Thursday, March 22, 2012

True reason ain't what it used to be.

Some of you may know about the Reason Rally going on in Washington D.C. this weekend.  I am unfortunately unable to attend, but I did come across a website for a Christian group calling themselves True Reason.  (humble I know) This group is planing an "outreach," which is another word evangelism, at the Reason Rally to convince us that Christianity is the most logical position and they even wrote a book entitled "True Reason" for the occasion.

I realize that most of you have no time to read through arguments by Christian apologists so I have gracefully done it for you.  Let me say that every time I pick up a book by an apologist I think to myself that this could be the one that convinces me.  Perhaps Christianity is reasonable after all and I just missed it.  Of course  I don't feel this as strongly as I did a few years ago but I always hope, at least for their sake, that theist in question has managed to come up with something new.  Anyone willing to bet money on that?  I didn't think so.

The book is a compilation of essays by a host of the "most reasonable" fundamentalist Christians so of Course William Lane Craig makes this list.  For those who pay attention to apologetics you might remember Craig as they absolutely horrid person who tried to justify the biblical genocide of the Canaanites by saying that the true victims where the Jewish soldiers who must have suffered a lot from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after all that baby killing god order them to do.

I quote from his article here:
So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?  Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement.  Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.  So who is wronged?  Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.
Now I don't care what degree's Craig has, if this is the standard for high levels of rationality in Christianity then they have already lost their argument before it began.  However, In the books defense Craig's chapters mostly focus on the Kalam Cosmological argument, an argument which has been dismantled so many times I won't even bother.  Check out the Iron Chariots Wiki for a detailed rebuttal.  However, writers of the chapters dealing with moral arguments fair little better than Craig does.

Now, it would be impossible for me to go into all of the failures in reason I found in this book even in the chapters I have read thus far. So for the moment I will focus on on Chapter Fifteen by Glenn Sunshine which is about Slavery.  The reason for this is that history happens to be a topic I am better versed in than many of the others, and one that Sunshine is apparently quite ignorant (or just lying) on despite his degree in the subject.

So here is the first mistake I noticed, he says:
Whatever the reasons for being enslaved, throughout the ancient world slaves were legally property, not persons, and their status was permanent unless for some reason the master chose to set the slave free.  The sole exception to this was Israel.
Now, this is a gross oversimplification of the issue to the point of being inaccurate.  First, the notion that slave status was permanent in all other ancient cultures is wrong.  In Rome, for instance, though it was not common it was possible for a slave to buy his freedom.  Secondly the institution of slavery in Israel according the bible was not the kind and gentle institution he seems to want us to believe.  The exception he speaks only allows one to be slave for 6 years, however, of it only applied to Jewish men, all women and foreign men could be enslaved forever.  Further, in Exodus 21:4-6 the law gave the owner a way to turn someone into a permanent slave.  He could give the man a wife from his female slaves and upon manumission the slave would have to pick between his freedom and his family, since his wife and children would still belong to the slave owner.

He also engages in very selective reinterpretations of various passages.  Take this quote.
...and if a servant died soon after being struck by a master, the master was considered guilty of murder.  (Ex:21:20) that really what that passage says?  Lets take a look.
When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished.  But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner's property.  Ex: 21:20:21
Does anyone notice how he doesn't quote the second verse?  He doesn't even correctly reference verse 20, the passage does not say the owner is guilty of murder, it says he will be "punished."  True it doesn't name the punishment, but considering this is the book that makes being an unruly child a capital crime I think we can assume that if they had wanted the person killed for it they would have said so.  So this is clearly not considered murder, in fact as long as you only beat the guy bad enough to make live a few agonizing days before he dies then you get off with no punishment at all, after all he is your property.

He continues his series of audacious claims by saying that Christianity was alone responsible for the  decline of slavery in western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.  This is a typical post hoc fallacy.  It is true that slavery did decline after the fall of the Roman Empire, but the causes for its decline were varied.  Even his own arguments seem to defeat this position, for instance he mentions that one of the reasons that most Christians in the Roman empire where not abolitionists was because it slavery was such an intrinsic part of Roman culture and economics.  One of the reasons slavery declined was the total collapse of the economy rendered it infeasible for most people to own slaves, and the collapse of the legal system meant that slaves who escaped could not have been tracked down as easily as they could have been prior to the fall.  Owning slaves was simply more difficult after Rome's fall.

In fact, even as Sunshine begins to talk about the middle ages he points out that Clovis II passed laws against slavery because of the influence of his wife, Bathilda, who was a former slave.  Exactly where was the influence of Christianity in this?  However, the truly humorous part of this is when he mentions that by the 11th century a law that banned the enslavement of Christians
...effectively abolished slavery in medieval Europe, except at the southern and eastern interfaces with Islam where both sides enslaved one another's prisoners.
So Christianity ended slavery...except for the slavery they didn't end?  Why did non-Christians not get protection under the law?  Also, how can you argue that slavery is not a religious issue when people started drawing legal lines on who you could enslave based upon the religious beliefs of the individual?

Most of the rest of the article devolves into a string of no true Scotsman fallacies.  He basically admits that a lot of people who practiced slavery used the bible to justify it, but they weren't "true" Christians.  Even Pope's like Innocent the VIII don't escape his quick dismissal.

In the end Sunshine manages to completely miss the point of the criticism that atheists bring to bear on this point.  His entire argument is a straw man of the position of most atheists on this issue.   When we point out that Judaism institutionalized slavery we are not saying their culture was horrible or that it was worse than any other culture of the time.  We are pointing out that it is exactly the same, and thus the notion that the book was inspired by an all powerful being is in question. 

Sunshine's argument amounts to saying that the Jewish or Christian cultures he writes about are very slightly better than the other cultures around them, and even if I were to grant that argument, which I don't, it would be an incredibly weak one.  If the Bible were only the work of men living in that time it looks rather like we would expect, but if it were the work of the creator of the universe we ought to expect much better, not slightly better.


  1. been looking for a review of this everywhere. As expected, it's the SSDD I expected. Thanks, Skeptimus!

  2. There is no better disinfectant for theist arguments than a little exposure to sunshine. :P And how sad that the person creating this deceptively false history is a department chair at a state university! For shame.