Octavo Dia

Saturday, June 21, 2008

God is Imaginary: #13 Take a Look at Slavery: Rebuttal

This post is a rebuttal to Noumenon's comment on the original post. Noumenon's comments are in italics. My original text is in block quotes.

1) Who says God has a problem with just slaughtering prisoners? See, the rest of the OT. (Don't spend too much time refuting this one, it's just a knee jerk.)

Fewer instances than you would think. David killed 2/3 of his prisoners in one instance, but for the most part, it depended on who they were fighting. When they were fighting those whom God had set apart for destruction, prisoners simply weren't taken. I'm sure that one will be in their later comments, so I won't take it further here. Otherwise, they did take prisoners and, with a few exceptions like the one above, did not slaughter them.

2) If this issue really mattered to God, would he let practicality intervene? Did God say, "Sure, I think eating the pork is wrong, but I understand the economics of prehistoric times . Not being able to eat pork can frequently mean entire families might starve. That's why instead I've given you all these special rules for preparing pork so that you will be eating it in the least sinful way compared to all your neighbor peoples." He didn't say that. He drew that line. No pork was important to him.

With regards to the Old Testament civil law, God frequently created practical restrictions. See Matthew 19:8 "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning."

The eating of pork has a very particular function. Eating is a unifying event in almost every culture. One eats with friends and family. The restriction on pork achieved God's practical end, that is, the segregation of the Israelites, by restricting a common social vector. If you can't even have a slice of bread with your neighbor because of the pig fat used in it, odds are you're not going to be fast friends with your neighbor.

3) What kind of crap moral standard is "I would like you to be as nice as you can afford, plus a tiny bit nicer than your neighbors." Whereas just from the ill luck that you were born in the 20th century, expectations for you is total sanctification. e.g., no adultery whatsoever, where the Chosen People got free concubines.

I don't think it's a "crap moral standard." As Luke 12:48 states, "For everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." Should I not, with all the advantages I have, be held to a higher standard than one who does not have those advantages? I can remain fully honest in my dealings with little to no ill effects. Being fully honest in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union was an easy way to have your family go hungry. Honesty bears a minuscule cost for me, to be judged evenly for my honesty is to mock the burdens placed on those for whom it bears a real cost.

Let me ask you, would a religion that was so gung ho about slavery really be adopted so readily by slaves?
(possible reason #1)
Another appeal of Christianity was the prophesied Second Coming of Christ. This was meant to be an imminent event arriving very soon. A slave could easily imagine this as their way to personal liberty.

The appeal to those who are enslaved has continued throughout the history of Christianity. Not just the early days, example: Negro Spirituals.

(possible reason #2)
I kind of doubt the Romans had this much influence, but if there was a religion that told their slaves to be better slaves they would have spread it on purpose. Banana's manager asked her to write a book report on The Fred Factor, which explains how to be the best damn servant to your 20th century overlords that you can be (first chapter here). That's what I'm really thinking about.

Given that the Romans were starving, crucifying, slaughtering in arenas, etc., for the first couple hundred years, this is somewhere between implausible and ludicrous. However, I won't deny that it could have been used in later years, when Christianity was the dominant influence.

God wants slaves circumcised in the same way as non-slaves.
There's a big difference between being circumcised by your family and being circumcised as a captive by force. It's like the Spaniards baptizing the Indians. How accepting of them.

This is a false analogy. The Spanish "baptism" didn't change the social status of those they baptized. Example: the Inca king was given the choice of being burned alive as a pagan, or strangled as a Christian. After the term of servitude was up, the slave would be freed, and have the same status as any Israelite. Even today, in Latin America, there is social stratification based on how Indian or Spanish your ancestors were.

Note that God understands that the reasons for owning slaves disappear as you become wealthy. Note that he also understands the free market. At 30 shekels of silver there are no slaves for sale these days. By fixing the price, God makes slaves unavailable when desperate poverty does not make them the only choice.
You are finding rationalizations, "I found a reason for it, therefore that was God's reason." It's especially bad in this case because the 30 gold is not to pay for a slave, but to expunge guilt for your bull goring a slave. So your argument becomes "Note that God understands that the reasons for not goring slaves disappear as you become wealthy... By fixing the price, God makes goring slaves available whenever desperate poverty doesn't make not goring them your only choice."

This was tongue in cheek. They made an inane economic argument, I responded with an inane economic argument. You don't out inane me. :-) The price for slaves is fixed in Leviticus 27.

Note: many of your slaves are young men who were captured trying to kill you. Just because you captured them does not mean that they necessarily stop trying to kill you.
The Guantanamo defense! It's OK to beat all your innocent slaves because otherwise the slaves who want to kill you won't get beaten! My opponents claim that the policy as written mentions nothing about guilt, and allows for beating slaves simply on the grounds that they are property, but they are soft on terrorism "slaves who want to kill you"!

Every bad guy ever put on trial for murder claims it was self defense. Does that mean that self defense does not happen, just because it is the standard bad guy line? All it means is that the burden of proof for self defense is necessarily higher. Given that the Israelites were commanded over and over not to mistreat their slaves ("for you yourselves were slaves in Egypt"), one can be quite confident that this was taken into account.

Basically, arguing "I allowed something bad (slavery) as an alternative to something worse" is a defense for someone who couldn't do any better. God makes the rules. It's like defending the Boxing Rules Association for allowing metal-studded gloves by saying, "Well, look at the alternative -- they'd be using knives!"

And then when they never mention anything about "We'd like to see metal-studded gloves phased out," or "Please don't use the metal-studded gloves on children," you say, "Well clearly the metal-studded gloves were designed so children would find them sparkly, and with them ratings would go up and the boxers could afford to quit boxing!" Pah

Take a look at the whole picture and it's hard to say that "they never mention anything about..." Slavery in ancient Israel was a short-term affair, created of necessity, not prejudice. Even the necessity was reduced by the laws concerning gleanings--so there would be food available for the poor and dispossessed, to keep them out of slavery. Every seven years the slaves were freed. Every fifty years all property sold was returned, so there would not be a permanent underclass of impoverished slaves. They were commanded not to mistreat them, and not to permanently enslave them--both of which they did, and were mentioned by God through the prophets as a reasons for their punishment.

Back to Fifty Reasons.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Crash and burn.

Fareed Zakaria has an article in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs titled "The Future of American Power: How American Can Survive the Rise of the Rest." Essentially, he argues that the United States will not collapse like previous powers, because America's problem is political stagnation, not economic incapacity. That's like arguing that because your car has a powerful motor, the lack of a steering wheel is not an issue. Just like a muscle car with no steering wheel, a powerful economy with an enfeebled political scene will make the crash more devastating, not less.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

God is Imaginary: #13 Take a Look at Slavery

Take a Look at Slavery

First off, it's interesting that with all of the verses they cited concerning slavery, they missed this one: Galatians 3:28 "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ." I guess it just wasn't convenient to include in their diatribe.

In this passage God understands that people buy other people and, quite obviously, is comfortable with the concept. God wants slaves circumcised in the same way as non-slaves.

God is also quite aware that people do all sorts of things of which he disapproves. By analogy, we, as a society, wish that no one smoked. However, people do smoke, so we regulate it. God wishes there was no slavery. However, there were going to be slaves, so God regulates it. So why were there going to be slaves?

There were two major sources of slave for the Israelites: war and poverty (either at home or abroad). War in the Ancient Near East was incredibly brutal. If you captured enemy soldiers, you had very few options:

Option A: Slaughtering prisoners. I hope we can agree that slavery is a better option than massacring them.

Option B: Sell them down to the line. The Israelites, because of God's regulating of slavery, were the kindest slave owners around. Keeping the slaves themselves was the better option.

Option C: Sending them out into the wilderness, where they would die at the hands of bandits, of thirst, or simply be picked up by nomads and sold down the line. It's better than Option A in that you're not killing them directly, but it's the same or worse than option B, which is worse than keeping slaves themselves.

Option D: Sending them back to your enemies. This would seem all Geneva-convention-like, but there is a problem. War in the ANE was constant, as it says in 2 Samuel 11:1, "In the spring, when Kings go off to war..." There never was the end of hostilities, merely temporary ceasefires. Rearming your enemies in the midst of battle is none to bright. Returning their soldiers to them is suicide. Keeping their prisoners as slaves is a better option.

The second source of slaves is poverty. The Israelites were dirt poor, as was everyone at that time. If you lost your job you didn't sign up for unemployment. You starved. The freedom to leave was the freedom to die by the side of the road. Slavery, in the Israelite conception, was more like signing a 7-year contract than what we think of as slavery.

Now, the most important thing of the part above: God wants slaves circumcised. Circumcision was the mark of the covenant. To circumcise was, essentially, to adopt. Slaves were not a permanent underclass, but were made part of the community. It's as though American slave holders adopted all their slaves and made them heirs of their estate.

God again shows that he is completely comfortable with the concept of slavery and singles out slaves for special treatment.

The special treatment, once again, was their full adoption into the community. Oh how they were mistreated.

Here God describes how to become a slave for life, and shows that it is completely acceptable to separate slaves from their families. God also shows that he completely endorses the branding of slaves through mutilation.

How to become a slave for life: volunteer. Gee, that's bad. Forcing people against their will to work for you forever, er...

If I signed a three year army contract, and my wife signed a five year contract, at the end of three years I can get out, but my wife is stuck for two more years. Until her contract is up, she's stuck, because I signed a separate contract. Now, if we signed the contract together, we'd get out together. Funny how that works.

Branding slaves through mutilation? Had to get your hyperbole fix today? He pierced their ears. Millions of Americans are branded and mutilated of their own accord every day.

Not only does God condone slavery, but he is also completely comfortable with the concept of beating your slaves, as long as you don't kill them.

Note: many of your slaves are young men who were captured trying to kill you. Just because you captured them does not mean that they necessarily stop trying to kill you.

Not only does God condone slavery, but here God places a value on slaves -- 30 shekels of silver. Note that God is not sophisticated enough to understand the concept of inflation. It is now 3,000 years later, and a gored slave is still worth 30 shekels of silver according to God's word.

Note that God understands that the reasons for owning slaves disappear as you become wealthy. Note that he also understands the free market. At 30 shekels of silver there are no slaves for sale these days. By fixing the price, God makes slaves unavailable when desperate poverty does not make them the only choice.

Here God shows that the children of slaves are slaves themselves, and that he is completely happy with that concept.

And note from above that children go with their parents when their parents contract is up. This regulation actually protects children. A slave owner by this law was forced to care for the children of slaves, even though it wouldn't be profitable for him to do so.

Here God states where you may purchase your slaves, and clearly specifies that slaves are property to be bought, sold and handed down.

Remember that slaves are almost contractual works in ancient Israel. Since an Israelite could only own a slave for a short period of time, the potential profit they would accrue is far less than that which any other society would. Thus the Israelites would be underbid in the international slave market, unless there was a glut on the market, in which case the foreign slaves, whose lives were harsh enough anyway, would be mistreated and starved more than usual. When things were really, really bad for foreign slaves, the Israelites were able to buy them, which would improve the slaves' lives. Buying foreign slaves seems like a humanitarian act.

Here Jesus shows that he is completely comfortable with the concept of slavery. Jesus heals the slave without any thought of freeing the slave or admonishing the slave's owner.

Read the verse in Galatians at the beginning of the post. Christ is in the process of freeing slaves. Just because Abraham Lincoln didn't pull a John Browne at the earliest opportunity didn't mean he wasn't trying to free slaves.

Here God shows that he is in complete acceptance of a slave's position, and encourages slaves to work hard.

If you read more than this verse, this rule is for Christian slaves. Their intent in obeying was to set themselves apart from the other slaves. Eventually, their master would notice, and perhaps ask, why this slave was different from all the others, and then they could share their faith with him. Christianity spread like wildfire through the slaves of the Roman world--within 20 years Caesar's personal slaves were Christian--and spread upwards through society from the slaves. Let me ask you, would a religion that was so gung ho about slavery really be adopted so readily by slaves?

You, as a rational human being, know that slavery is wrong. You know it.

Yes. I also know that it is wrong to lie. I know it. I also know that it is wrong to betray an innocent man. If the Gestapo came to my house looking for Jews, I would lie to them. I would do that which I know is wrong because the alternative is doing that which I know is worse. Slavery in ancient Israel, as we've seen above, was the least bad option available, was regulated to keep it that way, and was eliminated, due to the fixed price of slaves, whenever it was not necessary.

Understanding the Rationalizations

Kudos to them for this section. It only fails in their false dichotomy of a conclusion. Otherwise, they have struck what I consider a mortal blow against all who compromise. As the Good Book says in Revelation 3:16, "But because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

According to Jesus, the Old Testament is alive and well. According to Isaiah 40:8, "the word of our God stands forever." The notion that these old testament verses no longer apply is completely untrue according to the Bible.


In that case, the obvious question to ask yourself is this: If the Bible has been corrupted, how can we possibly know which parts of the Bible came from God and which parts were inserted by primitive men? You have absolutely no way to know.

Exactly. Islam has the "Satanic Verses" which Salman Rushdie drew attention to. Islam falls on this account.

If part of the Bible came from God and part came from primitive men, you do not know which is which. You do not know if Jesus really is resurrected, or if that's just a make-believe story inserted by primitive men. How do you know if God wrote the Ten Commandments or not? If any part of the Bible has been polluted by primitive men, you have to reject the whole thing. There is no way to know who wrote what, so the entire book is invalid.

Which is why I stand on the veracity of all Scripture. As soon as a Christian compromises on that fact, he has lost.

Back to Fifty Reasons.


Monday, June 09, 2008

How to come in under budget

Budgets are a tricky thing, because they're filled with perverse incentives. A manager who brings his department in under budget is likely to have his budget cut to fund a more profligate manager. Thus the use-it-or-lose-it clauses in most budgets (and budget negotiations) creates wasteful spending. At my last job, for example, they had a discretionary equipment budget around $8,000ish a year, which was well below the threshold needed for a medium-sized equipment purchase (typically some $20-30,000). Thus projects were ranked not by the importance or cost-effectiveness, but by their total cost. Back-burners were running constantly to avoid losing money.

Medium-sized projects are also discriminated against in budget negotiations, because they are the pawns of the budgetary world. They're useful as a supporting cast, to be used and cast aside when necessary, but only when one makes the leap to the other side of the board, to become a queen, a major piece, do any but the most skilled players, or in this case, managers, wield them effectively.

On the other hand, throwing more money at a department that obviously has no use for it is just as wasteful as not providing enough.

Thus my solution to all these problems: Any department that comes in under budget can roll over its unused budget from year to year, and its budget will not be changed. The rolled over money can provide a means for funding medium-sized projects that would be otherwise neglected, and inflation will take care of reducing funding to that department. By not increasing its budget, you're automatically cutting it by a few percent. No waste, no perverse incentives, and the economy does the difficult task of budget cuts for you.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

God is Imaginary: #12 See the Magic

See the Magic.

See the mockery.

Do you see the logical error in their argument? This is categorical logic, but instead of using the classic syllogism, all A are B, all B are C, therefore, all A are C, they're using a fallacious form. By contrast, their argument runs: All A are B. All C are B. Therefore all A are C. In word form:

All A (religions) are B (infused with magical elements).
All C (fairy tales) are B (infused with magical elements).
Therefore, all religions are fairy tales.

If you're really bored, you can spend some quality time with a Venn Diagram to demonstrate that this argument is fallacious.

Back to Fifty Reasons.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

God is Imaginary: #11 Notice that there is no Scientific Evidence

Notice that there is no Scientific Evidence.

This one is full of bullet-pointed lists of links. Since the links go to others of the fifty reasons, I won't address any bullet points that contain a link. Either I've already addressed them, or I will address them in due time. Or, in the case of the last link in the "Understanding the Rationalizations" box, it links you back to the same article. Now that's some great citation.

God has never left any physical evidence of his existence on earth.

I'm not sure what they're getting at with this one. If they're referring to the activities of God, the evidence is measured in thousands of cubic miles. In this instance, it becomes obvious that the issue isn't evidence. For more on the subject of evidence versus interpretation, I refer you to Answers in Genesis. It doesn't really matter what you read on their site, the distinction comes through in most articles.

If they're referring to the physical existence of Christ, other than a physical body (as he rose from the dead) we have as much evidence, if not more, of his existence than we have of just about anyone in pre-modern history. Christ is the most influential person in history. Aside from those who follow him, he pops up in references by numerous secular sources. If they are denying that Christ physically existed, they have left the realm of rationality. They can deny his divinity, but the nature of the question is physical.

If, however, they're referring to some miraculous sign, they would use the rationalization, which they used at the end of the article, "Science does not have a complete explanation for the universe's creation, yet." [emphasis in original]. So whatever physical evidence is cited, such as the remarkable level of the development among the farthest known galaxies, the answer will be the same.

God has never spoken to modern man, for example by taking over all the television stations and broadcasting a rational message to everyone.

Look at how carefully this is phrased. To modern man. Any appearance to anyone not in modern times is discounted. Despite the testimony of the early church in Acts 1:3 "
After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God." their testimony is discounted.

There example is also very carefully chosen. If God appears to only some modern people, they would be dismissed as religious kooks. If God appeared to people who were undeniably atheistic prior to the appearance, the use of hallucinogenic drugs, or some other disorder, would be blamed. Even if neither of those circumstances could be blamed, we can fall on the all-purpose rationalization at the end:
"Science does not have a complete explanation for the universe's creation, yet." Even the testimony of modern man would be discounted.

What they want is something both universal and easily recordable. However, this appearance can also be rationalized--some Christian group has created a worm that infected the world's broadcasting media to create this message. There is nothing about it that cannot be easily rationalized away. Thus even their example could be discounted.

The only way God could speak to modern man in a way that would satisfy them--a way that could not be rationalized--is, unfortunately, when Christ returns, at which point it will be to late.

Huge, amazing atrocities like the Holocaust and AIDS occur without any response from God.

This is the theodicy problem. I answered this in my Responses to the Ten Questions: Number Two.

If we had scientific proof of God's existence, we would talk about the "science of God" rather than "faith in God".

I'm going to take the Job approach to this one. I will question you and you will answer me. Assume, for the sake of argument--just as I take on the assumptions of evolution to answer--that the history reflected in the Bible is accurate. That God did create. That there was a global flood. That the world's peoples congregated at Babel and were divided. Now. Using the scientific method, prove it. You cannot. Even if it happened, as we assumed for this question, you cannot prove it because it was a historical event, not a scientific event. All one can do is construct a model which matches the evidence more or less well, but cannot be tested.

Similarly, evolution cannot prove a historical event, even if I, on my part, assume that it happened. All that can be done is the construction of a model. And because the model of evolution is infinitely malleable, matching the model to the evidence is easy. That which does not fit is reshaped until it does.

This is the Bible's explanation of rainbows. Of course we now know that rainbows are a prismatic effect of raindrops.

Do you know what a landmark is? It is a feature, either natural or man made, to which a geographic meaning is assigned. When I went mountain biking in the Zambian bush, I navigated my way by the termite mounds. I ascribed a new meaning to them, though they already existed. That I used them as landmarks did not mean that I created them for that purpose. In a similar manner, God ascribed a new meaning to the rainbow. Though some have argued, based on Genesis 2:5-6, that there was no rain prior to the Flood, the context is that it had not rained during the first days of the creation week, prior to the creation of Adam. God's having set his bow in the clouds is only problematic if one assumes that God created it at this point (though that is not impossible, just unlikely given what we know of God), and was not simply ascribing new meaning to it.

Back to the Fifty Reasons.