Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cognitive Acrobatics On Slavery & Killing Naughty Kids, Once Again

The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism.

- Christopher Hitchens

This quote from Hitchens shows why I could never be a Christian. (And I've seriously tried to consider what it would be like.) As soon as I were to adopt any belief in god, I'd immediately be fraught with massive cognitive dissonance. Even the idea of a jovial god of pure love and peace wouldn't fare any less problematic. And considering my deep philosophical nature, trying to reconcile the existence of a god with the facts I'm aware of would drive me insane. Belief in god can only work if you don't think, or if you surrender your mind and adopt the mentality that whatever god does is perfect by definition, thereby alleviating you from the stinging questions of suffering and evil. But I just can't surrender my mind to anyone; I'm a thinker.

I've been debating this harebrained Jehovah's Witness recently, whose church is arguably a cult. JoHos are fundamentalists who take the Bible more or less literally. In addition to prohibitions on smoking and drinking, they believe we all descended from Adam and Eve roughly in the last 6-10,000 years, that Noah actually literally put two of every animal (including dinosaurs?) on a boat, and that every other miraculous claim in the Bible is true.

When debating Biblical morality over on Unreasonable Faith, it just amazes me what kind of cognitive acrobatics fundamentalists like JoHos have to do to keep composure. Consider this dialogue:

JoHo: God wills something because He is good. 
Me: I already refuted that and your response was that being loving compassionate and fair is good because god is loving compassionate and fair, and god is good because he is loving compassionate and fair. It's a circular argument. 
JoHo: You're conflating moral ontology with moral semantics. Our concern is with moral ontology, that is to say, the foundation in reality of moral values. Our concern is not with moral semantics, that is to say, the meaning of moral terms. We have a clear understanding of moral vocabulary like “good,” “evil,” right,” and so on, without reference to God. Thus, it is informative to learn that “God is essentially good.” 
Me: I know perfectly well the difference between moral ontology, moral semantics and moral epistemology. You're just cutting and pasting other people's arguments without even reading my responses to you because you know you will have to make a circular argument to get out of the Euthyphro dilemma.

His responses are basically a plagiarization from William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith website, just copied and pasted often without reference to the actual argument presented to him. He then went onto copy and paste the ontological argument and added to it the assertion that "It is greater to be the paradigm of goodness than to conform to it." I came back with a simple counter to the Ontological Argument that every atheist should know, and then we discussed the moral argument some more and I actually made progress getting him to concede that goodness exists independently of god:

Me: But I agree that love, compassion, and kindness are of course good things, and they're good independently of whether god exists. No deity required. 
JoHo: And how do you know with absoluteness that love, compassion and kindness are, in fact, good? 
Me:  First you have to define the word "good." 
JoHo:  The quality or state of moral excellence; virtue. It is a positive quality and expresses itself in the performance of moral and beneficial acts toward others. 
Me: Love, compassion and kindness are positive qualities that benefit others.

After this he quite. My guess is that he knew he was screwed. Anyone can tell that love, compassion and kindness are objectively good, even by his given definition of the word "good." There's simply no way around it. We had been debating on the moral argument for days, which fails miserably on every front. That's why I love debating the moral argument with theists because I get to expose their cognitive acrobatics and mental charades in the process. 


We also debated the issue of slavery, which is one of my favorite issues to debate with Christians. He had argued that Exodus 21:16 in the Bible forbids one to kidnap people into slavery, and so he used this to argue that Yahweh forbids slavery. But Exodus 21 pertains to Hebrew slaves, not non-Hebrew slaves. The Jews could force non-Hebrews into servitude as it says in Judges 1:28 and 1:29 and 1:35. And Leviticus 25:44-46 clearly states that non-Hebrew slaves could be kept for life and treated harshly, unlike Hebrew slaves. 

Thom Stark explains the differences between Hebrew slaves and foreign slaves owned by Israelites in Is God A Moral Compromiser?

In Exodus 21, it is clear that only Hebrew slaves are in view (because a master is not permitted to sell such a slave to foreigners). This is consonant with what we already know. Hebrew slaves were not to be treated harshly, because all Hebrews were Yahweh’s special possession. But the prohibition of harsh treatment of slaves emphatically did not apply to foreign slaves. (p. 170)

 And on Leviticus 25 he further expounds on the differences of Hebrew and non-Hebrew slaves:

In contrast to Israelite indentured slaves, the foreign slaves “you may treat as slaves.” [Lev 25:46] What does that mean? What it means is clear from the subsequent contrast. “But as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness.” Thus, what this means is that Israelites are permitted to rule over their foreign slaves “with harshness.” Since Exodus 21 gives masters tacit permission to beat Hebrew slaves, so long as they don’t instantly kill them or permanently disfigure them, that must be the definition of what it means not to treat Israelites with harshness. Thus, we can infer that foreign slaves, as property, were subject to beatings without the protection of the law for Hebrew slaves. In short, they could be disfigured or killed, if the master saw fit. (pp. 190-191)

He also notes some of the privileges the Israelites had over foreigners:

....all sorts of special exemptions were given to Israelites that didn’t apply to foreigners. Israelites were to be given no-interest loans, but foreigners were to be charged interest. Israelites were to have their debts forgiven on jubilee (once every 50 years), but the debts of foreigners were not to be forgiven. (p. 195)

This all shows that there were clearly distinctions made between Jews and non-Jews in the Mosaic Law. And Deuteronomy 24:7 specifies the death penalty for kidnapping a fellow Israelite only. Given even the most charitable reading of Exodus 21 that it did forbid kidnapping anyone into slavery, what foreigner then would volunteer their entire life as a slave to the Israelites knowing that the Mosaic Law permitted their harsh treatment? It thus makes no sense to think that non-Hebrew slaves "volunteered" for harsh, lifelong servitude. 

Killing disobedient children

Finally, the JoHo also had denied that the god commands children to be killed for cursing their parents. Well here is where that evidence is. God commands that unruly kids are to be killed in Exodus 21:15, Leviticus 20:9, Proverbs 20:20, Matthew 15:4, & Mark 7:10. You know what the JoHo's response was? He came back with a whopping non-sequitor:

JoHo: Argumentum assertio. I'm still waiting for you to show me where death was prescribed for cantankerous children.

Me: Exodus 21:15, Leviticus 20:9, Proverbs 20:20, Matthew 15:4. Enough for you? 

JoHo: Attacking or calling down evil on one's parents is a minor, childish offense? 
Me: So you believe these are serious offenses that warrant the death penalty?
JoHo:  Strawman, try again.

Me:  You're just evading the logical consequences of your own moral beliefs. If you can't deal with them, then don't profess them.

JoHo: It's still a strawman because I've never claimed slavery - the kidnapping and sale of individuals to be held in permanent captivity as domestics - is good.

Me: The logical consequences of your moral beliefs are that human slavery is permissible, and so is stoning to death homosexuals, adulterers, witches, unruly children who curse their parents and many others. If you can't man up to that, then stop calling yourself a Christian.

See what he did there? He changed the subject from the biblical laws condoning the stoning to death of unruly children into some smoke screen about slavery. It seems that when the questions get tough the answers get convoluted. I cannot fathom what it must be like to be someone who has to hold to a doctrine that is difficult to defend under pressure, who must twist the facts and ignore the arguments against their case in order to avoid the obvious pitfalls and dilemmas their religion gives them.

It's been said that there's no point debating theists who are so heavily brainwashed that they will never learn, but I say that is not so. They can be made into examples, and used to highlight the kind of intellectual sacrifices and inconsistencies one has to make in order to hold to specific religious doctrines. And this can be used to prevent others who aren't brainwashed into seeing how embarrassing it is to be a person of deep religious faith. 


  1. I wasn't a Jehovah's Witness, but I did grow up in a fundamentalist church. I used to do all kinds of crazy mental acrobatics, just like this guy. It's a ton of work. I had no idea how much work it was until I finally gave up and left the religion. Only looking back was I able to see how much effort I spent on it. That was probably the biggest feeling of freedom I've ever experienced, to not have to maintain such convoluted logic anymore.

    As to your last paragraph, it is absolutely worth it to argue with these people. In addition to being a good example for onlookers, you could be having an effect on the person you are arguing with. I know for myself, every time I had one of those conversations, my mental gymnastics had to get just a little bit more complicated. It took a long time, but the cumulative effect of that eventually brought the whole thing crashing down.

    1. Glad you eventually saw the light. This guy I'm debating is down the gutter. He literally thinks Armageddon is right around the corner. Unbelievable.

    2. You are quite likely right, but you just never know. I'm sure the people I used to debate with when I was a Christian wrote me off. My journey took so long I had lost contact with most of the people I debated with by the time I became an atheist. They will never know how much they helped me out.

    3. Debating and having conversations in general about religion, philosophy and science are very helpful. Just recently I went to YouTube and it recommended I watch an apologist video. So I clicked on it and saw how Christians are training armies of apologists to go out and convert the masses and they use the most ignorant close minded patently false science and logical tricks out there to do so. So I personally see it as an obligation to interface with those of faith and defend naturalism.



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