Saturday, February 10, 2018

Situational Ethics as taught by the Bible

I have often heard it said by Christians that ethics are not situational, but rather absolute. It is my intention to illustrate the fact that not only is situational ethics an acceptable thing, but that it is in fact supported Biblically. In order to do so, I will run through the Ten Commandments, and give an example from the Bible--for as many as I can--of someone breaking that Commandment and either being blessed for breaking that Commandment, or being clearly right in breaking that Commandment due to context.

1. Exodus 20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

This is a pretty straightforward one. The Bible contains plenty of people who do not follow this Commandment, but I can't think of anyone who was said to be in the right for not doing so. As the First Commandment, this may be a principle that cannot be superseded by a higher one.

2. Exodus 20:4-6 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

In 2 Kings, a man named Naaman comes to the prophet Elisha to be cleaned from leprosy. After his skin is healed, he makes a request: 2 Kings 5:17-19 "And Naaman said, Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules' burden of earth? for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the LORD. In this thing the LORD pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon thy servant in this thing. And he said unto him, Go in peace. So he departed from him a little way." So for whatever reason (I don't see that it's given here) Naaman is given permission to bow down to idols, and still be a faithful follower of the God of Israel.

3. Exodus 20:7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

The Third Commandment is an odd one, as I don't know of a single instance of it being broken in the Bible. Moving on...

4. Exodus 20:8-11 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

This is an interesting one, as Jesus repeatedly breaks the sabbath and talks about instances in which a person might break the sabbath and be excused. Matthew 12 has some good examples, including the opening story: Matthew 12:1-2 "At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day." Not only is Jesus breaking the sabbath (and I am going to make the assumption that if Jesus does something, it's not wrong to do so), but he gives the Pharisees a short lesson on situational ethics using David as an example.

5. Exodus 20:12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

Later in Matthew 12, Jesus' mother shows up. Matthew 12:46-49 "While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!" I would argue that Jesus is dishonoring his mother here; I don't know why, but I'm willing to accept that since it was Jesus, it was the right thing to do, and he had a good reason to do so.

6. Exodus 20:13 Thou shalt not kill.

Where to begin? The whole Old Testament is filled with justified killing, and instead of picking a particular passage, I'll choose as my example the entire book of Joshua, which tells the story of not just justified killing but repeated outright genocides of entire nations. Now I know that a lot has been written about the justification of the actions of the Israelites under the leadership of Joshua (I've written on it myself in my other blog) but the fact remains that this is killing, justified by the situation that Joshua and his people were in.

7. Exodus 20:14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Who can forget Genesis chapter 38? Here's the highlight that shows even adultery can be right due to situational ethics: Genesis 38:24-26 "And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt. When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff. And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more." Here is an example of a woman who was judged righteous for engaging in prostitution! Why? Because the situation of her being a childless widow demanded her to be given a son. She gives birth to twins, and ends up being the descendent of King David and her name is mentioned in Jesus' genealogy  in the New Testament.

8. Exodus 20:15 Thou shalt not steal.

The wording in various versions of the Bible may make this one a bit tricky to understand. Exodus 12:35-36 "And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians." This is not "borrowed", as there is never going to be a time that this is given back. The Israelites are taking riches that belong to the Egyptians, and keeping them; why? It's reparations for slavery; they're trying to get 400 years of back wages. 

9. Exodus 20:16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

In the beginning of the book of Exodus, Pharaoh tells a pair of Hebrew midwives to kill male children that they deliver. They don't, which is following the Sixth Commandment, but then they break the Ninth Commandment: Exodus 1:18-20 "And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty." This in the past has always been my go-to verse for situational ethics. The midwives are clearly breaking the Ninth Commandment, yet God blesses them for doing so, I assume because the lying saved lives. 

10. Exodus 20:17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

The Tenth Commandment, in my opinion, is a strange one, because it's the only Commandment that is broken entirely in secret. There are very few instances of this Commandment being broken in the Bible, but like the first, I don't know of any instances where someone was blessed for coveting.

But still, I think I have examples here for seven out of ten, and while someone may have an explanation as to why I'm misinterpreting one or two of these, I really don't think all seven can be denied (and if the example for number six can be dismissed on a technicality, I'm sure I could find another example that's better). My conclusion is that situational ethics is entirely Biblical.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Nashville Statement: Sexual Heresy

For the sake of clarity, let me preface my argument by stating that I am a cisgendered evangelical Christian male married to a cisgendered evangelical Christian female. I have no need to oppose the Nashville Statement for any personal gain, but only oppose it for the cause of supporting right doctrine within Christianity.

This is my final argument concerning the Nashville Statement, I believe, because I feel confident it will prove there exists an inevitable logical choice between two options: (A) The Nashville Statement is logically inconsistent, or (B) Christianity is morally inconsistent. I will of course choose option (A).

The Nashville Statement (hereafter "NS") makes a number of statements I take issue with, but here I address only four:
1. Same-sex marriage is a sin. (NS Article 1)
2. Transgenderism (i.e. choosing a gender identity that does not match your biological gender) is a sin. (NS Article 13)
3. People who do not have an easy-to-identify biological gender must conform with the binary gender paradigm, and act as though they are the gender their genotype would suggest or they are in sin. (NS Article 6 and quote below)
4. Disagreeing with any of the above (or any other part of the NS) causes one to be in a state of sin. (NS Article 10)

As evidence, I put to readers that there exists a medical condition known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (hereafter "AIS"). People with AIS are genetically male, having the sexual genotype "XY", but without genetic testing are almost impossible to differentiate from a sterile female. In fact, while I cannot prove it to be so, I suggest it to be laughable to deny that at various times in the past (and even present) men have married and had sex with (although society has always considered them "women", Denny Burk, one of the main authors and #1 signer of the NS would tell us they are "men"*; remember that according to NS Article 10, you cannot disagree with this assessment) who have AIS. This includes couples in which both partners were professing Christians.

Here is the logical/moral dilemma. If these are men with AIS, then these were/are same-sex marriages. The NS tells us that this is sin, and therefore...what?

If engaging in a same-sex marriage is an unpardonable sin no matter what, this implies that God had to send these people to Hell for committing a sin without knowing they were doing it. Result: God is not just.

If the fact that they did not know they were doing it excuses them, that implies the sinful nature of same-sex marriage is a subjective matter and same-sex marriage is not a sin if you don't believe it is. Result: The NS is wrong about same-sex marriage.

If this was not same-sex marriage because the man with AIS identified as a woman, then either transgenderism is acceptable, or intersex people do not have to conform to the gender suggested by their genotype; possibly both. Result: The NS is wrong about transgenderism, intersex, or both.

If there is a fourth possibility that saves both the just nature of God and the integrity of the NS, I cannot imagine what it is, but I am open to discussion. Note that I am not denying the truth of statements 1, 2, or 3, but since they cannot all be true at once, I suggest that one or more of them must be rejected, and one must certainly by all means reject statement 4. Good Christians can and indeed should disagree with the Nashville Statement.

*"Try to determine as soon as possible the chromosomal makeup of the child. If there is a Y chromosome present, that would strongly militate against raising the child as a female, regardless of the apperance of the genitals or other secondary sex characteristics." Denny Burk, What is the Meaning of Sex?, page 81,

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

150! (What do I get?)

This being my 150th post (well, 151st if you count the post I took down a few years ago when I decided it was too personal, which is a shame since it was such a good post) I thought I ought to do something special. Of course it's exactly that sort of attitude of expecting "specialness" that's bound to give me a horrible case of writer's block, and as soon as I started thinking that way, my well of post ideas instantly dried up.

It's really a shame that Google seems to be doing some sort of search blocking, as I can't do one of my old posts where I'd talk about interesting search terms that brought people here. What I can tell you is that my most popular entries are on the 2006 Comic-Con and Milhouse as an internet meme. I guess that's good as the Milhouse one is one my personal favorites.

Maybe the thing to talk about though is that while I do seem to be getting a pretty good number of hits, I don't get a lot of comments. Most of the time, the thing that I'm thinking when I write blog posts (and this goes for my other blog as well) is, "What will my readers think about this?" Of course I have no idea what the answer to that is unless someone posts a comment.

The thing that I really like about the internet is the opportunity for dialogue with people you might not otherwise have a chance to come into contact with. Currently, when I'm not online the only people I really get to talk with are a few old high school friends and people from my current church. Sure, these are all people I do want to have interaction with, but I hate limiting myself. I'm not even looking for agreement; some time ago there was a guy that read through a bunch of my posts and largely gave rather eloquent explanations of why he thinks I'm full of crap; I can easily and honestly say that that guy was one of my favorite commenters!

Maybe what I'm missing is more questions? Maybe if what I'm looking for is discussion, I should end each of my posts with a number of discussion questions. What do you think about the Second Amendment? Have you ever had a serious disagreement with a Facebook friend? Do you have an interesting perspective on the evolution/creation debate? Is this what I'm missing?

Then again, maybe as I suspect is sometimes the case, I may be missing the whole point of blogging. Maybe it's just about generating hits and doing so as simply and uncontroversially as possible. If it is, is that what I really want? Lately I've been playing around with redefining what success means in my life so that it becomes something realistic and yet achievable; how should I really define success in blogging?

You know, maybe one of the things that's especially frustrating for me is that I know a large number of friends and family are aware of the fact that I blog, and yet I get virtually no feedback from them. Maybe that's odd to say since that's sort of complaining the opposite of what I was complaining about three paragraphs ago. Still, why shouldn't I have feedback from IRL people as well? There's something maddening in the cycle of, "Oh, you blog?" "Yes, here's the address!" followed by apparent complete silence from those who feigned such intense interest. (I did have an old friend read my blog and give actual comments recently, and even though it was just a couple comments, it really felt good!)

Anyway, I don't know if I have anything of substance to add to this, so I'll just leave it off now with a few discussion questions in hope that it will spark something. How do you define success in blogging? Do you think that I should expect feedback or dialogue from my blogging efforts? What, if anything, do you like about my blog(s) and what would you suggest, if anything, would improve my blogging?

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Are guns "froofy"? A "well regulated" post on the 2nd Amendment

I think I've written a fair amount in the past about the 1st Amendment, and it occurred to me that it might be interesting to write a bit on the 2nd Amendment, as it's probably the most controversial section of the Bill of Rights. Generally, I consider myself to be pro-2nd Amendment, but I'm pretty sure most of the opinions I have on the matter would be less than palatable to the average NRA member. No matter; if there's disagreement, I hope it can spark dialogue.

So first, on a very basic level, I do think that people should have the right to protect themselves, and if they choose to do so with a gun, then in general, the Constitution says that's okay. At the same time, I personally have no desire to own a gun; they don't appeal to me in any manner. Perhaps it's my distaste for guns that leads to my nuanced views of this law, although I think if I did want to own a gun, I'd still expect some reasonable boundaries to my rights.

Just because the founding fathers wanted to guarantee us certain rights about guns doesn't necessarily mean that they intended ordinary citizens to own fancy automatic assault rifles. I've heard some people say that the argument that the founding fathers couldn't have imagined the sorts of guns we have today is invalid because you could draw similar parallels to the 1st Amendment: that the founding fathers couldn't have known about things like the Internet, so maybe we should curtail freedom of expression with respect to media types that are more modern than the 18th century? This is supposed to sound ridiculous, but I don't think it is. Why? Because the Internet really has changed the way we communicate and express ourselves.

Let me tell you a story. Back around, oh, I think probably 1995, I had a friend that had one of the first home PCs I'd seen that was web ready. He had AOL. One day I was at his house, and he was showing me all the cool things that he could do on AOL, and he paused. "Do you want to see something scary?" he asked me. I wasn't sure I was, but I was curious as to what he meant. He popped into a chat room and typed, "Can anyone send me nudes of 13s?" Before I could parse what that meant, his computer chirped repeatedly "YOU'VE GOT MAIL!" and he opened up his inbox. There he showed me that he had just been sent several nude pictures of underage girls, including one of someone having sex with what was claimed to be a 12-year-old. I'm feeling pretty confident that the founding fathers never intended the 1st Amendment to protect that sort of artistic expression. I would suggest that when technology changes, our understanding of the world changes with it.

So back to guns. I don't see why an average citizen would have a practical need for guns of a certain firepower. (I'll admit freely that I'm a person who knows very little about guns, and I don't feel I have the confidence to say that I can draw the arbitrary lines between acceptable and unacceptable guns. I do feel that there are lines that are reasonable to be drawn, however.) I don't think people should have machine guns, and I have a hard time believing that the average citizen has a need for armor-piercing rounds, for instance, but this is just my personal view.

Perhaps we should take a look at the 2nd Amendment?

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
I think a lot of people, myself included, are confused about the meaning and significance of the first half of this law. I mean, if the 2nd Amendment were simply the text that follows the comma, it would be pretty simple, but the stuff before the comma leads to so many questions. What precisely is a "militia"? What does it mean for one to be "well regulated"? What's the real meaning of "the security of a free state"? Let's deal with these in turn.

Going to the dictionary for the first question, we find various definitions of "militia". The first definition given is "a body of citizens enrolled for military service, and called out periodically for drill but serving full time only in emergencies." This sounds like a group of people who are serving and protecting the government. But look at the fourth and final definition: "a body of citizens organized in a paramilitary group and typically regarding themselves as defenders of individual rights against the presumed interference of the federal government." This sounds like virtually the antithesis of the group in the first definition to me. While surely there are a lot of people today who believe it to be their right to be in a militia of the latter type, is there any evidence that the founding fathers meant that definition? Yet even if they didn't, does that make it wrong?

When something is "regulated" in any official sense (whether "well" or not) it's usually regulated by the government, isn't it? Once again, that would seem to rule out the latter definition of "militia", but I don't know I could say so with 100% surety.

The thing that's funny to me is how with all that lack of specificity so far, there is still more lack of specificity to be found in the last phrase, "the security of a free state". If the militia is guarding the security of the state, then it seems that it's working for the government, but I'm sure some would argue that the addition of the word "free" in there could imply that the militia could be fighting for a "free state" against a state that is not free. While that seems like an admirable cause, it's also quite open to differing opinion, and when people with (arguably) excessive guns are fighting to protect the right to have said guns, isn't the logic sort of circular?

Anyway, it's just awful strange. The 1st Amendment, as well as most if not all of the others in the Bill of Rights, doesn't give a reason why the people are given rights, it just gives them. Why does the 2nd Amendment give a reason, and unfortunately a reason that is, in the end, quite confusing? It's the difference between saying, "All children should get a lollipop on Friday," and saying, "Seeing as lollipops are so froofy and the well-being of children is dependent on overall froofiness, all children should get a lollipop on Friday." You find yourself suspecting that if you knew what "froofy" really meant, you'd have a better idea as to the validity of a weekly lollipop, and without that meaning, you might suspect the whole thing's garbage.

But there are a lot of people who defend the right to own a seemingly (to many) ridiculous amount and kind of gun with the argument that it does serve to keep us safe from an oppressive government. I'm not sure that I buy this in the end, for two reasons. The main reason is that if the government is truly going to turn on you and take away all your beloved freedoms, I don't think it matters what kind of guns you have. The government has tanks and bombers and chemical weapons and if they decide to come for you, guns just won't be enough, no matter how many you have.

The second reason is one that may just appeal to me as a person who doesn't love guns: The world has repeatedly been changed by a group of citizens who armed themselves and fought against oppressive governments, this is true, but the world has also been changed by people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela who never picked up a weapon, but were simply willing to lay down their lives for the cause of freedom. I'd just like to believe that the world can be changed without having to kill people to advance worthy causes. There are those who have shown that it can be done.

They say that guns don't kill people, people kill people; and that's true. But a gun is a tool that is specifically designed to cause harm, and while I respect people's right to defend themselves, a gun is something that I'll never be 100% happy with.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


So I got "unfriended" today on Facebook. It was kind of an odd experience. I think what was particularly odd about it was that it was in the middle of a political discussion, and the person who unfriended me is someone that I find myself frequently in agreement with regarding political matters.

The place where we most certainly do not agree is in the area of religion. As I'm sure just about anyone knows, I'm a Christian. My former Facebook friend (FFF) is an agnostic, and a pretty hard-core one. Even though it was a political discussion going on with no perceptible religious undertones, my FFF took a moment to imply that my religion was a big part of the problem.

I'm having a hard time relating the story without simply copying and pasting the discussion here, but I think it's an important story nonetheless, because it largely defines the kind of person I am on a broader scale than just calling me a politically liberal Christian. See, my FFF implied that those people involved in the conversation that weren't liberals simply weren't worth the time having a political discussion with, and I disagreed. So he said he just had to unfriend me because he'd had enough of the "bullshit" that my religion was bringing on me.

I'm thinking that, given the context, he wasn't just talking about religion. Not really. After all, I'm even less of a preachy person outside of my blogging. I think the thing he had a problem with is the fact that so many of my Christian friends are (as Christians tend to be) very conservative. Yeah, he essentially said that he hates religion, but knowing him, (and I've known him IRL for over 20 years) I think the thing that really bothers him about Christianity is that so many Christians are conservative. If we all agreed with his political views and just happened to also believe in God, I'm sure he'd find Christians much more palatable. (Heck, he's put up with me just fine, so that's something, right?)

I know it's difficult to put up with people whose views you don't agree with, but this is where I know I also depart from his view, and this is the thing that, as I said, defines me as a person. I feel that shutting people out of my life because I disagree with them is just going to make the quality of my life (and maybe theirs) poorer. Just because I'm a Christian, I'm not going to forsake all my pagan, atheist, and agnostic friends. Just because I'm a Democrat doesn't mean I'm going to hate my Republican and Libertarian friends. Just because I love America doesn't mean I'm going to ignore anyone who lives outside of this country. I just believe that there's a fullness of life that you get from interacting with people whose viewpoints have the potential of broadening your own. If you only expend your time on people who have the same views as you, how will you ever learn anything new?

I guess I accept that my FFF may simply be dealing with anger issues (he also hinted at that) and just felt it was something he had to do for his sanity, but still, isn't there an easier way to deal with such things than cutting off your friends?

Thursday, February 06, 2014

The Bill Nye - Ken Ham debate

I don't know if I need to explain this as it seemed to be a pretty big media event, but Tuesday there was a creationism/evolution debate between Bill Nye ("The Science Guy") and Ken Ham (CEO of "Answers in Genesis"). As far as such debates usually go, this was a good one, and I felt that since it was a topic I like to cover on my blog from time to time, I'd give a sort of after-commentary here outlining what I think each debater did well as well as what they did poorly.

Interestingly, Bill Nye did extraordinarily well, considering that he is not a biologist, nor does he seem to know much of anything about the Bible. It seems to me that for debates like this, the evolution side would best be served by a debater who really knows their biology. I don't think that ended up being as big of a handicap for Nye as his lack of knowledge about the Bible in the end, as he made some arguments against the Bible that any reasonably-informed Christian could sweep aside as misinformation.

But I wanted to start with Ken Ham, both because he was the one who won the coin toss to speak first, and because I was far more impressed with his arguments than I think I ever have been with a creationist. As I think I've said before many times, creationists seem to often have a near-complete lack of knowledge of what evolution really means or how it works. Ham, however, seems to have a good grasp on the science, and doesn't make the mistake of outright denying evolution in any form. Rather, he points out what are really some near-obvious facts: Darwin spent a lot of time studying finch beaks in the Galapagos, and while there really is a striking amount of variation to be found there, the fact remains that with all that variation, they're all still finches. The point that Ham makes here is that while evolution definitely occurs, it's hard to show that animals evolve into entirely different kinds of animals. Yes, lions, tigers, pumas, and housecats all have a common ancestor, but they're still all cats.

Ham furthermore makes an important distinction between what he calls "observational" science and "historical" science. Observational science is science where you do experiments and make real-time observations of phenomena, while historical science is where you take what you know about natural phenomena and extrapolate that knowledge into the unobservable past. Since the past is unobservable, then historical science consists largely of guesswork, and standard evolutionary scientists have suggested that all life comes from a single, large family tree, while Ham is suggesting that we should think of all of life as being comprised of a sort of "family orchard" where different classes or "kinds" of animals all branch from a single ancestor that is completely unrelated to any other "kind". He points out that this model fits in just as well with biology as we know it today, but happens to also fit with the Biblical account of creation.

Also, a minor, but vital point that Ham makes is that there are plenty of young-earth creationist scientists that are doing just as much for innovation and technology as any atheist scientist. One of his chief examples is that of the inventor of the MRI, which revolutionized modern medicine, and yet that scientist/inventor believes that the earth is only 6,000 years old.

Bill Nye, however, had plenty of interesting things to say, many of which were seemingly pretty devastating to Ham's position. Nye had a lot to say about the fossil record, which consistently progresses from simple animals to more complex organisms, showing evidence that the modern species that we know must have had simpler biological ancestors. Also, he points out that if all the animals in the world at one time were kept on Noah's ark, which landed after the flood in the Middle East, then there should be fossil remains of Australian animals like kangaroos in the Middle East, but no such fossils have ever been found.

Actually, Noah's ark was a big point of contention for Nye. Mathematically he showed that if the ark had had only a few thousand "kinds" of animals that led to the millions of species that exist today, that would imply evolution that operated at a rate of 11 new species daily for the last 4,000 years. Evolution like that would be hard to miss!

One of Nye's last points was that the standard model of evolution has actually at times predicted archaeological finds, and one of the things that is considered the hallmark of a scientific theory is that it has predictive ability. Nye suggested that Ham's model does not have predictive ability, a challenge that Ham never addressed.

As for weaknesses (apart from the fact that neither debater seemed to me to successfully rebut any claims made by the other), Ham at one point made the claim that science is being forced into a naturalistic mindset, and it needs to be opened to other possibilities. While I agree that alternative theories like creationism need to be considered, I can't say that I'm convinced that there is a value to non-naturalistic science. Nye repeatedly attacked the validity of the Bible by using the "telephone game" metaphor, which implies that the Bible is a translation of a translation of a translation, etc., when in fact each new version of the Bible that is published makes use of better textual evidence than previous ones, and is usually a translation directly from what are considered the best ancient texts.

In the end, I think both men really knew their stuff well, and presented their own arguments excellently, but like so many debates before, I don't think either of them was at all swayed by the opposing argument, and I bet both men considered themselves the winner. I found it entertaining, but I'm not sure that anything really useful was accomplished on either side.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Moral relativism is driving me batty

Perhaps this is a topic better suited for my other blog, but I think as it doesn't pertain to a specific scripture but rather a number of different Biblical topics, it would be better to discuss here. It's very common when people are arguing against the Bible that they bring up one or more topic of contrast between common understandings in Biblical times and modern understandings. Often, it's a matter of morality, such as "Why does the Bible allow slavery?" or "Why does marriage in Biblical times seem to treat women as just slightly above livestock?" While those are good questions well worth asking, sometimes there are questions of a scientific nature that seem nearly as pressing, such as "Why does the Bible seem to indicate that the earth is only a few thousand years old?" or "Why does the Bible consider bats to be birds?"

A friend of mine posted a link recently on Facebook to an article about church-sanctioned prostitution in medieval England. The article made me think about the way morality changes from age to age, and how "traditional values" are a questionable concept, especially faced with stories like this. The article says that while prostitution wasn't quite considered a good thing, it was figured that it was better that men solicit prostitutes than practice masturbation or sodomy. While I think most conservative Christians today would consider masturbation less serious than prostitution (sodomy would depend on exactly what you meant by the term, which tends to be fluid in meaning), it only goes to show that even among Christians, ideas of what is moral and immoral are fluid from age to age and culture to culture.

Really this fact shouldn't come as a surprise to most people. Of course morality is fluid. I think we conveniently forget this, not only as Christians, but as Biblical skeptics. In respect to the former, I think that it is right for non-Christians to suggest that it is questionable for Christians to (as it is often phrased) "impose iron-age morality on modern society." Really, I think most Christians see the wisdom in this to some point; we don't stone people to death for committing adultery anymore, do we? And I think we're all glad that such a barbaric practice is out of style. I know I want nothing to do with it.

But when it comes to the Biblical skeptics, I think there is a similar problem going on. How can we think it makes sense to impose 21st-century morals on iron-age nomads? Doesn't it go both ways? Don't criticize an ancient culture for not classifying bats according to your modern taxonomy rules when all they really needed was a guideline for which winged animals they could and could not eat. Furthermore, why would you impose your 21st-century morality on anyone when most likely people in the 22nd century will look back on your morals as abhorrent? We're far from an enlightened utopia that has done away with racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence, and science has tended to show that the things we think to be true and good today will be proven to be twisted and harmful to us tomorrow.

In the end, what I think I'm really saying is that everyone should be willing to question their assumptions of morality and reality. Not just their own, but the morals and world-views of people they assume to be wrong. You don't have to change your mind, just keep it open, you know?