ten facts seem evident:

    (1) The Bible is ambiguous on the subject. It doesn’t directly and clearly repudiate slavery, it sometimes assumes and regulates it, but it also undermines chattel slavery in a variety of powerful ways.

    (2) Unlike Mohammed, Jesus owned or took no slaves. He was, instead, a “servant to all.”

    (3) Jesus and Paul both worked with their hands, ennobling physical labor.

    (4) Slavery in the ancient world was NOT an unambiguous evil. Often it was the only practical alternative to killing POWs, or to starvation.

    (5) Given (4), it would be morally dubious to say that the keeping of slaves is unambiguously wrong and should have been repudiated by the Bible under all circumstances.

    (6) As the means of production improved, and the rebirth of science and the spread of technology occurred in Christian lands, it became more and more feasible to liberate all slaves — and the world’s first great slaveless civilization, Medieval Europe, was born.

    (7) Christianity had a long history of anti-slave intuitions and actions even before the modern anti-slave movement. (Again, see my article ‘Abolition of Slavery: The Early Years’ at christthetao.blogspot.com.)

    (8) The modern abolition movement arose in the partially Christian, not Chinese, Hindu, Islamic, or secular humanist, world.

    (9) It was led almost unanimously by fervent Christian believers.

    (10) It was opposed almost unanimously by people who had a financial stake in keeping slaves, and whose arguments ought to be seen as a rationalization of their interests.

    One can assert that the slave side “won” the argument in the 19th Century — such assertions are a dime a dozen. It’s obvious that the abolitionist side actually won. The tract that actually won it was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written by a member of one of the most famous families of preachers in the country, and suffused with Christian moralism. People persuaded by that piety fought a bloody war to free the slaves.

  47. Mike H.

    Here’s a different perspective. I think it hinges on what the purpose of the Bible is. We don’t get to decide that; we have to accept it and live with it. I don’t think the purpose of the Bible is to provide legislation for governing nations or even to provide ethics for guiding individuals, families, etc. The Bible describes what God is doing to restore his original intent for Creation (Genesis 1:27-28) after humanity screwed it up and have continued to screw it up.

    The first mention of slavery in the Bible is at the end of the Noah story (Genesis 9:24-27). One branch of Noah’s family is cursed to be slaves of the other 2 branches. That didn’t occur immediately. The curse is the consequence of Noah’s son Ham’s immoral disrespect of his father. Later, when God instructs the Israelites on having foreigners as slaves, those foreigners are the peoples descended from Ham (Canaanites). For an example of it actually happening, compare Genesis 10:15-18 with 1 Kings 9:20-21. So this slavery has a spiritual meaning to it: consequence for immoral, idolatrous behavior. This is not a prescription for slavery in general.

    The New Testament describes the way God does restore his original intent for Creation: the establishment and availability of his Kingdom by and in Jesus Christ (e.g. Mark 1:15). The Kingdom is God’s alternative to humanity’s attempts to make life work. People who become a part of the Kingdom will change into different kind of people. Some changes happen instantly or quickly while some happen gradually by spiritual growth, and some won’t happen until later. The New Testament further describes what it was like for the first generation of believers to live in the Kingdom. Again, it doesn’t provide legislation for governing nations or ethics for guiding all people. So Jesus, Peter, John, Paul, etc, didn’t proclaim, “Hey, all you Romans need to end all this slavery!” Now, people who are in the Kingdom are still living in a world dominated by humanity’s attempts to make life work, and we are to be a source of blessing (“light,” “salt,” etc) to our world, so believers who have been changed will have an impact on their sphere of influence, hence Wilberforce and others as well as contemporary ministries and actions to overcome and end human trafficking. That’s the result of Victoria’s emphasis on manumission and Neil‘s pointing out the wrongness of slave ownership for people who are in God’s Kingdom.

  48. Larry Tanner

    Tom,

    What exactly do you mean by the revolutionary idea that Jesus introduced? What is the specific idea you mean that he originated that had never before been expressed?

  49. Holopupenko

    @51

    “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.” (John 8:58)

    Deal with it.

  50. Larry Tanner

    Holopupenko,

    OK. Thanks for sharing. I really didn’t know exactly what Tom was referring to.

    So, the revolutionary idea is that John, written whenever it was, has a man claiming to be God incarnate?

    One thing that’s always troubled me is why God had to become incarnate in human form when God already was dwelling in the Temple, in the Holy of Holies. So, was God both living in the Temple and being Jesus at the same time?

  51. BillT

    “So, was God both living in the Temple and being Jesus at the same time?”

    And being the Holy Spirit. Trinity, anyone?

  52. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    No, the revolutionary idea that Jesus introduced—and which was developed by Paul—is that we are all equal before God, we are all subject to the same needs, we have the same sin, we need the same rescue, we all serve the same Master, and we are to love one another, even those who are enemies or of different races. Along with that, as a carpenter (and with Paul as a tentmaker) there was a new dignity attached to work, so that it was no longer considered something to be handed off to lesser beings, as Plato and Aristotle had thought was appropriate. On top of that there were explicit commands not to mistreat slaves, not to kidnap for slavery, and so on. There was a new fellowship instituted that welcomed persons of every rank and race.

    All these things we take for granted. All of them can be traced to Jesus Christ and the apostles.

    (Now, before bigbird chimes in to inform us—again—that they weren’t the only ones who ever had such ideas, let me note that they were the only ones to combine them into one philosophical system that was coherent all the way up and all the way down, such that it could be sustained for more than the lifetimes of one or two emperors or philosophers. And Jesus Christ was the only one to seal it with his death and resurrection.)

  53. Post
    Author
  54. Larry Tanner

    Tom@55,

    Thanks for clarifying. I think Holopupenko’s comment at least shows that the revolutionary idea wasn’t self-evident.

    What do you take as the primary Greek Testament sources of the idea?

  55. Holopupenko

    Larry:

    You asked (without specification) which ideas were revolutionary. What came immediately to mind was the most shocking and repugnant one to those who were/are too formalistically wrapped around their axles (e.g., Zim, etc.) (Your “kind of” bilocation question is a non-starter… but that would go way off topic, and I’m not taking that bait) Tom is, of course, correct in, among other things, how we view each other as that flows from our relation to our Creator. I leave it at that.

  56. Larry Tanner

    Victoria,

    Thank you, but I actually mean specific verses articulating the idea.

  57. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Larry, Victoria was right.

    As I wrote this morning, I’m trying to take somewhat of a break, so I’m not going to try to compile a list. It would be very long.

  58. Victoria

    @Larry (#60)
    I know what you wanted 🙂

    Tom summarizes it in #55.
    The Bible is not a collection of unrelated and unconnected texts – it is a coherent and interconnected whole, a tapestry. Its themes and ideas are developed and interwoven throughout its contents, and they should be carefully followed from start to finish.

  59. bigbird

    David Marshall, thanks for your ten facts – they seem to be an excellent summary, and I will make a copy of them. I share your admiration for *Uncle Tom’s Cabin*. It is quite amazing what it unleashed.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on the influence of the Enlightenment on the later abolition movement. My view (somewhat tentative) is that much of the Enlightenment was a result of Christian thought, and that Enlightenment values contributed to making abolition possible (largely played out through committed Christians). But I’d like to hear your thoughts in light of the research you’ve done.

  60. bigbird

    Now, before bigbird chimes in to inform us—again—that they weren’t the only ones who ever had such ideas, let me note that they were the only ones to combine them into one philosophical system that was coherent all the way up and all the way down, such that it could be sustained for more than the lifetimes of one or two emperors or philosophers. And Jesus Christ was the only one to seal it with his death and resurrection.

    I haven’t actually posted on this thread until just now, but good to know I don’t need to post to keep you on your toes.

    I’m no ancient historian, but in my studies in Greek philosophy I have not encountered the concept that we are all equal before God. As far as Plato was concerned, only philosophers were the truly worthy. So to my knowledge Jesus did indeed introduce this concept – it seems quite revolutionary.

  61. Larry Tanner

    Where to start? How about with Victoria, #63:

    The Bible is not a collection of unrelated and unconnected texts – it is a coherent and interconnected whole, a tapestry. Its themes and ideas are developed and interwoven throughout its contents, and they should be carefully followed from start to finish.

    Is it? Well, that’s great. Then I can expect to stop having Romans 1:20 and Psalms 14:1-etc. quoted at me.

    I know that you know what I am asking, and so I also know you know why Tom’s summary is nice but insufficient. Please note I am not saying he’s wrong or anything like that, but actually I’ve never heard that Jesus himself articulated the revolutionary idea “that we are all equal before God, we are all subject to the same needs, we have the same sin, we need the same rescue, we all serve the same Master, and we are to love one another, even those who are enemies or of different races.”

    And Tom’s summary adds other ideas, too. I want to acknowledge the totality of Tom’s claim. It’s a big claim, and being as careful as Tom is I’m sure he connects the dots from the ideas to the things Jesus actually said/taught, and I’m sure Tom then connects the dots from the memes to their spread and translation into international cultural change. I understand it’s not possible to dissertate all that here. I just thought there would be a few illustrative quotes from the gospels that could easily be brought in. I didn’t think I was being overly skeptical or needling. I apologize if my responses to this point have seemed so.

    And so here we are today, every one of us equal before God (though God himself no longer dwells in Jerusalem like he used to), needy, sinful and shameful, frail, servile, loving others despite themselves, and loving them even if they are not our race or of our culture. It’s very beautiful.

    Someone mentioned earlier the aversion to let the divine foot in the door. For myself, I think I probably am more willing to allow the divine foot in the door than many here are willing to allow that there is no divine foot.

    Maybe not. Maybe others are in fact willing to give up God and Jesus if the facts rule. My ultimate point is that I don’t think one is arguing honestly unless one is truly willing to give up one’s position in the face of evidence. I know I am so willing.

  62. Victoria

    @Larry
    Have you ever read in the Gospels of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29 and parallels in the other Gospels)?

    The reason we bring Biblical texts into the conversation is that we know how they fit into what we are discussing – it helps to have the indwelling Holy Spirit to teach, to reprove, to correct and to train in right behaviour, to impart His wisdom and illumination.

    The reason we hold so fast to our faith and trust in God is that we have been made spiritually alive in and through Jesus Christ – we know Who He is, in a way that you cannot know in your spiritually dead, unregenerate state.

    Are you willing to read the Bible with a view to obeying what it says and acknowledging Jesus Christ as your sovereign Lord and risen Saviour if He were to show you the truth?

  63. bigbird

    I’ve never heard that Jesus himself articulated the revolutionary idea “that we are all equal before God, we are all subject to the same needs, we have the same sin, we need the same rescue, we all serve the same Master, and we are to love one another, even those who are enemies or of different races.”

    The Parable of the Good Samaritan very eloquently covers “we are to love one another, even those who are enemies or of different races”. Matt 5:44 says we are to love our enemies. John 3:16 indicates that we all need saving, and that anyone who believes in God will be saved without discrimination.

    In fact the gospels are full of this kind of teaching from Jesus, much of it explicit.

  64. bigbird

    Maybe others are in fact willing to give up God and Jesus if the facts rule. My ultimate point is that I don’t think one is arguing honestly unless one is truly willing to give up one’s position in the face of evidence. I know I am so willing.

    Part of the issue here is that for me, it is not just about the evidence we can agree on that you are able to dispassionately weigh up. I can’t easily communicate to you my subjective experiences as a Christian which for me are strong evidence for my beliefs – but for you are meaningless, or almost so.

  65. Melissa

    Larry,

    Please note I am not saying he’s wrong or anything like that, but actually I’ve never heard that Jesus himself articulated the revolutionary idea “that we are all equal before God, we are all subject to the same needs, we have the same sin, we need the same rescue, we all serve the same Master, and we are to love one another, even those who are enemies or of different races.”

    That’s not exactly what Tom wrote. He did not claim that Jesus himself articulated those ideas as written but that Jesus introduced these ideas. This is evident in what the early believers understood and wrote about his ministry, both in the gospels and other NT documents.

    Now, I think that Jesus was picking up on themes here that also run through the OT but he brings them together and expands them into a new radical way of life that is, as Tom already mentioned, sealed by his death and resurrection.

    I don’t see Tom’s claim being controversial, in fact I would have thought it obvious to anyone who had read the NT. Which particular part do you dispute?

  66. BillT

    ” My ultimate point is that I don’t think one is arguing honestly unless one is truly willing to give up one’s position in the face of evidence. I know I am so willing.”

    I don’t know Frank. Maybe you’re right. I know I find it hard to imagine what could be said that would convince me that God doesn’t exist. What are you offering for facts that would give us a reason “to allow that there is no divine foot.”

    I know some of what we’re offering. The most influential book in world history. The most influential man in world history. The most influential religion in world history. As far as the book, we’re offering a book with a historicity that is multiple orders of magnitude greater than any other ancient text. Through that book we offer a man whose history is better known that any other ancient historical figure (e.g., Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great). And the religion we offer includes Tom’s “revolutionary idea.” (#55)

    We offer philosophical proofs like Aquinas’ five ways. Proofs based on scientific facts like the Kalam cosmological argument. Things like the arguments from morality and fine tuning. We offer coherent explanations for truth, beauty, consciousness, love, reason, life, good, evil. However, it’s fair to say there is nothing here that one has to believe. Oh! yes, we offer true free will as well.

  67. Neil Shenvi

    “Jesus himself articulated the revolutionary idea “that we are all equal before God, we are all subject to the same needs, we have the same sin, we need the same rescue, we all serve the same Master, and we are to love one another, even those who are enemies or of different races.”

    It’s a big claim, and being as careful as Tom is I’m sure he connects the dots from the ideas to thing Jesus actually said/taught, and then connects the dots from the memes to their spread and translation into international cultural change.”

    Larry, I second Victoria’s suggestion to simply read Jesus’ teachings. These ideas are absolutely suffused throughout, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount and in the parables recorded by Luke. Off the top of my head, check out Matt. 7:1-12, Matt. 23:1-8, Luke 15, Luke 18:9-14.

    I also agree with what Victoria said about seeking Jesus’ actual presence as you read. If Christianity is true, then Jesus is much more than a historical figure. He is a living person who can interact with you. One of the ways he does that is through the Bible. That’s why it’s wrong to approach the text from a solely intellectual perspective apart from real existential engagement. If Jesus is who he said he is, the one way we cannot approach him is with idle curiosity.
    -Neil

  68. Victoria

    And so here we are today, every one of us equal before God (though God himself no longer dwells in Jerusalem like he used to), needy, sinful and shameful, frail, servile, loving others despite themselves, and loving them even if they are not our race or of our culture. It’s very beautiful.

    No, we are not all equal in our standing before God. There are still spiritually dead people and those who have been made spiritually alive by God. Don’t make that mistake. Those of us who, by God’s redeeming grace in Christ, have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are adopted into His eternal family, and will live with Him in Eternity.

    Now, we all started out the same way, but Christians have been forever and unalterably changed, new creatures, living a new life, admittedly a work in progress that will only be completed in Eternity (as in 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20 and Romans 12:1-2, 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 and 1 John 3:1-3, Romans 8:1-17).

  69. JAD

    Re: “Why Refuse to Acknowledge the Good?”

    One more Tom:

    There was no moral credit given to a philosophy that has provided all mankind with a universal foundation for human rights.

    Ironically the pseudo-intellectual atheists showing up here try to co-opt a concept of human rights (slavery is wrong) from the very philosophy, which is not only the source of that belief, but also provides a universal foundation for human rights, in an effort to undermine it. Slavery would never have been abolished without Christianity. Prove me wrong if you think otherwise.

    They give no credit because they don’t get it.

  70. bigbird

    Slavery would never have been abolished without Christianity. Prove me wrong if you think otherwise.

    I largely agree, but there are some curious exceptions.

    In 1590, Toyotomi Hideyoshi abolished slavery in Japan. I’m not sure why he did so. As I understand it, slavery never was big in Japanese history. Interestingly, this was during a time of pretty horrible persecution of Catholic Christians in Japan (which is when Shusaku Endo’s acclaimed novel “Silence” is set).

  71. JAD

    In 1590, Toyotomi Hideyoshi abolished slavery in Japan.

    Did Hideyoshi’s actions spawn a world wide millenia long history changing movement? There were Catholics there? Are they Christian? Did they have any influence on Hideyoshi?

  72. David Marshall

    But Japan soon developed a caste system, which was more sweeping. Catholic peasants rose up in rebellion a few decades later on a peninsula near Nagasaki over persecution and exhorbitant taxes, and were suppressed with 150,000 troops. The “quanta” of freedom in Japan was probably less than it had been. .

  73. Larry Tanner

    Tom at 55:

    the revolutionary idea that Jesus introduced…is that we are all equal before God

    Me at 66:

    here we are today, every one of us equal before God

    Victoria at 73:

    No, we are not all equal in our standing before God.

    It’s just tiring to sort out what people mean around here. But you should not be calling me or anyone “spiritually dead.” Not only is that breathtaking arrogance, but you haven’t the slightest idea what you are talking about.

  74. Victoria

    @Larry
    The New Testament has said all of this first, not me, so you can dispense with arrogance claim.

    The fact is – there are people whose names will be found in the Book of Life, and people whose names are not in that Book. This is the distinction that I am referring to. God will treat the two groups in a very unequal manner (Revelation 20:11-15).

    It is you who does not have the slightest idea of what you are talking about, especially when it comes to Christianity.

    Tell me why I should not be calling you spiritually dead; if I am wrong, then by all means, correct me.

  75. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Larry,

    Victoria and I had different references in mind for “equal before God.” Frankly I think she missed the context in which I wrote it. I was not speaking of our “standing” but of our worth and our native abilities with respect to pleasing God and doing as he desires.

    There is indeed a difference in standing. Eph. 2 speaks clearly enough to this. She did know what she was talking about, as long as we keep the context of the statement straight.

    (But hey, we’re wrong, aren’t we? We don’t have the slightest idea what we’re talking about! Jesus and the apostles never introduced any such idea—and we were talking about Jesus and the apostles’ ideas here, don’t forget. Of course that leaves me wondering what Jesus meant in Luke 9:60 or John 5:24; or what Paul meant in Eph. 2:1.)

    Still I can understand the shock of hearing that you are dead when you thought you were breathing, your heart was pumping, and all the other things that generally indicate we’re alive and kicking. There is physical life and there is spiritual life, and there is death related to each of those. Physical life ends with physical death, but it begins in a state of spiritual death.

    Spiritual death is best understood as a state of separation from the life that is in Christ. It is analogous to physical death in many ways. A physically dead organism cannot grow, it cannot respond, it cannot interact with the physical environment in any way at all except through processes of decay.

    To be spiritually dead is to be unable to grow in relationship to God, unable to respond to him, unable to interact with him in any way, and in fact to be subject to a process of spiritual corruption by way of rejecting the source of spiritual vitality.

    Both deaths are reversible by the power of God. He raised Jesus from physical death. He brings people to spiritual life as we enter into relationship with him through Jesus Christ.

    I hope that helps explain it. It’s still too brief, but it might help a little bit.

  76. Victoria

    @Tom
    Yeah, I was thinking about what Paul says in various places, such as Galatians 3:26-29, where he is referring to our standing before God by virtue of Christians’ being in Christ. Looking back at your post, I see that you did indeed have a different emphasis 🙂

  77. Zim

    I guess the thing that bothers me about this thread is the complete failure to admit that there might be any conceivable problems with the Bible on the slavery question, or with using all manner of optimistic and uncritical arguments to make it into an antislavery book.

    You need to see how these arguments turn out when they are faced with opposition that is not only proslavery but extremely biblical, even biblicist, opposition which knows about ancient history and about reading what the Bible says rather than reading what you want to read into it.

    It could just be that people here don’t know what the word “hermeneutics” means, I don’t know. If so, look it up please.

    I referred to this article before, but apparently no one could be bothered to read it. It’s going to be hard for serious people to take modern evangelical apologetic arguments about slavery seriously until scholarly work like the following is addressed and refuted in detail, in equal scholarly fashion — or until it is admitted that the historians might have a point.

    This guy isn’t the only writer saying things like this, others include famous historians like Eugene Genovese and Mark Noll.

    Religion and American Culture Vol. 10, No. 2, Summer, 2000

    The Use of the New Testament in the American Slave Controversy: A Case History in the Hermeneutical Tension between Biblical Criticism and Christian Moral Debate

    Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1123945

    …quotes in next msg…

  78. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I didn’t bother to read the article before because of the $12 fee to read it.

    I doubt any of the Christians here has any trouble defining “hermeneutics.” That’s familiar territory.

    And I’m sorry, as much as I’m sure you want to make a point, I cannot allow you to violate copyright here by quoting that paid article at such great length. 4,000-plus words do not constitute fair use, and I would be placing my blog at legal risk by allowing it to remain.

  79. Neil Shenvi

    Zim,
    I have academic access through Duke and was planning on reading the article when I got a chance. I skimmed it just now and I found the pro-slavery response to 1 Tim. 1:10 to be quite interesting. Could you quote just that small portion, if Tom is ok with that?
    -Neil

  80. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    zim, you say we’ve been one-dimensional about slavery in the Bible.

    You are the one who is one-dimensional, my friend. You have allowed for nothing good in the Bible whatsoever. That’s just weird. It’s strange, odd, and transparently biased.

    To see the balance of our views more clearly, see #6, #9, #13, #28, #38 (a long comment directed specifically toward you, which you have pointedly ignored), #49, #50.

    You need to see how these arguments turn out when they are faced with opposition that is not only proslavery but extremely biblical, even biblicist, opposition which knows about ancient history and about reading what the Bible says rather than reading what you want to read into it.

    I wish we could have read that article. And it would have been important to know who wrote it, and what perhaps that person might have “wanted to read into” the Bible.

    19th century scholarship on the ANE and first-century Greece and Rome was not as advanced as today’s, so we also would need to know what they thought they know about those periods.

    I can see your frustration about this thread being pro-Bible. But can you see mine? Have you granted any credit whatsoever to what the Bible accomplished in Europe for one and one-half millennia?

    Further: have you read for yourself what the Bible says about racial equality, the brotherhood and fellowship of persons of all stations in life, direct prohibitions against kidnapping persons and mistreating servants and slaves?

    If you read this thread top to bottom, and if you read the Scripture passages quoted here, then it is my strong contention that you absolutely must, without reservation, conclude that slaveholders who used the Bible to support their practices were misusing it.

    I can say that with great confidence. Here’s why. The Bible doesn’t condemn slavery (I don’t think we’ve denied that). The Bible condones it in the circumstances in which the readers were living (we haven’t denied that, either). Arguably there are good social, political, economic, and spiritual reasons for that to be so; or perhaps you might argue that there weren’t. That’s the crux of the debate.

    Regardless of that, you cannot with any intellectual honesty deny that masters were instructed to treat their slaves fairly, without threatening, as brothers who serve the same Master in heaven. You cannot with any intellectual honesty deny that the Gospel broke down the Greco-Roman dividing wall between social classes. You cannot with any intellectual honesty deny that kidnapping for slavery was absolutely prohibited.

    But you have admitted none of that.

    By the way, with respect to the long argument you ignored in #38, here’s my view on unanswered arguments: they prevail. If you or I present an argument that the other person ignores, that argument which stands unanswered (at the risk of being overly obvious) stands unanswered. And an unanswered argument prevails until and unless it is answered.

    Here’s my other thought on your ignoring that argument: it’s rude to ignore a person with whom you are conversing, without at least making some acknowledgement of what’s going on. Really quite discourteous. But it’s not just a matter of etiquette. It’s also a matter of productivity vs. time-wasting. If you’re going to treat what others write as if they didn’t write it, then you are wasting our time. See number 9 here. Thanks.

  81. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I had that on email still, Neil. Did you mean this?

    What 1 Timothy 1:10 denounces as sin was “menstealers,” none other than abolitionists who kidnapped or otherwise stole southern slaves from their rightful owners.

    I think I said something a few comments up this thread about anachronistic thinking…

  82. Neil Shenvi

    Tom,
    Actually, I had in mind the portion just above. Here it is:

    “The reference in 1 Timothy 1:10 addressed slave traders, not slaveholders generally. If abolitionist exegesis were correct, then Abraham and other slaveholding Old Testament patriarchs mentioned in the New Testament as models of faith would have been great sinners, an absurdity to “plain sense” believers. Southerners themselves acknowledged slave traders to be immoral lowlifes, whose reputation for dishonesty earned them reputations similar to that of used-car sellers today.83 Slavery itself was “manholding,” an acceptable Christian activity, whereas illegal slave trading was “manstealing.””

    I think this is a really poor (and amazingly brief) treatment of what seems to me a crucial verse, especially in light of what we now know about the differences between 1st century Greco-Roman slavery and chattel slavery (which 19th century people probably did not know).

    The slave-owners here concede that slave-trading is grossly evil and is explicitly condemned in the Bible. Yet they insist that an entire institution necessarily built upon a grossly evil, biblically-condemned action was entirely acceptable. Can you think of any other area in which this argument would be a good one?

    I can think of many other analogous situations which show exactly how bad this reasoning is. For instance, would we accept the argument ‘selling pornography is acceptable for Christians, but making and viewing it is not’? Or ‘administrating an abortion clinic is acceptable for Christians, but performing or having an abortion is not’? In every case, it seems clear that any institution which necessitates grossly sinful actions for its very existence is obviously sinful itself. Can you think of a counterexample?
    -Neil

  83. bigbird

    Did Hideyoshi’s actions spawn a world wide millenia long history changing movement?

    No, but that’s a very different claim to “Slavery would never have been abolished without Christianity”.

    There were Catholics there? Are they Christian? Did they have any influence on Hideyoshi?

    Christianity had been in Japan for maybe 50 years, their numbers were insignificant, and Hideyoshi was martyring them. So it’s unlikely. If you have any interest in the origins of Christianity in Japan, I highly recommend reading *Silence* – possibly one of the 20th century’s best novels.

    I don’t know enough about Japanese history to know *why* Hideyoshi abolished slavery – as David Marshall points out it wasn’t exactly a free society (although I imagine European peasants lived in similar circumstances). It would be interesting to know his reasons.

  84. Andrew W

    The Scriptures are not anti-authority, even absolute authority of one person over another. As such, they don’t have an issue with slavery per-se. Instead, the common teaching is “You have authority over others, but God has absolute authority over you. Think about it.” (paraphrase mine).

    How is God’s authority enacted? He takes those who are his enemies and gives of himself to make them his friends. This is how divine authority is enacted, and it is how earthly authority is also to be enacted, for a reckoning is coming.

    In contrast to some other authority situations, slavery is never portrayed as inherently desirable (eg 1 Cor 7:21,23), except as an attitude to God himself (1 Cor 7:22-23). But slavery is not a-priori evil. However, abuse of authority is a great evil – it mocks both God’s authority and his care for even the “least of persons”.

    This is (for the age) the culturally shocking message of the gospel: categories such as master-slave, adult-child, man-woman, Jew-Gentile, Greek-barbarian, rich-poor, king-servant may guide and structure our social interactions, but they do not define worth before God. Each and every one alike is a rebel before God, offered salvation through Christ, and can stand together as children and heirs of God. Those given authority must remember that they stand under God’s authority, see those under their authority as spiritual peers, and lead for God’s glory, not their own.

    Our age has perhaps the opposite problem. We still falsely view authority as marking worth. But whereas the ancients (in general) enshrined this wrong, we instead fight against all authority, extolling each man as king and master of his own lunchbox. And so rather than mock God by abusing authority, we mock him by rejecting it.

  85. Victoria

    Follow-up on 1 Timothy 1:10 🙂

    andrapodistes

    from Plato’s Republic 344B (in Greek:

    συλλήβδην: ὧν ἐφ᾽ ἑκάστῳ μέρει ὅταν τις ἀδικήσας μὴ λάθῃ, ζημιοῦταί τε καὶ ὀνείδη ἔχει τὰ μέγιστα—καὶ γὰρ ἱερόσυλοι καὶ ἀνδραποδισταὶ καὶ τοιχωρύχοι καὶ ἀποστερηταὶ καὶ κλέπται οἱ κατὰ μέρη ἀδικοῦντες τῶν τοιούτων κακουργημάτων καλοῦνται—ἐπειδὰν δέ τις πρὸς τοῖς τῶν πολιτῶν χρήμασιν καὶ αὐτοὺς ἀνδραποδισάμενος δουλώσηται, ἀντὶ τούτων τῶν αἰσχρῶν ὀνομάτων εὐδαίμονες καὶ μακάριοι
    Plato. Platonis Opera, ed. John Burnet. Oxford University Press. 1903.

    For the English translation, see here.

    That is a neat site, for one can bring up the lexicons and word studies: (here

    [select] “-ι^ῶ” X.HG2.2.20: aor. “ἠνδραπόδισα” Hdt., Th.:—Med., fut. ἀνδραποδιεῦμαι in pass. sense, Hdt.6.17:—Pass., fut. “ἀνδραποδισθήσομαι” X.HG2.2.14: aor. “ἠνδραποδίσθην” Lys.2.57: pf. “ἠνδραπόδισμαι” Isoc.17.14, part. “ἀνδραποδισμένος” Hdt.6.119: (ἀνδράποδον):—Prose Verb, enslave, esp. of conquerors, sell the free men of a conquered place into slavery, Hdt. 1.151, Th.1.98; “παῖδας καὶ γυναῖκας” Id.3.36; “πόλιν” 6.62:—Pass., to be sold into slavery, Hdt.6.106, 119, 8.29, X.HG1.6.14, etc.; πόλις ὑπὸ τῶν βαρβάρων ἠνδραποδίσθη Lys.l.c.:—Med. also in act. sense, Hdt.1.76,al., Th.4.48, And.3.22, etc.
    II. [select] less freq. of individuals, kidnap, Pl.Grg.508e, X.Mem.4.2.14, Smp.4.36.
    III. [select] metaph., “-ίζοντες ἀπὸ τοῦ φρονεῖν τοὺς νέους” Alciphr.3.40.

    That is but one classical reference to the word. This Perseus site has a wealth of information.

    Anyway, that should put the matter of what 1 Timothy 1:10 means, to rest.

  86. bigbird

    The Use of the New Testament in the American Slave Controversy: A Case History in the Hermeneutical Tension between Biblical Criticism and Christian Moral Debate

    There’s an interesting sentence in the conclusion of this paper:

    “Because of its moral imperative against the pure evil of human chattel bondage, antislavery and abolitionist Christianity was forced away from biblicism into a less literal reading of Scripture”

    This begs the question of where this moral imperative against slavery of these Christians came from in the first place – why they regarded it as “pure evil”. Which is really what the issue is about!

  87. zim

    Andrew W says:
    March 6, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    The Scriptures are not anti-authority, even absolute authority of one person over another. As such, they don’t have an issue with slavery per-se.

    Wait, what? This indicates that Tom’s position has been defeated.

  88. zim

    Re: the extensive quote from Harrill (2000), “The Use of the New Testament in the American Slave Controversy” — sorry if it was too much to count as fair use (a somewhat controversial topic, I once saw a talk at an academic meeting which said that copyright protects complete works, not sections, and thus even whole articles copied out of journal volumes and posted on the internet would be fair use).

    But it was hard to see where to stop as I was copying it out. Every paragraph bonked over the head some hermeneutic theory or Bible quote pulled out in this thread in the attempt make the Bible into an antislavery document. Basically, if you go with the literal word of the text — rather than some abstraction of the text, such as the “spirit” — then slavery is fine. The Southerners read their Bibles too — very, very carefully, verse by verse — and reached this conclusion. Harrill even quotes one Southerner who was instinctively and emotionally against slavery, but who found himself forced by the Biblical text to say that it was OK!

    Re: Tom’s latest post — this isn’t about “atheists” or whatever. The problem is that in order to make an apologetic argument about slavery, you are running roughshod over the conclusions of what appear to be the published and peer-reviewed conclusions of a large number of capable historians.

    It would be one thing if the posts on slavery said something like “Significant respectable scholarship, from historians including some reknowned evangelical Christian historians, indicates that the Bible is at best unclear on slavery, and that the proslavery Southerners were able to take a literalist, “common sense” view of the Bible text and use it, quite logically given the hermeneutical method, to accuse the Northerners of infidelity and liberalism in the Northerner’s use of the Bible. This is not some atheist conspiracy, this is a legitimate problem that we have to deal with.”

    The next step might be “I acknowledge the weight of authoritative opinion here, but the historians are wrong for [insert detailed refutation].” Or it might be “The historians are right, but it doesn’t matter because X”, where X=”we now know that moral intuition tells us that some parts of the Bible shouldn’t be taken literally” or “the Bible is partially a flawed product of flawed humans” or whatever. The problem, I suspect, is that it is hard to think of an X that maintains all the commitments that conservative evangelicals make to inerrancy etc.

  89. zim

    Here’s another source saying the same thing.

    http://www.bible-researcher.com/slavery.html

    For example:

    1 Timothy 1:10

    Sometimes 1 Timothy 1:10 is mentioned as one verse which might indicate that the Bible considers slavery to be sinful. This misinterpretation was often put forth in abolitionist writings of the Civil-War Era. For example, in 1836 Angelina Grimke (a feminist abolitionist who was neither a scholar nor a believer in the Bible) wrote, “how can it be said Paul sanctioned slavery, when, as though to put this matter beyond all doubt, in that black catalogue of sins enumerated in his first epistle to Timothy, he mentions ‘menstealers,’ which word may be translated ‘slavedealers’?” (12) The verse lists ανδραποδισταις “menstealers” along with other ungodly and sinful persons (murderers, fornicators, sodomites, liars, etc.), and indeed this word is translated “slave traders” in the New International Version and in the New Living Translation. The New International Reader’s Version (a revision of the NIV for children) even interprets it as, “people who buy and sell slaves.” This is in keeping with Grimke’s interpretation. But this is certainly not the meaning of the word. Thayer’s Lexicon explains that the word means “one who steals the slaves of others and sells them” or “one who unjustly reduces free men to slavery.” This crime was often committed in ancient times. Penalties for it are specified in the Mosaic Law (see Exodus 21:16 and Deuteronomy 24:7), and it is frequently mentioned by Greek writers as the crime of ανδραποδον. In the ancient Roman code known as the Lex Fabia (third-second century B.C.) these slave-snatchers were called plagiarii, and so the word is translated thus in the Vulgate. (13) So ανδραποδισταις in 1 Timothy 1:10 does not refer to all slave traders, any more than the word πορνοις “whoremongers, fornicators” in the same verse could refer all men who have sexual relations with a woman. It refers to those who engage in an illegal activity, kidnapping of slaves, and not the legal slave-trade itself. For this reason, most Bible versions translate the word “kidnappers.”

    Why have the translators of the NIV and the NLT used the words “slave traders” here, without even indicating the correct interpretation in a footnote? One might expect the NIV Study Bible, at least, to indicate the meaning, but even in that copiously annotated edition of the NIV there is no explanatory note here. We also observe that the recently-published English Standard Version has “enslavers” here, which is somewhat better than “slave-traders,” and it also has a note stating that the word means “those who take someone captive in order to sell him into slavery.” But this translation and this note are also incorrect for two reasons: In ancient times those who were taken captive in war were often kept or sold as slaves, unless they were redeemed by the payment of a ransom, and this military custom was not considered to be ανδραποδον. It was considered to be a merciful alternative to the massacre of defeated enemies. (14) Also, the crime of ανδραποδον often involved the kidnapping of one who was already a slave, not the enslavement of one who had been free. If the translators were not satisfied with “kidnappers” because this word does not indicate the connection with the illegal slave trade, they might have rendered it “slave-kidnappers,” but “enslavers” is not the meaning of this word.

    We suspect an apologetic purpose for these mistranslations. All of these versions were sponsored by evangelical publishers, and many evangelical apologists have used isolated misinterpretations of 1 Timothy 1:10 in support of their contention that the Bible does not really condone slavery after all. But however well-meaning this may be, and however expedient it may be for apologists, it prevents people from really coming to terms with the world-view of the Biblical authors—a world-view which is very remote from modern egalitarian values and agendas.

    None of this is to suggest that slavery is a good idea in the modern world. But it is a requirement of scholarly integrity, and of any true understanding of the Bible, that we should refrain from importing our own modern political and social values into the text.

    I don’t think this writer can be accused of atheism or whatever:

    http://www.bible-researcher.com/biog.html

  90. zim

    Marlowe (quoted above) takes a much different approach than the apologists here:

    8. The apologists for slavery in the Confederate States of America produced some writings on this subject which are today usually dismissed as mere special-pleading, and perhaps rightly so. But whatever one may think of their motives, it should be recognized that their opponents were much more guilty of special-pleading when they tried to use the Bible in support of the abolitionist cause. The truth is, the Bible gives no deliberate support to either side of this political question, because the Bible was not written for political purposes. For an interesting critique of the abolitionist use of Scripture see the discussion in chapter 3 of Albert Taylor Bledsoe’s An Essay on Liberty and Slavery (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & co., 1856).

  91. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    zim,

    Let me remind you again: you have complained that we are taking a one-sided stand on this issue. I answered that complaint yesterday by demonstrating our awareness of failures and of multiple sides of the issue.

    You, on the other hand, have persistently refused to recognize that something good could be said of a movement that resulted in the peaceful elimination of slavery for centuries. You have persisted in a one-sided presentation of New World slavery.

    You have persisted in being totally hypocritical on this, in other words. You have no credibility. I have no interest in discussing anything with someone whose sole purpose is to present as biased a viewpoint as possible, not recognizing even a shred of validity to opposing viewpoints.

    You were quote-mining the Bible researcher you quoted here; utterly ignored most of what he said. It is typical of all you do here.

    It’s one thing to hold to your side of the street. It’s another thing altogether when you can’t even admit there’s another side.

    Here’s what Thayer writes on “men-stealers:”

    405. ἀνδραποδιστής; andrapodistēs, andrapodistou, ho (from andrapodizō, and this from to andrapodon — from anēr and pous — a slave, a man taken in war and sold into slavery), a slave-dealer, kidnapper, man-stealer, i.e. as well one who unjustly reduces free men to slavery, as one who steals the slaves of others and sells them: 1 Tim. 1:10. (Aristophanes, Xenophon, Plato, Demosthenes, Isocrates, Lysias, Polybius)*

    Also:

    In Liddell’s abridgment of the authoritative Oxford Greek Lexicon, the word is translated “slave-dealer.”

    Kenneth Wuest says of it,

    “Menstealers” is andrapodistēs (ἀνδραποδιστης). The word comes from anēr (ἀνηρ) and pous (πους), a person taken in war and sold into slavery. It refers to a slave-dealer, a kidnapper, a man-stealer, as well as to one who unjustly reduces free men to slavery, also to one who steals the slaves of others and sells them. The word includes all who exploit men and women for their own selfish ends.

    Wuest, K. S. (1997). Wuest’s word studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English reader (1 Ti 1:8). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

  92. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Further, zim, there’s a real problem with what you wrote concerning the following quote. It’s not the problem you might think I would mention, but it’s a problem nevertheless:

    8. The apologists for slavery in the Confederate States of America produced some writings on this subject which are today usually dismissed as mere special-pleading, and perhaps rightly so. But whatever one may think of their motives, it should be recognized that their opponents were much more guilty of special-pleading when they tried to use the Bible in support of the abolitionist cause. The truth is, the Bible gives no deliberate support to either side of this political question, because the Bible was not written for political purposes. For an interesting critique of the abolitionist use of Scripture see the discussion in chapter 3 of Albert Taylor Bledsoe’s An Essay on Liberty and Slavery (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & co., 1856).

    In response to that you say, “Marlowe … takes a much different approach than the apologists here.”

    Here’s what you missed. I wrote a post about one thing, and you are writing about another thing. You think I’m contradicting Marlowe. I’m not: I’m not talking about the same thing he is. I was talking about how Jesus Christ founded a movement that led to the dissolution of slavery for many, many centuries. You’re talking about the hermeneutic practiced by one group of Christians at least 15, more like 18 centuries later.

    So yes, I agree, he takes a different approach. Here’s one reason why (there may be others): he’s talking about a different topic.

    He (and Andrew W.) point out that the Bible is not a political document. I agree 100%. It’s a record that points to the hearts of men and women, and that intends to produce change in them. The cessation of slavery in Europe was one fruit of that.

    I have spoken often enough of the reality that there have been tragic exceptions to this. Follow the link at the top of the OP here and you’ll see it. Go ahead: I challenge you to see that some of us can see two sides to this street.

  93. bigbird

    zim, I feel that you’ve missed the greater picture about Christian abolitionists, and instead you have become ensnared in academic detail about their hermeneutics.

    The question you should be asking is why were these Christian abolitionists abolitionists at all? Not how did they justify their moral position based on Scripture?

    In the case of the abolitionists I’m most familiar with, Wilberforce and Newton, their stance on slavery was directly driven by their Christian faith. That’s (almost) beyond dispute. It’s only of secondary importance how they justified it by Scripture. It’s not mandatory for a Christian to be able to trace a certain moral stance on any issue back to a particular verse in the Bible. A conviction that the Jesus described in the gospels would never own slaves is entirely sufficient.

  94. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    A justifiable, knowledge-based conviction, that is, along with some reason to think that his example is relevantly generalizable to New World slavery.

    I think all of that obtains, but I thought it important to state it explicitly.

  95. Neil Shenvi

    Zim,
    I’m surprised you haven’t addressed my argument about 1 Tim. 1:10. As I said, your original article stated that pro-slavery advocates affirmed that 1 Tim. 1:10 taught that slave-trading was grossly immoral and evil. My question is how they could then go on to justify the morality an institution which necessarily depended on an immoral, biblically prohibited action? Would this kind of argument be accepted regarding, for instance, the sale of pornography or the administration of an abortion clinic?

    As for Marlowe’s article, I found it extremely strange. The basic question is:
    what is the meaning of ‘ανδραποδον’? I agree with Marlowe that it does not include absolutely any activity involving buying or selling slaves. But the key question is the word is used to describe “one who unjustly reduces free men to slavery”? It obviously is. Indeed, Marlowe himself approvingly cites this very definition from Thayer! And the Southern slave-owners themselves recognized that this was the appropriate definition. They themselves even seem to have extended the meaning to include slave dealers in general. So while I agree that we shouldn’t stretch the meanings of words beyond their semantic range, his arguments don’t actually address the key question for me: was the forcible enslavement of Africans condemned by the Bible (18 centuries in advance)?

    So I return to my original question: if the Bible explicitly and utterly condemns a practice that was absolutely necessary to the existence of New World slavery, how could this institution be regarded as acceptable?

    And again, I’m setting aside the huge differences in the nature of Greco-Roman and 19th century American slavery. That’s an entirely different issue.
    -Neil

  96. Victoria

    There is another issue that deserves to be brought to the forefront. It is probably interspersed among the comments here and on the original thread, but it may have gotten lost along the way.

    1. In the Roman Empire of the 1st century AD, Christians lived in a society (and with a ruling authority) which was not (at least in part, anyway) of their own making, nor did they have any political power to change it.
    2. I think we have presented a reasonable argument that the NT authors addressed these issues in ways that were appropriate to their time and place in history, given the constraints (which we have discussed here and in more detail in the other thread). Whatever we in the 21st century might think of their choices and what they wrote, we have to remember the principle that “the Bible was not written to us, but it is written for us“. We are not the original readers of Paul’s letters – he was dealing with issues facing the 1st century Christian community in the Roman Empire.
    3. (And this is my point)
    The reintroduction of slavery into Europe and the Americas starting in the 15th-16th centuries and especially in the 19th century American South was a situation of their (the pro-slavery groups) own making, and completely under their control. In other words, they were most certainly not like the Christians of the 1st century dealing with an issue imposed upon them by their society; the pro-slavery groups were themselves imposing the institution upon their own society, for their own despicably evil reasons, not the least of which were money and power; and they justified it through both a racist viewpoint, and twisting Scripture and wrenching it out of its historical context, to say nothing of fundamental Christian principles that were put in place by the writers of the Bible, and taught/re-taught by Jesus Himself.

  97. zim

    Here’s what you missed. I wrote a post about one thing, and you are writing about another thing. You think I’m contradicting Marlowe. I’m not: I’m not talking about the same thing he is. I was talking about how Jesus Christ founded a movement that led to the dissolution of slavery for many, many centuries.

    And I’m afraid you’re just giving us a picture that is rosier than actual historians would endorse.

    If you want to leave aside the Bible and its role in being as much or more proslavery than antislavery, fine. Let’s talk about “how Jesus Christ founded a movement that led to the dissolution of slavery for many, many centuries.”

    It just ain’t so. Have a look at:

    William D. Phillips, 1985, Slavery from Roman Times to the Early Transatlantic Trade.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=0B8NAQAAIAAJ&lpg=PA27&vq=disappeared&dq=the%20rise%20and%20decline%20of%20the%20roman%20slave%20system&pg=PA27#v=snippet&q=disappeared&f=false

    Amongst other points, slavery declined not because of any substantial abolitionism, but basically because the formerly “free” peasants became more and more oppressed and less and less free, eventually resulting in the medieval feudal system, where they were tied to land owned by the local lord, and legally could not move.

    Another point is that slavery persisted nonetheless in Christian Europe through the entire period between the Roman Empire and 1492. Yet another point is that church leaders and political leaders (who were also sometimes heads of the church) participated in the practice and owned slaves.

  98. Neil Shenvi

    Zim,
    I don’t mind it if you don’t have time to address my questions. But I really would be interested to know how you maintain that the Bible can be used to defend chattel slavery any more than selling pornography or administrating an abortion clinic.
    -Neil

  99. zim

    Neil Shenvi says:
    March 8, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Zim,
    I don’t mind it if you don’t have time to address my questions. But I really would be interested to know how you maintain that the Bible can be used to defend chattel slavery any more than selling pornography or administrating an abortion clinic.
    -Neil

    I don’t know how much there even is about abortion or pornography in the Bible, but if there were, say, 20 verses that, straightforwardly interpreted, accepted or endorsed the institution of porngraphy/abortion and the people who committed those acts, for every 1 verse that could only dubiously be interpreted in the opposite direction, then you have a sense of what the Bible’s view on slavery is, under a literalist reading.

  100. Neil Shenvi

    Zim,
    “if there were, say, 20 verses that, straightforwardly interpreted, accepted or endorsed the institution of porngraphy/abortion and the people who committed those acts, for every 1 verse that could only dubiously be interpreted in the opposite direction, then you have a sense of what the Bible’s view on slavery is, under a literalist reading.”

    Could you find a few of those verses that, straightforwardly interpreted, endorse kidnapping people and enslaving them?

  101. zim

    Could you find a few of those verses that, straightforwardly interpreted, endorse kidnapping people and enslaving them?

    That’s not the relevant question, really, the relevant question is whether or not it is OK to own people as slaves. They could be and were acquired through a large number of ways besides kidnapping — born into slavery, sold by parents, captured in war, enter themselves to pay debts or avoid starvation, etc. These are all horrible crimes against humanity. Why doesn’t the Bible condemn them? Why does it instead basically endorse the institution?

    For the Bible quotes documenting that it does, see:

    Albert Taylor Bledsoe (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & co., 1856). An Essay on Liberty and Slavery

    Chapter 3: THE ARGUMENT FROM THE SCRIPTURES

    http://www.bible-researcher.com/bledsoe-slavery.html

  102. Post
    Author
  103. Mike H

    Zim, you advocate that the Bible does not condemn slavery. Yes, but that’s not the whole story.

    I was a racist. Not the white supremacist, KKK radical, but I felt that the white race was inherently superior to others, specifically blacks. It was in my culture. I grew up in one of the Confederate states. Not during the Confederacy – I’m not that old! But I do remember being in a department store and seeing restrooms and water fountains marked “Whites Only” and “Colored Only.” When I was told that “in the old days” if a black man got off a freight train in our town he was run out of town, I felt proud. When I was 16 and Martin Luther King was assassinated, I felt happy (he was a “troublemaker”). This is not slavery itself, but racism is one of the foundational principles that created and sustained slavery in the American South. In the essay you linked Bledsoe wrote “no one here argues in favor of the subjection of the white man…” When I was 19, I committed myself to Christ. Within a few years, God used the Bible to change me. I read this (using the KJV at the time): “For ye are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus… There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:26, 28). I realized if God doesn’t distinguish between these different kinds of people, including races, but makes all of us his children in Christ, makes us one, then who am I to think my race makes me better than another? That kind of thinking is just as wrong before God as the radical white supremacy kind. God used the Bible to change my racist mindset.

    I think it’s somewhat inaccurate to say things like “the Bible views such-and-such” and “the Bible does not condemn such-and-such” as if the Bible is a living being. It’s not the 4th person of the Trinity. It is an instrument or tool that God uses to speak to us and to change us. (Others also use it for other reasons.) The Bible is not an end in itself. It is not and did not make Christianity a closed system. After the books of the New Testament were written, there was (is) need for growth in understanding what is involved in the Kingdom of Christ. What was understood at the time was not complete. (I tread carefully here.) Paul said, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part…” (1 Corinthians 13:9) – we, including the writer of the majority of the New Testament, know only part of what God and the Christian way of life are about. Because of this, some of the things stated in the Bible, like the non-condemnation of slavery, need to be subjected to the leadership of the Holy Spirit for greater understanding and application. Bledsoe does not see that. He and the other pro-slavery folks operated as if the Bible created a closed system of ethics. They used the Bible to stay the same instead of letting God use it to change them.

    So we have two statements:

    1. In the Bible, slavery is not condemned.

    2. God used the Bible to change my (and others’) racism, which was a foundational principle of slavery in America.

    Both of these statements are true. Zim, you have dealt with the first – researched, accepted, proclaimed, repeated. How will you deal with the second? Will you give some credit?

  104. Andrew W

    Mike, can I clarify statement 1?

    Both of the following are true:
    – “In the bible, slavery is not absolutely condemned”
    – “In the bible, some practices of slavery are vehemently condemned”

    But we should focus on the positive truisms, both of which are massively counter-cultural for any slave-owning culture, whether ancient or modern:

    (a) slave and free and king all have exactly the same standing before God.

    (b) masters should treat their slaves in exactly the same way as they would have God – loving father and holy judge of all creation – treat them.

    No man is absolutely free: all are either slaves to sin or “slaves” to God who bought them out of sin. To be a temporal slave is not a statement of one’s moral or spiritual worth. But to be a temporal master who thinks he is also a moral master is to invite divine judgement. The pernicious tendency of humans to see ourselves (individually or corporately) as the arbiters of morality distorts our vision on many issues, not the least this one.

  105. Mike H

    I agree with your clarification of the way slavery was treated, Andrew. My point was to address the basic assertion that Zim has been making then attempt to widen the narrow, limited focus of that basic statement. God’s work in us, individually and corporately, entails more than what has been written (2 Corinthians 3:6).

  106. bigbird

    For the Bible quotes documenting that it does, see:

    Albert Taylor Bledsoe (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & co., 1856). An Essay on Liberty and Slavery

    For almost any social issue it is not difficult to find people who will construct a Biblical case for either side – even if the issue appears to be explicitly dealt with.

    Here you’ve found an example arguing the case of slavery from someone with a strong commitment to the Confederacy, and thus a vested interest in justifying slavery. We all know there were Christians in the south who owned slaves and opposed abolition.

    We also know Christians in the English parliament failed to support the anti-slavery bills proposed by Wilberforce. So yes, Christians have been at times very inconsistent in their opposition to slavery.

    But the significant point is that the key protagonists in the abolition movement were almost all Christians – and they were apparently directly motivated by their faith. Thomas Clarkson had a spiritual revelation from God. Wilberforce showed no signs of interest in abolition prior to his conversion, but became deeply committed soon afterwards. John Newton’s conversion eventually resulted in his joining the cause, despite a deep involvement in slave trading.

    More generally, from quite early Christianity, various Christians began to oppose slavery, and eventually the church formally opposed slavery.

    In my opinion it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Christianity, despite sometimes slow and erratic progress over the centuries, was the main influence behind the abolition of slavery.

  107. Larry Tanner

    In my opinion it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Christianity, despite sometimes slow and erratic progress over the centuries, was the main influence behind the abolition of slavery.

    Christianity could have been a catalyst, rather than a cause. I think such a view better explains why Christianity appears so powerfully on both sides of the issue for so long.

  108. bigbird

    Christianity could have been a catalyst, rather than a cause.

    Given that catalyst is defined as “an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action”, there doesn’t seem to be too much difference between catalyst and cause.

    But if I assume you meant the latter, i.e. Christianity helped to speed abolition along, that still seems a significant concession.

    Presumably, if you regard Christianity as a catalyst in this way, you must have something else in mind for a cause. What do you think it was?

  109. Larry Tanner

    bigbird,

    The difference between catalyst and cause is significant. Catalysts, in general, are aids; they assist in bringing about the results initiated by causes. Christianity, and other religions, were catalysts in the formation of abolitionist views. They were also catalysts in the formation of anti-abolitionist views.

    In terms of slavery, my opinion is that the driving factors–writ large–are economic and technological. As economies depended less and less on slavery and developed technologies that made slavery a cost-prohibitive enterprise, changes in moral views of slavery followed.

  110. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Larry, it’s a general rule in history that economies that can support slavery have practiced slavery. Economies do not lead abolition, generally speaking; moral principles lead it.

  111. Victoria

    @Larry (#116)
    Is that how you explain the 21st century slave trade, specifically the sex-slave industry, then?

  112. Post
    Author
  113. G. Rodrigues

    @Victoria:

    Is that how you explain the 21st century slave trade, specifically the sex-slave industry, then?

    Everybody knows that slavery only existed because the Bible does not speak openly, vehemently and in no uncertain terms against it; on the contrary, several people have used the Bible to uphold slavery, which is as damning proof as ever there was. So we are forced to conclude that sex-slave industry exists because it is not specifically condemned in the Bible and the traffickers, all Christ-loving and frequent Church-goers, caretakers of orphans and widows in their tribulations, carry a little Bible in their pockets and quote from it to justify their honest business.

    You may try to fudge and rig the data, but I am on to you. You cannot fool me.

  114. Victoria

    @G. Rodrigues

    And here I though it was that “the human heart is desperately wicked…” (Jeremiah 17:5-11), and Galatians 5:19-21 and even Proverbs 29:7

  115. Mike H

    @Victoria

    And the causes/catalysts for change and solutions will not be economies, technologies, movements, philosophies, politics, or religions. Mark 1:15, John 17:22-23, 1 Corinthians 2:12-16, etc.

  116. bigbird

    As economies depended less and less on slavery and developed technologies that made slavery a cost-prohibitive enterprise, changes in moral views of slavery followed.

    I think you’ve got it backwards. Economic conditions are what makes slavery *possible*.

    Your suggestion is known as the Williams thesis, after Eric Williams, who proposed it.

    For the British case, it has been thoroughly refuted by Seymour Drescher in *Econocide: British Slavery in the Era of Abolition*. Here Drescher argued abolition for the British Empire was (at the time) economic suicide. Drescher is an acknowledged expert on British abolition, and it seems most historians concur that he (and Roger Anstey) refuted the Williams thesis for the British case.

    Drescher has a much more recent book, *Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery* (2009), that looks very interesting. I don’t have it, but it looks like a very useful addition to my bookshelf.

  117. Fleegman

    Hi BillT,

    Sorry to be so late to this discussion. I mainly have time for lurking at the moment, but I was browsing around and I just couldn’t let this go.

    If I may, you’ve supplied a somewhat unimpressive list, here. Let’s take a quick look:

    The most influential book in world history.

    Argument from popularity

    The most influential man in world history.

    Another one.

    The most influential religion in world history.

    And another one

    As far as the book, we’re offering a book with a historicity that is multiple orders of magnitude greater than any other ancient text.

    Like the Exodus? You’re on pretty shaky ground, here. Some of it is historical, some of it clearly isn’t. This goes nowhere towards showing the veracity of the miracle claims contained therein.

    Through that book we offer a man whose history is better known that any other ancient historical figure

    Back to argument from popularity.

    We offer philosophical proofs like Aquinas’ five ways.

    Which stand on the same loose footing as:

    scientific facts like the Kalam cosmological argument.

    If by “scientific facts” you mean “arguments where even the first premise is horrendously flawed” – seriously, even WLC wouldn’t call KCA a scientific fact, Bill.

    Proofs based on Things like the arguments from morality and fine tuning.

    Which only seem to hold sway with believers. The fine tuning argument? Really? It amazes me that this is still in use. Amazes me.

    We offer coherent explanations for truth, beauty, consciousness, love, reason, life, good, evil.

    In a question begging way, yes.

    Would/did any of this stuff convince you Bill?

  118. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    The argument from popularity is not always fallacious, Fleegman. Can you define for us the circumstances in which it is and isn’t? I’ll leave that task to you, unless you want to bounce it back. If you do, I’ll explain where you got it wrong this time.

    “Like the Exodus” is the fallacy of selective sampling. That, my friend, is a genuine fallacy in this context.

    Your “argument from popularity” assessment of what Bill wrote on Jesus’ history is not just a fallacious application of the argument, it’s completely wrong, because he wasn’t talking about numbers of people in agreement, he was talking about the quality of historical information we have.

    The Kalam cosmological argument is indeed not a scientific fact. You got that one right. (Sorry, BillT.) It is a philosophical argument, one of whose premises (the universe had a beginning to its existence) is built upon both scientific and philosophical foundations; so BillT was correct to connect it to science, though incorrect in calling it a scientific fact.

    Your objection to the fine tuning argument: I don’t mean to be unkind, but I can’t help observing that it amounts to nothing more than a fourth-grader standing on the edge of the playground and calling out “Nyaah-nyaah boo-boo.”

    And have you noticed that objections to the arguments from morality and fine tuning only seem to hold sway with disbelievers? What does that prove? Your objection here is logically equivalent to, “The only people who agree with you are the ones who agree with you!” — which isn’t much of an argument. Especially since the only ones who agree with you, Fleegman, are the ones who agree with you.

    And then you ask, “Would/did any of this stuff convince you, Bill?” In my case, the argument from morality was a very strong contributing factor when I first believed in God.

    Did that answer any of your questions for you?

  119. BillT

    As far as the KCA, I never called it a scientific fact. What I said was “Proofs based on scientific facts…” Now, that may have been somewhat imprecise wording but as far as I know the Big Bang counts as a scientific fact. It is what the KCA is based on. However, your misrepresentation of my statement did give you your strongest rebuttal so there is that.

    Your rebuttal that I’ve offered arguments from popularity ignores the reality that the influence of the book, man and religion are also an indisputable facts. That goes along with the fact of the book and the man’s superior historicity. Tom has handled the rest of your meager offerings better than I could.

    And I think it will escape no one’s attention that you’ve, not surprisingly, ignored what I asked when I said “What are you offering for facts that would give us a reason “to allow that there is no divine foot.” But it’s always easier to take pot shots than offer affirmative argumentation of your own, is it not?

  120. Fleegman

    The argument from popularity is not always fallacious, Fleegman.

    And yet it clearly is in this case. The popularity of a religion, and how much influence it has says nothing about its truth. Unless you’re suggesting that the popularity of Islam is a point in its favour regarding its truth?

    “Like the Exodus” is the fallacy of selective sampling. That, my friend, is a genuine fallacy in this context.

    And it’s exactly what you did by extracting that phrase. I was specifically citing a case which the Bible clearly maintains as having happened, and yet science says “no.” This goes against the reliability of the same, which I think is a perfectly valid response to “look how historical this book is.”

    he was talking about the quality of historical information we have.

    But is that really true? What do we know about his teenage years? Or twenties? BillT said “a man whose history is better known than any other ancient historical figure.” Really? How many uncontroversial facts about Jesus’ life do we actually know? Better known than Julius Caesar? How many contemporary accounts are there of Jesus?

    Your objection to the fine tuning argument: I don’t mean to be unkind, but I can’t help observing that it amounts to nothing more than a fourth-grader standing on the edge of the playground and calling out “Nyaah-nyaah boo-boo.”

    Well, I’m glad you weren’t meaning to be unkind.

    Considering how vast the universe is, and how small the habitable bits are (0.00000000000000001% habitable? Just a guess, but I’m probably overestimating), on being asked the question “how do you explain how the universe is fine tuned for life?” my reaction is “are you having a laugh, mate?”

    And have you noticed that objections to the arguments from morality and fine tuning only seem to hold sway with disbelievers? What does that prove? Your objection here is logically equivalent to, “The only people who agree with you are the ones who agree with you!” Especially since the only ones who agree with you, Fleegman, are the ones who agree with you.

    Well, that’s the problem with philosophy. Without actual, you know, evidence, it’s all about who has the best sounding argument. Pre-existing bias, of course, has a profound impact on what sounds good.

    And then you ask, “Would/did any of this stuff convince you, Bill?” In my case, the argument from morality was a very strong contributing factor when I first believed in God.
    Did that answer any of your questions for you?

    I didn’t have many questions, really. I was merely responding to BillT’s offerings. Are you saying that you heard the argument from morality before you believed in God and it contributed to your journey in that direction?

    It is what the KCA is based on.

    However, your misrepresentation of my statement did give you your strongest rebuttal so there is that.

    It wasn’t my intent to misrepresent you; I honestly thought that’s what you were saying. Tom’s response suggests I wasn’t purposefully reading it incorrectly.

    The “big bang” isn’t actually a “scientific fact.” There is considerable debate as to whether the universe had a beginning or not. KCA is based on the assumption that the universe had a beginning. Just one of its flawed premises.

    Your rebuttal that I’ve offered arguments from popularity ignores the reality that the influence of the book, man and religion are also an indisputable facts.

    I’m not denying the influence or popularity of the book, the man, or the religion. But my response is “so what?”

    And I think it will escape no one’s attention that you’ve, not surprisingly, ignored what I asked when I said “What are you offering for facts that would give us a reason “to allow that there is no divine foot.”

    Can you rephrase the question, please?

    But it’s always easier to take pot shots than offer affirmative argumentation of your own, is it not?

    You make a massive appeal to popularity, I call you on it, and I’m taking “pot shots.” Okay then.

  121. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Fleegman, you are utterly incompetent.

    You don’t know the difference between the argument from popularity and a demonstration of a belief’s historical importance.

    You don’t know the difference between selective sampling and responding to a blog comment one line at a time.

    With respect to the quality of historical information we have on Jesus, the question is not what we don’t know but what we do; and BillT’s statement is very much accurate on that count. You are trying selective sampling again.

    As for the “laugh, mate,” is that you don’t have a clue. First, so what if not all the universe is habitable. It’s still good, on a theistic viewpoint. Second, the salient point is that there is habitability at all!

    Your “problem with philosophy” would be a good reason for you to learn how to use it better. But if you believe all arguments are fallacious, which this seems to indicate, the appropriate stance for you to take would be to stop using them altogether.

    If you think the Big Bang is improbable, then you can conclude that the KCA is improbable on that count. Do you think the Big Bang is improbable? Or are you scrambling for some convenient out from the argument. If you were really making a legitimate argument here, I wouldn’t have had to ask you which.

    All of this is incompetence parading in the form of bluster.

    No, I did not hear the argument from morality. I was asking my own questions about it. I specifically asked myself, if there is no God, does it make any difference whether I care for my girlfriend or rape her? The answer, it seemed to me at the time, was no, if there is no God then it makes no difference That was at an early stage of my thinking and I did not consider all the ramifications. I would add words like “objective” now.

  122. Fleegman

    Tom,

    You don’t know the difference between the argument from popularity and a demonstration of a belief’s historical importance.

    And you, Tom, don’t seem to understand that the historical importance of a belief, or its influence, or how many people believe it, has nothing whatsoever to do to whether or not it’s actually true.

    With respect to the quality of historical information we have on Jesus, the question is not what we don’t know but what we do; and BillT’s statement is very much accurate on that count. You are trying selective sampling again.

    Selective sampling? In what possible way? Bill said, among other things, that we knew more about the history of Jesus than Caesar, and I am questioning that claim.

    As for the “laugh, mate,” is that you don’t have a clue. First, so what if not all the universe is habitable. It’s still good, on a theistic viewpoint. Second, the salient point is that there is habitability at all!

    Not when the claim is “this universe was made for us,” it’s not. Feel free to tell me I “don’t have a clue,” but it is you who is claiming the universe is fine tuned for our existence when the vast (and “vast” doesn’t really carry the weight it needs to in this case) majority of which, including the majority of the very planet we live on, is actively hostile to life. If fact as a species, humans barely survived at all. So much for being fine tuned.

    If you think the Big Bang is improbable, then you can conclude that the KCA is improbable on that count. Do you think the Big Bang is improbable? Or are you scrambling for some convenient out from the argument.

    A convenient out? You misunderstand me. I don’t think KCA is improbable because I think the Big Bang improbable at all. As I mentioned, that’s just another issue to add to the list of problems with KCA.

    All of this is incompetence parading in the form of bluster.

    And this helps the conversation how?

    I specifically asked myself, if there is no God, does it make any difference whether I care for my girlfriend or rape her? The answer, it seemed to me at the time, was no, if there is no God then it makes no difference

    You didn’t think, perhaps, that she would mind? If that was really your standing on this issue, I am glad you found God.

  123. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Fleegman, what I was saying was not the universe was “made for us.” Read the link I gave you. There’s no point continuing until you can respond to what I’m saying rather than your stereotyped version of what you think I’m saying.

    You can question claims about Jesus and Caesar all you want. But if you do it simply by saying, “maybe you’re wrong!” there’s no need to pay it any attention. Which is about what your objection here amounts to.

    “Incompetence parading as bluster” helps the conversation by identifying the process behind it.

    Your response to what I said about the moral argument is fine, except that it misses the point of the moral argument by a mile. And I have interacted with atheists on this blog, by the way, who would have considered “she would mind” to be quite a contingent and optional consideration.

  124. G. Rodrigues

    @Fleegman:

    Feel free to tell me I “don’t have a clue,” but it is you who is claiming the universe is fine tuned for our existence when the vast (and “vast” doesn’t really carry the weight it needs to in this case) majority of which, including the majority of the very planet we live on, is actively hostile to life. If fact as a species, humans barely survived at all. So much for being fine tuned.

    You do not have a clue of what you are talking about.

    I don’t think KCA is improbable because I think the Big Bang improbable at all. As I mentioned, that’s just another issue to add to the list of problems with KCA.

    Let’s see. Your argument in the preceding post was:

    The “big bang” isn’t actually a “scientific fact.” There is considerable debate as to whether the universe had a beginning or not. KCA is based on the assumption that the universe had a beginning. Just one of its flawed premises.

    No, the KCA is not based on the premise that the universe had a beginning, rather that is the *conclusion* of the argument. IOW, you do not have a clue of what you are talking about.

    note: and I should add that scientific evidence adduced in favor of the KCA is *secondary* to the argument; it is just an extra piece of supporting evidence. The argument is a philosophical one.

    And this helps the conversation how?

    Pointing out that your interlocutor is demonstrably an incompetent hack all bluster and hot air is helpful; maybe not to the interlocutor, but to the other people listening in on the conversation.

  125. Billt

    “Can you rephrase the question, please?”

    Since you decided to take up the question I asked Larry Tanner I assumed you had familiarized yourself with the thread. In his post #66 he claimed he was “…willing to allow the divine foot in the door…” and claimed those not willing to change their position based on the evidence weren’t arguing honestly. I said maybe he was right and asked him to provide some facts that would give us a reason “to allow that there is no divine foot.”

    My listing was a general, if quite truncated, reference to the great number of arguments given for theism. That you don’t accept them is hardly surprising. Your objections are duly noted.

    Now it’s your turn. Can you provide us with a similar list that would help us understand all the good reasons and reasoning that goes into your belief and why that would give us reason “to allow that there is no divine foot.”

  126. Fleegman

    Hi Bill

    Thanks for taking the time to rephrase the question; I’ll certainly give it a go.

    First of all, I don’t have any good evidence that there is no god of any description. Could a god explain the universe? Possibly (ignoring the supernatural/natural cause/effect issue). But this particular type of god is I’m sure not what you’re getting at.

    I notice how you call it a my “belief.” You almost slipped that under the door without me noticing, there, I understand those on this site want to shift the burden of proof so keenly to the atheist (and the recent thread about this was a treat) and this thread is obviously not the place for that discussion, so I’m going to allow for now that I positively don’t believe in the Christian god of the Bible.

    What do I offer as proof for this position? A couple of things.

    Let’s take Adam and Eve. That they were the first two humans, and that the ate the fruit is a central tenet of Christianity, I’m sure you’ll agree. Genetic analysis shows analysis shows that the human race did not evolve from two people. That, right there, is strong evidence that Adam and Eve weren’t the progenitors of the human race as we know it. Without them, you’ve got ,no original sin. Without that… Well, you get the idea.

    Secondly, the idea of the Christian god is logically inconsistent. Fully human and fully god. I don’t know how many times I’ve been lectured on the fundamentals of logic on this site.

    The problem of evil, and suffering more specifically. This includes questions like why one group of people should spend their lives suffering and desperate for that next mouthful of food, and another group spends their lives in relative luxury needs a lot of explaining if you throw an omnibenevolent god into the mix.

    Also, what appears to be a generally unbelievable story. You know, how God wants to save us from the place he constructed and could only do it by sacrificing himself etc. None of it makes any sense to me, so I don’t believe it’s true. In fact I believe it’s not true.

    Oh, and the opposite of the fine tuning argument. The Bible indicates this universe was made for us. Given the incomprehensible vastness of the universe, it’s like building a palace and forcing you to live in the closet where you can barely survive and will probably die of disease, your teeth, cancer, and probably in pain. You or I could do better than that. How about a planet that’s not unstable for starters? Could a god not do that?

    So there’s a truncated list in answer to your question. Happy to talk about any of it.

  127. Fleegman

    G.Rodrigues,

    No, the KCA is not based on the premise that the universe had a beginning, rather that is the *conclusion* of the argument. IOW, you do not have a clue of what you are talking about.

    Funny, I thought the conclusion of the argument was that the universe had a cause. And that it had a beginning was one of the premises.

    It’s seems in this case that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  128. G. Rodrigues

    @Fleegman:

    It’s seems in this case that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    I suggest you actually read about the KCA, both its history and its modern formulations. The crux of the argument was always to establish that the universe is not past-eternal. Always. The jump to a cause and the analysis of what such a cause might be are the easy sub-arguments of the whole argument.

    But if you want to insist that it is not, I am fine with it as well. It is then a premise, but the premise is *argued for* in a subargument, the most substantial and important part of the whole argument.

    So here is a suggestion: instead of proving to the satisfaction of the entire world that you are an incompetent ignoramus, why not just stay silent?

  129. Fleegman

    I see, I see…

    So when Bill said:

    Now, that may have been somewhat imprecise wording but as far as I know the Big Bang counts as a scientific fact. It is what the KCA is based on.

    Does that mean he’s an incompetent ignoramus too? You know, if you’re going to spray these delightful descriptions around, it might be worth considering who’s going to get caught in the crossfire.

    The crux of the argument was always to establish that the universe is not past-eternal. Always.

    ORLY?

    Perhaps WLC can shed some light on what KCA is…

    Or maybe Philosophy of Religion

    You could try All About Philosophy

    Or even Wikipedia – the contemporary formulations seem to be closer to what you’re getting at, but it doesn’t seem to be the original intent.

    Now, I’m sure you can argue that they are not describing the true crux of KCA, but you know, whatever. For you to call me an incompetent ignoramus for being under the impression that KCA is arguing for everyone else appears to think it is, seems somewhat disingenuous to say the least.

    Bill,

    You said (as I pointed out above):

    Now, that may have been somewhat imprecise wording but as far as I know the Big Bang counts as a scientific fact. It is what the KCA is based on.

    I’m not sure that’s true. I don’t think Aristotle had the Big Bang in mind when he first came up with it.

  130. G. Rodrigues

    @Fleegman:

    I’m not sure that’s true. I don’t think Aristotle had the Big Bang in mind when he first came up with it.

    Aristotle did not “came up with it” for the very simple reason that he believed that the universe was past-eternal.

    But otherwise you are correct, because the KCA as defended both in the past by such as Al-Ghazali or in the present by W. L. Craig, does not hinge on the Big-Bang but in a philosophical argument that purports to establish that the universe cannot be past-eternal. The Big-Bang is just scientific evidence that confirms the deductive argument — or so the reasoning goes.

  131. G. Rodrigues

    @BillT:

    Ok, ok I’m probably, no definitely the ignoramus. Maybe that will settle this.

    Fleegman is an incompetent ignoramus not just because he does not even understand the KCA. There are inumerous examples to show this; just in this thread, you can see his egregious misunderstanding of the Fine Tuning argument.

    And being ignorant is not a sin; after all, we are all ignorant, just about different things. But being ignorant of what one is so confidently criticizing, well, that is a whole different matter.

  132. BillT

    Fleegman,

    Thanks for the reply. Let me start with an explanation of one of my laundry list points. I stated that Christianity had the most influential book, man and was the most influential religion in world history. Why this is important is not as an appeal to Christianity’s popularity but its truth. The question we should ask is how these things could be true if Christianity isn’t based on fact.

    We know that Christianity spread quickly in the early first century. Within its first thirty years there were churches in all the major cities including as far away as Rome. Given the story that Christianity tells, and that we know that this was the story that was told then, how could this have happened? Put yourself in say Corinth. Someone comes and tells you of Christ’s life. His deity, miracles, death and resurrection. What’s your reaction? Same as mine would be. “What a crock!”

    However, you’re only in Corinth and you go to Jerusalem once a year on business (travel like this was commonplace). What would you do? Ask some questions when you go as you’ve been invited to do by the person who told you about Christ. And this is the story of the first Christians. The eyewitnesses to the deity, miracles, death and resurrection of Christ were all living. Most anyone who heard the story had access to those eyewitnesses. And those eyewitnesses were both believers and non-believers.

    So this is what we have. The entire first couple of generations of Christian believers, spread all over the Mediterranean, have access to the eyewitnesses to the deity, miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without that Christianity would have been dead on arrival. No one would believe that story without verification. You wouldn’t and I wouldn’t and they wouldn’t. The entire faith is built on that reality and our confidence in its truth.

    I’ll reply to your post next.

  133. BillT

    Fleegman,

    On we go. First of all you said I tried to slip the word belief “under the door” and want to “shift the burden of proof….to the atheist.” Neither is true. You yourself call your understandings beliefs because that is what they are. And there is no attempt to shift the burden of proof. I accept my own burden of proof (see the above post) and I would expect you would accept yours (or do you think your beliefs don’t require proofs or do you believe what you do without any?).

    As far as Adam and Eve and the genetic analysis showing that the human race did not evolve from two people. That is a case of reading Genesis as an explanation of how instead of what it is, an explanation of why. I do understand Adam and Eve as being the first human beings, if you will, but not the first homo sapiens. And in fact that is backed up in Genesis when Cain complains he will be killed if cast out (Gen. 4:14). Who is it that would kill him if there weren’t other homo sapiens alive?

    Fully God and fully man. This is a problem for someone who created the universe ex nihilo at the sound of his voice? I think not. This isn’t a problem if there is God in the same way all miracles aren’t a problem if there is a God. They are simply the physical expressions of an omnipotent God. (That’s what it means to be omnipotent.)

    The problem of evil has been covered over and over and over. But let me add why this doesn’t pose an insurmountable problem for me personally. This doesn’t pose a problem for me personally because I know the reason for the evil in the world. Me. I’m the reason. I’m responsible for the sin and brokenness in the world. It’s one of the realities I came to understand and the reason I need Christ’s sacrifice.

    And the apparent hostility of the universe and even our world. It’s another manifestation of my sinfulness. Sinfulness affects everything. Creation itself is broken by sin. This too will be renewed by Christ. All of creation will be healed as will I.

    I’m glad to further explain any of the above within the (significant) limits of my knowledge.

  134. Fleegman

    Rodrigues:

    *more sophistical ranting about Fleegman’s incompetence while complete ignoring what people actually mean when referring to KCA*

    Anyway

    Bill,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    What you seem to be saying is that you think Christianity spread too quickly for something that wasn’t based in fact. Added to that, the fact that the eyewitnesses could be interrogated adds to the likelihood that the resurrection actually happened.

    My problem with that is twofold. Firstly, just because you can’t believe something spread as fast as it did unless it was based on fact is an argument from incredulity.

    What’s the objective measure for how fast something can spread and still be based on falsehoods? Does the spread of Islam testify to its truth? Since there are roughly 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and just over 2 billion Christians (throwing in all denominations together for the fun of it), and given that Islam was founded in the early 7th century, it could be argued that Islam has, on average, had afaster growth rate. What does that tell you about its claim of truth? Nothing.

    Second is the problem with the eyewitnesses. There are many (hundreds) of eyewitnesses mentioned in the Bible. But we know nothing about the majority of them. I’ve said this before on this site. If you have someone telling you about 500 eyewitnesses, you still only have one eyewitness.

    Another thing I’ve said many times before, is how unreliable eyewitness testimony is. I’d fancy that if someone told you they’d seen someone rise from the dead, you’d probably need more evidence. If ten people told you the same thing, you’d still want more evidence. It doesn’t matter how many people tell you they saw something fantastic, corroborating evidence is required. The unreliability of human memory is truly astonishing.

    You can talk to abductees about their experiences and get intricate stories describing the aliens and their ship. And I’m sick to death of being told this is a red herring because we’re talking about the supposed reliability of “living” eyewitnesses. Well, I’ve got thousands of living eyewitnesses for you, right now, and you can go and ask them about their shared experiences. Do you believe them? No. But when it comes to eyewitnesses to the resurrection, suddenly eyewitness testimony is simply the best evidence anyone could ever hope for. I don’t buy it.

    But we’re rehashing old ground, so I’ll stop there.

    Just noticed you’ve replied again, so I’ll reply to that later this evening on my commute home.

    Cheers for now,

  135. BillT

    But my argument isn’t just based in the growth of Christianity. In fact, it wasn’t primarily based on growth, as you describe it, at all. I said,

    “The entire first couple of generations of Christian believers, spread all over the Mediterranean, have access to the eyewitnesses to the deity, miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without that Christianity would have been dead on arrival. No one would believe that story without verification. You wouldn’t and I wouldn’t and they wouldn’t.”

    You avoided addressing this at all.

  136. Fleegman

    Bill,

    The entire first couple of generations of Christian believers, spread all over the Mediterranean, have access to the eyewitnesses to the deity, miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    Let’s suppose for the sake of argument you’re correct. You might be, I don’t know. There’s not much evidence that anyone spoke to witnesses (Paul may have, or may have had the information handed down from eyewitnesses, but he was already a believer at the time). Either way, I would replace “eyewitnesses” with “people who claimed to be eyewitnesses.” We wouldn’t want make assumptions now, would we?

    So given that there were people telling fantastic tales in a time of superstition and magic where the belief in gods of all descriptions was rampant, I don’t find it surprising at all that Christianity grew at a fast pace. And that’s completely disconnected from whether or not there was any truth to the claims.

    You simply cannot make the jump from “there were people claiming to be eyewitnesses to these amazing events, lots of people believed them,” to “therefore it must have been based on things that really happened.”

  137. Fleegman

    Hi Bill,

    I accept my own burden of proof (see the above post) and I would expect you would accept yours (or do you think your beliefs don’t require proofs or do you believe what you do without any?).

    Yes, and I’m attempting to do so regarding my belief that the god of the Bible doesn’t exist. As I said, for the sake of discussion I have adopted this positive position. For the most part though, lacking a belief in the celestial teapot for example doesn’t require proof. I’m sure Tom would ask if that’s a positive belief that I don’t need the celestial teapot to be a good person. I don’t believe I do, no. (Please add the teapot to the list)

    Onwards!

    And in fact that is backed up in Genesis when Cain complains he will be killed if cast out (Gen. 4:14). Who is it that would kill him if there weren’t other homo sapiens alive?

    Indeed. And the Bible says nothing about it. So you’ve filled in the gaps in a way that makes sense to you (given your understanding of science). You have also decided that some of the story is metaphorical and some of it is literally true. And this boundary between real/not real is completely arbitrary and dependent only on what the interpreter is willing to accept.

    Your interpretation also brings along its own problems that I don’t have time to get into right now.

    Fully God and fully man. This is a problem for someone who created the universe ex nihilo at the sound of his voice? I think not.

    God had a voice? Before the material world existed? In what possible way? Oh I forgot, He’s God; he can do anything, including speak without vocal chords, and make sound without air. I suppose He can also make a rock so big He can’t lift it. Apologies, but I couldn’t resist. You are, after all, the one telling me God is so powerful he can be logically inconsistent.

    You then describe why the PoE isn’t a problem for you because you’re evil and it’s your fault.

    What you’re doing in countering my arguments is essentially this:

    “This isn’t a problem because Christianity is true”

    I realise that Christians have answers to these problems. The problem is that these arguments aren’t convincing to one who doesn’t already believe in God.

    I’m responsible for the sin and brokenness in the world. It’s one of the realities I came to understand and the reason I need Christ’s sacrifice.

    I’m sorry, but you cannot one one hand say that God is the ultimate moral compass, and on the other had say you deserve to be punished for what Adam and Eve did. It is not moral to punish descendants for the sins of the progenitors. Do you think it’s a moral thing to do? Or is it only moral for God somehow?

    And the apparent hostility of the universe and even our world. It’s another manifestation of my sinfulness. Sinfulness affects everything.

    So space wasn’t mostly vacuum before the fall of man? The Earth wasn’t unstable? How does sinfulness affect these things?

    I appreciate this discussion, and I apologise for the slightly snarky bits.

  138. BillT

    No. Your rebuttal to my explanation of the eyewitnesses doesn’t hold up. It is a perfectly reasonable understanding that “there were people claiming to be eyewitnesses to these amazing events, lots of people believed them,” to “therefore it must have been based on things that really happened.” It’s reasonable and logical because it’s the only way anyone would have believed the stories of the deity, miracles, death and resurrection of Christ. And on top of that the ANE wasn’t a “…a time of superstition and magic…” that’s just a complete misunderstanding of the ANE. Also, God incarnate was the furthest possible reality from a first century Jewish perspective. Not to mention these are obfuscations and classic misunderstandings of the era.

    I’m going to ignore the celestial teapot reference. It’s not a serious thought and doesn’t deserve a serious reply. (And that has been explained here at TC dozens of times)

    How is it that you can claim the Bible says nothing about other homo sapiens when I provided an explanation and a verse that says that very thing? Did you just ignore that even though you block quoted it? As to the metaphor/non metaphor issues that’s called Biblical interpretation and it’s anything but arbitrary. (And also has been explained here at TC dozens of times.)

    Nothing I proposed about God’s creation ex nihilo is logically inconsistent and your objection that He spoke ”without vocal chords, and make sound without air” borders on the childish.

    Your ”I realise that Christians have answers to these problems. The problem is that these arguments aren’t convincing to one who doesn’t already believe in God.” was dealt with quite thoroughly by Tom (#126) when he said “The only people who agree with you are the ones who agree with you!” — which isn’t much of an argument. Especially since the only ones who agree with you, Fleegman, are the ones who agree with you.’ yet, you drag this nonsense out again.

    It’s again a terrible misunderstanding that God is punishing ”descendants for the sins of the progenitors.”That is conflating the concept of Original Sin with my personal responsibility for the sins I commit. I did offer a personal perspective on my part of the problem of evil which you seem to be going out of your way to misunderstand.

    I’m going to pass on trying to explain how sinfulness affects all of creation. Given the above that doesn’t seem productive.

  139. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Amazing how flexible this “argument from incredulity” is:

    My problem with that is twofold. Firstly, just because you can’t believe something spread as fast as it did unless it was based on fact is an argument from incredulity.

    Fleegman throws in, “you can’t believe” to make it sound like incredulity. He mixes things up, though. BillT hadn’t said he didn’t believe what Fleegman said he didn’t believe. BillT had set up a thought experiment, and had shown that a certain belief could never have arisen in that circumstance in the manner that Fleegman suggested.

    But does Fleegman deal with that? No. Fleegman misconstrues the argument, and Fleegman gets yet another logical fallacy wrong. It’s not the first time this week he has totally fallen on his nose in trying to analyze a logical argument.

    And look, maybe that sounds unkind, but here’s how I see it. There are people who know what they’re talking about and mistakes from time to time. There are people who don’t know what they’re talking about and don’t pretend to know. And then there are people who parade their attempts at argument as if it constituted some reason to believe what they were arguing for, when repeatedly they show their incompetence. The first two are human faults needing some understanding, education, and correction. The third is a moral fault calling for strong rebuke.

    But it gets worse. Fleegman takes it as given — given! — that,

    there were people telling fantastic tales in a time of superstition and magic where the belief in gods of all descriptions was rampant.

    Which people were telling “fantastic lies,” Fleegman? If you’re referring to the early Christians, then you’ve stumbled badly over the very points BillT brought up to show that it never could have worked! If you’re talking about someone else, then what could that possibly have to do with what we’re talking about here?

    Oh, and given (and this is actually supportable) that the accounts describe the Christian movement as originating with the Jews, how “rampant” was their belief in “gods of all descriptions”?

    It’s a lovely thing to be able to make up facts to suit your convenience, but when it’s done repeatedly, it, too, is a moral fault, and Fleegman, I’m calling you for it. You are intellectually irresponsible and you are a fabricator.

  140. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Fleegman:

    Evidence, please:

    Indeed. And the Bible says nothing about it. So you’ve filled in the gaps in a way that makes sense to you (given your understanding of science). You have also decided that some of the story is metaphorical and some of it is literally true. And this boundary between real/not real is completely arbitrary and dependent only on what the interpreter is willing to accept.

    This is a convenient interpretation for you to supply. (Notice how that objection can turn tail and bite you?) Now, do you have any evidence that the Cain story’s interpretation is completely arbitrary? Do you have comparative literature to contrast this with? Can you show that other literature of the period is not handled in the same way by responsible scholarship?

    You have judged BillT in a most ignorant fashion. I mean that quite literally. You don’t know enough about ANE literature to have drawn that conclusion, but you did anyway.

    I’m judging you now, but I’m doing it on the basis of fairly firm knowledge. You see, I know that you have judged BillT (that’s obvious). I know that in order for your judgment to be fair, reliable, and just, you would have to have some background knowledge of the situation with which to adjudicate BillT’s interpretation. And I’m 99.99% sure you lack that background—which means it’s impossible for your judgment of BillT to have been fair or just.

    Do you really think it’s fair to judge another person out of rank ignorance?

  141. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    This, too, is a lie:

    God had a voice? Before the material world existed? In what possible way? Oh I forgot, He’s God; he can do anything, including speak without vocal chords, and make sound without air. I suppose He can also make a rock so big He can’t lift it. Apologies, but I couldn’t resist. You are, after all, the one telling me God is so powerful he can be logically inconsistent.

    It is a complete distortion, except for where it is an outright fabrication, except for where it contradicts everything we have said.

    You’re a liar, Fleegman.

  142. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    You say, Fleegman,

    I appreciate this discussion, and I apologise for the slightly snarky bits.

    Slighly snarky I can handle. But you weren’t being slightly snarky. You were misrepresenting and distorting things right and left.

    Still, lies and incompetence I can handle. Here’s what I can’t fathom: I can’t imagine how you could be content with yourself that way.

  143. Fleegman

    Morning Bill,

    It is a perfectly reasonable understanding that “there were people claiming to be eyewitnesses to these amazing events, lots of people believed them,” to “therefore it must have been based on things that really happened.” It’s reasonable, logical and because it’s the only way anyone would have believed the stories of the deity, miracles, death and resurrection of Christ.

    This is clearly a stumbling block because I really have a problem with what you’re saying here. Lots of people believe this story too. When lots of people believe something, is the only explanation that it was true? Of course not. Why is it so different when it comes to your specific belief?

    Nothing I proposed about God’s creation ex nihilo is logically inconsistent and your objection that He spoke ”without vocal chords, and make sound without air” borders on the childish.

    I said that you’re fine with a god that can be logically inconsistent. Something that can be A and Not A. And the “childish” knee jerk reaction is unfair. Why is it childish to ask how something can speak in these conditions? Did He speak or not?

    Your ”I realise that Christians have answers to these problems. The problem is that these arguments aren’t convincing to one who doesn’t already believe in God.” was dealt with quite thoroughly by Tom (#126) when he said “The only people who agree with you are the ones who agree with you!”

    Considering that you’re offering evidence of God’s existence, it’s perfectly reasonable to point out that most of them require His existence, isn’t it?

    Thanks, by the way, for keeping your responses civil and free from personal attacks on my character. It’s appreciated.

  144. Fleegman

    Tom,

    Fleegman throws in, “you can’t believe” to make it sound like incredulity.

    It is incredulity, regardless of how much evidence backs it up. Behe’s ID is all an argument from incredulity. Do I think he’s researched the field of evolutionary biology to great depths? Of course he has. When Newton said “well, these planets can’t all move together without God. I just can’t work it out!” he was arguing from a position of incredulity. Do I think he extensively researched mathematics and still came to that conclusion? Yes, he was okay at maths. Yet he was still arguing from a position of incredulity.

    BillT had set up a thought experiment, and had shown that a certain belief could never have arisen in that circumstance in the manner that Fleegman suggested.

    He had “shown” no such thing.

    And look, maybe that sounds unkind, but here’s how I see it.

    Actually, it’s what I’ve come to expect from this place. All atheists get treated with a level of contempt that would make the pharyngulites proud. Only with less F-bombs.

    There are people who know what they’re talking about and mistakes from time to time

    I suppose this is you and Bill, amiright? Fortunately for you, according to Rodrigues, you are not both incompetent ignoramuses, even though you thought the same thing about the KCA as I, WLC and The Internet did. But we’re all wrong, of course. And now I’m sure you’ll fall on your sword just like Bill for thinking one of the premises of the KCA is that the universe had a beginning.

    But am I in this group? Of course not!

    There are people who don’t know what they’re talking about and don’t pretend to know.

    This one? “Nooooooooo!” cries the peanut gallery.

    And then there are people who parade their attempts at argument as if it constituted some reason to believe what they were arguing for, when repeatedly they show their incompetence.

    Ahhh yes, this sounds like me. Thanks for putting me soundly in my place once again. You’re an awesome host, really.

    The third is a moral fault calling for strong rebuke.

    Tom, just a few comments ago, you admitted that without God you could see no reason not to rape your girlfriend. I am not being inflammatory, that’s what you said. As far as I’m concerned, you’ve lost any claim to the moral high ground, and I do not recognise your authority to call me out on what you consider my moral failings.

    Indeed. And the Bible says nothing about it. So you’ve filled in the gaps in a way that makes sense to you (given your understanding of science). You have also decided that some of the story is metaphorical and some of it is literally true. And this boundary between real/not real is completely arbitrary and dependent only on what the interpreter is willing to accept.

    You have judged BillT in a most ignorant fashion. I mean that quite literally. You don’t know enough about ANE literature to have drawn that conclusion, but you did anyway.

    Okay, I’m open to your accusation, here. When it comes to ANE literature, my cupboard is quite bare.

    I will happily retract my statement if you can confirm that all scholars agree on which parts of genesis are literal, and which parts are not.

    It is a complete distortion, except for where it is an outright fabrication, except for where it contradicts everything we have said.

    Well of course it is! After all, I didn’t reply with “oh, well, I never thought of it like that, I guess God must exist!”

    You’re a liar, Fleegman.

    Since we’re speaking under the Starbucks Rules – with which the Christians are apparently free to play fast and loose – I will refrain from writing the response this deserves.

  145. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Fleegman,

    Here is your continuing incompetence in action. I’ll go into detail on one point and flash through the rest, including your persistent deceit.

    BillT had written of how a certain hypothetical Corinthian would have used due diligence to check facts before believing the Christian message. He used that to illustrate what it would have required for the Christian message to have spread as quickly as it did in the first century.

    You said that was an argument from incredulity.

    I objected, pointing to what Bill actually said, and arguing that this was not an argument from incredulity.

    And now you answer,

    It is incredulity, regardless of how much evidence backs it up. Behe’s ID is all an argument from incredulity.

    Two things. First of all, “it.” The pronoun. Pronouns have antecedents. We were talking, I thought, about BillT’s thought experiment. He raised a point there, to which you raised a counterpoint. I raised an objection to your counterpoint—and now you’re changing the subject. I am sure you know that Behe did not propose his ID argument in ancient Corinth.

    When you repeat your assertion, with italics, and without argument (for it is not argument when you change the subject—you have to deal with the currently hanging counterpoint in order for it to be called argument), it is more like foot-stomping than anything else. “But it is an argument from incredulity!” Do you see that?

    And how about, “He had shown no such thing.”

    Was that an argument? No. It’s foot-stomping.

    Here’s your problem at this point in the argument: we were talking about the spread of the first century church, and I have shown that BillT’s argument is not an argument from incredulity. Or at least I think I have. Your protestations about Behe have nothing to do with what kind of argument BillT was making. At this point, your argument against BillT stands refuted.

    And here’s the wild thing: I don’t think you even realize it. You changed the subject and went on to talk of another one.

    Now for another point: would you please define the argument from incredulity, with careful attention to the difference between, “Duh, I’m from Chigger Creek and I just cain’t believe it,” and “It’s impossible in principle, so I cannot believe it,” and “All other explanations but X are so unlikely as to be unbelievable so, by inference to the best explanation, I choose explanation X.”

    I want you to carefully think through what it means for some person S having difficulty believing some explanation E, and to recognize that S’s rejection of X instead of E is not necessarily fallacious just because S cannot believe E.

    You see, that’s Behe’s position (since you brought him up). He’s not saying, “Duh, I cain’t believe it.” He’s saying it’s vanisingly unlikely due to the nature of things.

    (Since you brought him up, I assume you know the antecedent to “it” in that sentence.)

    And the same for BillT.

    Neither of them is using an argument from incredulity.

    But you are using the argument from foot-stomping.

    Now for the flash-response.

    You are empirically wrong about “all atheists get treated with contempt.” I don’t do that. When a commenter is entrenched in dishonesty and incompetence, however, I will describe it for what it is. When a commenter persistently practices distortion and deceit, then I will recognize the commenter according to what kind of person consistently practices distortion and deceit.

    As a sarcastically-described “awesome host,” I not only indicated which of the three categories I think describes you, I explained why. And you threw it off like a pile of leaves: and contemptuously, too.

    You refuse to understand what I said about God, girlfriend, and rape, and you continue to judge me on the basis of your misunderstanding rather than hearing me on the basis of what I have actually said. See further in the next comment.

    Your argument with respect to the scholars and ANE literature amounts to this: “I’ll admit I don’t know what I’m saying about A when you admit that scholars’ opinions are divided on it.”

    But here’s what you said about A: you said that BillT’s opinion was “arbitrary.” Tell me: have you answered that? What if all scholars can’t agree on exactly which portions of Genesis are literal? Does that entail that a certain interpretation of Cain was therefore arbitrary? What if all scholars agree on that one point? They don’t, but it shows how far off the mark your attempted rebuttal might be. In fact a very large proportion of them would agree with BillT, and would support that with reasoning, not with arbitrary-ness.

    You brushed off what I said about your distortions, fabrications, etc., with sarcasm. You won’t face the fact that I have actually identified distortions and fabrications and etc. In fact you changed the subject one more time, away from your identified errors and over to a global question of worldview. I had specified several points where your errors were patent and clearly describable. You answered, “well, of course you think I’m not telling the truth, I don’t believe in God” (or something like that, I’m not copying/pasting this time).

    But here’s the thing: if you have said something identifiably false, which has actually been identified as false, and if there is reason to believe you said it without regard for whether it was false, then you have been practicing distortion and/or deceit — whether you believe in God or not!

    If you don’t want to be regarded as a liar, then stop practicing distortion and deceit, okay?

  146. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Fleegman, you wrote,

    Tom, just a few comments ago, you admitted that without God you could see no reason not to rape your girlfriend. I am not being inflammatory, that’s what you said. As far as I’m concerned, you’ve lost any claim to the moral high ground, and I do not recognise your authority to call me out on what you consider my moral failings.

    This is most disturbing. It shows an incredible rush to judgment on your part.

    Here’s what I wrote, which as you will see (since apparently you could not see it earlier) was in support of morality all the way:

    No, I did not hear the argument from morality. I was asking my own questions about it. I specifically asked myself, if there is no God, does it make any difference whether I care for my girlfriend or rape her? The answer, it seemed to me at the time, was no, if there is no God then it makes no difference. That was at an early stage of my thinking and I did not consider all the ramifications. I would add words like “objective” now.

    You say I lost the moral high ground then. Wow.

    First: I did not say I saw no reason not to do that. If I had said that, then I might have been a bad person.

    Second: I did not rape my girlfriend. If I had, then I certainly would have been a bad person. She is now married to a prominent academic Christian philosopher, by the way.

    Third: to state a hypothetical H and to conclude that if H is true, then morality might be meaningless is not to show disregard for morality. It is not the sign of a bad person.

    Fourth: at that time I did not believe in God. I chose to believe in God (as I said) partly because my moral beliefs moved me in that direction. That is not giving up morality. That is not being a bad person.

    Fifth: I indicated that this was at an early stage, and that I would now nuance it (with words like “objective”). That is the sign of a person looking back at his earlier self and seeing that his earlier understanding was incomplete. It is not a sign of a bad person.

    So Fleegman, that was inflammatory on your part, despite your protestations. If you think that you can claim moral high ground over me because I did this in full support of moral belief and action, while you continue to practice open deceit and/or distortion, then I am very, very sad for you.

  147. BillT

    Your “this story too” link was broke. But again I did not offer, as proof, Christianity’s popularity. I offered the thought experiment as to the necessity of the verification of its claims with the first generations of believers as a necessary factor for its success. You continue to avoid addressing that. It’s not an argument from popularity. It’s not an argument from incredulity. This has been pointed out to you numerous times. Please stop.

    Your claim that God being able to speak is logically inconsistent is without merit. For that act to be logically inconsistent God would have to be constrained by the laws of physics. But God isn’t constrained by the laws of physics. God created the laws of physics. That he can operate outside of His creation and the laws he created to form it is what makes Him God. It’s a quite logical exercise of His omnipotence.

    ” Considering that you’re offering evidence of God’s existence, it’s perfectly reasonable to point out that most of them require His existence, isn’t it?”

    No. It’s utterly absurd. To wit, “Considering that you’re offering evidence of God’s nonexistence, it’s perfectly reasonable to point out that most of them deny His existence, isn’t it?”

    Fleegman, we are both offering competing worldviews. Those competing worldviews either include the existence of God or deny the existence of God. That’s what we’re discussing. You pointing this out as a counterpoint to my arguments is, to use your phrase, logically inconsistent.

  148. G. Rodrigues

    @Fleegman:

    Fortunately for you, according to Rodrigues, you are not both incompetent ignoramuses, even though you thought the same thing about the KCA as I, WLC and The Internet did. But we’re all wrong, of course. And now I’m sure you’ll fall on your sword just like Bill for thinking one of the premises of the KCA is that the universe had a beginning.

    I stick by everything I said. I actually have read (some of) the literature; the relevant literature, not the wikipedia. This includes the defenders of KCA like W. L. Craig and D. Oderberg, theist critics like Aquinas, and atheist critics like Grunbaum, Oppy, Smith, etc.

    But I *also* wrote (March 20, 2013 at 8:40 am):

    But if you want to insist that it is not, I am fine with it as well. It is then a premise, but the premise is *argued for* in a subargument, the most substantial and important part of the whole argument.

  149. Fleegman

    Tom,

    Here is, I can only conclude, a wilful misinterpretation of my position (a lie, if you will):

    We were talking, I thought, about BillT’s thought experiment. He raised a point there, to which you raised a counterpoint. I raised an objection to your counterpoint—and now you’re changing the subject. I am sure you know that Behe did not propose his ID argument in ancient Corinth.

    Do you really think I was “changing the subject” to ID because I mentioned it? I mentioned it, as I thought was obvious, because there are parallels, here. Parallels that you yourself testify to only a few sentences later. You clarify your objection to my mentioning of Behe here:

    Your protestations about Behe have nothing to do with what kind of argument BillT was making.

    (Emphasis mine)

    And yet you go on to say this:

    You see, that’s Behe’s position (since you brought him up). He’s not saying, “Duh, I cain’t believe it.” He’s saying it’s vanisingly unlikely due to the nature of things.

    And the same for BillT.

    So the positions are entirely equivalent in how they reach their conclusions! And that’s precisely why I brought it up! For the very reason that Bill has done the research and come to certain conclusions. So in the same comment you’ve both accused me of changing the subject and gone on to explain why the positions are equivalent.

    But here’s the thing. Arguments from incredulity are commonplace. Just because something is an argument of this type doesn’t necessarily mean it’s *wrong* but – and this is a big “but” – you can’t use disbelief of X as proof of God. Like Behe does like so: “This biological construction has specified complexity of a certain level which is in my opinion impossible to explain by the current understanding of evolutionary biology, therefore God.”

    Neither of them is using an argument from incredulity.

    We might have to agree to disagree on this point.

    But you are using the argument from foot-stomping.

    Nonsense.

    I hope the rest of your comment was interesting

    Yes, it was amazing; you missed out, there.

    You are empirically wrong about “all atheists get treated with contempt…”

    Oh I was using “all” for literary impact, like the author of Numbers uses “utterly destroyed [the Canaanites]” to mean “didn’t destroy all the Canaanites, just rather a lot of them.”

    I not only indicated which of the three categories I think describes you, I explained why. And you threw it off like a pile of leaves: and contemptuously, too.

    I think you’d be a bit contemptuous too if someone described you as someone who “parades their attempts at argument as if it constituted some reason to believe what they were arguing for, when repeatedly they showed their incompetence.”

    So perhaps you can cut me some slack for taking offence at the continued personal attacks.

    You then talk for a while about how even though there is divided – to put it mildly – opinion as to what’s literal and what is not in genesis, it’s not arbitrary. I will concede this point. It was a poor choice of words, and I apologise for using the word “arbitrary” to describe it.

    The point I was attempting to make was that the question is so open to interpretation (scholarly or not) that one obviously takes whatever satisfies one’s own position. And in this case, Bill has interpreted the story of Adam and Eve in a way that satisfies his scientifically minded biases. And that’s fine.

    But…

    Since there are so many people with differing ideas or biases, it turns out that there is an entire continuum of beliefs ranging from “it’s all allegorical” to “it’s all literally true” so how can it be used as evidence of anything? Really. If it can be interpreted however one likes, how can one possibly say it’s authoritative?

    That makes you not just a liar, but an intransigent one.

    And when you misrepresent what I’m saying – as you clearly did earlier – what does that make you?

  150. Fleegman

    Hi Bill,

    Goodness, this has turned into quite a slog, but I’m still game if you are!

    I’m afraid I rather rudely addressed a lot of what you said in my reply to Tom, so apologies for not addressing you directly.

    I will, however, delve into a little more detail regarding your thought experiment.

    Let’s look at what you originally said:

    We know that Christianity spread quickly in the early first century.

    No argument here.

    Within its first thirty years there were churches in all the major cities including as far away as Rome.

    Again, no argument from me. These are the facts as far as we know them.

    Put yourself in say Corinth. Someone comes and tells you of Christ’s life. His deity, miracles, death and resurrection. What’s your reaction? Same as mine would be. “What a crock!”

    Indeed. This would be my reaction also.

    However, you’re only in Corinth and you go to Jerusalem once a year on business (travel like this was commonplace). What would you do?

    I’d want corroborating evidence. Definitely.

    Ask some questions when you go as you’ve been invited to do by the person who told you about Christ. And this is the story of the first Christians.

    Is it? I’m not familiar with this account of the first Christians. Let’s take that as a given, though.

    The eyewitnesses to the deity, miracles, death and resurrection of Christ were all living. Most anyone who heard the story had access to those eyewitnesses. And those eyewitnesses were both believers and non-believers.

    Okay… This is where I’m starting to question the point your making.

    So this is what we have. The entire first couple of generations of Christian believers, spread all over the Mediterranean, have access to the eyewitnesses to the deity, miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    Fine, let’s say they have access to people claiming to be eyewitnesses. So what? Why would they believe them? Did they have access to corroborating evidence? No. They only had access to people saying “yeah, this really happened. I saw it!”

    Without that Christianity would have been dead on arrival. No one would believe that story without verification. You wouldn’t and I wouldn’t and they wouldn’t. The entire faith is built on that reality and our confidence in its truth.

    What verification?Eyewitnesses? People saying it’s true? In what way do you consider this verification of any sort?

    Any number of people saying they witnessed something is not “verification” ofanything.

    And this is completely divorced from whether or not what they’re claiming is based on truth.

    Fleegman, we are both offering competing worldviews. Those competing worldviews either include the existence of God or deny the existence of God. That’s what we’re discussing.

    This is a fair point, and I concede it.

  151. Fleegman

    Tom,

    I’d like to address your other comment, ‘cos it’s really bothering me.

    First: [regarding raping your girlfriend] I did not say I saw no reason not to do that. If I had said that, then I might have been a bad person.

    Yet you said:

    …does it make any difference whether I care for my girlfriend or rape her? The answer, it seemed to me at the time, was no, if there is no God then it makes no difference

    “No difference” between “caring for her” and “raping her” without God…

    And you find what I said disturbing?

    Without God: “It makes no difference” you said. Clear as day.

    I am flabbergasted that you can be ‘disturbed” by what I said while at the same time implying that this is the necessary atheistic position on this subject. You offend me, sir. How dare you suggest such a thing.

    Second: I did not rape my girlfriend. She is now married to a prominent academic Christian philosopher, by the way.

    I never suggested otherwise, because as a well adjusted human being – as I take you to be – I accept that you have an understanding of morality even without God.

    Third: to state a hypothetical H and to conclude that if H is true, then morality might be meaningless is not to show disregard for morality.

    What I think you're saying is that you knew raping your girlfriend wasn’t moral behaviour. But you couldn’t justify it without God. Well, I and all other atheists can justify it without God.

    Fourth: at that time I did not believe in God. I chose to believe in God (as I said) partly because my moral beliefs moved me in that direction. That is not giving up morality.

    So you clearly were a moral person before you chose to believe in God (BTW, you can’t simply choose to believe in something) and yet for some reason you needed to add God to the equation. And that’s where we differ. I’m content to be moral without belief in something that “justifies” it.

    So Fleegman, that was inflammatory on your part, despite your protestations.

    No. It wasn’t.

    If you think that you can claim moral high ground over me because I did this, while you continue to practice openly apparent deceit and/or distortion, then I am very, very sad for you.

    Then we can be sad for one another.

  152. Fleegman

    In the heated nature of my last post, I think I left an italics block unclosed. I apologise for not being more careful.

  153. Post
    Author
  154. BillT

    That’s it Fleegman. People go the Jerusalem to inquire about the truth of Christianity and all the people they encounter tell them lies. That’s it. They’ve all conspired together, believers and non believers to misinform the people they talk to about what they know about Christ. That’s quite an insight. And, of course, the people they are talking to just buy all that hook, line and sinker. They’re just rubes after all, willing to believe anything they’re told. No possibility they have any discernment whatsoever. All those things, the miracles, death and resurrection it’s all just the Jerusalem shuffle. This is all somehow just made up stuff. None of it really happened at all. Those Jerusalemites, quite the jokers, huh?

  155. BillT

    And since Tom is off line Fleegman.

    “Well, I and all other atheists can justify it without God.”

    Go ahead. (As they say, talk is cheap.)

  156. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Here’s what needs to come to an end with Fleegman.

    1. Sliding around the issues

    Do you really think I was “changing the subject” to ID because I mentioned it? I mentioned it, as I thought was obvious, because there are parallels, here. Parallels that you yourself testify to only a few sentences later. You clarify your objection to my mentioning of Behe here…

    Yes, I think so. It’s not because you mentioned Behe, but because when you brought him up, you did it without referring to the objection that had been raised.Rather than deal with the one identified false application of the argument from incredulity you switched to talking about Behe. That’s called changing the subject.

    You say later,

    So the positions are entirely equivalent in how they reach their conclusions! And that’s precisely why I brought it up!

    But what you didn’t do in bringing it up is face the objection that I raised before you brought it up. You just named someone else you thought was subject to the incredulity objection. It so happens that that objections was false both times, which again you have refused to face.

    The following is distorted at least three times:

    But here’s the thing. Arguments from incredulity are commonplace. Just because something is an argument of this type doesn’t necessarily mean it’s *wrong* but – and this is a big “but” – you can’t use disbelief of X as proof of God. Like Behe does like so: “This biological construction has specified complexity of a certain level which is in my opinion impossible to explain by the current understanding of evolutionary biology, therefore God.”

    a. You were earlier implying that the argument from incredulity meant the conclusion should not be trusted, so why you’re saying “not necessarily wrong” now is hard to fathom.
    b. Behe’s argument is not an argument from incredulity but an argument of impossibility in principle. As I wrote, “He’s saying it’s vanisingly unlikely due to the nature of things.”
    c. His conclusion from that argument is not God but intelligent design. The argument for God is a further step removed, which he knows how to distinguish (whether either argument is good or not; this isn’t the time to go over that).

    You say we “might have to agree to disagree” whether either of them are using an argument from incredulity. We could: but you would continue to be wrong.

    And when you misrepresent what I’m saying – as you clearly did earlier – what does that make you?

    I did not misrepresent you earlier.

    In your next comment to me:

    I am flabbergasted that you can be ‘disturbed” by what I said while at the same time implying that this is the necessary atheistic position on this subject. You offend me, sir. How dare you suggest such a thing.

    I’m surprised that you’re not flabbergasted at yourself for holding the necessary atheistic position, but then of course you don’t agree that it’s a necessary position for atheists, so I’ll let that go. But here you go getting all disturbed at me for describing what I really meant after you had so thoroughly mangled its meaning. That’s not helpful.

    By the way, and however, this rather undermines your point:

    I’m content to be moral without belief in something that “justifies” it.

    For you, morality is a free-floating category of choice. I think that’s a lot like what I was grappling with before I came to belief in Christ.

    And if I was only “implying” that this was the necessary atheistic position, that’s because I didn’t take the space this time to develop the complete argument to demonstrate it. But you’re being deeply disingenuous: you’ve read that argument enough already.

    But that last point is not the salient one. Rather it is the way you can keep slipping, sliding, evading, changing the subject, equivocating, protesting, and calling out the moral high ground as you do so.

    It gets boring. It’s unproductive. I do not host this blog for the purpose of always re-explaining my position, or for others to have to do so. I do not host this blog for you to be able to re-evade arguments or to pretend you are re-explaining when you are in fact changing the subject, equivocating, or whatever.

    That’s not what this forum is for, and I’m cutting it off with you now. Your participation on this blog is over.

  157. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    “All other atheists” do not agree morality can be justified without God. Think Nietzsche. Or read Richard Joyce, The Evolution of Morality.

    Or think Stalin or Mao. I’m not sure whether either of them actually tried to justify morality, with or without God in their meta-ethical picture. But they sure thought, without belief in God, that morality was optional.

    And if they were right and there is no God, then morality becomes something other than morality. But that’s another paper I’m working on.

  158. BillT

    Come on Tom. Not the facts. You’ll spoil all the fun watching Fleegman justify morality from an atheistic standpoint. I mean just because atheistic thinkers have been denying the existence of morality from the existentialists to Dawkins doesn’t mean Fleegman can’t have a crack at it. I mean next you’ll tell him that “Without God, anything is permissible.” was the rallying cry of the entire existentialist movement.

  159. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Right.

    I just added #11 to the discussion policy:

    “A clearly identifiable lie, or a series of flagrant distortions or misrepresentations of another’s position, may constitute grounds for immediate banning.”

    Can’t imagine why I didn’t say that sooner.

  160. G. Rodrigues

    @Tom Gilson:

    This bit,

    I’m content to be moral without belief in something that “justifies” it.

    For you, morality is a free-floating category of choice.

    is as apt a summary as we could ever wish. Fleegman’s original paragraph says in whole:

    So you clearly were a moral person before you chose to believe in God (BTW, you can’t simply choose to believe in something) and yet for some reason you needed to add God to the equation. And that’s where we differ. I’m content to be moral without belief in something that “justifies” it.

    Moral choices are a free movement of the Will; we *choose* to be a definite *this*. Fleegman even goes on to say that he is content to be moral without any grounded justification, which just means that he has no rational grounds for his moral choices. I do not doubt that he can give some half-assed post hoc rationalization; but this will not be a grounded justification. Morality is an empty word and we can likewise choose to be *that*; what prevents us or compels us to act in certain ways is some sort of calculus of risks and payoffs. Should I rob that little old lady? Is the possibility of getting caught worth the risk? Maybe I am repulsed by the very thought of robbing the little old lady, but then *why* am I repulsed by the thought? Is being a repulsed a grounded justification for not robbing the little old lady? Of course not.

    Fr. Neuhaus ends an article at First Things with the following paragraph:

    But of course they are right about religion and this public order. It is an order that was not conceived and dedicated by atheists, and cannot today be conceived and dedicated anew by atheists. In times of testing—and every time is a time of testing for this American experiment in ordered liberty—a morally convincing account must be given. You may well ask. Convincing to whom? One obvious answer in a democracy, although not the only answer, is this: convincing to a majority of their fellow citizens. Giving such an account is required of good citizens. And that is why, I reluctantly conclude, atheists cannot be good citizens.

    The Fleegmans of this world may well delude themselves that one can be moral without a “morally convincing account”. But by the very fact that they cannot give a compelling rational justification for their moral choices betrays them as i-moral persons. Not only are their moral choices arbitrary, sooner or later they will be i-moral precisely because the reasons to be moral, the “morally compelling account”, are absent. The point here being not so much that they will fail morally — everyone has failed, fails and will fail. Again and again — but why they fail; it is more accurate to say that they do not even fail, because morality for them is not an objective imperative law of human action but a post-hoc rationalization of the movements of the unfettered will. To fail presupposes an objective, transcendent standard against which to measure the failure. How can one fail if the standard is the one set up by our own fevered imaginations?

Comments are closed.