Banned from a Bible Forum

I was banned, recently, from the Bible forum I’ve been participating in for the last year. (I would’ve posted about this, sooner, but my website was down at the time.) I’m not really surprised that they banned me, more surprised that they took so long to do it. I came to the forum specifically on their invitation. Even then, I made clear from the start that I was not sympathetic to their point of view and would be expressing views they might find uncomfortable, if I stayed — and only chose to stay after they said they still wanted me there, regardless. However, they considered any religious criticism and any contrary opinion to their Christian beliefs and doctrine to be “trolling” or worse (I’ll discuss “worse” in a future post), no matter how honest the inquiry or relevant the critique, and no matter how gently worded.
Here’s what happened:

First, someone posted this.*

WHAT’S AN INFIDEL ?

The author, Rick Mathes, is a well-known leader in prison ministry. The man who walks with God always gets to his destination. If you have a pulse you have a purpose.
The Muslim religion is the fastest growing religion per capita in the United States, especially in the minority races.
Last month I attended my annual training session that’s required for maintaining my state prison security clearance. During the training session there was a presentation by three speakers representing the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths, who each explained their beliefs.
I was particularly interested in what the Islamic Imam had to say. The Muslim gave a great presentation of the basics of Islam, complete with a video.
After the presentations, time was provided for questions and answers. When it was my turn, I directed my question to the Muslim and asked:
‘Please, correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that most Imams and clerics of Islam have declared a holy jihad [Holy war] against the infidels of the world and, that by killing an infidel, (which is a command to all Muslims) they are assured of a place in heaven. If that’s the case, can you give me the definition of an infidel?’
There was no disagreement with my statements and, without hesitation, he replied, ” Nonbelievers”
I responded, ‘So, let me make sure I have this straight. All followers of Allah have been commanded to kill everyone who is not of your faith so they can have a place in heaven. Is that correct?’
The expression on his face changed from one of authority and command to that of a little boy who had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.’
He sheepishly replied, ‘Yes.’
I then stated, ‘Well, sir, I have a real problem trying to imagine The Pope commanding all Catholics to kill those of your faith or Dr. Stanley ordering all Protestants to do the same in order to guarantee them a place in heaven!’
The Muslim was speechless.
I continued, ‘I also have a problem with being your friend when you and your brother clerics are telling your followers to kill me! Let me ask you a question:
Would you rather have your Allah, who tells you to kill me in order for you to go to heaven, or my Jesus who tells me to love you because I am going to heaven and He wants you to be there with me?’
You could have heard a pin drop.
Needless to say, the organizers and/or promoters of the ‘Diversification’ training seminar were not happy with my way of dealing with the Islamic Imam, and exposing the truth about the Muslims’ beliefs.
In twenty years there will be enough Muslim voters in the U.S. to elect the President.
I think everyone in the U.S. should be required to read this, but with the ACLU, there is no way this will be widely publicized, unless each of us sends it on! This is your chance to make a difference.
FOR CHRIST’S SAKE…SEND THIS ON
Please pray and send this on……please.

I was struck by the cognitive dissonance of this post, since the Bible has its own injunctions to kill nonbelievers, and many Christians take for granted that these commands were moral when they came from Yahweh in the Bible. So, I posted the following reply:

“I wonder what the author, Rick Mathes, would say about Bible passages such as Deuteronomy 13:6-11 (wherein God commands killing your family or friends if they entice you to worship other gods), or Deuteronomy 13:12-18 (wherein God commands the Israelites kill everyone in the entire town and destroy everything, if anyone therein is found to be worshipping other gods), or 2 Chronicles 15:12-13 (wherein Asa, and the people of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon make a covenant to kill nonbelievers), etc.”

A little while later, the moderator replied to me, “Always tell the truth,” and then banned me from the forum. Which is a funny thing for him to say, while banning me for telling the truth!
For the record, here’s Deuteronomy 13:6-11:

“Suppose someone secretly entices you—even your brother, your son or daughter, your beloved wife, or your closest friend—and says, ‘Let us go worship other gods’—gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known. They might suggest that you worship the gods of peoples who live nearby or who come from the ends of the earth. But do not give in or listen. Have no pity, and do not spare or protect them. You must put them to death! Strike the first blow yourself, and then all the people must join in. Stone the guilty ones to death because they have tried to draw you away from the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of slavery. Then all Israel will hear about it and be afraid, and no one will act so wickedly again.” — New Living Testament translation

Here’s Deuteronomy 13:12-18:

“When you begin living in the towns the Lord your God is giving you, you may hear that scoundrels among you are leading their fellow citizens astray by saying, ‘Let us go worship other gods’—gods you have not known before. In such cases, you must examine the facts carefully. If you find that the report is true and such a detestable act has been committed among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock. Then you must pile all the plunder in the middle of the open square and burn it. Burn the entire town as a burnt offering to the Lord your God. That town must remain a ruin forever; it may never be rebuilt. Keep none of the plunder that has been set apart for destruction. Then the Lord will turn from his fierce anger and be merciful to you. He will have compassion on you and make you a large nation, just as he swore to your ancestors. “The Lord your God will be merciful only if you listen to his voice and keep all his commands that I am giving you today, doing what pleases him.” — New Living Testament translation

And here’s 2 Chronicles 15:12-13:

“Then they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul. They agreed that anyone who refused to seek the Lord, the God of Israel, would be put to death—whether young or old, man or woman.” — New Living Testament translation

I did nothing here but make accurate references and give accurate descriptions of them, which were directly relevant. Which brings up the ultimate irony: Bible forum moderators and participants so offended by what their holy scripture actually says that they’ll ban someone for accurately referencing or quoting it.

 

 

*Yes, I know that what he posted came from a chain email, and probably never even happened. That’s beside the point.

Pakistani Bill to Ban Child Marriages Withdrawn for being Un-Islamic

There was a news item yesterday that a bill in the Pakistani legislature to ban child marriage has been withdrawn, because an advisory council — The Council of Islamic Ideology — declared the bill “un-Islamic,” not in compliance with Sharia law. The council maintains a stance that men should be able to marry girls as young as nine years old, “if signs of puberty are visible.” You can read more about the story here.

Seriously. Banning child marriages is “un-Islamic.” According to a council on Islamic ideology.

The founder of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, married his wife, Aisha, when she was six years old and he was fifty years old, and had sex with her when she was nine years old and he was fifty-three. This is well documented by multiple contemporary sources† and widely accepted throughout the Islamic world. In context that Muhammad is commonly considered within Islam to have been picked by Allah because he was perfectly upright, it would follow that such child marriages must therefore be sanctioned. In this sense, there’s a strong argument that banning child marriages is indeed “un-Islamic.”

Just think about that for a moment. Many millions of people revere as morally perfect someone they know to have been an unabashed pedophile. And a sizable portion of them see that as divine warrant for pedophiliac marriages, which supports institutionalization of child rape and molestation.

Any historical, legal, or theological sanction of child marriage within Islam is not an acceptable defense for the continuation of the practice. Rather, it is a profound problem with Islam. Furthermore, the withdrawal of this bill due to the Council of Islamic Ideology’s declaration that the bill is “un-Islamic” shows once again that government and religion should be kept completely separate. And the entire situation exemplifies how religions often perpetuate ancient barbarism and misery, and retard the progress of civilization.

Utterly contemptible.

 

† To give an example from the many accounts of this in the Hadiths, here’s Sahih Bukhari 7:62:64

Narrated ‘Aisha: that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death).

Rationality

How can we most accurately distinguish what’s true from what isn’t?

People pondering this topic have been stymied since Sextus Empiricus wrote Outlines of Pyrrhonism, in 200 A.D., by the fact that we can’t give incontrovertible defenses for our contentions about what is true or false. We can’t because:

(1) The problem of induction: (In the words of Max Born) “. . . no observation or experiment, however extended, can give more than a finite number of repetitions”; therefore, “the statement of a law — B depends on A — always transcends experience.” In this sense, there is no possibility of a method of positive inference which will logically lead from limited observations of similar phenomena under similar circumstances to the formation of a law. Statements of law are of stronger content than the evidentiary statements used in defending them. “Yet,” Born says, “this kind of statement is made everywhere and all the time, and sometimes from scanty material.”

— and —

(2) The problem of ultimate justification: Any reason for an idea is always founded upon a prior assumption, merely moving the justification one step previous in an infinite regression. We never get to an ultimate justification no matter how deep we dig; there is no foundation at the bottom.

Philosophers have been greatly concerned by the situation, because they’ve believed that, if there are no solutions to the problem of induction and the problem of ultimate justification, then there is no firm basis for rationality.

Stuck, many philosophers tried harder to get around these problems than to solve them. Some, such as P.F. Strawson, argued that the problem of induction was misconceived, that there was no need to justify inductive inference. They asserted that the relationship between evidence and conclusion isn’t illogical, but merely nonlogical. They believed there were two fundamentally different kinds of inference: deductive, defining logic; and inductive, defining natural sciences. They viewed inductive inference as inductively valid, just as deductive inference is deductively valid. The problem was “dissolved” by learning not to apply the standards of deductive logic to inductive inference.

Ludwig Wittgenstein started from these premises. He assumed that the problem of induction was insoluble. Then, attacking the concept of scientific unity, he not only accepted the argument that inductive inference is inductively valid, he greatly extended the application of that strategy of thought. Wittgenstein asserted that, since the standards of logic couldn’t be permitted to judge science, neither the standards of logic nor the standards of science could be permitted to judge other disciplines. Wittgenstein’s followers extended this into the idea that no discipline could be judged by application of the rules of any other discipline. Wittgenstein declared that such cross-disciplinary judgments were errors, which he called “category mistakes.” He called people who made category mistakes “bad pupils.” He then switched from the concept of disciplines of knowledge to “language games” and “forms of life”, each self-validated by their own rules and beholden to none else; and he left as the only function of philosophy to merely subdivide categories into unreconstructible fragments and describe each new one’s “first principles” or “grammar of logic.” Each area of knowledge was viewed as a closed system, with its own rules and logic, irreducible to and incompatible with any other area of knowledge.

Thomas S. Kuhn’s sociology-of-knowledge built upon these Wittgensteinian notions. Whereas Wittgenstein viewed fields of knowledge as incomparable spatially — not in contact with each other to apply the standards of one to another regardless of apparent closeness, due to an absence of a universal, logical underlying framework to gird them to each other; Kuhn added that fields of knowledge were also incomparable temporally — without the same framework, necessary for applying the standards of any period’s state of knowledge in any discipline to its predecessor or successor. Kuhn asserted that “paradigms” — his phrase for systems of thought on a given subject — are incommensurable. They can’t be compared with each other, and so, one cannot be used to judge another. Paradigms are, in his perception, relative: none inherently better or worse than another. The shift from one paradigm to another — say, from Aristotelian mechanics to Newtonian mechanics, or from Newtonian mechanics to Einsteinian relativity and quantum mechanics — are supposed to be nonrational, and not at all indicative of progress towards truth. With the possibility banished that rationality plays some role in knowledge growth, Kuhn chose to explain knowledge solely with sociology. “In Kuhn’s account of scientific knowledge, most of science is bound by precedent, tradition, and commitment to reigning paradigms that are guarded, licensed, and franchised by scientific elites — elites concerned to train, indoctrinate, supervise, socialize and politicize initiates into the scientific enterprise. The main activity for which initiates are to be trained is the solving of relatively minor problems — Kuhn calls them “puzzles” — set by, and in conformity with, the reigning “paradigm”. Intellectual revolution is a rarity, more disruptive than enlightening, something against which guardians of paradigms should protect themselves — even weeding out dissidents — for the sake of the larger enterprise. Kuhnian sociology-of-knowledge is strongly normative: what is popular is right,” notes W.W. Bartley, III.

Kuhn considered objections that the degree of correspondence with reality of the contents of ideas must surely have some influence on their acceptance or rejection by the scientific community to be sufficiently undone by the assumed irrational basis of science and by the fracturing of knowledge into incommensurable language games.

Most contemporary philosophers have followed this line of reasoning. And so we’ve been left in the modern world with the popular views that (1) there really is no firm basis for rationality, and (2) interdisciplinary criticism is invalid. With the foundations removed from rationality, the common next step is to assume that acceptance or rejection of an idea is necessarily nonrational. The assumption is that, since no idea can ultimately be justified, the choices come down to either accepting any given idea on a nonrational basis, or denying the idea on a nonrational basis, Either way, according to Wittgensteinian reasoning, one’s ideas would ultimately be nonrational, founded on faith. This is essentially what Ludwig Wittgenstein meant when he famously wrote, in On Certainty, “At the end of reason comes persuasion.”

All of these ideas of Kuhn’s and Wittgenstein’s, as well as the current post-rationalist attitudes of epistemic relativism, hinge upon the insolubility of the problem of induction and the problem of ultimate justification, and hinge upon this insolubility precluding a tenable version of rationality — but it’s not so.

It does appear that the problems of induction and ultimate justification are indeed insoluble; however, it turns out that doesn’t actually pose a problem for rationality. As Karl Popper figured out in 1934, rationality doesn’t depend upon the reason behind the formation of an idea being justified. This is because criticism, not justification, is the basis for rationality. Whether an idea came from careful scientific research or from a Ouija board may be valuable for its insight into how ideas are conceived, but not for vetting whether ideas are true. What is important to determining the truth of an idea is not the justification behind it, but its ability to survive criticism.

It’s like the difference between Lamarckian evolutionary theory and Darwinian evolutionary theory. In Lamarck’s theory of evolution through the inheritance of acquired characteristics, an organism’s physiology had to be fully justified prior to the organism’s birth. Whereas, in Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection, an organism’s physiology is only relevant due to its ability (or inability) to survive to reproduction within whatever environment it finds itself. Similarly, in justificationist epistemologies, an idea’s veracity has to be fully justified prior to the idea’s generation. Whereas, in critical epistemologies, an idea’s veracity only needs to survive our best efforts to refute it.

The following explanation of how knowledge can be held, with logical consistency, is part of an epistemological system called Pancritical rationalism:

1) Induction, as a method of positive inference which verifies the correctness of statements, doesn’t exist. Theories are never securely founded.

2) While statements of law cannot be verified, they can, in principle, be falsified. If I hypothesize that all flamingos are pink, no amount of pink flamingos that I see will prove that all are pink, but I only need to see one black flamingo to falsify the hypothesis (provided we accept the legitimacy of the data). If one exposes one’s ideas to severe criticism and rigorous testing designed to reveal non-instances of a proposed law, and the ideas survive, there is no reason to suppose that they are wrong. But, if one exposes one’s ideas and they are duly refuted, then there is a rational reason to dismiss them. Falsifiability provides a foundation for rationality.

Justificationists, afraid to be taken off of firm foundations, might object that there must be some ultimate standards for the criticism to which hypotheses are exposed. But that’s wrong. The standards of criticism are always open to criticism, themselves. Isomorphically, there is no ultimate set of standards for survival to reproduction which an organism’s physiology must meet: when the weather is hot and dry, an organism must be able to survive heat and drought; but when the weather changes to cold and wet, those standards no longer apply, and the organism must now be able to withstand coldness and moisture, instead.

3) We may be thinking that we are basing our rationality on induction, but we’re actually just taking guesses, and our rationality is based on the results of deductive tests against our guesses. These guesses may be inductively conceived, may truly originate from perceived cause and effect, and a hypothesizer may feel confident of the rightness of a guess — but this is unrelated to the logical methodology of how knowledge is held.

4) Without accepting an idea is definitively correct or definitively incorrect, reserving prejudice, one can still credit whether an idea best fits with available knowledge compared to any known alternative hypothesis.

 

With a workable method of holding ideas rationally that renders the problem of induction and the problem of ultimate justification irrelevant, we can see that the entire footing of the aforementioned work of Wittgenstein and Kuhn is a misstep. Logically consistent rationality is possible. The acceptance or rejection of ideas can indeed be based on correspondence with reality.

Epistemic relativism is bunkrapt, failing to congrue with reality. If the only sense in which knowledge progressed was chronologically — if scientific change was merely a social phenomenon meandering aimlessly through the geography of possible thoughts — then our models of reality would be infinitely far from actual, objective reality, and would not ever be getting any closer (except, perhaps, temporarily, by chance). If this were the case, then behavioral adaptation as a method of survival would be an impossibility. As would any kind of technology.

Cross-disciplinary criticism remains a valid form of judgment. Wittgensteinians object to this, often pointing out instances when the rules of one scientific discipline supposedly don’t work for another. For example they may tell you that physicists would absolutely insist upon reproducibility for the Michelson-Morley experiment, but anthropologists have accepted non-reproducible data from first encounters with isolated tribes in the Amazon and New Guinea. But this is a misapprehension, and the implication that this suggests different science disciplines are operating by fundamentally different rules is erroneous. Both physics and anthropology demand the results of experiments must be reproducible when the experiments themselves can be repeated, but neither branch of science thinks that data is only acceptable when it comes from repeatable events. When Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 collided with Jupiter, no physicist said, “Throw away all the data we collected; the collision’s not replicable.” When repeatability is available, it’s a convenient and powerful opportunity to test and criticize; when it’s not, there are still other possible grounds upon which criticism can be based. For example, criticism can be based on noncorroborability with related research. Some disciplines may study things that are easier to repeat than other disciplines do, but they are, nonetheless, thematically similar in their process of advancement — the generation of conjectures followed by rigorous attempts to refute them. Attempts to show the alienation of disciplines, and the inapplicability of cross-disciplinary criticism, are bogus.

 

But what about what scientists actually say they do? For example, what about when Richard Dawkins said, “Have you ever wondered how we know the things that we know? How do we know, for instance, that the stars, which look like tiny pinpricks in the sky, are really huge balls of fire like the Sun and very far away? And how do we know that the Earth is a smaller ball whirling round one of those stars, the Sun? The answer to these questions is ‘evidence’.”

Is this not inductivism and justificationism — with evidence “proving” hypotheses through inductive inference — in direct contradiction with everything I outlined, above? And is this not faith-based and irrational?

Yes. Many scientists and science advocates, such as Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, and Bill Nye, tend to discuss how we know what we know in inductivist and justificationist terms.

Insofar as these methods extend finite repetitions into universal laws held as facts: yes, they are faith-based. Having said so, it’s pertinent to point out the distinction between this kind of faith and blind faith. The inductive methodology these scientists suggest begins with pattern recognition of observed phenomena, then extends it into inferred generalizations. Contrarily, blind faith does not begin with pattern recognition of observed phenomena. Whereas scientists are expressing faith based on empirical data, blind faith is based on nothing objective whatsoever, and often in contradiction to all available data.

Nevertheless, extending these patterns into certitude about universal laws is still faith. The notion that limited observations can “verify” or “prove” hypotheses is not logically defensible. So — yes, what these scientists and advocates are suggesting is irrational. In the quote above, Dawkins is mistaken; evidence helps us form our ideas, but it doesn’t get us to knowledge.

It’s unfortunate that scientists and advocates popularize a flawed model of how we know what we know, when better ones are available. They’re writing bad checks, so to speak, when they assert that science is trustworthy because evidence grounds their ideas in rationality. Such mistaken statements engender the preventable problem of irrationalist critics arguing that science is based on faith — if you champion an inductivist model that is necessarily based on faith, then it’s appropriate for critics to point that out. Moreover, advancing this unworkable model leads people to misunderstand how science, and the enterprise of increasing humanity’s knowledge, work.

However, the scientists and advocates who espouse this faulty model, wherein evidence proves hypotheses through inductive inference, suffer more from a lack of self-awareness than from an actual problem with how they conduct scientific investigation or how they hold ideas as true or false. After all, they still infer predictions from their hypotheses, whereby it is possible for their ideas to fail if the predictions fail. They still put them to the test. They still dismiss the ideas that fail the tests. They still submit their work to their peers for critical review and attempts at refutation. In sum, they still try to grow knowledge through the process of conjectures and refutations. Which is to say: they are operatively Pancritical rationalists, regardless whether they proclaim the opposite.

 

Kuhnian sociology-of-knowledge proponents sometimes try to frame the peer review process as an example of sociology’s role in irrationally influencing the growth of knowledge. Peer review, they’ll tell you, is an area where prestige “sells” scientific knowledge, where a big-name scientist at a high-status institution makes research findings practically irresistible. But this is laughable, when you note that peer reviews tend to be double-blind, and note that peers must concentrate on reproducibility, corroborability, falsification, broader and more parsimonious explanations of the data, errors in reasoning, and the like. It’s not the social order of things which pressures peer reviewers, but rather the objective reality which surviving theories must successfully model.

Thomas Kuhn published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, giving us the last fifty-three years on which to test how scientific revolutions actually did proceed against how Kuhn’s model would predict that they will proceed. Aside from and more importantly than all of the errors upon which Kuhn’s ideas rest, his ideas have been refuted by the actual course which science took — which is composed overwhelmingly of non-instances of the predictions of the Kuhnian model. Here’s an example (quoted from Frank J. Tipler): “Steven Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow, two of the main creators of the Standard Model [of particle physics] — revolutionaries, according to Kuhn — have both sharply criticized Kuhn’s theory, pointing out that the Standard Model revolution did not occur the way Kuhn would lead one to expect. A former leading proponent of a non-Standard Model theory, John Polkinghorne — an antirevolutionary, according to Kuhn — has said exactly the same thing. All three physicists agree that the physics community accepted the standard model on purely objective, rational grounds. They all present evidence that the Standard Model is in fact a theory closer in accord with objective reality than all other theories which have been developed to date.”

Does this mean there’s no possibility that factors outside of objective criticism can influence the progress of science and the growth of knowledge? Of course not. It’s specifically the sort of irrationally-based sociology-of-knowledge which Kuhnians suggest that fails — where content-free persuasive elements govern the fate of theories, irrelevant of their degree of approximation with reality. For example, one such influence that really does impact the procession of human knowledge is economics. The pursuit of knowledge has costs in terms of time, energy, and money; and there are both limited resources and unlimited possibilities for resource distribution, requiring that choices be made. Economics-of-knowledge, which doesn’t contradict rationalism, was realized by Karl Popper and expanded by W.W. Bartley, R. Coase, F. Hayek, and others. Predictions of how science and the growth of knowledge will occur, according to models of economics-of-knowledge, have been tested and have not been falsified.

One might argue that Thomas Kuhn and and his adherents, on the side of sociology-of-knowledge, versus Karl Popper, William Warren Bartley, III, and others, on the side of rationalism, are addressing two different issues. Kuhnians are trying to describe the way science does proceed, while Popperians are trying to describe the way science ought to progress. (What Thomas Kuhn pejoratively called “idealized” accounts.) This is true, however, there is scant corroboration, and numerous refutations, of Kuhn’s description of the way that science purportedly “really” happens.

In a limited sense, Thomas Kuhn and his followers may be right. As a description of the way that scientists, as individuals, try to act, the views of the sociologists-of-knowledge may accurately describe a significant proportion. Scientists can be as self-interested and self-serving as any other category of humanity. Yet the fact that some scientists really do scheme, misrepresent each other, plagiarize, hold grudges, strive for prestige, stay loyal, foment controversy, condemn others to conspiracies of silence, and so forth — while profligate refutations of the course predicted by the Kuhnian model nevertheless occurred — only testifies to the impotence of sociological influences on the course of science over the long-term.

Thomas Kuhn wrote, “There is no standard higher than the assent of the relevant community.” However, this statement is a failure to see below the surface, and can be dismissed on rational grounds. The course that science has taken shows that the assent of the relevant communities is strongly oriented toward how accurately an idea models reality. And this is so because they recognize that closeness of approximation of truth, estimated through objective and rational methodologies, is a higher scientific standard than mere assent.

 

Some people think your choices are limited to their simple, binary alternatives: justification and induction as the basis for rationality, or no possibility of rationality at all; reproduction of experiments as a basis for criticism of hypotheses, or no basis for criticism; total acceptance of any given idea on a nonrational basis, or total rejection of the idea on a nonrational basis.

There are wider choices available, including Pancritical rationalism, whereby no appeals to irrationality are necessary.

[Please note that no parts of this are intended to be any kind of swipe at Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, or Bill Nye — all of whom I respect, admire, and mostly agree with.]

Some Thoughts about the Ten Commandments

[Editorial notes: (1) As I discussed previously, the “Ten Commandments” which people commonly refer to by that title are not the actual Ten Commandments, according to the Bible. Nonetheless, since most people consider them the real ones, today’s post is about the set popularly called the “Ten Commandments,” which is found in Exodus 20:2-17. Also, if you have any issues with what I’ve written, please be sure to read my Caveats page.]

 

The Ten commandments are revered by many, who consider them the most primary of God’s laws, the essence of our morals, and the foundation of Western law. And yet, I characterized them in a previous post as “profoundly flawed.” Today, I’ll go through them and share some of my thoughts about them.

Number One:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

You shall have no other gods before me.

First, mentioning that He brought people out of Egypt and liberated them from slavery loses its cachet when one recalls that this was only necessary because He previously brought people into Egypt and into more than 400 years of slavery, before finally freeing them. (Genesis 15:13)  This would be like me stealing your car, getting in a wreck with it, and then returning the damaged car to you, while boasting about how I am your great benefactor for giving you a car.

Second, saying “…who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” indicates that these commandments were intended exclusively for the ancient Israelites of a particular place and time, and were not intended to be universally applicable to all people, forever after. He didn’t bring you and me out of enslavement by the Egyptians.

Third, “You shall have no other Gods before me”? All God would have to do is unambiguously show that He exists as claimed, and people would naturally put Him before all the other gods which do not, without any need for this commandment. And if He can’t or won’t even do that, then there’s literally no reason people should take Him seriously.

Fourth, make no mistake, God is not a proponent of free will, freedom of choice, or freedom of religion. He commands people to worship him, and commands people not to worship others. The options given in the Bible were (A) worship, follow, and obey Yahweh and only Yahweh, or (B) be put to death.

Fifth, this commandment has nothing to do with treating each other rightly, nor behaving honestly, nor with not harming each other. In other words, it’s irrelevant to morality. It’s the first and foremost of God’s laws for humanity, with higher priority than all else, and there is no moral principle whatsoever, here.

Number Two:

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

First, not making any kind of likeness of anything — no illustrations, paintings, sculptures, photographs, videos, etc. — would cripple the ability to convey any kind of visual information, and would thereby have catastrophic consequences for education, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine, navigation, the economy, art, entertainment, and much more. Furthermore, to disallow making any likeness of anything, in order to prevent idolatry, is excessive and superfluous; people can make uses of likenesses without falling into idol worship (and they do, every day). This commandment is simply not reasonable and not feasible — which is perhaps why this commandment is rejected and ignored by almost everyone, no matter how religious they profess to be. Whenever you see Bible thumpers on television, enshrining the Ten Commandments, keep in mind that you’re watching them break the second commandment.

Second, the Lord is a jealous God? That just doesn’t fit with “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and “Love is not jealous” (1 Corinthians 13:4).

It’s also utterly preposterous. He’s the all-powerful ruler of the universe, creator of about one-hundred-octillion stars, and yet He gets grievously affronted whenever anyone doesn’t put him before all others. He’s perfect in every way, yet he’s so vain, insecure, and needy that he covets absolutely every last crumb of adoration in the entire cosmos, and he’s so vindictive that he’ll even curse your great grandchildren if you deprive him of the acclaim He feels He’s due. The “jealous God” idea is laughable, and an obvious sign that this God is an invention of mankind.

Third, He visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation? God is purported to be perfectly just, and yet here He is explicitly proclaiming that He’ll punish people for the wrongdoings of others. This is the very antithesis of justice.

Additionally, saying here that He’ll visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children directly contradicts what He says elsewhere: “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” (Ezekiel 18:20)

Fourth, “…showing steadfast love to — thousands?” Not billions, nor paltry millions? Not even to a trifling one-tenth of one percent of those who worship Him? This looks to me like the supposedly all-knowing God was too limited in His outlook to imagine how many followers He’d have through future generations. Or, those who made up this God and ascribed their words to him were too limited in their outlooks.

Fifth, as with the previous commandment, this one has nothing to do with moral guidance.

Sixth, as with the first commandment, this second commandment would be unnecessary if God would simply show that He exists as claimed. The entire problem stems from the fact that He has not.

Seventh, commanding people not to pray to idols was already covered by commanding people to have no other gods before Him. The second commandment is redundant with the first.

Number Three:

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

This fits well with the one and only sin that the Bible flatly states will never be forgiven, blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-29) — but it speaks tellingly of God’s psychopathic egocentrism that He can forgive any wrongdoing from child rape to mass murder, but the one single thing He absolutely will not ever forgive is speaking badly about Him.

Or, alternatively, it shows that the people who made this God up took extra measures to try to make  people take Him seriously.

Number Four:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.

These last two are the third and fourth in a row that focus on appeasing God’s bizarre neuroses, and have no bearing on treating people fairly and kindly. We’re now up to a full forty percent of the supposed top-ten most important things God has to say to mankind that’s been wasted.

Number Five:

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

Most parents love their children beyond measure, and do everything they can to raise their children right and ensure them the best futures they can. Such parents deserve to be honored. In this sense, I’m more sympathetic to this commandment than the first four.

Unfortunately, some parents are hateful, abusive, and neglectful. Such parents should not be honored by their children. Thus, a commandment to categorically honor your parents — regardless whether they’re the best or the worst — is a mistake. Honor your mother and father if they merit it, but not if they don’t. Mindless obeisance does not make a good rule.

The second half of this commandment, “…that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you,” is awful. Not just because the proposition (that you will live longer if you honor your parents) is often false, and not just because the assertion (that God gives you the land) is unsupportable. Rather, for the deeper reason that it shifts this commandment from morality to bribery. Instead of honoring our mothers and fathers because our hearts tell us to, because it’s the right thing to do, because they’ve earned our love and respect, because we truly want to be good to them — now we’re to honor our parents specifically so that we may get the reward of a long life.

Also, this commandment doesn’t jibe with Jesus’s directive that you must hate your father and mother (Luke 14:26).

Moreover, this commandment is too vague. Does “honoring” your mother and father mean standing when they enter a room, or seating them at the head of the table, or remembering them on their birthdays, or defending their honor in a duel against those who dishonor them, or always obeying them, or taking care of them in their dotage, or speaking deferentially toward them, or what? I imagine that the ancient Israelites would’ve understood what it meant in their culture, but, once again, the allegedly omniscient God was seemingly too limited in perception to write the fifth commandment with future generations in mind.

Number Six:

You shall not kill.

Not a bad commandment, but — between all of the killing God does in the Bible, and all of the killing He commands his followers do in the Bible — it’s surprising He could spare a moment to tell people not to kill. To put this in perspective, Moses’s first order of business when he came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments was to kill 3,000 of his brethren on God’s command. (Exodus 32:25-29) We’re talking about the God that boasted that He will make his arrows “drunk with blood” and that His sword shall “devour flesh.” (Deuteronomy 32:39-42). The God that slaughtered so many of His own Chosen People that they lamented, “We are perishing. We are being destroyed. All of us are being destroyed. Anyone who approaches the Lord’s dwelling will die. Are we doomed to perish?” (Numbers 17:12-13) This is Yahweh, the Master of Disaster, who slaughtered 14,700 more Israelites for protesting that He was unnecessarily killing too many of them. (Numbers 16:41-49) This is the God that, in the story of the Great Flood, wasn’t content to kill only the wicked or criminal, nor even content to “merely” kill all of humanity (including all the innocent newborn babies), but instead chose to flood the whole planet and kill every living thing. If there is one area where the God of the Bible truly stands out as the most superlative, it is the area of wanton killing.

It seems like a strange decree from the God who commanded and helped his followers to kill the people of Ai, and the Amalekites, the Ammonites, the Anakites, the Aradites — and that’s just a few of the Bible genocides starting with the letter A. So… sometimes he gives orders to kill non-virginal brides, witches, blasphemers, beastialistsfalse prophetsfortune-tellersnon-believers, followers of other religionspeople who engage in homosexual acts, people who don’t listen to priests, people who work on weekends, and a variety of other kinds of people who have harmed nobody — and other times he orders “You shall not kill”?! Really?

Anyway, while there are instances where killing is justifiable (such as to protect your child), I don’t have a lot of trouble with the sixth commandment. However, it should be noted, for those who think we need God, the Bible, and the Ten Commandments for our morality, that people figured out rules against killing each other long before Moses ever went up Mount Sinai. For example, the Code of Hammurabi, from 1754 B.C.

Number Seven:

You shall not commit adultery.

This commandment is more complex to assess than it initially appears. Due to the very different cultural context — where men could have multiple wives and concubines, women were sometimes treated like chattel, and no-fault divorce didn’t exist — I don’t feel competent to fully assess and critique the seventh commandment. So, I’ll keep it to a couple brief comments.

First, while an injunction not to betray your partner in life may be commendable, it would be better framed as a matter of contract law with civil liabilities than as a divine decree with a death penalty attached.

Second, there’s some redundancy between this and the tenth commandment, since there can be no adultery without first coveting someone’s spouse. With minor tweaks, either this or the tenth commandment could be deleted without any loss.

Number Eight:

You shall not steal.

This is a fine commandment. My only comment is to point out that, as with number six, nobody needed God giving the Ten Commandments to learn not to steal. Many legal codes from before the Ten Commandments, such as the Laws of Eshnunna and the aforementioned Code of Hammurabi, had laws against stealing.

Number Nine:

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Like the eighth commandment, this is a good one — and most of the cultures in the area figured it out on their own and wrote it into their laws long before the Ten Commandments, such as the Code of Ur-Nammu.

Number Ten:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

This last commandment is distinctly different in kind from all the others, and not in a good way. Whereas the others are about your actions, this one is about your thoughts. Since mere thoughts without actions cannot alone directly cause harmful consequences, they are outside of the legitimate scope of legal codes and moral imperatives.

Moreover, as I’ve touched upon previously, we do not have full volition over our thoughts. This commandment holds people responsible for something outside their control.

Furthermore — envying your neighbor’s ox? Are you kidding? This commandment is far too trifling to belong on a list of the top ten most critical moral rules. Where is the sense of priority?

 

Beyond the ego-stroking, absurdity, hypocrisy, contradictions, injustice, unoriginality, redundancy, and the triviality of these commandments, we must also take note of everything that could have been on this list, perhaps should have been, which is not. Here are a few examples of possible commandments that would have been better than at least half of the ten we have:

Do not possess slaves. You shall not own another human being, shall not force others to your will, shall not exploit others as your property, shall not treat people as work animals, and shall not fail to fairly compensate those who work for you.

But instead of a prohibition of slavery, the Bible gives us enthusiastic advocacy of slavery with all of its horrors, as I’ve discussed before.

You shall not engage in any sexual activity of any kind with anyone against their will.

But instead of stern prohibition of rape and molestation in the top ten list, the Bible gives us psychotic commands that a rape victim and her rapist must marry and never divorce. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

You shall not harm children, neither beat them nor mentally abuse them.

But instead of prohibition of child abuse, the Bible gives us commands to beat children with rods (Proverbs 23:13-14), and stone stubborn children to death. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

Do not torture anyone for any reason.

But instead of a prohibition of torture, the Bible gives us the example of a purportedly benevolent and just god who tortures people for all eternity over even a single minor infraction, thereby tacitly endorsing the morality of torture. (Revelation 20:10, Revelation 20:15, and Revelation 21:8; etc.)

It must also be noted that all but one of these ten commandments tell you what not to do, but this list could likely have been improved by commandments of what you should do, instead. Here are a few examples:

Treat others as equals, regardless of their sex, race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, or creed.

— or perhaps —

Help anyone in mortal need that you meet.

— or —

Preserve the environment that those around you need to survive and thrive, and that future generations will need to survive and thrive.

If we further extend the commandments beyond moral guidelines (as God does), there are many other possibilities that would be better than at least half of the Ten Commandments, which would’ve decreased unnecessary suffering and death, and would’ve sped up human progress. For examples:

Protect yourselves from pathogens. Wash your hands before preparing food or eating it, and boil the water you collect before drinking it.

— or —

Invest a portion of your time and income into education, research, and development.

— or —

Test your ideas, hypotheses, and beliefs as rigorously as you can, and dismiss those that fail testing.

 

The Ten Commandments are not impressive and do not warrant reverence. Almost anyone could come up with a better list off the top of their head, in five minutes or less; and any God who would create this list would be a fool, undeserving of respect.

 

Quote of the Day: Aristotle

“A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing he has the gods on his side.” — Aristotle, Politics

As the American presidential campaign season is heating up, and candidates are making a show of professing their religiosity, this quote comes to mind.