I was recently reading a discussion on Facebook about the various passages in the Bible that are used by atheists to claim that the God of the Bible is immoral. All sorts of claims swirled around. Jesus commanded us to murder children. God was a premeditated murderer. For the most part, it was a group of atheists ganging up on one or two theists, and unfortunately the only type of “argument” taking place was more of the ad hominem variety than any reasoned intellectual discussion.
Given the tone the discussion had taken on, I decided to ask a simple question. I wanted to know if any of the atheists on that board could articulate even one reason a Christian has given in response to their claims of divine immorality. After all, plenty has been written on the subject, including Paul Copan’s 2011 book “Is God a Moral Monster?,” David Lamb’s “God Behaving Badly,” and William Lane Craig’s and Chad Meister’s “God is Great, God is Good,” just to name a few. The results were pretty astonishing. I honestly expected at least one person to be aware of the distinction between the ceremonial and moral laws, to understand the Christian position on the special place held by the Jewish people, etc. I was not asking them to agree with those rebuttals, just for some reassurance that they had at least investigated them, even if they found them wanting.
Instead, I got a song and dance, a fanciful bob and weave of avoidance. A couple of people articulated something, although the rebuttals they gave were more the type we find on the internet and not in any scholarly work. For the most part the response I got was along the lines of “I don’t need to articulate how a Christian would respond to my objections.” Most commenters claimed to have fully investigated any rebuttals, but consistently refused to articulate a single one. Keep in mind, all that would have been necessary to meet my challenge would have been to summarize some argument advanced by Copan or any other apologist. But instead I was confronted by a militant refusal to respond, all the while expecting me to accept that they really knew the answer. They just did not want to tell me. I guess I was supposed to take their knowledge on faith. Needless to say, I do not believe the people on this page were very good ambassadors for their worldview.
What follows below is a portion of that conversation (I originally planned to include the entire discussion, but that wound up running far over the maximum word count expected for these posts). Generally, I have focused on a discussion between myself and a gentleman named “Jeff” (with one interspersed comment from “Paul” that was pertinent to the flow of the conversation between Jeff and me). Jeff refused to articulate any Christian responses to his position, stating that was not his job. Instead, he thought he was entitled to ask questions of Christians and expect them to formulate an answer. He never did seem to appreciate the obvious contradiction. After all, our entire conversation started with me asking a question that he was refusing to answer.
Jeff also consistently tried to claim he was merely asking questions of Christians and that I was demanding that in the course of a debate he provide answers to the very questions he was asking. At one point he even said, “In a debate, which is what this group is for, it’s up to each side to present their evidence or ask questions of the other side, not for one individual to present both sides.” Of course, I never asked him to present both sides in the course of his debates with other Christians. I just asked him to articulate one, any one rebuttal that he claimed to have read in regard to the alleged immorality of God. Also, Jeff’s whole attempt to describe himself as merely asking questions was false. He was not merely asking questions. He was making a claim: “The God described in the Bible is immoral.” That is a claim, not a question. I was simply asking him to articulate any of the various Christian rebuttals to that assertion that he says he has read about. If he has really studied the subject, shouldn’t he at least be capable of coming up with one rebuttal? He was clearly either unable or unwilling to do so. If unable, then has he really adequately researched the subject before forming such a fixed opinion on it? If unwilling, why? What did he possibly have to lose by simply demonstrating his own knowledge of the subject at hand?
If nothing else, I hope that discussion illustrates that everyone, regardless of what side of a debate they are on, should always be cautious to ensure that they are giving all the evidence and arguments a fair hearing.
Ken: I’m curious to see … if you’ve really studied this issue, because the types of things you are raising have been answered time and again. Could you please articulate for me your understanding of the Christian response to your objections about these passages that allegedly condone murder, etc.?
Jeff: The passages condone murder, there are no apologetics that somehow fix them or change what they say. … Actually, I’ve read many apologetics sources. I study religion for fun and hope to study it for profit one day. What apologetics do you have that somehow change what Jesus said about killing children?
Ken: Nice try, but I’m not going to allow you to change the subject from my original question, Jeff. I don’t think it is that unreasonable, if you really claim to hold to a position reasonably, for you to be able to at least articulate your opponents’ response. If you can do so (without generating a straw man) and still don’t accept it, fine. That is what honest intellectual debate is all about. But to be honest, in my perusal of this page, I’ve seen virtually no honest intellectual debate, but rather just a bunch of one-liners, conclusory statements and ad hominems, hardly becoming of a worldview that claims to be based on reason. I am not saying that some of you cannot meet my challenge. In fact, I would certainly hope that some of you could, otherwise your election of your worldview is extremely shallow. So please, articulate for me how a Christian would respond to your objections.
Jeff: I don’t need to articulate how a Christian would respond to my objections, they are capable of articulating their own responses.
Ken: The test here, Jeff, is to see if YOU are being reasonable. Do you think it is reasonable of a Christian to hold to their worldview and completely ignore any responses you raise.
Jeff: No, it is not reasonable for them to ignore the points I have raised. So, how do you justify Jesus saying that you should kill your children if they dishonour you? I get my information from both sides, none of the apologetics sources have managed to justify Jesus commanding parents to kill their children.
Ken: Jeff, you are still changing the subject. I’m not debating the merits. I’m debating your approach to arriving at your conclusions and whether you are being reasonable. So please answer this question: If it is not reasonable for Christians to cling to a worldview while remaining ignorant of any rebuttals to their position, why is it reasonable for you to cling to your worldview while remaining ignorant of rebuttals to your points? You have yet to articulate for me anything you had supposedly read that would be in response to the points you have raised here.
Jeff: I arrive at my conclusion about what the bible says by reading the bible and comparing it to the historical and cultural context in which it was written. I know the rebuttals to my position, none of them stand up. I haven’t attempted to articulate their conclusions. I’ve asked them questions here in order to get their conclusions and how they come to them. I’m trying to get you to answer a question and you are skirting around in a desperate attempt to avoid answering it.
Ken: It’s funny, Jeff, that you accuse me of skirting the issue when I have never come out one way or the other on the issue. I have not told you whether I am a biblical inerrantist, or heck, whether I even accept the Bible at all. I could be a Hindu for all you know based on what I have said here. My part in this discussion began with a simple methodological question which you have yet to answer. Perhaps I can ask it more generally: Is it reasonable to form a conclusion on an issue by only researching one side of it and ignoring any evidence or argument that is offered to the contrary?
Paul: No it is not, and we have not done that.
Ken: OK Paul, as I said before, I am more than open to the possibility that you have not done that. In fact, I would certainly hope that individuals who claim to have reason on their side would see the inconsistency in criticizing their opponents for not listening to the arguments against them all the while doing the same thing themselves. All I ever asked was for someone to articulate any of the allegedly standard Christian responses to these alleged moral difficulties in the teachings of the Bible. They are not hard to come by. Entire books have been written on the subject. I am simply asking for someone to articulate some for me in order to demonstrate that you actually have fully researched the issue.
Jeff: I never said you were a biblical inerrantist, never even said you were a Christian, I wasn’t even talking to you initially. I was asking a question about Christians in general and you started commenting on how my asking a question was ignoring the other side of the argument, which it’s not, it’s attempted to get the other side of the argument to put forward their position. Now, if you’re talking about evolution and creation, I will look at the creationist evidence when the produce it, so far they haven’t. I am trying to get the Christians to articulate their responses to the questions I asked. They are refusing to do so. I have read books and websites and other sources on their responses, and have rejected their opinions put forward in those sources because they are attempts to apply secular morality that they have learned and developed to an old book that many claim to be the word of god. So I ask these questions in order to get them to understand that if they are using secular morality as the basis for what they believe should or should not be done in this world, that they do not need the book. Your assumptions that I, or other people, haven’t looked at other sources because we aren’t presenting the other side of the argument is showing an incredible amount of dishonesty on your part, you are attempting to invalidate what people are doing by asking questions, or speaking of certain evidence, because they don’t present what other people think as well. Sorry, but in a debate, which is what this group is for, it’s up to each side to present their evidence or ask questions of the other side, not for one individual to present both sides.
Ken: So when you ask questions, Jeff, it is fair, but when I do it, it is dishonest. OK, I see. So I guess it is fair, then, for me to use the same approach and just say I’ve read all the naturalistic responses and none of them hold up. End of debate.
Jeff: I never said it wasn’t fair for you to ask questions, what is dishonest you assuming that someone has to be even familiar with both sides of the issues to ask questions.
Ken: Jeff, when did I ever assume someone was not familiar? Twice now I have said that I fully expect some people on this page could meet my challenge. For some reason, however, you insist on repeatedly assuring everyone that you are familiar with the responses, but you have refused to articulate even one.
Jeff: I don’t need to articulate their responses. I am asking them to articulate their responses. I am not here to articulate other people’s responses to a question that I ask.
Ken: Jeff, our discussion started with ME asking a question. Not you. You continue to shift the focus to the conversation you have had with others.
Jeff: Ken Coughlan. You asked a question in reply to a conversation that was already occurring. It is unreasonable for me to ask questions and expect people to be able to articulate their own answers?
Ken: So can anyone here articulate any response that has been offered by a Christian apologist to the passages raised here?
Jeff: It’s not our job to articulate answers to our own questions that we are asking of other people.
Ken: So “no,” then? You are refusing to answer my question, Jeff, is that right?
Jeff: Oh, I totally can provide a response that an apologist has given. But it’s not up to me to do that. I’m not refusing to answer your question as I have answered it, my answer is, its not up to me to provide apologetics answers to the questions that I ask of other people.
Ken: Why, Jeff? What are you afraid of? Why are you so adamant in refusing to answer what should be a simple question?
Jeff: I have answered your question. It’s not up to me to provide information from apologetics.
Ken: I will close with this. If we are truly to claim “reason” is on our side, then we must fully invoke reason in arriving at our conclusions. That means listening to the arguments on both sides, then applying good logical principles to arrive at a conclusion. This also means that we do not cut our investigation short. If one side makes a claim, then the other offers a response, we must be willing to listen to any rebuttal that is offered. Someone who has truly investigated an issue should be able to articulate their opponents’ position as well as they can articulate their own. This is a failing I have found on both sides of theistic/atheistic type debates. Far too often people gain their “understanding” of what one viewpoint holds by listening only to people who hold the opposite viewpoint. This tends to lead to an elementary and straw man appreciation of one side, so of course your conclusion is all but pre-determined. Always get your information “straight from the horse’s mouth,” so to speak, no matter which side of this debate you fall on. If you cannot answer the challenge to step into your opponents’ shoes, then perhaps you have not investigated their claims as deeply as you believe you have. Have a good day, everyone.