Saturday, May 23, 2009

Atheist Objections Part I


Someone called "Travis" emailed Vox Day with five points made by atheists that he finds convincing enough to urge him on the dead man's walk toward agnosticism. Vox intends to respond to all his points; and I thought to myself: "Heck, why don't you give it a shot, as well?"

So here we are. Pull up a chair and sit a spell.

Let me begin by saying that hundreds if not thousands of Christians over a period of centuries have addressed and answered each of Travis' enumerated points -- satisfactorily, by my lights.
If you find yourself wondering why people still wake these assertions, despite copious writings putting them to rest, the answer is simple:

That is not dead which can eternal lie
Till aroused by he who spits in God's eye.

In other words, in a siege against the battlements of unbelief, the ballistae and mangonels and trebuchets of reason and elaboration may pockmark the very keep itself, but they cannot bring it to earth.

I question the good faith of these points -- for their old - hat aspect, as well as their evidence - free assertiveness. I don't find them trying of my faith in the least, and I suspect that only one unacquainted with -- or uninterested in -- the Christian body of apologetics could become distressed by this effort.

I'll quote the first proposition, followed by my comments:

1. Biblical Ethics are below par at best. The Christian must believe in objective morality, for God is the source of morality. If God is the source of objective morality why do we see ethical commands justifying rape and the harsh treatment of foreign slaves? If Biblical ethics is the objective standard than Wilberforce was a sinner for trying to eliminate slavery, for the Bible certainly does not decree the abolition of slavery? If we take a progressive approach to scripture we all could still certainly agree that the movement toward a better ethical system could have certainly moved faster.

Sam Harris brings this up in "Letter to a Christian Nation"

I agree with the notion of objective morality, with God as its source. However, the idea that biblical ethics are "below par" is a naked assertion, as it stands unsupported by the rest of his commentary. First, Travis assumes that an objective standard for judging biblical ethics exists, that he is conversant with this standard, and that the Holy Bible fails in living up to its lofty heights. Alas, he nowhere demonstrates this assumed truth in his discourse, nor does he reveal whence he derived The Ultimate Ethical Standard. The sole proper examination of biblical ethics entails comparison/contrast with the unbiblical societies surrounding the purveyors of God's Word at the time in which scriptural authorship occurred. Anything less is an unfair and incomplete assessment. So when we delve into that cultural mire, what do we find? Child sacrifice, chattel slavery, demon and idol worship, wanton violence, necromancy, witchcraft, astrology, and on and on in a veritable litany of horrors. Life came cheap and miserable.

Biblical ethics changed all that. They elevated the status and worth of women; put a higher value on human lives as personages created in God's image; and called the highest goods loving the one true God with all of one's being, and loving one's neighbor as oneself. From personal hygiene to sexual relationships, from the treatment of animals to stewardship of our planet, biblical ethics existed -- and exist -- on a higher plain, unreachable by the godless or devil - haunted ethics of contemporary pagan societies. So needless to say, I find the concept of kicking back in one's easy chair and expressing dissatisfaction with God's ethics an exercise in hubris, in a civilization whose comforts derived from the ethical foundation under attack.

Next, the issue of slavery. Bondservanthood under the Jews was unlike slavery experienced by blacks during the trans-Atlantic slave trade era. Think indentured servitude, rather than being worked to death in a cotton field under an overseer's whip. Regardless, the biblical ethic explicated better treatment of slaves or servants than in times before. In an age when slaves toiled until they dropped, with their corpses rolled unceremoniously into a ditch or shallow grave when they expired, the biblical ethic was a giant leap forward. As for the harsh treatment of foreign slaves, many got their just desserts; their bondage came as God's judgment of the sin of infanticide. One item that cannot be overstressed is this: biblical context is important. When you pay attention, you learn more than the what; you also uncover the why. If Travis believes that all forms of involuntary servitude are immoral, no matter the reason for that state, then it behooves him to explain his position, rather than accepting it as self-evident. If a man incurs catastrophic debt and refuses repayment, I see no evil in making him the servant of his creditors until he makes good the debt he owes. It's called justice. By the way, it does not follow that Wilberforce was a sinner for attempting the abolition of an institution that ignored biblical regulations against the mistreatment of slaves. I see no scriptural conflict with his admirable and righteous cause.

Regarding rape, I see no justification for it in the Bible. What I do see is condemnation and punishment for the act. See Deuteronomy 22. Would that Travis had proffered evidence of the sunny view scripture takes of ravishing the maidens fair.

When Travis talks about moving toward a better ethical system at a faster pace, I assume he means that God should've delivered the goods via bullet-train. This is another glimpse of his arbitrary ethical standard, rearing its cloistered head for but a moment, before he pummels it back behind its boudoir's secure doors. How much faster? What is the proper speed? Will 186,000 mps do the trick? He forgets that God passed his standards to certain segments of humanity, then charged them with the task of sharing his morals with the world - at - large. That's what the Bible is all about. Remember, it was humanity's rebellion against God in the beginning that required the tortuous process that Travis finds so unsatisfying and glacially slow.

The blame lies with fallen humanity, not God.

God has shown us His grace -- we who are unworthy of his loving kindness. Critically judging and rejecting his timing is not just biting the hand that feeds.

It's spurning the hand that saves.


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