A Brief Thought On Moral Realism

It seems to me that debates on whether moral realism is true are often misguided. Usually, people approach the debate with the following idea in mind: “There is some thing, X, which is called a moral fact. X exists (or, X does not exist).”

But perhaps we should look at this in a different way. Consider this: “There is some thing, X, which exists. X is rightly referred to as a moral fact (or, X is wrongly referred to as a moral fact).”

I think a case could be made for taking the second approach instead of the first. Several years ago, William Lane Craig and Shelly Kagan debated the topic, “Is God Necessary For Morality?” (watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiJnCQuPiuo ). The interesting thing about this debate is that both Craig and Kagan are moral realists, although realists of different types.

Craig, of course, offered a moral realism grounded in facts about God. Kagan’s response was not just to deny that those facts about God are true; rather, it was to point at different facts, and say, “these are the facts that ground morality”.

I am a moral realist as well – specifically, I say that moral facts just are (or, just reduce to) facts about properties of moral agents and moral patients. Furthermore, I say that moral duties just are conditional statements. The problem here for a non-realist is that these things (whatever you take propositions to be) obviously exist. So, whether my moral realism is justified is going to depend not on whether I’m right to claim that these things I call moral facts exist. Instead, it’s going to depend on whether I’m right to refer to these things that exist as moral facts.

The Argument From Apparent Contradictions

The Argument From Apparent Contradictions

1. If Christianity is true, then the appearance of contradictions in the bible is surprising.
2. If naturalism is true, then the appearance of contradictions in the bible is expected.
3. Therefore, the appearance of contradictions in the bible confirms naturalism over christianity.

Note first that this argument does not depend on there being any actual contradictions in the Christian scriptures – even if it is the case that every apparent contradiction can be resolved, the argument still works, since it only points to the “first glance” appearance of contradiction which many times causes a believer to worry.

The appearance of contradictions is surprising given Christianity for this reason. For the past two thousand years, many Christians have spent considerable time and effort in an attempt to resolve these apparent contradictions*, to varying degrees of success. This points to the fact that such a project is important in some way. But in what way might that be?

It could be that the issue of contradictions is of merely academic importance to theologians, much like the precise dating of the gospel of Mark would be. But this doesn’t seem to be the case at all. Many pastors find themselves often counseling their congregations about difficulties such as these, and some even have their own doubts to struggle through. This points to another sort of importance: the absence of contradictions is important for spiritual development. And, of course, spiritual development is almost always considered very important by Christians.

Of course, resolving these contradictions (if they even can be resolved) is no easy task. Entire books have been written about them. Studying these issues seriously requires a fairly large commitment of time, as well as knowledge of various disparite fields. This makes spiritual growth much more difficult and time consuming than it would be if these apparent contradictions were not present. Thus, their existence is surprising on Christianity.

So, moving on to the second premise. If naturalism is true, then the bible is no different than any other ancient text**; it’s a collection of writings penned and assembled over a long time period, by many different authors, with no divine inspiration whatsoever. Writings composed in this way almost always have at least a few inconsistencies, just by the nature of their composition. Thus, we’d strongly expect such apparent contradictions to pop up at least occasionally.

One Possible Response

Here is one objection I anticipate. One could simply say that while “mere” Christianity is true, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is false, so it doesn’t actually matter whether the bible contains even actual contradictions. The doctrine of inerrancy is accepted by the vast majority of Christians; but like infant baptism, it’s not a necessary condition for Christianity. Still, most Christians would consider such a response to be a pretty big bullet to bite.

Furthermore, my argument does not require the doctrine of inerrancy to be true in order to function. Even if inerrancy was false, apparent contradictions would still hinder spiritual development; simply because contradictions are still undesirable and troubling, at least to most people. This is especially true given the “power” and scope of some apparent contradictions.***

Another Possible Response

Another line of attack the Christian might take in response to this argument is to say that in actuality, it’s the very process of studying and eventually resolving these contradictions that fosters spiritual growth. But while it may be the case that this is sometimes incidentally the case, it’s certainly not necessary. And on the other hand, such apparent contradictions can also have the opposite effect on believers – in many cases, doubts caused by them even go so far as to lead to atheism – which is the opposite of spiritual growth!

So, in conclusion, we can easily identify a relevant fact – that there appears, at least at first glance, to be contradictions in the bible. As I’ve argued above, this fact is evidence for naturalism over Christianity.

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*This is also evidence for the claim that there are apparent contradictions. If there weren’t, then these theologians and philosophers wouldn’t be spending all this time trying to resolve them!

**This argument can also be reformulated to be relevant to the other major monotheistic religions and their respective texts.

***an especially troubling case, at least to me, is the “missing” ending of Mark. It’s now known that the earliest copies of the earliest-written gospel either do not mention the resurrection at all, or the ending has been lost.

Ryan T. Anderson on Same-sex Marriage

Yesterday, I was made aware of a talk by Ryan T. Anderson in which he argues against same-sex marriage. After a short discussion on Facebook, I’ve decided to comment at length on Anderson’s talk and subsequent Q & A.

The facebook discussion: here (note: this post is only viewable to friends of the poster. However, my comments on the talk can be understood without the context of the conversation.)
The talk: here
The Q & A: here

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These thoughts were written down live, as I watched Ryan Anderson’s talk. Time stamps are approximate. Statements in quotation marks are mostly paraphrases.

4:53 – “We may disagree about what sort of relationship is a marriage.
As I mentioned earlier, there are many same-sex couples that *are* married as far as the government is concerned, in that they’ve obtained marriage licenses from a county clerk or other official.

7:21 – “If you want to redefine marriage, why would that relationship need to be permanent, monogamous, and exclusive?
It doesn’t need to be those things now. While adultery is sometimes grounds for divorce, nothing in marriage code says that a married couple is required to be exclusive. If Jack and Jill are married, they can already agree that being intimate with others outside of the marriage is allowed. There’s also pre-nuptial agreements and no-fault divorce. Now, some people might think that these things should be changed – but even if that is so, excluding same-sex couples does nothing to further that goal.

7:39 – He mentions that the ‘redefinition of marriage’ entails that marriage doesn’t need to be between only two people.
I actually agree with him on that, but I don’t take it as a critique – polyamorous couples should indeed also be allowed to marry. While doing this will admittedly require more legal legwork than allowing same-sex couples to marry, this is something to work at, not something that should dissuade. However, marriage as far as the state is concerned isn’t an ‘intense emotional bond’, and never has been. Emotions aren’t a requirement to obtain a marriage license.

8:26 – “Why would the government even be in the marriage business if this is what marriage is?
Well, because the government’s citizens want it, and it doesn’t violate any human rights. It benefits people. The government serves us, not the other way around.

9:39 – “We take our bearings from Aristotle“.
This is a tangent, so don’t take it too seriously, but I find it very curious that so many Christians and
conservatives so often look to Aristotle on so many different issues. It’s almost as if Aristotle is Diet Jesus :P

14:19 – Now he’s talking about procreation.
But procreation isn’t a requirement to obtain a marriage license. Couples can procreate outside of marriage, or not procreate within marriage. When you apply for a marriage license, you’re not even asked whether you intend to procreate, and you’d still be granted one even if you told the clerk that you’re both infertile and despise children. Not even sex is required – eunuchs can obtain marriage licenses.

19:19 – Regarding sexual exclusivity, as I mentioned earlier, this is not a requirement to obtain a marriage license.

20:18 – “If you have a way out, then you’re not really uniting comprehensively“.
Maybe so, but couples with a ‘way out’ are still routinely granted marriage licenses. I really can’t stress strongly enough that this is a debate about who should be allowed to obtain marriage licenses. And again, perhaps some people think there shouldn’t be a ‘way out’, but excluding same-sex couples from obtaining marriage licenses does nothing to further that goal.

24:51 – His statements about parenting are a red herring. In Turner v. Safley (1987), the Supreme Court decided that even prison inmates can obtain marriage licenses. Surely, prison inmates are among the *worst*
parents – almost by definition.

31:00 – more stuff about parenting, including stuff about children born out of wedlock. I agree that the government should enact policies to look out for the interests of children. However, laws excluding same-sex
couples from obtaining marriage licenses aren’t (to use a legal term) narrowly tailored toward that goal.

36:31 – again, if he doesn’t like no-fault divorce laws, he should argue against no-fault divorce laws, not same-sex marriage laws.

40:27 – ‘Thruples’ (the preferred term is actually ‘triad’) should also be able to obtain marriage licenses.

41:37 – ‘Monogamish’ – as has already been mentioned, this is already allowed under current marriage law.

43:40 – ‘Wedlease’ – cf. my comments at 36:31 and 7:21

48:20 – comments on religious liberty. Those catholic adoption agencies didn’t *have* to shut down. They had a choice between shutting down, or following the law. They chose the former. As Ryan even mentioned, these adoption agencies would be violating the state’s non-discrimination statute. But again, adoption law is a separate issue from who can obtain marriage licenses, so I’m not sure why he’s even bringing this up.

52:46 – comments about wedding cake bakers. If you run a public business that serves the public, you’re not allowed to discriminate. Sorry if you don’t like that. But again (I’m saying that a lot!), business law and anti-discrimination statues are a separate issue from who can obtain a marriage license.

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(And now, we move on to the Q & A session)

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1:55 – “marriage tries to maximize the likelihood that a child will be raised by a mom and dad“.
If that’s the case, then it’s doing a really poor job of it already. If this was the state’s interest in marriage, why not require couples who have children to marry, just as we often require child support to be paid?

13:13 – ah, the Regnerus study. The study which was lambasted in DeBoer v. Snyder for being completely irrelevant to the issue of who can obtain marriage licenses. From the decision: “The Court finds Regnerus’s testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration.” and “Whatever Regnerus may have found in this “study,” he certainly cannot purport to have undertaken a scholarly research effort to compare the outcomes of children raised by same-sex couples with those of children raised by heterosexual couples.” (For more, see: http://www.freedomtomarry.org/page/-/files/pdfs/MichiganRuling.pdf )

17:37 – so, regarding the ability of same-sex couples to raise children. his reasoning here seems to be “statistically, same-sex couples don’t perform as well in raising children, so they shouldn’t be able to obtain marriage licenses” (or something like that). But what about other groups that also don’t statistically perform as well in raising children? For example, poor couples statistically don’t perform as well as middle class or rich couples. Should they also not be allowed to obtain marriage licenses? Of course not, because how well a group can raise children isn’t a consideration in deciding who can obtain marriage licenses. As mentioned earlier, even prison inmates can marry.

27:03 – “You can be issued a marriage license in the state of California, but you can’t actually get married.” I think this is, ultimately, what Ryan Anderson is misunderstanding. Proponents of same-sex marriage, for the most part, aren’t really interested in whether they can “actually get married” in the ontological sense. Rather, they’re interested in the marriage licenses. And no one disagrees that same-sex couples can actually get marriage licenses. The laws on the books excluding same-sex couples are not about the ontology of marriage – they’re about who can obtain marriage licenses; a point I’ve stressed strongly throughout these comments. And those laws have been consistently ruled unconstitutional on equal protection and (sometimes) due process grounds. Ryan Anderson didn’t really address the reasons for that at all in this talk.

A Thought Experiment

Thought experiments are often useful at revealing hidden biases and inconsistencies in our reasoning. Here’s one to consider.

Imagine a child is born. This child has a rare genetic defect, such that his cognitive capabilities are severely diminished. His parents, being of poor financial means, put him up for adoption. Due to recent legislation, the couple who adopts him can claim a hefty tax exemption. They adopt the child for this reason and this reason only – not out of a desire to care for a less fortunate child.

As the child matures, the specifics of his impairment become more obvious to the parents. While he’s able to communicate in some form, he definitely cannot learn any real language. All he can do is, on occasion, express desires via non-language sounds. He’s also unable to learn any higher reasoning skills, such as counting. He can, however, learn (with some difficulty) the locations of a few important objects around the house. He can feed himself, but not cook or use silverware (and when he does feed himself, things can get pretty messy). Finally, he can express some basic emotions – most notably, happiness and fear. Higher-level emotions though, such as love or anticipation, seem completely foreign to him.

Now imagine that these parents, finally getting fed up with the difficulties of raising this childs, bring him over to your house. “Here, take him!”, they say. They don’t want anything to do with him anymore, and if they’re being honest, they don’t much care what happens.

Now, you have a choice. You could care for the child yourself, or you could find someone else to care for him. Or, you think in a moment of wild speculation, you could just knock him unconscious, slit his throat, and throw him in the oven.

If you’re like me, that last option horrifies you. It would horrify any rational person. But this thought experiment is strongly analogous to how society treats animals raised for food every day; and the child, with his severely diminished cognitive capacity, is strongly analogous to a pig.

The disabled child and the pig may seem very different at first glance, but consider carefully what exactly those differences are. They’re both alive, in the sense that they’re both biological organisms with metabolic processes. But this isn’t morally relevant – plants and bacteria also have this trait. They also both have similar cognitive capacities.

There are differences, but these differences aren’t ones that are morally relevant. For example, the pig and the child look different – but so what? Furthermore, they have different DNA; but again, so what? Whether something has human DNA isn’t relevant to how we should treat them. A corpse, a skin flake, and a blastocyst also have human DNA, and we don’t think we should treat them in the same way we treat adult humans (some people will disagree with me on that last one, but oh well. that’s a different debate).

In these cases, the morally relevant feature is nothing but cognitive capacity. We don’t strive to treat corpses and skin flakes as moral agents or moral patients whose rights need to be respected, because they don’t have any cognitive capacity at all. Likewise, we do strive to respect the rights of the other members of our society – because they have cognitive capacity.

In the case of the child, we do in fact think there are rights that need to be respected – and perhaps, since the child is so unfortunate as to have cognitive capacities, but ones far less than our own, we might even go above and beyond in caring for this child. We wouldn’t ever dream of killing and eating this child, even humanely, simply to satisfy our own desires – desires which can be satisfied rather easily by other means.

But if that’s the case, then we should treat animals the same way. Unless, of course, you think it’s permissible to eat the child.

Profile of an Ancient Deity

I’ve been reading up on ancient religions lately, and I’m finding it fascinating. Specifically, I’m working through a book detailing the religious beliefs and practices of a small tribe in the ancient near east.

The deity they worshipped is highly interesting. Early on in the history of this people, their deity was sometimes viewed as a storm god. He’s said to have split the seas and defeated an ancient monster while creating the world. He hurls lightning at his enemies, and his voice sounds like thunder. Other times, however, he’s viewed as an agricultural deity, and depicted in their art as a bull. Like most ancient deities, he was even sexually active, and had a female companion (this reminds me quite a bit of the greek deity Zeus).

But like most ancient deities, the mythology changed throughout history. In addition to the storm god and the bull god, these people also later on portrayed their deity as an ancient being with long white hair sitting on a throne. By this point, his home was said to be on top of the tallest mountain in the region, although sometimes he resided temporarily in sacred tents built by worshippers. Occasionally, he would even take physical form and interact with priests and prophets.

These people weren’t strictly monotheistic, though. Like ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, they believed in a pantheon of deities, although most people preferred one over the others and would worship their patron deity nearly exclusively. Followers of this deity would routinely make sacrifices to it, usually in battle. Of course, since that doesn’t actually affect a battle, losses would be explained away with their opponents also making sacrifices to their own deities.

Now, obviously such ancient people routinely believed things that are completely at odds with reality, and we just reject them outright, because we now realize that a world filled with anthropomorphic tribal deities just isn’t the world we live in. I mean, imagine if someone seriously tried to argue that there was a way to save greek mythology from all the blatantly false claims! The sort of religion we have now, though it may end up being false, is far more sophisticated and grounded in ideas that could at least possibly be true. No more silly storm gods for us! Except, well…..

This deity’s name was Yahweh.

More on Mark 16

Blogger Stephen J. Graham has written an excellent critique of my previous post here. In light of these criticisms, let’s take a deeper look at what’s going on in Mark 16.

First, Stephen writes:

But before I consider alternatives it’s worth noting that even if it is the case that Mark made a mistake here little would follow from that fact, and yet SF seems to suggest that the entire story must then be rejected as unhistorical. But why? Ancient historians routinely have to deal with sources of mixed quality and varying reliability when they attempt to reconstruct past events, but they don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater by rejecting an entire account because there’s a possible minor discrepancy. Moreover this is a principle that we find all the time in the legal world: testimony does not need to be infallible before it can be accepted as reliable.

I don’t agree that little would follow from the fact that Mark made a mistake here. If the women in 16:8 really “told no one”, then whence cometh the story in the first place? It is true that most of Mark would be unaffected – specifically, chapters 1-15. But here I’m only concerned with the single account of one event provided in 16:1-8. the previous chapters could very well be extremely reliable – but those chapters don’t include an account of Jesus’ resurrection.

Stephen then writes that I may have created a false dichotomy, and there’s another possibility – namely, that of Mark 16:8 being a literary device. I’ll admit – this is a strong point, especially considering that the gospels are filled with metaphors in other places. The only way I can think of to resolve this and figure out whether Mark was writing literally is to go look at the original Greek – but I don’t know Greek, so I’ll put my original argument on the backburner until I can do more in-depth research.

However, let’s look again at the rest of Mark; at verses 9-20. Stephen admits that if Mark originally did write more beyond verse 8, we don’t have that ending. The “traditional” Mark 9-20 which is not the actual ending of Mark includes Jesus’ appearance to the 11 disciples and the great commission.

If we eliminate verses 9-20, then we’re eliminating one of the sources for these events. Not only that, we’re eliminating one of our earliest sources. Like my previous post, this doesn’t defeat the argument for the resurrection, but it does weaken it.

As a final thought, here’s a more general point. It’s often argued that there are a lot of sources for facts that need to be explained by the hypothesis that Jesus was resurrected. But in reality, these sources are not always sources for the same specific events. Jesus’ appearance to the 500, for example, is mentioned only in 1 Corinthians. And Jesus’ appearance to Paul is mentioned in only two sources – Acts and 1 Corinthians (possibly also in Galatians, but I think that’s disputable). Furthermore, the “two-source hypothesis”, if accurate (and most scholars think it is), is going to further reduce the number of sources for many of these events. So in conclusion, while the case for the resurrection isn’t nonexistent, it is overstated.

Mark 16 and Apologetics

This is a first draft of an argument. Please poke holes in it.

I find Mark 16 rather interesting. The chapter consists of 20 verses; however, only the first 8 are included in our earliest copies. The verses which are not found in our earliest copies include Jesus’ post-death appearances to Mary Magdalene, two unnamed disciples, the great commission, and Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Since they aren’t there, these verses (at least in this book) shouldn’t be used in an argument for the resurrection.

Here are the first 8 verses:

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

That last verse gives me pause. If they “said nothing to anyone”, as the text claims, then how was this event recorded? There’s a problem here – either Mark is mistaken about whether the women said anything, or verses 1-8 are not recording an event that actually happened.

If the latter is the case, then the argument for the resurrection of Christ is going to take a hit. Mark is the earliest dated gospel, and no previous chapters deal with post-resurrection events. So if chapter 16 is removed, then that eliminates one of the precious few sources for post-resurrection events, as well as one of the earliest. This by itself does not completely defeat the resurrection argument, but it does weaken it somewhat.

On the other hand, if Mark is mistaken and the women did talk about what happened, then why does he say that they didn’t? This seems especially odd considering that he’s relating the very story that he claims was never mentioned to anyone. Perhaps there is some interpretation of verse 8 that resolves the problem, but if there is I cannot think of it.

Smoke and Vapor

Imagine you have a friend that, when he was 17, became an alcoholic. Over the years, he’s gained a lot of weight, so he can’t really run anymore; he gets winded walking up stairs. His alcoholism has caused many other health problems too. He sweats a lot, and if you’re being honest, he smells bad. He spends a good portion of his disposable income on alcohol, and he’s always carrying around a flask so he can have a drink every half an hour. The worst part is that everyone who knows him realizes that he’s slowly killing himself. Eventually, his liver will give out, and he’ll drop dead. He knows this, and he does want to quit, but alcohol has a powerful hold on him.

Now, imagine that one day a company comes out with a new product designed to help alcoholics quit drinking. To alcoholics, it’s practically a miracle product. It’s extremely effective at controlling cravings for alcohol, it doesn’t make one intoxicated, it doesn’t damage your liver, and even better, it’s more delicious than any alcoholic drink. If you switch from drinking alcohol to drinking this product, then you’ll save money, you’ll stop smelling bad, and over time, your body will repair the damage that alcohol did. You’ll lose your beer gut and be able to climb stairs and run once again. And finally, the product packaging just looks awesome, and you feel cool drinking it.

And now…imagine that some people started actively opposing this product, merely on the grounds that there’s a small chance that it might, possibly, have some very minor negative health effects. it is after all a new product, and long-term effects can only be guessed at. Nevermind that the ingredients of this product are all well-known, so the chances of any serious health problem on par with alcoholism are extremely slim. I, for one, would be extremely angry with anyone opposing this product.

But this is the reality when it comes to electronic cigarettes. A year ago, I had my last “analog” cigarette. I lit up for the last time. Since then, I’ve been using an electronic cigarette, and I absolutely 100% do *not* regret it. I can physically feel how much healthier I am.

I was quickly headed for some very serious health problems. I couldn’t even take a deep breath anymore, after years of pack-a-day smoking. And of course, everyone could tell I was a heavy smoker as soon as I walked into the room. But when I switched, I had regained most of my natural lung capacity within a week. I could feel more energy coursing through my body – where before I was admittedly a bit lazy because I didn’t want to to be short of breath, now I wanted to get up and move around more than I had in years. And now, if I pass a smoker, I can smell it, and it smells awful. Now, the air around me smells like mint and vanilla.

But apparently some people aren’t happy with this. They tell society that my electronic cigarettes are “untested” and might turn out to cause health problems. You know what? I don’t care if they do, because any health problems they end up causing will end up being not nearly as bad as the certain health problems caused by burning tobacco day in and day out (not to mention the financial* and social problems that electronic cigarettes don’t have). These people want to regulate electronic cigarettes heavily and tax them like tobacco cigarettes, on the grounds that they *might* cause health problems, and that the flavors are an attempt to market to children. This is, quite frankly, bullshit. It angers me that I might have to pay much more for my electronic cigarette supplies, and that I might be severely limited in when and where I can vape. Do these people want me to go back to burning tobacco, and die an early death?

So, please – don’t oppose electronic cigarettes. They literally saved my life.

*There’s potential to spend much more on electronic cigarettes than one ever did on smoking. Electronic cigarettes have attracted hobbyists, who purchase many different devices and enjoy modifying them. But this spending is of a very different nature, and is entirely optional. It’s analogous to computer hobbyists, who enjoy buying the latest video cards and processors and overclocking them. For the “regular user”, it’s far cheaper than cigarettes.

God, Deontology, and Slavery

Throughout the Old Testament, Yahweh acts like a deontologist. Here are some passages where God hands down categorical prohibitions against various behaviors (all passages are ESV. bold mine).

Leviticus 20:6
If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.

Leviticus 20:13
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

Deuteronomy 14:19
And all winged insects are unclean for you; they shall not be eaten.

Deuteronomy 23:24
If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in your bag.

This is only a small sample of deontological statements in the O.T. But I’d like to look at one more passage:

Leviticus 25:44-46
As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly.

So, what do various apologists have to say about slavery in the bible? Here’s a few sources.

http://www.rzim.eu/does-the-bible-condone-slavery
Jesus lays down a method of interpretation that has to be taken very seriously. He makes it clear that certain Old Testament commandments were to be understood as concessions to the hardness of the human heart rather than as expressions of God’s holy character. [...] The regulation of slavery should therefore be seen as a practical step to deal with the realities of the day resulting from human fall.[...] While the Bible does not reject slavery outright, the conclusion that it actually favours slavery is patently wrong.

http://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-slavery.html
The Bible does not specifically condemn the practice of slavery. [...] What many fail to understand is that slavery in biblical times was very different from the slavery that was practiced in the past few centuries in many parts of the world. The slavery in the Bible was not based exclusively on race. [...] In Bible times, slavery was more a matter of social status. People sold themselves as slaves when they could not pay their debts or provide for their families. [...] Another crucial point is that the purpose of the Bible is to point the way to salvation, not to reform society.

This sort of response is quite common. But distinctly lacking is an explanation as to why there is no categorical condemnation of slavery to be found, as there is for so many other things. Where’s the verse that reads, “You shall not keep slaves as property. This is an abomination.”?

Throughout the Old Testament, God acts as a strict deontologist. But when it comes to the issue of slavery, suddenly his attitude changes dramatically. He’s making concessions, he’s guiding the Israelites, he’s not interested in social reform. Furthermore, the answers given for all this might be somewhat satisfying with regard to domestic “slaves” (I can’t see much wrong with being legally required to work off one’s debt); but when it comes to foreign slaves, it’s clear that there’s strong similarity to the slavery practiced in the American south.

The reason that southern slavery was immoral is not just that it was race-based, although that’s certainly a major point against it. In addition, it was immoral because it was a method of treating other people not as people, but as property. If all the slaves in the American south were white, it would *still* be a morally disgusting practice. So the apologetic that OT foreign slavery wasn’t race-based doesn’t save the practice from immorality. As is clear in Leviticus 25, such slaves were treated as property, and could even be inherited.

I categorically condemn owning human persons as extremely immoral. Why doesn’t Yahweh?

Theism and Intelligent Design

The core of what is known as ‘intelligent design’ is an inference that, when interpreted charitably, can be construed as something along these lines:

Design Inference (DI):
There are certain facts about biology, and especially genetics, such that it is reasonable to infer from these facts that an intelligent agent is at least partly responsible for the diversity of life on earth.

Taken alone, this shouldn’t be too objectionable to scientists, at least at first glance. Scientists infer that things were designed fairly often – arrowheads, stone tools, etc. But of course, this isn’t a complete picture; the scientist’s job is never as simple as this. To see how, consider the design inference in the case of an arrowhead in more detail:

Imagine that you are walking along in the plains of North America, and you stumble across a stone object half-buried in the sand. Upon digging it out, you see that it’s made of stone, triangular, and has crudely sharpened edges. Given this, you conclude that it was almost certainly designed by some kind of intelligent agent. And you’d be reasonable to do so; because while it *could* have been fashioned by some natural process, you’re not aware of any that could actually do so. On the other hand, you can think of several ways in which intelligent agents could rather easily fashion such an object.

But you’re not satisfied yet. You’re a curious person; you want to know what kind of intelligent agent would make such a device, and furthermore, for what purpose. So to get things started, you rush back home and list as many potential designers as you can think of:

1. pre-U.S. native americans
2. extraterrestrials
3. modern-day humans
4. ancient egyptians
5. a perfect, supernatural, arrowhead deity

To begin narrowing things down, you first examine the object in greater detail. You look at it under a magnifying glass, and see that it’s been fashioned rather crudely, likely with primitive tools. You also notice that it’s made out of granite. With these facts in mind, you consider what sort of arrowhead design you’d expect to see given each of the potential explanations above:

1. triangular, made of granite, built with primitive tools, found in North America
2. made of some advanced metal, built with advanced technology
3. made of carbon steel, built with modern tools, razor sharp, three-bladed
4. made of granite, built with primitive tools, found in Africa
5. made of the best possible substance for making arrowheads, designed perfectly, completely unlike anything humans have made

Next, you consider why each of these potential designers would be motivated to construct an arrowhead:

1. to hunt game, or to shoot at targets
2. no reason apparent. surely, aliens would have more effective methods and devices
3. to hunt game, or to shoot at targets
4. to hunt game, or to shoot at targets
5. as a gift to its followers, so they could hunt game, or shoot at targets

From this analysis, we can conclude that probably (in fact, almost certainly), the best explanation for the arrowhead is that it was designed by pre-U.S. native americans. They had a good reason to construct arrowheads, *and* this arrowhead is the kind of arrowhead we’d expect, *and* it was found in the location we’d expect, if pre-U.S. native americans were the designers. In contrast, none of the other potential designers fit as well with the specifics.

Now, let’s move on to looking at design in nature. For the sake of argument, I’m going to grant the design inference at the beginning of this post, and look at which sort of designer is the best explanation of said design. Here are some options:

1. extraterrestrials
2. simulation
3. God
4. time travelers (causal loop)
5. non-God supernatural being

As in the case of the arrowhead, we shouldn’t just stop at concluding “some sort of designer”. Explanations, if they are to be good explanations, need to be more robust than that. So, like the arrowhead, let’s examine the details of the designed ‘object’ – human bodies.

So what relevant features can we point out about human bodies? Well first off, they’re physical. They have a lifespan of roughly 80 years. They’re extremely vulnerable to being damaged by temperature or by physical trauma. They’re not very efficient.

Given 1, 2, and 4, we’d probably expect these things (or similar things) to be the case. Extraterrestrials would have to work with physical matter, and aren’t perfect. Given that we’re a simulation constructed by some other sort of physical being, we might expect such beings to roughly model what they’re familiar with in the simulation. And given a causal loop where a human time traveler goes back and designs life in order to “complete the loop” of his own existence, it’s *exactly* what we’d expect.

5 is a toss-up. A non-God supernatural being may or may not still have internal or external limitations that necessitate working with physical matter. But with 3, God, there are no such limitations. While it’s true that given God, we’d expect to see minds that are capable of being moral agents, physical bodies that are inefficient and easily damaged seem not only superfluous, but contrary to what we’d expect such a being to design.

So, absent some reason to think that God would want to create inefficient physical bodies that are easily damaged, intelligent design advocates should not be silent on the identity of the designer. Rather, they should reject God as said designer. But this is a large bullet to bite for the theistic I.D. advocate, as it entails that God did not create the universe with humans in mind. Thus, the design inference, if it is a rational inference to make, is evidence against theism.