Secular Morality: Barfing Up A Moral Landscape

Yes, I’m still here.  I bet you thought that you’d gotten rid of me.  In my last post I referred you to an article on secular morality that a friend of mine had passed on to me after a discussion about the basis for moral judgments.  I began by dispatching the false dichotomy the article leads with in an attempt to establish that morality based in God is no less arbitrary than that based in a secular worldview.  Please read my previous post to understand why this is not the case.

Now, on to the task at hand, which is an attempt to understand how morality can be objective in the context of secular naturalism. The article tries to get going by asking the questions, “How should unbelievers behave? Where does our understanding of morality ultimately come from? How do we know that our standards are correct in a meaningful and universal sense?” These are great questions! How then, do we began to answer these questions? The article continues, “…if we approach the question from a humanistic, scientific stand point, atheists ought to agree that there should be rational standards for arriving at moral conclusions.”

Say what now?

I seem to be being told, that in order to conclude where “oughts” (statements about morality) come from, that we ought to agree there should be rational standards. This is absurd though. I see no reason why atheists ought to agree, unless there is some transcendent atheist herdsman that sets the moral standard for all people. The statement that atheists (or anybody else) “ought” to do anything is the very thing that is in question, and so at the outset this article commits the logical fallacy known as “begging the question“. This circular form of argument gets stuck in an infinite loop that usually goes something like this:

Atheist: We ought to agree there should be rational standards for arriving at moral conclusions.
Me: Doesn’t whether or not there are objective moral conclusions impact whether we “ought” to do anything, like agree on rational standards?
Atheist: No. We can know some things are right and some things are wrong?
Me: How?
Atheist: We ought to agree there should be rational standards for arriving at moral conclusions.

Unfortunately, a claim cannot use its own conclusion to justify itself, and so this article falls on its sword before it ever gets underway, by appealing to a sense of “ought” prior to establishing that such a thing can exist, or where it comes from. The fact of the matter is that either moral principles are universal laws that we discover, like the laws of mathematics or physics, or they’re merely social conventions that we’ve created for ourselves. In the event they are social conventions, there is no “ought” involved. There remains only the opinion based product of myself or my society. In this case, I have no grounds to judge the actions of other people or other societies. If another society believes nirvana is achieved by using babies for skeet shooting, that is their prerogative. I can object on the subjective grounds that I don’t like it because it is mean, but I have no objective standard on which to base my assessment.

In Sam Harris’s book The Moral Landscape, he lays out a much more thorough case for an objective morality without God. Harris defines his so-called “moral landscape” as, “…real and potential outcomes whose peaks correspond to the heights of potential well-being and whose valleys represent the deepest possible suffering.” Again, from the outset, the case for secular morality lies within the human condition. Though eloquent, Harris’s definition of morality holds water no better than the aforementioned article. The Moral Landscape makes its case using moral language with words like “well-being”, “should”, “right”, and “good”. All of these words are meaningless though, unless something gives them meaning. Harris dodges the problem of question begging by instead relying on the equivocation of these words so that they are synonymous with the promotion of human life. This secular humanism is arbitrary speciesism though. On naturalism I see no objective reason to think protecting human animals is any more right than protecting aardvarks or cockroaches. Surely you can assign subjective rightness to the flourishing of human life, simply on the grounds that you are one of them, but why stop there? Why not use you’re nationalism to promote an ideal society of whatever sub-class of humans you think is superior to others (WWHD)?

Theism presents the solution to this problem though, by recognizing a transcendent moral law giver outside of creation that provides a universal moral law. People seem to nearly universally recognize and affirm that human life is important, but unlike a secular humanist’s worldview, Christianity in particular has objective reasons for elevating humans over aardvarks or cockroaches. God, as the creator of all things, gives mankind special position in the creation. Without a transcendent moral law, all morality is reduced to individual and societal opinions. Sam Harris can use science to tell me that certain brain states equate to unhappiness. However, science is powerless to say in any meaningful sense why I ought not put you in these unhappy brain states.  It is not his science (as he would have you believe), but his philosophy that makes the claim we ought to look out for the well-being of people. This is his opinion…and we simply ought to agree with his moral conclusions.

Just to be clear, I am NOT saying that the atheist cannot be moral, I’m simply saying that on atheism there is no objective grounds on which to base the concept of morality.  In a secular worldview it seems it must be admitted that “oughts” and “ought nots” are no more meaningful than in any other part of the animal kingdom. If we really think that an objective morality exists though, and that things like “human rights” are real things, then we must look outside ourselves to find the source, for it is only something beyond mankind that can apply universally to mankind. Once we identify the source of moral laws and duties outside ourselves, only then can we say with confidence that we ought not eat our babies like guppies do, and this is more than just mere personal opinion or cultural convention!

Books Make Me Barf: Cold-Case Christianity

“The answers are available; you don’t have to turn off your brain to be a believer. Yes, it is possible to become a Christian because of the evidence rather than in spite of the evidence. Many of us have done just that. ~J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity

I’ve always been somewhat of a skeptic in that I have a tendency to question things. I’ve said this before, but I guess I’ll say it again. I’m interested in believing true things, not necessarily popular things.  Subjective feelings are not, necessarily, good indicators of truth.  Moreover, emotion is certainly inadequate, in most cases, to allow us to make a compelling case to somebody else for our beliefs. We must learn to responsibly follow and present objective evidence if we’re to compete in the marketplace of ideas. The good news is that we all seem to be predisposed to follow evidence.  We use evidence to make decisions all the time without even thinking about it.  I look out the window every morning and, based on the evidence, decide if I should wear a jacket today or not.  In fact, I may just use circumstantial evidence to conclude it is raining outside when I see one of my kids come inside wet.  Sure it’s possible that they may have just been playing in the sprinkler, but if it is winter time and they’re fully clothed, I can infer the most reasonable conclusion is that the weather is inclement.  Evidence is important for forming our beliefs about reality.  We should all be skeptics to some degree, having sound reasons for why we believe what we believe.  Enter J. Warner Wallace.

J. (Jim) Warner Wallace is a vocal atheist turned vocal Christian apologist.  Having worked in law enforcement for many years, Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective in the Los Angeles County area. You may have seen his work featured on Dateline. In his recently released book “Cold-Case Christianity“, he tackles the case of the historicity of the life of Jesus using the techniques of his trade, applying the same principles he uses to solve cold-case homicides where witnesses are gone, physical evidence is slight, and it is solid circumstantial cases that bring the truth to light.  Detective Wallace takes you through his own journey from atheist to follower of Jesus of Nazareth via careful evaluation of the historical evidence, training you to think critically about things like evaluating witnesses, conspiracy theory, and the chain of custody in evidence gathering.

With this book J. Warner Wallace makes a significant contribution to the defense of the reasonableness of the Christian faith.  In recent years the vocal “new atheist” movement has been aggressively attacking religion, and specifically Christianity, with a newfound hostility, often claiming that the enterprise of reason stands solely with their position.  Tearing down strongholds and demolishing arguments against the knowledge of God, Cold-Case Christianity makes it abundantly clear that a belief in the Biblical text is not only reasonable, but even more reasonable than any of the other ancient documents which we accept at face value in our pursuit of knowledge about the past.  When evaluated objectively, as any good jury member with an open mind ought to, the historical case for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is successfully prosecuted by J. Warner Wallace.  It is only if one comes to the case with the pre-existing conclusion that supernatural events can’t happen that the case can be dismissed.

Undoubtedly, the charge against Wallace from some Christians will be that he takes the “faith” out of faith (by the way, fideism makes me barf).  They’ll likely say that this evidential approach to Biblical investigation puts God on trial.  I’d ask these naysayers to refer to their Bibles in places like 1 Peter 3:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, 2 Corinthians 10:5, and Jude 1:3 (among others).  The Biblical authors were clear that reasoning with people and defending faith in Christ was a virtue, not a vice.  J. Warner Wallace has taken these mandates seriously, carefully arranging a book that is useful to both Christians and non-Christians alike in their pursuit of understanding.

Not only does Wallace build a successful case for the reliability of the eyewitness gospel accounts, but he does it in a way that is appealing to any fan of the whodunit genre of books, movies, and television shows.  Weaved into J. Warner Wallace’s investigation of the biblical accounts, are real world examples from his cold-cases that are used to reinforce the subject matter of each chapter.  Cold-Case Christianity is one of the most accessible apologetics books I’ve had the pleasure of reading.  This is a book anybody can, and should, pick up and read not only to educate themselves, but for the pure enjoyment of it as well.  Kudos to J. Warner Wallace who has put together a book that is both educational and fun!  Thorough, winsome, and entertaining, this is the first book that should be recommended to any skeptic who levels a charge against the reliability of the gospel accounts or the historical figures that penned them.

Fideism Makes Me Barf

It’s been a while.  I guess the weather has just been too nice or something.  There’s nothing like learning a new word to give me something to write.  My wife thinks these words make me sound arrogant, but I’ve read that most congresspersons have only a 10th grade vocabulary, so I’ll take the risk.  Apparently our lack of vocabulary isn’t getting us anywhere!

The word “fideism” is only interesting to me because this past week I had a couple of conversations about the role of evidence as it pertains to Christianity.  One was with a group of adults who had a lot to say over 1.5 hours about evidence and how it builds trust/faith.  It was a fun conversation.  The other was with a group of mostly Jr High kids, who seemed to meet the question with mostly blank stares.  They’re the ones that concern me the most, since this is about the age of my own kids now.  I’m concerned we’re letting our kids down, teaching them to be fideists, because that’s what we are.

The word fideism comes from the Greek word fides, which simply means “faith”.  So fideism is simply faithism.  In short, it is the idea that faith and reason are contrary to one another, and that faith is the better mechanism for arriving at real truths.  I find this absurd.  It seems clear to me that Christian faith and reason are complimentary.  In fact, Christianity in general has a long tradition of appealing to both physical and spiritual evidence.  Personally, I cringe when I hear Christians say that we just need “simple” faith.  I don’t think classical Christianity has ever been a simple faith other than the fact that aligns itself nicely with the reality we observe around us.  Doctrines of other religions (including anti-theism in my opinion) require you shut off your mind and ignore evidence in order to accept them.  Somewhere along the way after the Enlightenment, Christians got the idea that reason was at war with faith, so it was best to “just have faith”.  This certainly wasn’t true for the Jesus, the Apostles, or early church leaders.  They spent vast amounts of time reasoning with people and defending the rationality of their faith.  We should be no different.

I love evidence, and I love that Christianity, in my opinion, is reasonable and evidential.  History, archaeology, theology, science, philosophy…it can all be leveraged to support the claims of the Biblical narrative God->Man->Fall->Jesus->Resurrection = Salvation.  This gives me proper justification for my belief, rather than just having blind faith, or faith based primarily on certain feelings like LDS missionaries have encouraged me to put over external evidence rather than in combination with external evidence.  On the contrary, I think belief without evidence is foolishness!  If a person says they know something, but can’t say why they know it, I can’t see why I would believe them.  I’d guess pretty much every worldview out there can present a membership who “feel” that they’re correct.  I can no more accept that fideism is a proper epistemological theory than is the scientism professed by today’s new atheists.  Both views are deficient.  Faith needs evidence, and evidence, or rather the conclusions drawn from evidence, need faith.  Any scientist that tells me this isn’t so, must prove to me scientifically that science works!

We all have faith in something, it’s merely a matter of whose faith is more rational.  If you can’t explain to somebody why you’ve placed your faith in something, whether it is Jesus, Buddha, Allah, science, etc, then you can’t actually claim to know anything.  We must get to know God, and teach our kids to know God .  We need to renew our minds(Romans 12:2), not shut them off.  We need to be prepared to give a reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15)!  Blind belief is just fideism.  This is why kids are walking away from the Church in droves when friends and college professors present their arguments for why all religions are the same…simple fairytales to explain former gaps in science.  We’ve got to train ourselves and our kids why it is we have good reason to believe Christianity is true.  Fideism isn’t acceptable.  If you think it is, don’t be surprised if you, your kids, or your grandkids end up buying ocean front property in Arizona (or some magic golden tablets in upstate New York).  Fideism makes me barf.

The Falsifiability of Jesus

After my last post I had an extensive and enjoyable back-and-forth with a friend about conscience and the nature of morality. Many side topics came up, but in the interest of staying on track I let them slip by. I’d like to address a couple of them separately.

At one point in this exchange I made the observation that should Christianity be proved wrong today, I’d have to go looking for the real God. The reason for this is that reality, the way I seem to observe it at least, seems to entail certain objective moral laws. For instance, I don’t believe it would ever be okay to punch babies in the face for fun. Even if all of society started punching babies in the face, and declared a National Punch Babies in the Face Day, I believe at that point we’d have merely tricked ourselves into believing it was okay to punch babies for fun. The truth, however, is that it would still be objectively evil, even though nobody remained who thought of it as such. This observation of objective good and evil is one of several major evidences I employ for my own conclusion in the existence of God. Notice, however, that if moral laws exist objectively (like the laws of mathematics, physics or logic), while this may be evidence for God, it does not follow necessarily that the god would have to be God of the Bible. When I brought up the fact that if Christianity were proved wrong I’d need to find the real God, my friend took this as a weakness in my position. He concluded that because I thought Christianity could be proved wrong, that I obviously wasn’t convinced it was true. This is not the case though.

My statement on the willingness to allow for the disproving of Christianity is simply an observation about my own epistemology. You see, I can’t even prove that I exist, and I especially can’t prove that you exist. I seem to be self-aware, and I seem to be observing you (those of you that I come in contact with anyway), but I must admit that the potential exists that I am just a brain in a jar being stimulated by electrodes, similar to the Matrix or Avatar. All of reality could be an illusion and I’m just not aware of it. There is very little in life that we can prove with 100% certainty, but that doesn’t keep us from believing them, and living our lives under the impression that those less than 100% certain things are nonetheless true observations about reality. I wrote briefly about this in the past. I still have no good reason to doubt my belief in the chair I’m sitting in, nor do I have any good reason to doubt my belief that Jesus is a real historical figure, who was put to death on a Roman cross, entombed, resurrected, and appeared to many other real people from history.

I also try to be careful not to let my thinking fall into the category of confirmation bias. This is the tendency for people to support conclusions that confirm their pre-existing thinking or beliefs. Generally speaking, this is a terrible way to come to real conclusions. In practice, I believe modern Christians as much as anybody tend to fall prey to this, especially as it relates to the use of some parts of Scripture or non-essential doctrine. Often times we’re raised in a particular dogma that is difficult to let go of. In the face of overwhelming evidence, people will cling blindly to the familiar. Sometimes when people realize their brand of Churchianity doesn’t align properly with Scripture or reality after years of being subject to their own confirmation bias, rather than an actual belief, they run the opposite direction screaming rather than stopping to see if it is all wrong, or if just parts of it have been misrepresented. People really tend to be a mess, which is why if I’m going to accept a conclusion, I will come to it on my own based on the information at hand, and not exclusively based on what somebody tells me I ought to believe. Sure there are times to call expert witnesses, but in the end I want to believe true things, not necessarily popular things. In the interest of making sure I have all the evidence and framing my worldview on what I best believe represents reality, I’m willing to hear viewpoints that oppose mine as long as they are presented respectfully. Avoiding confirmation bias in drawing conclusions can only be done by allowing for these opposing views the opportunity to be presented and considered.

Finally, this leads to a method of critical evaluation known as “falsifiability.” The notion of falsifiability says that a theory or hypothesis must have the logical possibility of being disproved if it is to be taken seriously. If an idea doesn’t have the logical possibility of being proved wrong, it can’t be proved right either. I think historical Christianity fits this model well. The best historical evidence I’ve seen, including but not limited to the New Testament itself, lends incredible support for the identity of Jesus as he is known within the classical framework of Christianity. I see no reason to discount the accounts of the New Testament writers or their extra-biblical contemporaries. In fact, the historically verifiable track record of the Bible and the vast quantity of early manuscripts make it easily the most well-supported document in all of ancient antiquity. Could I be wrong? Sure, I could be wrong. It’s possible that some ancient Allen Funt will pop out of antiquity, so to speak, and say, “Smile…” Currently though, ancient history is surprisingly devoid of naysayers, even though they clearly had their opportunity. Logically speaking, the potential exists for Jesus’ supernatural identity to be at least challenged by discovery of contrary historical documents, rather than just a priori dismissal of the possibility of God incarnate.

If I’m not willing to admit that it is logically possible that Christianity could be proved wrong somehow, I don’t think it’s possible for me to say I really believe it.  It seems to me that if one claims to have good reasons for accepting something, one must also admit that should good reasons come along to not accept that thing, that those reasons would be allowed into evidence.  I could appeal exclusively to authority or emotion to make my case, but in the end that would probably just make me a victim of confirmation bias. That might be easier, but shutting off my mind is an untenable, as well us un-Biblical, option to me. Instead, I take everything I seem to believe about reality (with more than 50% certainty), like the New Testament is a historically accurate account of Jesus, the Old Testament predicts Jesus in an eerily accurate fashion (while also pre-dating the New Testament), the entire Bible seems consistent with the reality I observe, and my personal experience with following Jesus of Nazareth seems to comport with reality as the Bible explains it. All of these things have the logical potential to be disproved. Even my own personal experiences could be a figment of my imagination should it turn out I’m in the Matrix.

So, could Christianity be proved wrong? Hypothetically speaking, yes, it could. Like I told my friend though, at that point I’d have to figure out who God really is, because I believe reality screams out with the evidence of a Creator. I believe my willingness to allow for this logical possibility is a strength of my evidentially supported belief in the historical death and resurrection of Jesus, not a weakness. Would I bet on a competing hypothesis as being the best explanation of reality? No, I wouldn’t. If I believe what I believe because I believe it to be true though, then I should have no problem leaving the door unlocked for challenges from the outside. Let the Truth prevail. After 2000 years of challenges, I believe the framework of classical Christianity still best explains reality. If Keanu Reeves shows up to get me out of the Matrix though, I’ll let you know.

Anti-Bullying Bullying Makes Me Barf

Recently, MTV personality, newspaper columnist, gay-rights activist, and supposed anti-bullying advocate Dan Savage was invited to speak at a high school journalism convention.  Through a series of inflammatory remarks and fallacious rhetoric, Savage proceeded to verbally bully Christian students in the audience.  Some of these kids chose to walk out in protest, at which point Savage verbally assaulted them with name calling and claimed it was self-defense.  Not very “anti-bullying” of him, but this sort of special pleading seems to be par for the course where the “tolerance” movement is concerned (as I’ve previously discussed).

Let’s take a look at what Mr Savage had to say on the Bible.  If you watch the video linked below to get the context, you may want to make sure there are no small ears around first, as this fellow doesn’t prefer to stick to societal conventions on etiquette in public discourse.  On the other hand, if you have Jr High or High School kids that are mature enough to watch this critically, I highly suggest viewing it with them to show them what they’re up against.  They’re going to be challenged to be tolerant, all the while being bullied for their beliefs.

0:15 – Good start Mr. Savage!  You’re right, the Bible does say homosexuality is wrong, along with a host of other sexual sins, and things like murder, stealing, false gods, arrogance, corrupt conversation, hatred, bitterness, etc.

0:25 – Wait, what now?  The BS about gay people in the Bible?  You mean the part where it says it is wrong?  I don’t mean to straw man Mr Savage’s position, but he seems to be implying that things being in the Bible invalidates them somehow.  Does this mean that the part about murder being wrong is also BS because it is in the Bible as well?  That would just be committing the genetic fallacy.  An argument cannot be dismissed simply in light of its source.  You need to actually make a positive case for your side, otherwise it looks like you’re just ignoring the Bible simply because you don’t want to live according to its standards, not because there’s actually something wrong with the standard.  Simply not liking the claim it makes on your life does nothing for your position.  If he’s not implying it’s position in the Bible is what invalidates it, then it’s simply a foundationless claim, and I have no reason to believe the Bible’s claims that God has high standards for acceptable sexual relationships are BS.

0:37 – Shellfish? Shellfish were covered under the theocratic rule of God over Israel in the old covenant.  It is no longer relevant, nor is this argument (if simply saying a word is an argument).  We’re no longer living under the old covenant, or its dietary restrictions.  Perhaps a Jewish person would like to have that debate.

0:39 – Slavery? You realize slavery in antiquity wasn’t the antebellum slavery we see in the American south, right?  Biblical “slavery” was more of an indentured servitude.  A person might sell himself as way to have him and/or his family taken care of, or for forgiveness of debt, in exchange for his service.  In fact, what you see happening in Israel in terms of Biblical law is vastly different from what is seen in the pagan cultures around them. For instance, in the Code of Hammurabi we see slaves were clearly treated as property.  If you put out the eye of a slave, or broke his bones, you were to pay half the value of the slave to the master.  On the other hand the Old Testament of Israel affirms the personhood of servants.  In the same circumstance in Hebrew culture, the slave would be allowed to go free (Exod 21:26-27).  The servant was given justice in God’s theocracy, not the master.

0:40 – Dinner?  This is a new one to me.  Honestly I’m not sure what he’s referring to here.  If it is having to do with dietary restrictions see the comment above about shellfish.  We ignore those laws because they applied only to Jews living under the theocratic rule of God, not because there is something wrong with them.  At the time, some of them were largely symbolic, and others provided health benefits.

0:41 – Farming?  Presumably this is reference to Deuteronomy 22 where the Israelites were not supposed to plow with an ox and donkey together.  In fact, they had several restrictions about combining differing things.  This is likely symbolic, as a reminder that they were a people set aside for God.  They were not to mix with the pagan cultures, and therefore were given several reminders to keep themselves separate, like mixing seed in the field, mixing fibers in clothing, and plowing with a mixed team.  Again, this was special to Hebrew law under theocratic rule, and does not apply since Jesus fulfilled the old covenant.

0:42 – Menstruation? Again, I’m not sure Mr Savage has made an attempt to understand the Biblical narrative rather than just reading single phrases and attacking them out of context.  First, a menstruating woman was not morally unclean (if that’s what Savage is getting at), just ceremonially unclean.  There were a lot of other health-related distractions that put both women as well as men in this ceremonially unclean condition.  Second, blood was a symbolically sacred thing to the Hebrews, so there are numerous regulations regarding it. It doesn’t strike me as especially controversial.  Coincidentally, it is the narrative of blood as the source of life via atonement that is taken right up to the last sacrifice made, which was Jesus, the Messiah, on the cross.  The only thing required to be ceremonially clean now, is acceptance of the Messiah as a sacrifice on behalf of all people.  It’s a lot easier!  Again, this sort of ceremonial law regarding menstruation is part of the old covenant that God had with Israel.  There were similar laws that applied to men.  Not really relevant to Mr Savage’s point unless he’s talking directly to Jews who don’t believe Jesus was the Messiah.  It doesn’t seem that way though.

0:43 – Virginity?  See 1:45 when Mr Savage brings this back up, but I think he’s confused about his details again.  Peculiar for a journalism conference!

0:44 – Masturbation? Actually the Bible doesn’t say anything at all about this in and of itself.  Catholics in particular might try to use the account of Onan in Genesis 38 to say it is there (as well as using it to lobby against family planning), but in context Onan was simply punished for being wicked in light of his refusal to obey the law of levarite marriage which protected a family’s inheritance rights in the event of the untimely death of a husband.  A male relative of the deceased, in this case a younger brother, was directed to marry his brother’s widow and carry on the family line.  He stubbornly chose to ignore the law.  Coincidentally we later see a similar law applied successfully with Ruth and Boaz, which eventually leads to David, and finally Jesus.

0:50 – Mr Savage and I can’t agree that what is in the Bible is BS, but we can agree that we do, in fact, ignore things in the Bible about all sorts of things.  This is not the question though.  The question is SHOULD we ignore things in the Bible, and does the Bible contain a real claim on our lives and the way we should live, or just a bunch of ancient made up mythology?  Savage seems only interested in the former and not the latter.  His logic is that because we, as a culture, seem to be already ignoring some things, we might as well ignore them all.  His reasoning, doesn’t seek to determine what is right or wrong, but merely appeals to the culture to define what we should or should not do.  Relativism!  Taken to the absurd like our mothers always did, Mr Savage, if all your friends were to jump off a bridge, sir, would you follow?  This is the logical fallacy known as argumentum ad populum, or the appeal to popularity.  Just because a bunch of people are doing something, it does not follow necessarily that it is the right thing to do, otherwise we’d have to conclude Hitler’s Germany was justified in its actions.

0:55 – The Bible is a radically pro-slavery document because slave owners waved Bibles over their heads during the Civil War?  Again, Mr Savage seems to be a big fan the genetic fallacy.  If Hitler waved a chocolate bar over his head during WWII saying, “Chocolate made me do it!”, would it follow necessarily that chocolate lovers are anti-Semites?

1:02 – Again, since Mr Savage is just throwing out unsubstantiated rhetoric and bald-faced assertions with no explanation, it’s difficult to tell what he’s referring to.  He refers to “the shortest book in the New Testament”, but that is 3 John, which obviously was not written by Paul and has nothing to do with slavery.  I think he must be referring either to Paul’s letter to Titus, where he addresses how Christian slaves should behave, or the 3rd shortest book of the New Testament, Philemon, where Paul request that Philemon release his dear friend Onesimus.  It almost seems like he’s just hodgepodging them together.  In the first case Paul only talks about what Titus should teach slaves, not how Titus should own slaves.  In his letter to Philemon Paul IS clearly asking Philemon to release his friend Onesimus.  Paul is in the position to make demands of Philemon, but appeals to Philemon to consult his relationship with Christ, and his relationship with Paul as a friend, and do the right thing.  Contrary to Mr Savage’s claim, Paul IS asking his friend to set his servant free.  However, it’s quite plausible given the culture that Onesimus owed some sort of debt to Philemon, and so Philemon would be under no obligation to do so.  Paul even suggests as much, and offers to have the debt charged to himself instead (Philemon 1:18) rather than Onesimus, so that Philemon might see Onesimus as the brother that he is.  Further, while ranting from the pulpit about how apparently he doesn’t like the way some Christians tell other people how they should live, Mr Savage is saying Paul should be more forceful in the way he tells other people how to live.  Your circular logic confuses me, sir.  I can’t tell what you really want.

1:20 – The Bible got slavery wrong?  The Bible doesn’t particularly take a position on slavery itself, only how to treat slaves.  I know I already said this, but I’ll say it again.  It also is definitely not referring to slavery like we think of when we imagine it in the antebellum South, which seems to be where Mr Savage is likely still trying to make a connection.  The Bible merely addresses the master/servant relationship that exists in both ancient near-eastern and then, later, the Roman empire.  Frequently a voluntary contract of servitude, or a necessary contract of servitude to pay off a debt.  I have no doubt that just like other institutions people establish (like high school journalism conventions) that people abused their position of authority.  However, in both cases the Bible defends the servant’s right to be treated with fairness and dignity, which was unheard of at the time.  In Titus 2 he’s addressing Christians who are slaves, not saying Christians ought to take slaves.  In Philemon he’s appealing for the release of a slave.  Mr Savage, again, resorts to logical fallacy by setting up a straw man for use in his rhetoric. He changes Paul’s position to be that Christians support slavery and then attacks that position, rather than addressing what Paul really said.  It’s poor form.

1:25 – Mr Savage’s fallacious appeal to authority with reference to Sam Harris’s book does nothing for his argument.  Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, not an ancient history or Biblical scholar.  Two unqualified people making naked assertions and taking the Bible out of context doesn’t make the position any more defensible.  In fact, to see the weakness of Sam Harris’s position on morality without God, watch his debate with Dr. William Lane Craig.  It’s a couple of hours, but well worth the investment no matter where you currently stand with regards to your view of theism.

1:40 – I don’t agree that the Bible “got slavery wrong, but let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Bible did get the slavery issue wrong.  How do you arrive at the conclusion that it got sexuality wrong with 100% certainty?  This just seems to be affirming the consequent.  If the Bible was wrong on the issue of slavery, does that mean it follows necessarily that it was also 100% wrong on other issues?  Perhaps because it was wrong on slavery (for the sake of argument) it was also wrong on theft and it is okay to steal from people?  Or perhaps this form of reasoning could be used like this: If a gay person has ever molested a child, then gay people are dangerous.  A gay person has molested a child.  Therefore, gay people are dangerous.  The conclusion does not follow necessarily from the premises, even if we were to accept premise #1 (which I don’t in either example). It’s logically flawed.

1:50 – If a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night she should be dragged to her father’s doorstep and stoned to death?  Mr Savage’s failure to bother with details about the thing he’s so against shows through apparently here, as it appears he is combining two distinct laws from Deuteronomy 22:23-24 and Deuteronomy 22:28-29 in order to create one law of his own.  In the former case, the engaged virgin woman AND the man are both stoned outside the city gate, because they’ve consentually committed evil by violating a marriage under the theocracy of God. A good example of the high regard God has for marriage, and why it should be taken seriously. The latter circumstance is similar, except in this case the virgin woman is not engaged, so there was no marriage that was violated.  In this case the man is to pay a bride-price (50 shekels) to the father of the girl and he is to marry her.  This is for the woman’s protection, as a woman who was not a virgin would likely not be easily married.  Again, neither of these laws apply outside of God’s direct and personal rule over Israel.  If Mr Savage were to take even a moment’s time to attempt understand what is going on in the theocracy of ancient Israel, perhaps he would at least get his facts straight.  If this the sort of accuracy they’re promoting at journalism conferences, its no wonder the media is so inept.

1:55 – I don’t get the reference to Callista Gingrich.  Savage’s faithful seem to appreciate the comment, but I’m not sure what he’s driving at there.  Could somebody please explain this one?

2:10 – There’s no efforts to make stonings legal…at least not yet because we don’t know where the GOP is going?  More ridiculous rhetoric!  Here Mr Savage resorts to the slippery slope fallacy. This can actually be a valid form of reasoning if you can logically tie related events together to arrive at the conclusion, but Savage makes no attempt to do so, because it would not be possible. He’s made the statement based on his previous strawman account of the Biblical text in order to solicit the shock value and get laugh.  Again, perhaps it would be good fodder from a super PAC sponsored political attack ad, but not very responsible reasoning from a public platform.

2:15 – People are dying because we can’t clear this one last hurdle?  Really?  That’s weird.  I’ve never agreed that homosexuality, nor any form of heterosexual sin was right, yet I’ve never killed anybody.  That would seem to suggest to me, that the problem is not the belief that a certain action is objectively morally wrong, but only that there is another objectively morally wrong action being perpetrated that is the root of the problem.  Let’s say I hate the hiccups (I do)…a lot (really)…and perhaps I murder my neighbor because he has a bad case of the hiccups. Does anybody, even for a second, believe that my problem was really that I disliked the hiccups? This is a red-herring. Nobody is being harmed because of a belief that homosexuality is sinful. They’re being harmed because people believe it is okay to harm somebody verbally or physically with whom they disagree. That is the fundamental character flaw in play. Moreover, this is not unique to people who try to hide behind the Bible for their moral crimes. Some people might try to hide behind, for instance, the cover of a high school journalism convention to harm people they disagree with. That doesn’t make high school journalism conventions objectively wrong.  It just means somebody abused their understanding of its purpose.

2:50 – Beatings justified by the Bible?  I could also attempt to justify beatings using, say, the words of an anti-religious zealot from MTV.  That however, would not necessarily be his intent.

2:55 – More name calling from the speaker who is there to present on anti-bullying.

3:00 – Snarky apology fixes his rhetorical bullying.  Yay!  He’s just defending himself, but the kids that removed themselves from his assault are “pansy-assed”?  He’s just pointing out the hypocrisy of being “anti-gay”, while spewing anti-Christianity during a supposed anti-bullying speech?  Sneaking in yet more fallacious reasoning to wrap it up by throwing in some special pleading: it’s okay for him to be a bully from the stage because he’s been bullied, but Christians ought not do it or they’re hypocrites. Reality check Mr Savage – hypocrisy is wrong from all sides!

3:14 – Don’t even get me started on calling people who disagree with you bigots!  That’s just more straw men!  It’s perfectly reasonable to disagree with people’s positions without attacking them personally. Not everybody who disagrees with you is out to get you. Sure Ford and Chevy truck owners can’t relate to each other in this way, but I see no reason why people can’t disagree on other important things without the name calling.

Conclusion:  Listen, I’m no pastor, or Bible scholar, or historian.  I’m simply another random internet dude trying to make the best sense of reality as it appears to me.  It takes me only an evening of effort not only to figure out what Mr Savages obscure references are supposed to be too (since he doesn’t want to point them out specifically, or even get their literal gist accurate), but to also discern some real meaning within the context of those passages’ place in scripture and history.  Make an effort!  Both theists and atheists need to quit with the rhetoric and actually try to understand the other side’s position.  Dan Savage clearly doesn’t have an accurate view of the Bible, but then again, neither do many Christians so how would he!  This type of fallacious reasoning is rampant on both sides.  Get rid of it and have a real discussion!  Also, take some time to understand the context of these difficult parts of Scripture that people throw around carelessly.  I recommend a book by Paul Copan called “Is God A Moral Monster?”  It addresses many of the issues skeptics have that Savage brings up here.  Clearly much of his position is based on misinformation and/or misunderstanding of the text and/or history.  In the end, many people are going to reject the Bible outright, simply because the don’t like the claim it might have on their life if it were to be true, or their pre-supposition that supernatural events do not occur and never have.  This is the precarious position Mr Savage finds himself in.

Finally, our kids need to understand that no matter what the claims of the opposition, Christianity is not the unreasonable nonesene that some skeptics claim it is.  Even though they claim it with certainty, the claims are typically laden with poor logic, poor facts, and grand rhetoric.  It will be our kids’ job to defend their faith (1 Peter 3:15) respectfully, but diligently, and bring the dialogue back to reality.  This sort of rhetoric isn’t unique to the growing militant side of atheism.  Christians fall into it frequently as well.  Teach your kids to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.  Regardless of our beliefs, we’re all able to disgree without resorting to personal attacks.  I’ve heard plenty of atheists who are very good at this sort of constructive dialogue.  They need to be encouraging their brethren to do the same, perhaps starting with Mr Savage.  Jesus used sound reasoning to debate his opponents, we need to do the same.

I heard one discussion recently between a Christian and an atheist, where they agreed on the central tactic of interactions with other people.  The theist presented it as Jesus himself presented it…”Love they neighbor.”  The atheist’s way of summing up the same sort of thought, though lacking the active quality of love, was also quite good…”Don’t be a jerk!