Show Me the Evidence
Believers take note – if you are presenting your beliefs to those who don’t already share them (atheists, agnostics, or members of any religion other than your own), you must be prepared to offer evidence for your claims. Expect to have your evidence critically examined before being accepted. If you cannot make your beliefs appear reasonable to an outsider, then perhaps you should re-examine them yourself. (The idea of applying the same skepticism to our own beliefs as we do to the beliefs of other faiths is known as the ‘outsider test for faith’. The phrase was coined by John W. Loftus in his book of the same name.)
HAAM’s Pat Morrow recently examined the evidence for God offered by a Christian apologist who visited one of our outreach booths. Did it pass the ‘outsider test’? Keep reading…
Got a Claim? Let’s Hear It!
Very often, during our summer outreaches, we get folks offering claims for their many beliefs, which range from the possible to the absurd. Some claims I dismiss immediately as nonsensical, or file under “not worth my time to research” (e.g. flat earth, moon landing hoax, Jewish zombies walking around Jerusalem). Many visitors make claims of a theological nature, and explain that they have evidence for their claims, they just can’t recall it or don’t have it with them. This is OK, as I wouldn’t be able to produce the all evidence for my beliefs on demand either.
Usually at this point, I offer them a business card, ask them to email me their info and the evidence for their claim, and tell them that I will be happy to read it. This is not to dismiss them; if someone is willing to offer reasonable evidence for what they believe, I will read what they have to say. It’s just rare that anybody actually follows through and sends us the information, and when they do, it’s often just the latest book title of some Christian apologist trying to make 500-year-old arguments relevant. (Example: At another outreach, we had a Muslim who claimed scientific “truths” in the Quran. I asked him where to find them, and he sent me a link to a three-and-a-half-hour video of Muslim apologist Zakir Naik! That is not what I would consider reasonable.)
We met Gord at our Morden outreach this summer. An older gentleman who spent a little more than an hour at our booth, he is a Christian who holds the type of views on women’s rights and science that make a Humanist’s blood boil. Fortunately, that evening our booth was attended by two young women well-equipped for that discussion, one being a scientist, and the other well-versed in the abortion debate through having worked for a women’s rights organization. I’m sure Gord would disagree, but his argument was lost seconds after he stated his position. For my part, throughout our galloping discussion I tried to make note of the arguments he was putting forward for each of his views. Which essentially broke down to these:
- DNA is mentioned in the Bible. (DNA as proof of God)
- Human life begins at conception. (abortion is bad)
- Slaves were treated well in the Bible. (the Bible is good)
When I asked for the evidence for each of those claims, he said of course – the answers are in the Bible, and he would send them to me. Unlike most Christians who say they’re going to send me something, to Gord’s credit he actually did. This is his letter (real name redacted)
We were discussing DNA. David said “Your eyes saw even the embryo of me, and in your book all its parts were down in writing”. Psalm 139:16.
The Mosaic Law clearly revealed that life begins, not at birth, but much earlier. It showed that killing a fetus could incur the death penalty. Note this law “You must give soul for soul” (Exodus 21:22- 23) Thus, the unborn child in the womb is alive and is a living soul. See what Job says at Job 31:14-15.
While Isaac’s wife Rebekah was pregnant with twins Jehovah uttered a prophecy about the two boys struggling in her womb suggesting that he already saw traits in them that would have far- reaching effects. Genesis 25:22-23 and Romans 9:10-13.
That slaves were treated well. Exodus 21:2-6, Leviticus 25:42-43, and Deuteronomy 15:12-18.
I respect a person’s choices in life; however, if we want to get life we need to follow the words in John 3:16 (please read).
Setting aside the Bible, could truth or evidence for anything be groomed from the writings of the largely anonymous authors of a 1700-year-old book, of which we have no original copies? But Gord was talking about the Bible, so I thought it would be worth looking at the Biblical evidence for each of his claims.
1. DNA is mentioned in the Bible (DNA as proof of God)
Gord offered Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes looked upon my embryo, and everything was recorded in your book. The days scheduled for my formation were inscribed, even though not one of them had come yet.” (ISV) It is interesting that Gord quoted the only translation that uses the term ‘embryo’. It’s also worth noting that the wording would suggest that if one has lived 0 days one is not yet alive. It seems that a verse that is supposed to prove that DNA is mentioned in the Bible actually supports the idea that life does not begin at conception. Other translations are similar:
“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be”. (NIV)
“You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” (NLT)
“Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them”. (NASB)
In much of Christian scholarship, Psalm 139 is used to support the belief that God knows us well and has a plan for us even before we are born. How someone manages to see it as a reference to DNA is unconvincing to say the least, and stretches credulity to its absolute limit. Sorry Gord, but if your god wanted us to know about DNA he could’ve described it a lot better.
Of course, as with many who engage in apologetics there is always the risk of getting a case of “the CLAT’ (Christian Lag in Apologetic Timing), a phrase I coined to describe the interval of time between new scientific knowledge and the development of an apologetic for it; that dark time between an empirical discovery and when apologists match it to a verse in the Bible. Famous Christian apologist William Lane Craig has had ‘the CLAT’ for years with no sign of relief. ‘The CLAT’ is evident in Gord’s argument, as DNA is not the mystery it was 30 years ago. We have an excellent understanding of how DNA could have developed (and probably did). Apologists are usually not familiar with RNA World theory, which says that RNA came first, and protein and DNA were later developments. The perceived probability of RNA developing naturally in an Origin-of-Life scenario got a big boost in 2009 with the publication of a newly-discovered pathway, described in Synthesis of activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides in prebiotically plausible conditions by Powner, Gerland & Sutherland, (Nature 459, 239-242 (14 May 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08013). Or to put it in the simplest of terms, DNA can develop on its own; no god required.
2. Human life begins at conception (abortion is bad)
It was hard to pin down Gord’s exact positions on this one, but he offered as evidence Exodus 21:22-23 – “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.” (KJV) Interestingly, scholars and translators cannot agree on the meaning of ‘her fruit depart from her’. (The original Hebrew translates literally as ‘so her children come out’.) Does this refer to a miscarriage, or merely a premature birth? The answer depends on which translation of the Bible you read. The punishments are outlined in verses 23-25, but the phrase ‘soul for soul’ does not appear in any of these translations.
Regardless of interpretation, this passage demonstrates that an unborn child /foetus / baby is of less worth than that of the woman. A “life for a life” applies only to the woman; whereas the loss of a foetus (“ the fruit”) only requires a monetary penalty. But don’t take my word for it – here is a fairly short article that explains the verse from the religion that actually wrote the Old Testament and understands ancient Jewish law.
3. Slaves were treated well in the Bible (the Bible is good)
“Slaves were treated well” Exodus 21:2-6, Leviticus 25:42-43, and Deuteronomy 15: 12-18.
I think it’s important to look at these verses to see what Gord’s idea of “treated well” is. These are verses that many fundamentalists and evangelicals cite, but they either don’t read them or don’t understand them.
It’s important to understand that there are two types of slavery in the Bible – one in which a Jew enslaves another Jew, and another where a Jew enslaves a non-Jew. Exodus 21:2-6 deals with the former.
“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he may serve for no more than six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave, he shall leave single. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife must be freed with him. If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave and they had sons or daughters, then only the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I don’t want to go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door or doorpost and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will serve his master for life.” (NLT)
You’ll notice the verse doesn’t say very much about the treatment of slaves other than that they can go free after seven years. What is interesting is what is allowed by this perfect, all-loving moral lawgiver that Christians call a god.
1 You can own other people as property. This alone would have God thrown into prison in today’s society.
2 The loophole. Giving a male slave a wife while in slavery virtually guarantees the man’s servitude for life, as the wife and any children remain the property of the slave owner. This is absolutely immoral to us today, but it was A-OK by God. Popular Christian apologetics state “well this was for a different time” and “you can’t judge scripture by today’s morals”. This puts Christianity in a difficult position, as it makes people nowadays more moral than the God of the Bible. If this is the case, why do we need God?
Gord ignores the rest of Exodus 21. Verses 7-9 explain how to sell your daughter into sex slavery properly.
Verses 20-21 tell us how much force God allows when we beat our slaves. Verse 26 gives us pointers on how to beat slaves. (Hint, stay away from the head.)
In the end, Exodus is probably the worst book of the Bible to demonstrate that “slaves were treated well”, as Gord stated. I would invite him to actually read it.
Gord’s second offering, Leviticus 25:42-43, regarding the enslavement of non-Hebrews, doesn’t get much better: “The people of Israel are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt, so they must never be sold as slaves. Show your fear of God by not treating them harshly.” (NLT) Sounds pretty good eh? Almost like God is against selling people as slaves… till you read the next bit: “However, you may purchase male and female slaves from among the nations around you. You may also purchase the children of temporary residents who live among you, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.” How, and in what context, is purchasing human beings treating them well?
Gord also offers Deuteronomy 15:12-18, which is a biblical cut past job of Exodus 21:2-6, just a slightly extended version that applies only to freeing Hebrew slaves. Non-Hebrew slaves will never have the chance for freedom. I won’t bother to go into it but I do invite those interested to have a look. Reading the Bible online at Bible Hub or Bible Gateway is recommended, as with these websites, you can easily compare a variety of translations.
So what is to be made of all this? Gord, like so many Christians who believe their god and his word is perfect, are blinded by their faith. They either twist themselves in knots to justify their beliefs, or simply ignore large portions of Scripture. If Gord had actual theological training, I would be tempted to accuse him of lying for Jesus. Unfortunately, as with many evangelical Christians, one must consider them victims of those who do lie for Jesus. Gord is free to believe whatever he chooses; however, he is perpetuating a myth that corrupts his moral compass, causes him to believe the absurd, diminishes his respect for human beings and makes him ignorant and ill-informed about science and human rights.
Eternal Life – Gift or Threat?
Gord leaves us with the scriptural passage seen on everything from billboards to American football players – John 3:16 – and asks us to read it, so I did. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV) I don’t know what Gord figured I would get from this verse. To a Humanist, it is at best unconvincing and nonsensical; at worst, it’s threatening and immoral.
First of all, who wants eternal life? I mean, we might find something to do for the first thousand years, but the next billion? trillion? It’s really not something I would look forward to. Knowing our lives are finite is one of the ideas that makes life worth living. This life is too precious to spend it worrying about the next one. Frankly, living forever would be, well, depressing.
In Christian theology, God is the creator of all things, including the rules that we are supposed to live by. This god felt that the best way to atone for people breaking the rules that he created was to slowly torture a human being as a blood sacrifice. I think that any reader of this article, Christian or not, could come up with better, more moral ways to fix the problem, if they were given the opportunity to play the role of a loving, omnipotent god. Especially if they had fabricated the problem themselves in the first place. In the end, John 3:16 really only demonstrates that people today have better morals then the god many of them believe in.
Christians also claim that this murder / torture / death is a free gift that God gives us so that we can have eternal life and be free of our sins forever. However, if we read a little further on, to John 3:36, we find that if we don’t accept this free gift – if we don’t believe in Jesus Christ – we will suffer God’s wrath, which, for many Christians, means burning in hell forever. God comes off as a sort-of mafia boss here, essentially saying ‘Believe in Jesus and accept the gift of eternal life, and if you don’t I’ll blow your brains out’ (ii.e. send you to Hell). Doesn’t exactly make it a gift, or free, does it? Sounds more like extortion.
As with most Christians, Gord’s not a bad guy. I would invite him to read his Bible without the help of priests or apologists. He just may find that it is not the moral word of God that it’s purported to be. In fact, he may come to the realization that many of us have already reached – you can live a better, more moral life without it. – Pat Morrow