One of the most popular arguments of Christian apologists is the Kalām Cosmological Argument. Kalām is so-named because it originated within Islamic discipline of scholastic theology, known as Ilm al-Kalām, which is commonly abbreviated as Kalām. Its history actually predates both Islam and Christianity, going back (at least) to Plato and Aristotle, who each posited versions of an “Uncaused First Cause”.
Among Christian Theologians, Aquinas and Leibniz each offered arguments for the necessity of a creator as a first cause. But the Kalām argument most commonly used today is the version that has been popularized by William Lane Craig:
Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
The Universe began to exist.
Therefore, the Universe has a cause.
The argument fails on the very first premise. The only conceivable basis for this premise is human experience with things that have come into existence. So this would be a conclusion reached by induction. But inductive arguments, by their very nature, can never produce a conclusion that has 100% confidence. This is because one can never be sure that the samples we haven’t observed will be consistent with those we have observed. As an example, if we have a jar filled with 100 balls, and we inspect 99 of them. If all 99 balls are blue, all we can say about the last ball, is that it is PROBABLY also blue.
Then there’s a question as to what is meant by “begins to exist”. It could mean beginning to exist from nothing, or it could just refer to something that was made or transformed from something else.
As far as we know, the total energy and matter in the universe has not changed since the Big Bang. We know that energy may be converted into matter, and vice versa. But those processes are ones of conversion, not creation. Furthermore, we know that even those conversions can occur with no proximate cause. A prime example is with the case of nuclear decay, which can produce energy and new particles, from existing radioactive isotopes. Nuclear decay occurs randomly and spontaneously, requiring no external agent of any kind.
Humans have no experience whatsoever, with observing ANYTHING beginning to exist from nothing. So even IF every known example of a conversion process could be shown to have a proximate cause, one could not reliably extrapolate it to the “something-from-nothing” case.
The second premise, that the universe began to exist, also has problems. While physicists have traced our universe back to a rapid inflationary period, which occurred over a tiny fraction of a second, just after a cosmic singularity, the discussion of the actual beginning is still problematic. Physics has not yet traced the expansion back to the singularity itself. Some Physicists believe the universe follows a cyclical process of expansion and collapse. Others postulate, per string theory, that our universe is just one of many in a multiverse. And there are other hypotheses as well. But if the cyclic theory is correct, the claim that our universe began to exist would not strictly be true.
So this brings us to a more subtle problem with the overall theme of Kalām. At its heart, Kalām is an appeal to our standard notions of cause and effect (hearkening back to Plato’s and Aristotle’s first cause). But cause and effect, in ALL our experience, is an artifact of Newtonian (or “Classical”) Physics, with actions and reactions driving events, and being ubiquitous in our experiences. But physicists have known for over a century that Newtonian Physics is only an approximation to how the universe really works. It’s an outstanding approximation for nearly everything we experience on a daily basis. But it breaks down at very small (subatomic) scales, and Quantum Physics is required to accurately describe behavior in these domains. And under Quantum Physics, traditional notions of cause and effect are upended. Refer to the following article for details.
Newtonian Physics likewise breaks down under conditions of extreme velocity and/or gravitation, where relativistic effects come into play. The bottom line – under the conditions of the initial singularity, Newtonian Physics and our normal notions of cause-and-effect simply do not apply. For these reasons, Kalām’s attempt to apply traditional notions of causality are embarrassingly trite, though it’s understandable as to why Kalām is so popular among the general public.
While Kalām fails on multiple logical grounds, that’s not the end of its problems. Even if Craig’s arguments were all correct, and the Big Bang DID have a proximate cause, there’s no reason to conclude that the cause was an intelligent agent. Kalām claims to be an argument for an intelligent creator, but it concludes with no such determination.
Christian Apologists often attempt to use the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics as an argument against evolution. The 2nd Law states that total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time, and is constant if and only if all processes are reversible. In simple terms, entropy is the randomness or disorder in a system, and is inversely related to the usable energy. So the 2nd Law demands that in a closed system, disorder can never decrease, and usable energy can never increase.
Apologists argue that evolution represents an INCREASE in order, and therefore a DECREASE in entropy. And this is a reasonable conclusion. But in spite of being reminded of this over and over again, they have willfully ignored the conditions under which the 2nd Law applies – i.e. that it is for an isolated system (a system that has no mass or energy input or output).
We know, of course, that all life on Earth takes in energy from the outside. Plants absorb sunlight, and convert it into chemical energy via photosynthesis. Animals consume plants or other animals for their energy. The result of this fact, is that the 2nd Law simply doesn’t apply to biological organisms, since they are NOT isolated systems. The entropy of the universe increases through biological processes, but that is not the case for the organisms themselves.
Ignoring the criterion for an isolated system is akin to referring to the statement that “no woman who has had a full hysterectomy can bear children”, and declaring that no woman can bear children.
The 2nd Law argument against evolution is among the absolute worst of modern apologetics. At best, it demonstrates a glaring lack of understanding of the science. At worst, it is blatantly dishonest.
While this isn’t strictly a apologetics issue, it is loosely related, since the Old Testament has numerous passages that only make sense if interpreted within a flat Earth paradigm. And no small number of flat earthers justify their fierce defense of their bizarre beliefs, by pointing to the Bible. But to be clear:
The vast majority of Christians and Jews reject the flat earth nonsense.
Flat Earthers are by no means limited to the ranks of religious zealots.
But I’ve added this post here because of that loose relationship, and frankly, because this is my forum, so it is my prerogative to do so.
Flat Earthers have, in numerous forums, published various “proofs” that the earth is flat. All of those, as far as I know, have been soundly refuted. Certainly none of the many flat Earth “proofs” I’ve looked at hold even a little bit of water. Therefore I won’t in this post, discuss the reasons that we know that the Earth is, in fact, (roughly) spherical. Instead, I’ll focus on the conspiracy theory that flat Earthers claim is behind the spherical Earth. Frankly, even if one didn’t have the slightest understanding of the actual science, the utter absurdity of the conspiracy theory alone, should be sufficient cause to reject all their nonsense.
Flat Earthers, reject virtually everything NASA has done. In their view, there was no moon landing. All the space photos of the Earth have been faked. On top of that, GPS is rigged, to make pilots think they are flying in straight lines around the globe, when they are actually flying curved paths above a disc. Likewise, any other evidence against the flat Earth has been faked. The motives for the conspiracy are presumed to be financial in nature.
My background – I have a B.S. in Physics, an M.S. in Systems Engineering, and retired in 2017 after 34 years as a Systems Engineer, working for a defense contractor. During that career, I served as Chief Engineer on two programs.
The programs I worked on included a missile system, a passive radar detection and location system, and two airborne active radar systems. And I consulted on several others. All of these systems were designed to work with a roughly spherical Earth (henceforth, I’ll refer to it simply as a “spherical Earth” for simplicity, though in fact, the systems actually depended upon much more accurate ellipsoidal Earth models). Since the systems were designed for a spherical Earth, they would have performed horribly on a flat Earth. They would have been dismal failures, and would never have made it into production, let alone be successfully employed. But they all performed as expected, and as required by our customers.
So the flat Earthers, would no doubt declare that (as with the folks at NASA), I and hundreds of of other engineers who worked on these systems must be part of the cabal that is behind the conspiracy. And if that’s true, the same must also be true for tens (or hundreds) of thousands of engineers who work on other defense, aeronautics, space, navigation systems, etc. in the US, Russia, China, France, the U.K., India, ETC.
Of course, to do so, we’d have to design these systems to work with flat Earth geometry and Physics, but convince all those who didn’t have a “need to know” that we were using spherical earth geometry and physics. So that would require that we have some way to know who’s part of the cabal, and who is not, lest we slip up and reveal the truth to the general public. That alone would be a daunting challenge.
Most of us kept textbooks on our shelves at work. As a Physics major, I naturally had some Physics texts. But clearly, I could not leave flat Earth Physics books out in plain sight. Rather, these would have to be the “phony” spherical Earth Physics books. We’d have to be experts in spherical Earth Physics, which we were taught in school, and which we’d discuss in open meetings, conferences, etc. But we’d obviously also have to be experts in the “real” flat Earth Physics, in order to design systems that actually worked. So that would necessitate having some publishers in the cabal, who would print the flat earth physics books for us, along with flat earth books on GPS, radar, etc. These would have to be distributed with extraordinary care, to assure that none of them were ever seen by the wrong people. And we also would therefore require Ultra Top Secret vaults, to store them, and in which to read them.
The above challenges don’t just apply to the contractor engineering staffs. Contractors work closely under the oversight of their customers, who have their own engineers and scientists.
And of course, universities and research institutes around the world would also be involved. Physicists around the world would have to be part of the cabal, most of them spending entire careers, advancing the state of the phony spherical Earth Physics. Any who are not part of the cabal, would have to be watched closely, to make sure they didn’t stumble across the truth. Others in the cabal would labor in secret, on advancing the real flat Earth Physics. Other disciplines be similarly involved – geology, climatology, etc.
So when all is said and done, this cabal would have been in existence for many decades, involving multiple generations of scientists and engineers in universities, as well as aerospace and defense contractors, DoD agencies, universities, research institutes, etc. throughout the world, with numbers likely in the hundreds of thousands of members. Not one among those hundreds of thousands has leaked any flat earth textbooks or design documents.
Obviously the extraordinary efforts to develop, perpetuate, and protect this conspiracy would have staggering costs. The presumed financial motivation for the claimed conspiracy clearly holds no more water than any of their supposed proofs. It’s beyond absurd.
And somehow, the ranks of flat Earthers are conspicuous in the absence of disgruntled former engineers. Instead, the various flat Earth groups are populated by those who are scientifically illiterate, or at best, semiliterate. They are poster children for the Dunning-Kruger effect.
For reference, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. Essentially, low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence.
The Argument from Morality has been framed in a variety of ways. The most prevalent today is as formulated by William Lane Craig, or some similar variant.
Craig states the moral argument as follows:
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.
I’ll start with Premise 2, because I believe it has the greatest problems.
Craig expects us to accept his premise that objective moral values exist. But the fact is that human views on morality have varied widely throughout history, and have (with culture as a whole) evolved over time. This includes even proscriptions that we tend to think of as universal, such as against murder. But among primitive tribes, it’s not unusual to prohibit murder of those within ones own tribe, while allowing or encouraging the murder of those from other tribes. In “The Selfish Gene”, Richard Dawkins discussed an evolutionary basis for these mores.
Even today, “civilized” people justify war and/or genocide against other groups with different race, ethnicity, religion, etc. These sentiments are little different from primitive tribalism, and are therefore commonly described in those terms. Clearly, there are many who believe murder to be moral under certain conditions. In one fairly extreme example, in a NY Times online survey, 42% of respondents said that they would go back in time to kill baby Hitler if they could.
In The Myth of Objective Morality, I discussed the facts that: A) Christians can’t even agree among themselves on numerous significant matters of morality.
B) The Bible clearly condones several behaviors, such as rape, slavery, genocide, etc, that most modern civilized people believe are abhorrent. This is just one bit of evidence for the evolution of moral standards. And any reasonably objective person would agree that this fact should disqualify the Bible as an objective moral standard.
C) The vast majority of Christians don’t actually use the Bible as an absolute source for moral guidance. Most reject the view that rape, slavery, and genocide are moral behaviors. And most likewise have no issue with remarriage by divorcees, in spite of Jesus’ condemnation of it. So nearly all Christians use the Bible as a Chinese menu for moral decisions, selecting the parts they like, and ignoring the rest.
So the Christian apologists’ claims that absolute morality exists, are belied by their own rejection of various Biblical teachings.
Of course, the fact that moral views are not universal doesn’t necessarily mean that there can’t be an objective right and wrong. One could argue that objective right and wrong exist, even if people can’t agree on it. The obvious problem with such an argument is the absence of any proof or logical basis for the assertion. The theists will make that claim, based upon their belief that their god defines absolute morality. That opinion is useless to this discussion, since it results in a naked application of circular reasoning (“We know we have absolute morality because God declares it to be so” and “we know God exists because we have absolute morality.”).
So for the purposes of the Argument from Morality, we would require the premise to be proven through non-theistic means. Craig and other apologists attempt to use item B above (the fact that atheists make moral judgements against the Bible) as supposed proof that even most atheists believe that SOME moral absolutes exist. There are two problems with Craig’s response:
Firstly, all of us, whether theists or atheists, have both the capability and duty to make moral judgements. We’re not required to declare our judgements to be right or wrong in any absolute sense. At most, we should hopefully be able to explain our judgements.
Secondly, even if the atheist who criticizes Biblical morality believes that the Bible is OBJECTIVELY flawed, the obvious conclusion is that he is rejecting Premise 1 (the claim that if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.). As one example, the secular humanist believes that moral behaviors are ones which seek to avoid or minimize harm to others, and/or to help others (no god required). Dan Barker wrote about this extensively in “Mere Morality”, written as a response to C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”.
While I won’t declare this moral framework to necessarily be the definition of “absolute morality”, there are no doubt some who would. It certainly COULD be justified by arguing that humanism is the only rational basis for HUMANS to make moral decisions. I don’t make that claim, but I am personally convinced that it’s far superior to the musings of primitive men.
In conclusion, neither of Craig’s premises are supported. Both premises are statements of opinion, rather than fact, and hence his Argument from Morality fails.
A topic commonly discussed by Christian apologists is that of morality. There are three common arguments:
They declare that the atheist has no basis for making moral decisions, whereas Christianity has an absolute basis for morality, given to us by God in the Bible.
This argument is often supplemented by accusations that the atheist is being logically inconsistent when they make ANY judgements of right and wrong.
Many Christians will further claim that atheists reject god because they wish to be free of moral constraints. Those Christians will ask, “Without a belief in god, and the threat of eternal damnation, what is to stop humans from devolving into wanton murderers, rapists, etc?”
This article focuses on the first claim – that the Bible provides the sole basis for objective morality
Note: all Bible references in this article are from the NRSV.
On Objective Morality
Christians’ claim that the Bible provides their guidance in objective morality has two major problems:
First, Christians themselves can’t agree on several significant moral issues, such as abortion and homosexuality. Christians on both sides of the abortion issue bolster their case with Bible verses in support of their respective positions.
Second, the Bible condones a number of practices that most modern civilized people (including most Christians) abhor. This includes rape, slavery, genocide, and the subjugation of women.
So the undeniable fact is that few if any Christians actually treat the Bible as their go-to source in matters of morality. Instead, it’s treated like a Chinese menu, from which they cherry-pick their positions in various matters of morality, ignoring any that don’t fit with their own worldview, and inventing other positions that are absolutely lacking any sort of Biblical basis.
Remarriage by Divorcees
One of the best examples of Christians ignoring Biblical teachings is in the case of remarriage by divorcees. Jesus himself unambiguously condemned remarriage by divorcees. From Mark 10:1-10
1 He left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.
2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
In spite of this condemnation, most modern Christians, including many of the most ardent Bible thumpers, see no moral problem with divorcees remarrying. It is commonplace among their ranks, and I’ve yet to hear of a Christian baker or florist refusing to hire out their services for weddings involving heterosexual divorcees (as they have for same-sex weddings). So in this case at least, most Christians clearly don’t really believe the Bible provides any sort of absolute moral guidance. I’ve raised this issue numerous times with conservative Christians, and have yet to hear a single meaningful response as to why they ignore Jesus’ condemnation of remarriage by divorcees, while being unyielding on the subject of homosexuality.
The Old Testament (Leviticus chapters 18 and 20) declares homosexual acts to be an abomination. From Leviticus 18:22-23:
22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. 23 You shall not have sexual relations with any animal and defile yourself with it, nor shall any woman give herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it: it is perversion.
Leviticus 20:13 defines the penalty for being caught in homosexual acts:
13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.
Interestingly, we can see that the author of Leviticus only had a problem with homosexual acts between men. Note that immediately following his proscription of male homosexuality, he made it a point to explicitly prohibit bestiality for both men and women, so it would seem that lesbian acts were deemed to be perfectly acceptable.
There is also the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis Chapters 18 and 19), which were destroyed due to wickedness. A central part of that story is the attempted gang rape of Lot’s male visitors by a mob of men in Sodom. There is considerable debate among Christians as to the significance of this story, and what “wicked” behaviors ultimately led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But certainly it seems consistent with the overall Old Testament views on male homosexuality.
Jesus himself never said a word on the topic of homosexuality, though I’ve frequently seen opponents of same-sex marriage point to Mark 10:6-7 (part of the section that I referenced earlier in which Jesus condemned divorcees remarrying) claiming that Jesus was overtly defining marriage to be between one man and one woman.
6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,
They infer that since Jesus described ONLY marriages between man and woman, that no other types were allowed. Of course, reading those same verses, and using the same strict logic, we would also have to conclude that a man may never leave his parents except to be married (since Jesus listed that one reason, and one reason only). Clearly there are few Christians who would infer or follow that extreme (and silly) rule.
But there are other New Testament passages that also DO appear to condemn homosexuality, though there are varying opinions on those among Biblical scholars. These include:
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Since I am NOT a Bible scholar, I won’t engage in that debate. I will just summarize that the Old Testament clearly condemns homosexual acts between men, as does (apparently) the Apostle Paul, while Jesus was silent on the topic. In spite of that, many millions of Christians don’t view those proscriptions as absolute moral guidance, but rather (correctly in my opinion) as being just a product of the culture and the times. Conservative Christians, in particular, generally take a hard line in condemning homosexuality (both male and female, in spite of the fact that the Bible condemns only the former).
Marriage – One Man and One Woman?
An argument frequently made by conservative Christians in their opposition to same sex marriage, is that marriage is defined in the Bible to be between one man and one women. But that claim is patently false. David, Solomon, Jacob, Abraham, etc. all had multiple wives and/or concubines. Solomon is reported to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
1 Kings 11:1-3
1 King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, 2 from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the Israelites, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods”; Solomon clung to these in love. 3 Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.
2 and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife.
1 When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” 2 Jacob became very angry with Rachel and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” 3 Then she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees and that I too may have children through her.” 4 So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife; and Jacob went in to her. 5 And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. 6 Then Rachel said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son”; therefore she named him Dan.7 Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. 8 Then Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed”; so she named him Naphtali.
9 When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Then Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 And Leah said, “Good fortune!” so she named him Gad. 12 Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 And Leah said, “Happy am I! For the women will call me happy”; so she named him Asher.
There are many other such examples. Apologists have made various attempts to explain these, such as:
God did not condone these, but tolerated them. But there’s no Biblical support for this claim.
God condoned these, because they were required to grow and propagate the Jewish population, etc. This is an argument for moral relativism, in direct contradiction to the claims for absolute morality.
Polygamy was commonplace during those times. This argument sidesteps the question as to whether polygamy is morally acceptable, but appears to be another argument for moral relativism.
The Old Testament unequivocally condones rape, as long as the victim is:
Not married, and
22 If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.
23 If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, 24 you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
25 But if the man meets the engaged woman in the open country, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 You shall do nothing to the young woman; the young woman has not committed an offense punishable by death, because this case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor. 27 Since he found her in the open country, the engaged woman may have cried for help, but there was no one to rescue her.
28 If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, 29 the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.
So we have several specific cases here:
A man is caught having intercourse with a married woman (verse 22): Both are executed, with no apparent regard for whether it was consensual.
A man is caught in town having intercourse with a betrothed woman (verses 23-24): The presumption is that it was consensual (since she did not cry out), and they both are executed.
A man is caught outside of town having intercourse with a betrothed woman (verses 25-27): Since it happened outside of town, she is given the benefit of the doubt (as to whether she cried out), so only the man is executed.
A man seizes a non-betrothed virgin, and is caught having intercourse with her. Well in this case, his “punishment” is to marry the object of his desires.
Christians have claimed that this does not condone rape, but rather it was the merciful solution for a woman who had been sullied, and who would likely have trouble finding a husband as a result. But that argument fails on two counts.
1. Few women would welcome being forced to marry their rapist, so in that sense, it’s hardly a mercy.
2. As noted previously, most modern civilized people view rape to be an evil act, regardless of the marital or betrothal status of the victim. So unless we’re all just misguided on that, the more appropriate “objective moral guidance” would have been for God to direct that:
Rape is unequivocally wrong, and
A rape victim is blameless, and remains unsullied. PERIOD.
EVERY argument against those points that I’ve seen, has implicitly been an argument for moral relativism, and against the use of the Bible as an objective moral standard.
1 The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2 He said, “Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the square.” 3 But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; 5 and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” 6 Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7 and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”
Yes, this is in one of the same stories that conservative Christians point to, as justification for their stance on homosexuality. But in this case, Lot (our hero) offered up his virgin daughters to be gang-raped (verse 8). Lot, of course, was spared from the destruction of the city, having been judged to be a righteous man (In spite of offering his daughters to the mob). But as we’ve already seen, the Old Testament condones rape of women, as long as they’re neither married nor betrothed.
31 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Avenge the Israelites on the Midianites; afterward you shall be gathered to your people.” 3 So Moses said to the people, “Arm some of your number for the war, so that they may go against Midian, to execute the Lord’s vengeance on Midian. 4 You shall send a thousand from each of the tribes of Israel to the war.” 5 So out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe were conscripted, twelve thousand armed for battle. 6 Moses sent them to the war, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar the priest,[a] with the vessels of the sanctuary and the trumpets for sounding the alarm in his hand. 7 They did battle against Midian, as the Lord had commanded Moses, and killed every male. 8 They killed the kings of Midian: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian, in addition to others who were slain by them; and they also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. 9 The Israelites took the women of Midian and their little ones captive; and they took all their cattle, their flocks, and all their goods as booty. 10 All their towns where they had settled, and all their encampments, they burned, 11 but they took all the spoil and all the booty, both people and animals. 12 Then they brought the captives and the booty and the spoil to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the Israelites, at the camp on the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.
13 Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the congregation went to meet them outside the camp. 14 Moses became angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. 15 Moses said to them, “Have you allowed all the women to live? 16 These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the Lord in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the Lord. 17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. 18 But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.
So this story covers two atrocities: genocide against the Midianites (discussed later in more detail), and rape of their virgin captives (verse 18), with the rape commanded by God’s own prophet Moses.
The New Testament, as far as I’m aware, is silent on the topic of rape. So the only reasonable conclusion is that the Bible condones rape, as long as the victim is female, and neither married nor betrothed. The harsh position on rape of married and betrothed women appears to be due to the perceived harm to the husbands and fiancées, rather than to the actual victims.
Fortunately, even those who claim that the Bible is our only source for matters of morality will generally agree that rape is an immoral act.
In the rules for warfare, Deuteronomy 20:16-17 states:
16 But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. 17 You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded,
I previously mentioned the genocide inflicted by Moses’ army against the Midianites. But this was just the tip of the iceberg. The book of Joshua chronicles an entire campaign of genocide against the kingdoms of Canaan. Moses and Joshua led the slaughter of most of the people of Canaan, summarized in Joshua chapter 12:
The Kings Conquered by Moses
12 Now these are the kings of the land, whom the Israelites defeated, whose land they occupied beyond the Jordan toward the east, from the Wadi Arnon to Mount Hermon, with all the Arabah eastward: 2 King Sihon of the Amorites who lived at Heshbon, and ruled from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Wadi Arnon, and from the middle of the valley as far as the river Jabbok, the boundary of the Ammonites, that is, half of Gilead, 3 and the Arabah to the Sea of Chinneroth eastward, and in the direction of Beth-jeshimoth, to the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea,[a] southward to the foot of the slopes of Pisgah; 4 and King Og[b] of Bashan, one of the last of the Rephaim, who lived at Ashtaroth and at Edrei 5 and ruled over Mount Hermon and Salecah and all Bashan to the boundary of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and over half of Gilead to the boundary of King Sihon of Heshbon. 6 Moses, the servant of the Lord, and the Israelites defeated them; and Moses the servant of the Lord gave their land for a possession to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.
The Kings Conquered by Joshua
7 The following are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the Israelites defeated on the west side of the Jordan, from Baal-gad in the valley of Lebanon to Mount Halak, that rises toward Seir (and Joshua gave their land to the tribes of Israel as a possession according to their allotments, 8 in the hill country, in the lowland, in the Arabah, in the slopes, in the wilderness, and in the Negeb, the land of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites):
To be clear, Joshua did not just take the kings. He slaughtered every man, woman, and child in those kingdoms. From Joshua 11:19-20:
19 There was not a town that made peace with the Israelites, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon; all were taken in battle. 20 For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts so that they would come against Israel in battle, in order that they might be utterly destroyed, and might receive no mercy, but be exterminated, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.
But Joshua did leave some Canaanites alive, for the sole reason that he eventually became too old to finish the job. So God handled the rest, by just driving them out of Canaan. One must wonder why God didn’t just drive EVERYONE out of Canaan in the first place. This is recounted in Joshua chapter 13:
The Parts of Canaan Still Unconquered
1 Now Joshua was old and advanced in years; and the Lord said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and very much of the land still remains to be possessed. 2 This is the land that still remains: all the regions of the Philistines, and all those of the Geshurites 3 (from the Shihor, which is east of Egypt, northward to the boundary of Ekron, it is reckoned as Canaanite; there are five rulers of the Philistines, those of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron), and those of the Avvim 4 in the south; all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that belongs to the Sidonians, to Aphek, to the boundary of the Amorites, 5 and the land of the Gebalites, and all Lebanon, toward the east, from Baal-gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo-hamath, 6 all the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon to Misrephoth-maim, even all the Sidonians. I will myself drive them out from before the Israelites; only allot the land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you.
The genocide against the peoples of Canaan was purportedly all at God’s direction. And for that reason, many Christians (Evangelicals at least) defend it, because God the creator has the right to kill (or order to be killed) anyone he chooses. The Great Flood would, of course set the record for genocidal acts if it was actually true.
So those apologists rely on the “God told me to do it” defense, which has been used by various religions and individuals for all of human history to justify all sorts of evil and barbarity. Indeed, the same people who defend the genocide of the Old Testament, are harshly critical of the same behaviors perpetrated by some Muslims (which is also purportedly done at God’s direction). The “God told me to do it” defense, if employed today in a murder trial, would at best land the perpetrator in a mental hospital. In any case, most modern, civilized people view genocide as immoral for any reason. That includes most Christians (Evangelicals perhaps notwithstanding).
So this is a case where many Christians, especially those who are the strongest believers that the Bible is THE source for matters of morality, reject the Biblical position, and arbitrarily declare abortion to be immoral.
The Bible unequivocally condones slavery. Conservative Christians frequently will falsely justify it with the claim that it wasn’t slavery as practiced in the US South, but rather was just an indentured servitude, established as a means to pay debts. But that’s only partially true. Jews could be kept as indentured servants. And Mosaic law forbade the enslavement of other Jews as slaves, but non-Jews were fair game. Deuteronomy 20:10-11 describes, in the the laws for waging war, a directive to enslave any who surrender to the army of the Israelites.
10 When you draw near to a town to fight against it, offer it terms of peace. 11 If it accepts your terms of peace and surrenders to you, then all the people in it shall serve you at forced labor.
Exodus 21:1-11 institutionalized slavery, laying out the rules and regulations in the conduct of slavery.
The Law concerning Slaves
1 These are the ordinances that you shall set before them:
2 When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. 3 If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone. 5 But if the slave declares, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out a free person,” 6 then his master shall bring him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.
7 When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. 8 If she does not please her master, who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt unfairly with her. 9 If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. 10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife. 11 And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out without debt, without payment of money.
Exodus 21, verses 20-21 and 26-27 address the penalties (or lack thereof) for violence against a slave.
20 When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.
26 When a slaveowner strikes the eye of a male or female slave, destroying it, the owner shall let the slave go, a free person, to compensate for the eye. 27 If the owner knocks out a tooth of a male or female slave, the slave shall be let go, a free person, to compensate for the tooth.
So there can be no question that slavery was condoned and firmly institutionalized in the Old Testament. The New Testament has several mentions of slavery. Jesus told the Parable of the Unforgiving Slave, and The Parable of the Faithful Slave
23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. 51 He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In their Epistles, Paul and Peter repeatedly tell slaves to obey their masters, and/or masters to treat their slaves kindly.
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; 6 not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, 8 knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.
9 And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.
22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, 24 since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve[l] the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality.
1 Timothy 6:1-2
1 Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. 2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved.
9 Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, 10 not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior.
1 Peter 18-25
18 Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. 19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
1 Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
Then, in his letter to Philemon, Paul says he is returning Philemon’s slave, Onesimus, but encourages Philemon to set Onesimus free.
8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9 yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
Onesimus was obviously a Christian, and a close personal friend of Paul, so Paul’s request to Philemon was an isolated instance. In all other cases, Jesus, Paul, and Peter tacitly condone the institution of slavery. None of them indicate any issues with the institution of slavery (whether it be the enslavement of non-Jews, or indentured servants). None of them even hint that slavery, in any form, is wrong.
So in summary, the Old Testament codified the institution of slavery, and the New Testament condoned it. This fact was routinely used by US slave holders to defend the practice, and was almost certainly a factor in the establishment of slavery in the American colonies, beginning in 1508, and its persistence here, for over 350 years.
But contrary to the Biblical stance, most modern civilized people, including most Christians, view slavery to be abhorrent, no matter how kindly slaves are treated.
Subjugation of Women
The Old Testament is firmly patriarchal in nature. The Old Testament views women as little more than property. As discussed above:
A virgin who is raped is forced to marry her rapist.
Men are allowed to have many wives, but a woman may have but one husband.
Lot offered his virgin daughters to be gang raped, rather than allow his male visitors to be gang raped by a mob.
The Ten Commandments clearly reflect the view that a woman is the property of her husband (Exodus 20:17):
17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Women can be sold by their fathers into slavery, as concubines (Exodus 21:7-11):
7 When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. 8 If she does not please her master, who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt unfairly with her. 9 If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. 10 If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife. 11 And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out without debt, without payment of money.
And women are consistently viewed as being inferior and subservient to men.
16 To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
A husband could divorce his wife, but a wife could not divorce her husband. And a woman who is divorced and then remarries, is viewed as having been defiled, such that she may not remarry her first husband if her second husband dies or divorces her. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)
Laws concerning Marriage and Divorce
1 Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house 2 and goes off to become another man’s wife. 3 Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); 4 her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession.
The New Testament likewise views women as subservient to men, having been created from man, and FOR man. They are overtly told to be submissive to their husbands, and told to remain silent in church. Some relevant verses below:
22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior.
1 Corinthians 11:1-9
1 I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you. 3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, 5 but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil. 7 For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man. 8 Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
34 Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
1 Timothy 2:13-15
13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
3 Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.
1 Peter 3:1-2
1 Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.
On this topic, there certainly are many Christians, especially Evangelical Christians, who follow these teachings, but we also have no shortage of female Evangelical preachers and televangelists, who apparently reject the notion that it is unseemly for a woman to teach men on matters of faith.
But many other Christians, as well as a great many non-Christians take serious issue with the notion that women should be treated as second class citizens.
As discussed, while Christian apologists claim that the Bible is the source for objective morality, not even they actually believe that, as evidenced by the fact that most of those same apologists reject Biblical teachings on rape, slavery, divorce, and abortion (at a minimum). And they can’t agree among themselves on what the Bible actually teaches on a number of matters (thereby rendering the Bible useless on those matters).
And the Bible condones a number of practices that most modern civilized people (including most Christians) abhor. This includes behaviors such as rape, slavery, and genocide. That fact alone should disqualify the Bible as a moral standard.
When one reads the Bible objectively, its moral teachings show no evidence that they were bestowed upon us by a loving, moral, just God. Rather, they show every indication that they were the inventions of ancient men, as the simple products of their time and culture.
It is absurd to think that modern man should be ruled by the primitive morals of ancient men. We can do far better.
It would be a mistake to declare the Bible to be either pro-choice or pro-life. While there are several verses relevant to the discussion, none condemn abortion, and none suggest that women should have a choice in the matter. In fact, since the Bible is overtly patriarchal throughout, any decisions with respect to the unborn fetus are left solely up to men. The Bible DOES however have a number of verses that deal with the “personhood” of the unborn, and the killing of the unborn. These verses clearly show that the unborn were not viewed as living persons, nor was killing them considered to be murder, with the possible exception of late-term fetuses. In fact, there are multiple instances in which the killing of the unborn was commanded or otherwise forced.
In spite of that, conservative Christians claim that the Bible supports their “pro-life” agenda, referencing a number of verses, none of which actually discuss abortion or the Biblical perspective on the “personhood” of the unborn. I’ll present each of them in turn. All Bible verses quoted here are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
1) Jeremiah 1:4-5
4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
But the first part of the quote merely indicates the biblical belief that God was involved in the creation of life. The 2nd part makes it clear that it’s talking about one specific person (Jeremiah). The verse doesn’t say WHEN Jeremiah was consecrated – just sometime before he was born (perhaps only moments before). More importantly, while it DOES indicate that Jeremiah had special status, it implies that the rest of us did not.
2) Psalm 139:13-16
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
But all verses 13-15 say (once again) is that God is directly involved in the creation of the embryo. But according to the Christian doctrine, God was involved in the creation of every plant and animal (including some truly objectionable ones, such as parasites) ever born, many of which we routinely kill. Verse 16 teaches only the standard Christian doctrine that God is omniscient.
3) Psalm 127:3-5
3 Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth. 5 Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
This just says, in short, that it’s good to have lots of sons. It says nothing about the unborn.
4) Genesis 1:27
27 So God created humankind[a] in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
This just describes the original creation of Adam and Eve (as adults). It has nothing to do with the unborn or abortion.
5) Psalm 8:5-7
1 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory in the heavens. 2 Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. 3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?[c]
5 You have made them[d] a little lower than the angels and crowned them[f] with glory and honor. 6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their[g] feet: 7 all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, 8 the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
So this Psalm merely says that humankind is important to God – beneath the angels, and above the animals. There is no mention of the unborn.
6) Job 31:15
15 Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?
The “them” in this verse refers to Job’s servants. The point of the verse is just to affirm that he and his servants are equal in the eyes of God, by pointing out that (per standard Judeo-Christian theology) God is involved in the creation of all life.
7) Psalm 22:10
10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God..
To understand this verse, it must be considered in context. Here is the Psalm 22:1-11
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; 8 “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. 10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. 11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
The Psalm begins with the lament that the author felt abandoned by God. Whereas God watched over and protected his ancestors, the author believes that he has now been forsaken, in spite of having previously been protected by God. This has nothing to do with the status of the unborn. Some other translations use the words such as “…from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” which imply that it’s talking about the unborn, but while the word “from” could be interpreted that way, the context from verse 9 and the first part of verse 10 suggests otherwise (i.e. that it means “from the moment of birth”).
8) Isaiah 49:15
15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
As with most of the preceding verses, this has nothing to do with the unborn.
So to summarize, the above verses are either totally irrelevant to the abortion debate, having nothing to do with the status of the unborn, or they merely attest to the theological view that God creates the embryo, and God is all-knowing, and therefore knows everything about the life of each person. None of these verses give any insight as to whether the developing embryo/fetus is truly viewed as a LIVING person.
Passages supporting Pro-Choice position
On the other hand, there are other verses that shed light on the question of whether the unborn were viewed as living persons. One of the most significant and relevant is in Exodus, where it specified a simple fine for causing a miscarriage.
Exodus 21: 22-24
22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. 23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
These verses (as translated in the NRSV) show that the Bible views the killing of an unborn child as a minor matter – punishable by paying a fine to the father. Other translations give a different sense altogether. Some translations, such as the New International Version (NIV) refer to premature birth, rather than miscarriage. Still others, such as King James, use the phrase “her fruit depart from her”, which is ambiguous.
A more detailed analysis indicates that none of these are quite correct. “The Septuagint Has the Correct Translation of Exodus 21:23”, by Thomas McDaniel, argues that the language for all of those translations was flawed, because they were using the Masoretic texts, which had diverged from the original Hebrew, as indicated by the language of the much earlier Septuagint. The Masoretic texts date to the 9th century, CE, while the Septuagint is a set of translations from the original Hebrew into Koine Greek, dating from the mid 3rd century BCE. McDaniel references Brenton’s translation from the Septuagint:
“And if two men strive and smite a woman with child, and her child be born imperfectly formed, he shall be forced to pay a penalty: as the woman’s husband may lay upon him, he shall pay with a valuation. But if it be perfectly formed, he shall give life for life.”
McDaniel further explains this text as distinguishing between the early term embryo/fetus (which is not yet in human form) and later-term fetus, which is fully formed as a human. So according to McDaniel, miscarriage in the former case would warrant a fine, while the latter case would be punished by “life for life”, as would death to the mother, of course. The full text of McDaniel’s analysis can be found at:
Interpretation of these verses has been, and will doubtless continue to be a subject of intense debate. I’m certainly not qualified to argue one position over another, however, I don’t believe that the premature birth interpretation makes much sense logically. If the child is born prematurely, but alive and healthy, there would be no need to pay a fine. McDaniel’s analysis makes far more logical sense.
The Bible has other relevant verses which indicate that even newborn babies (under 1 month) are of no value:
27 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When a person makes an explicit vow to the Lord concerning the equivalent for a human being, 3 the equivalent for a male shall be: from twenty to sixty years of age the equivalent shall be fifty shekels of silver by the sanctuary shekel. 4 If the person is a female, the equivalent is thirty shekels. 5 If the age is from five to twenty years of age, the equivalent is twenty shekels for a male and ten shekels for a female. 6 If the age is from one month to five years, the equivalent for a male is five shekels of silver, and for a female the equivalent is three shekels of silver.
This indicates that no value is attached to babies under 1 month.
14 Then the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying: 15 Enroll the Levites by ancestral houses and by clans. You shall enroll every male from a month old and upward.
So here a census is commanded, but excludes babies under 1 month. Newborn babies aren’t even considered to be people.
And then there is the forced abortion for an unfaithful pregnant wife:
16 Then the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord; 17 the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. 18 The priest shall set the woman before the Lord, dishevel the woman’s hair, and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. 19 Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, “If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse. 20 But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had intercourse with you,” 21 —let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman—“the Lord make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge; 22 now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”
Hosea,describes punishment to be visited by God upon the Israelites, including killing their children and causing the women to miscarry.
10 Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree, in its first season, I saw your ancestors. But they came to Baal-peor, and consecrated themselves to a thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved. 11 Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird— no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! 12 Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them until no one is left. Woe to them indeed when I depart from them! 13 Once I saw Ephraim as a young palm planted in a lovely meadow,[d] but now Ephraim must lead out his children for slaughter. 14 Give them, O Lord— what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.15 Every evil of theirs began at Gilgal; there I came to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their officials are rebels.
15 Every evil of theirs began at Gilgal; there I came to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their officials are rebels.
16 Ephraim is stricken, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit. Even though they give birth, I will kill the cherished offspring of their womb.
Then in Chapter 13, Hosea describes God’s wrath against Samaria:
16 Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword, their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.
Other Biblical verses refer to being stillborn as a preferred fate for some people:
3 A man may beget a hundred children, and live many years; but however many are the days of his years, if he does not enjoy life’s good things, or has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 For it comes into vanity and goes into darkness, and in darkness its name is covered; 5 moreover it has not seen the sun or known anything; yet it finds rest rather than he.
16 Or why was I not buried like a stillborn child, like an infant that never sees the light? 17 There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. 18 There the prisoners are at ease together; they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster. 19 The small and the great are there, and the slaves are free from their masters.
It’s clear that the verses that pro-lifers reference in support of their opposition to abortion are all irrelevant to that discussion. And there are a numerous other, far more relevant verses, that contradict any notion that the fetus (especially the early-term fetus) is a living person. If the Bible supports any position on abortion, it would be on the pro-choice side. While the Bible never gives women a choice in the matter (consistent with the highly patriarchal nature of the Bible), forced abortions are prescribed in some cases, accidentally causing a miscarriage (at least in the early-term) is just a minor civil matter, and the Bible places no value on even newborn children.
While I have read and studied the Bible extensively, I am not a Bible scholar. I have not studied ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. I maintain, however, that this is a minor issue. The fact is, numerous true scholars have collaborated on the various Bible versions we have today, and in most cases, their translation efforts (with other supporting information, analyses, etc.) should be sufficient to understand the written words. In fact, there is a strong case to be made that IF Christianity is the true religion, surely the kind and just God would not require every one of the world’s billions of people to be scholars of those ancient languages, in order to understand his written Word. Christian theology tells us that:
God inspired the original authors to faithfully inscribe his Word
God, through prayer and the Holy Spirit, brings us enlightenment, so that we may understand his Word.
We have every reason to assume that the Bible translators made sincere efforts to properly understand the source texts, and that they prayed for enlightenment. Of course, not all translators had access to the same source materials. The Dead Sea Scrolls, for example, were not found until long after the King James Bible was first created. So what’s left to most folks (believers and nonbelievers) is to choose a respected translation for most of their readings, referring to other versions from time-to-time, to get different perspectives. For this reason, I normally use the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). Based on my limited research, the NRSV is commonly used by a majority of American Biblical Scholars.
Christians tend to be very passionate about which versions they like or don’t like, and in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll note that Evangelical Christians, in particular, often criticize the NRSV for having a liberal slant. But I take that complaint as being worth a grain of salt, since in my debates with Evangelicals, they consistently seem to view Jesus’ own words as being too liberal. They won’t come out and say that, but they will argue that Jesus’ teachings don’t apply to just about every situation we debate, as they take a consistently conservative stance.
The world seems to be full today of Christians, some well meaning, and some obvious charlatans, who make their livings in the field of Christian Apologetics. For reference, let’s look at the definition of “apologetics”. From Merriam-Webster online dictionary:
1: systematic argumentative discourse … in defense (as of a doctrine)
2: a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity
So for the purposes of this discussion, apologetics collectively offers a series of arguments for the existence of god, for the truth of the Christian religion, and for various specific matters of theology. As with any logical argument, they must be evaluated based on:
Whether the premises of the argument are valid. As an example, if an argument starts with the premise that all men are stronger than all women, it may be disproved by identifying even a single example of a woman who is stronger than at least one man.
Whether the logic of the argument is valid. Independently of whether the premises are true, the logic of the argument must support the conclusion based on the premises. As an example, if we say that there is a correlation between A and B (the premise), therefore A causes B, the argument is faulty, because correlation does not imply causation.
These (Un)Apologetics are my attempt to answer the apologists’ arguments. My arguments are (in most cases) neither new, nor unique, but rather are just a composite of (in some cases) my own reactions, and in many other cases, information I’ve learned since my deconversion. I shall try to credit others when possible/appropriate.
As a general observation, one must wonder if the apologists really believe in the validity of their own arguments. They have a multiplicity of supposed “proofs” for the existence of god. But if any one of those arguments was sufficiently rigorous, there would be no need for any others.
But in spite of all the existing “proofs” for god, numerous apologists continue to spend their careers developing and refining new ones. And that’s because none of the arguments, whether old or new, actually stand up to any real scrutiny. They are all just different exercises in sophistry, appealing to those who are predisposed to theism, but failing on one or more factual or logical grounds.
Blaise Pascal was a brilliant 17th century mathematician, physicist, and inventor. He made enormous scientific and mathematical contributions from his teens, through his early 30s. At age 31, following a religious conversion, he shifted much of his focus to religion and philosophy, becoming (unfortunately) somewhat less productive in mathematics and science in the process. Pascal’s Wager appeared as just one of many essays within his Pensées (i.e. “thoughts”) publication. Pascal’s wager is routinely used as an argument in one form or another (e.g. “You should believe, or you’ll be sorry!”) by Christians, though less so by professional apologists. Pascal died at the young age of 39.
The Text (from Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Section III, §233):
‘Who then will blame Christians for not being able to give a reason for their belief, since they profess a religion for which they cannot give a reason? They declare, in expounding it to the world, that it is a foolishness, stultitiam; and then you complain that they do not prove it! If they proved it, they would not keep their word; it is in lacking proofs, that they are not lacking in sense. “Yes, but although this excuses those who offer it as such, and takes away from them the blame of putting it forward without reason, it does not excuse those who receive it.” Let us then examine this point, and say, “God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.
Do not then reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. “No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all.”
Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.—”That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much.”—Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. It is all divided; wherever the infinite is and there is not an infinity of chances of loss against that of gain, there is no time to hesitate, you must give all. And thus, when one is forced to play, he must renounce reason to preserve his life, rather than risk it for infinite gain, as likely to happen as the loss of nothingness.”
For it is no use to say it is uncertain if we will gain, and it is certain that we risk, and that the infinite distance between the certainty of what is staked and the uncertainty of what will be gained, equals the finite good which is certainly staked against the uncertain infinite. It is not so, as every player stakes a certainty to gain an uncertainty, and yet he stakes a finite certainty to gain a finite uncertainty, without transgressing against reason. There is not an infinite distance between the certainty staked and the uncertainty of the gain; that is untrue. In truth, there is an infinity between the certainty of gain and the certainty of loss. But the uncertainty of the gain is proportioned to the certainty of the stake according to the proportion of the chances of gain and loss. Hence it comes that, if there are as many risks on one side as on the other, the course is to play even; and then the certainty of the stake is equal to the uncertainty of the gain, so far is it from fact that there is an infinite distance between them. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain. This is demonstrable; and if men are capable of any truths, this is one.
“I confess it, I admit it. But, still, is there no means of seeing the faces of the cards?”—Yes, Scripture and the rest, etc. “Yes, but I have my hands tied and my mouth closed; I am forced to wager, and am not free. I am not released, and am so made that I cannot believe. What, then, would you have me do?”
True. But at least learn your inability to believe, since reason brings you to this, and yet you cannot believe. Endeavour then to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions. You would like to attain faith, and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief, and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness.—”But this is what I am afraid of.”—And why? What have you to lose?
But to show you that this leads you there, it is this which will lessen the passions, which are your stumbling-blocks.
The end of this discourse.—Now, what harm will befall you in taking this side? You will be faithful, honest, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful. Certainly you will not have those poisonous pleasures, glory and luxury; but will you not have others? I will tell you that you will thereby gain in this life, and that, at each step you take on this road, you will see so great certainty of gain, so much nothingness in what you risk, that you will at last recognise that you have wagered for something certain and infinite, for which you have given nothing.
“Ah! This discourse transports me, charms me,” etc.
If this discourse pleases you and seems impressive, know that it is made by a man who has knelt, both before and after it, in prayer to that Being, infinite and without parts, before whom he lays all he has, for you also to lay before Him all you have for your own good and for His glory, that so strength may be given to lowliness.’[i]
The shorthand version boils down to:
We can neither prove nor disprove God’s existence.
A game is being played, and we’re in it whether we like it or not. We therefore have no choice but to wager on the existence or nonexistence of God.
There are two (and only two) choices: Believe in God (specifically the Christian God), or don’t.
The former choice brings an infinite reward (an eternal life of ultimate happiness), while costing nothing. If we’re wrong, we suffer the same fate (nothingness in Pascal’s view) as nonbelievers.
Therefore, a risk-rewards evaluation says that the only sensible choice is to believe.
If, we cannot just make ourselves sincerely believe, we should do the things believers do; in so doing, we will gradually come to believe.
Point 1: Pascal got this mostly right.
Theists have tried for millennia to prove the existence of their respective gods, and have come up empty. Not only have they failed to prove the existence of their gods, they haven’t even come up with mildly compelling objective evidence. While this doesn’t mean that god’s existence cannot be proven, we can at least conclude that (for now) god’s existence has not been proven.
Claims by some atheists notwithstanding, it’s impossible to disprove the existence of god. First, there is literally an infinite number of possible gods that one might hypothesize. Second, when one has a quiver containing an infinite number of supernatural arrows, one can defeat any rational argument. Every rational objection to the theology can always be met with more miracles, etc., or with the dismissive “The human mind can’t comprehend the mysteries of god.” While the rational person will quickly recognize the belief to be irrational, most believers seem to have a limitless capacity to rationalize the irrational.
Having said that, it may be possible to falsify (disprove) the existence of a given SPECIFIC god, if that god is sufficiently defined. One can compare the claimed nature and actions of that god against objective evidence, to falsify the claims. If I claimed that god is a 3 foot tall (corporeal and always visible) man named Morty, who lives at a specific address, it’s easy enough to verify whether such a man lives at that address. If not, the claim is falsified. However, if a 3 foot tall man named Morty DOES live there, we obviously haven’t proven anything as to whether he is, in fact, a god. Similarly, we CAN falsify at least some theist’s claims as to the nature of their god(s), based on the objective evidence.
Point 2: The claim (that we have no choice but to wager) is clearly false. Billions of people have lived and died without ever considering whether or not to believe in the Christian God. One could argue that by doing nothing, they implicitly placed their bets, but that position is inconsistent with Pascal’s language, in which he clearly says a conscious choice must be made.
Point 3: The claim that we have only two choices is a false dichotomy fallacy. We have far more options than just belief in the Christian god, or nonbelief. There are thousands of gods worshiped around the world, and a wide variety of nontheistic philosophies. So there are not two choices – there are thousands (at least). This alone is enough to refute Pascal’s argument, since it invalidates the entire risk-rewards analysis.
Point 4: Pascal claimed that if the believer is wrong, he loses nothing. This has multiple problems:
He ignored the numerous other (non-Christian) religions that make equally extraordinary promises of rewards.
He neglected the huge cost of being a believer, manifest in countless hours wasted studying the Bible, praying, etc., and money spent supporting false churches and preachers, More importantly, the believer is expected to make many decisions (including some of the most important decisions in life) based on the myths and superstitions of primitive men, rather than on reason and rationalism. And they spend far too much time and energy in pursuit of a nonexistent afterlife, rather than making the most of the one life that they know for sure that they have.
Sadly, many believers are actually longing for an early end to this world (the ones that their children and grandchildren will inherit), rather than striving to leave the world a better place than they found it.
Point 5: So based on his risk/rewards analysis, Pascal says we should choose to believe. Aside from the already noted issues with the premises, His conclusion also has several problems:
It suggests that we should just play the odds and choose to believe, out of what is essentially naked self-interest. If your god really does exist, and is all-knowing, one would expect that he would see through such a ploy.
Many of the gods (including the Christian one) are reportedly “jealous gods”. So if I decide to choose one, and pick the wrong one, I may be worse off than choosing none, since I could just be pissing off the one true god.
Even Christians can’t agree on what it takes to be saved. Some say it’s predestined. Some say it’s through faith. Some say it’s through love. Some say it’s through our deeds. Some say you have to be baptized in just the right way. Some say you have to accept Jesus. Some say you must have the Holy Spirit. Some say you must belong to their particular denomination…. So according to many millions of believers, belief alone isn’t enough.
Point 6: Pascal suggests that for one who has trouble believing, they should go through the motions, and eventually, they’ll believe. Speaking as a former believer, I can say that going through the motions did nothing to overcome the cognitive dissonance caused by practicing a religion that no longer made rational sense to me. And I’m clearly not alone.
In this article, I’ll recount the story of my own religious journey, up through my “deconversion”. I’m sharing this story for three reasons:
It provides, I think, useful context to help readers understand my own perspectives.
I personally find others’ deconversion stories to be interesting. Many are similar, but many others follow different paths before being willing and able to let go of the religious beliefs that they were indoctrinated with. So, under the presumption that some others will find my story interesting, I’ll offer it here.
Millions of people leave the ranks of the religious every year. In my own path, I struggled in the end, with the very real stigma that believers ascribe to atheists, believing us to be immoral or otherwise defective in some way. I’ve gotten over that, but I think that hearing other people’s stories can help those struggling with their own deconversions… not unlike (I suspect) the struggles of LGBT folks coming out of the closet.
So here’s my story:
Like every person who has ever lived, I was born an atheist. But I was born into a Catholic family (the sixth of eight sons), so I was raised Catholic, which included a number of typical and some not-so-typical activities:
Attending mass every Sunday (and more frequently during some seasons such as Advent).
Attending a Catholic elementary school for grades 1-8.
Within school, belonging to the Dominic Savio club. For those of you not familiar with it, Dominic was an Italian boy who died at age 14, in 1857, and was later canonized as a saint, for having lived a particularly holy life. The objective of the club was to encourage us to emulate Dominic.
Serving as an Altar Boy. I started this just prior to the phase out of the Latin Mass in the United States, so I learned all the Latin prayers and responses, and served in Latin Masses, then within just a few months, we switched over to the English Mass.
We lived across the street from the church, so it was common for the priests to ask me and/or my brothers for help on various things. New missals would be published each month, which contained the text for the weekly masses. The priests would usually ask us to put them out, paying us 50 cents or so (a lot of money for us back then) for doing it. On Friday evenings, all the priests went out to dinner at a local restaurant, and they’d have one of us house sit – which consisted of sitting in one of their recliners watching their color TV (we had black & white at home), and taking messages if anyone came to the door or called (nobody ever did). We also got paid a couple bucks for doing that. I’ll note that I was fortunate to NOT be among those who were victimized by pedophile priests. We were always treated well, though a bit gruffly by some. As far as I know, the same is true for my brothers.
My three oldest brothers all went to a seminary boarding school for high school, though only one finished high school there, and the other two transferred out – one of them the middle of the same school year, and the other at the end of that year. Had they continued that path, and actually become priests, there’s a fair likelihood that I would have followed in their footsteps. But I, as with the rest of my brothers, all attended local high schools. The one respect that many of us did follow their lead on, was taking Latin as our foreign language elective.
Then in my mid-teens, as many do, I began to question my religious beliefs. I had issues in particular with some matters of Catholic doctrine. In the Catholic Church, any teaching that is declared to be “doctrine” is one that (according to the Church) Catholics are required to believe. A couple of those issues that I recall were:
Catholic doctrine holds that Mary was a virgin her entire life. The Bible, of course, makes no such mention of that. In fact the Bible has multiple mentions of Jesus’ siblings. The Church explains that the words for “brother”, etc. was often used to refer also to cousins. But I didn’t understand what basis the Church had for choosing that interpretation, or why they thought it was important that Mary never had sexual relations with her husband. And it seemed to be extremely unlikely.
Catholic doctrine also holds that when a Catholic takes communion, the bread and wine LITERALLY change into respectively, the flesh and blood of Jesus (a process known as transubstantiation). Aside from the bizarre cannibalistic nature of that transformation, it also seemed that a figurative interpretation of Jesus’ words (“This is my body” and “This is my blood”) made far more sense theologically – i.e. that we were receiving Jesus’ spirit.
And with my doubts as to these matters of doctrine, the natural tendency is to begin to question other matters of faith. After all, if the Church is wrong about these things, how can I trust any of it? I spoke to my mother about my doubts, and after some discussion, I decided (with her blessing) to check out some Protestant denominations. The first one I chose was the Congregational United Church of Christ, chosen for two mundane reasons – it was close to home (not across the street, but 1 ½ blocks away), and I knew someone who went there.
The Congregational/UCC are among the least doctrinal of Protestant churches, so that made it an excellent fit for me. And it turned out that I knew several other kids my age there. The congregation was welcoming, so I didn’t look any further. I left the Catholic Church and joined the Congregational Church.
The first summer I was there (I was about 16), a few college students who were home for the summer started up a “coffee house” in the church basement as an evening activity (once a week, I think). They were “born again” Christians, and talked all about what it was, what it meant, etc.
I’d never heard about being born again, or having a relationship with Jesus before. The message was very appealing to me, and I was hooked. I became a born again Christian. I studied the Bible daily, and would talk routinely to the difference Jesus made in my life. I accepted the Bible as the literal, inerrant Word of God. That included, among other things, believing in Young Earth Creationism. I actually went through the genealogies in the Bible, and calculated the age of the universe for myself, to be around 6000 years old.
The first significant chink in my born again-ness happened at age 19, when I was in college, pursuing my first degree (in Sociology). I shared a dorm room with two other students. One of them, Mike, belonged to the Worldwide Church of God. It’s (or at least was) a rather odd denomination. They claimed to be the ONE TRUE Christian denomination. They observed the Saturday Sabbath, and the overall set of Jewish Law. They also rejected the notion of the Trinity. They claimed that their beliefs were based on a literal interpretation of the Bible.
My big epiphany came one afternoon, while sitting up in my bed (the upper bunk on a bunk bed). Mike was there having a religious debate with a Baptist girl who had stopped by.
Uncharacteristically, I kept my mouth shut and listened. I felt very much like I was at a tennis match, as the Bible quotes flew furiously back and forth across the room between them… (“Yes, but in John blah blah blah, it says, “blah blah blah”). Each of them claimed to be interpreting the Bible literally. Each was intelligent, and as far as I could tell, was sincere in their desire to find truth in the Bible. And each of them had VERY different literal interpretations from my own literal interpretation.
I realized immediately that we three represented just a tiny sample of the likely range of “literal interpretations” of the Bible. So I concluded that it would be more than a little arrogant to decide that of all the people who had these widely varying interpretations, I was smarter than them, and/or more sincere than them in looking for truth, and/or had prayed more fervently for inspiration, and/or was singled out by God to be given the truth.
From that, I further concluded that humans can’t know with any confidence what the correct interpretation of the Bible is. Many million of Christians are convinced they’ve got the answer, but they’re all over the map on their answers. CLEARLY, their confidence in their respective answers is wholly unreliable.
I didn’t abandon most of my beliefs. I still believed in God the creator, and Jesus as a personal savior, but I abandoned the notion that anyone could interpret the Bible literally with any confidence.
After graduation (with my degree in Sociology and a Business minor), I worked as a retail buyer for several years, until at age 25, then realizing that it was NOT my niche. I knew I needed to do something more technical in nature. At the time, in the early 80’s, I was a huge fan of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series, and subscribed to Omni magazine (which was a combination of science and science fiction stories). Through those sources, I had developed a strong interest in Physics, so I went back to school to get a Physics degree. I planned at the time to get a Physics PhD, though I later (upon completing the Bachelors degree), vectored off into Engineering, which is where I spent the next 34 years, prior to retirement.
In any case, this academic journey had the side effect of learning that our universe was not some 6000 years old, but rather billions of years old, and that once the big bang happened, the formation of galaxies, stars, planets, etc. occurred naturally, as a result of just a few basic forces of nature, acting on the matter and energy in the universe. I couldn’t rule out a creator as first cause, but it was apparent that no “hand of God” was needed after the Big Bang to create our Earth.
While I didn’t formally study biology, I read enough of it, to learn that the evidence is irrefutable that all life on Earth evolved from simple life forms over billions of years. As with the Big Bang, we don’t yet know how the first life originated, but we know that the “hand of God” was not needed thereafter to create humankind.
So … at that point I was left with the belief that we had a god as a first-cause for the Big Bang and the first life on Earth. I also believed that God actively cared about mankind, and that the core elements of Christian theology were still true. But while I rejected the theological elements that I knew were false, I didn’t really spend any significant time – for years, thinking about the rest of them. Mostly I was preoccupied with my career and my young family, and didn’t spend much time pondering theology. And, I think in hindsight, that they were uncomfortable questions for me. I didn’t want to give up my faith. I still (for a time) attended church regularly, and prayed routinely, etc, believing in a God who cared about the world and about me personally.
The last straw for me came in my early 50’s, after my mother (who was still a devout Catholic) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Obviously I was well aware that millions of people have suffered and died from the ravages of that disease and many other diseases. But with her diagnosis it became personal, and I could no longer reconcile it with the notion of a loving, just, merciful God. So when I finally REALLY thought about it, I understood that Christians suffer and die with equal frequency from all manner of horrible diseases, in spite of any amount of prayer.
So clearly God isn’t intervening on matters of life or death. I retrospectively looked at times in the past when I thought I had seen his involvement in my life and concluded that those were all the products of selective interpretation and wishful thinking. Like millions of other Christians, when good things happened, it was “praise God!” When bad things happened, “God has a plan.” While I had seen positive changes in my behavior, there was nothing miraculous about them. There were things in my behavior that I didn’t like, and wanted to change. Yes, I prayed for help in changing them, but I’m the one who changed them – because I wanted to badly enough, and because they weren’t that hard to change. There were other (harder) things I wanted to change and prayed to change, that didn’t change. And ALWAYS in those past examples, when I changed for the better, God got the credit. When I didn’t change, I took the blame.
Being god under those ground rules is a pretty damned good gig.
So to summarize, I finally came to the following conclusions on the existence/role of God:
A personal god, who cares about humankind and is actively involved in our lives: All objective evidence says no.
A god who used special creation, to create all species on Earth: This is clearly false. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming and irrefutable.
A god who commanded the galaxies, stars, planets, etc. into existence. This is also clearly false. Physics has a pretty good understanding of how our universe formed after the Big Bang.
A god as first cause in the Big Bang and/or the origination of life on Earth. While I can’t rule it out, I’ll say that I think it’s extremely unlikely. There’s no evidence for a supernatural cause, and given the absolute lack of objective evidence for a god (any god), the smart money says that these had natural causes. We don’t yet understand them, but science gets closer every year. Conclusions of God as first-cause are just intellectual laziness, and are classic examples of the “god of the gaps”
So in conclusion, while I don’t know for sure that there’s no god, I’ve seen no objective evidence for one, let alone compelling evidence. In the absence of such evidence, I choose to disbelieve. That puts me in the category of what is commonly called a weak atheist. Some would refer to that position as an agnostic atheist, and I have done so in the past as well. But as I’ve since been schooled by those who are much more fluent in epistemology, who point out that knowledge and belief are not independent parameters, but rather knowledge is just the extreme position in a continuum of degree of certainty in one’s belief.