• David Marshall’s 144 Errors, Gross Exaggerations, Highly Dubious Claims, and Lack of Comprehension in Critiquing The God Delusion, Part 7

    #125 Do Asian holy men read nothing but the Holy Bible? “A frighteningly large number of people still do take their scriptures, including the story of Noah, literally . . . (they no doubt include) many of those Asian holy men who blamed the 2004 tsunami not on a plate tectonic shift but on human sins . . . Steeped in the story of Noah, and ignorant of all except biblical learning, who can blame them?” (238)

    Who in the world is Dawkins talking about? Asian “holy men” who know nothing about anything but the Bible, Noah in particular, and blamed the tsunami on sin? None of the Asian countries affected was majority Christian. Indonesia, India, and Bangladesh are not part of the Bible Belt.

    Here is another example of nitpicking and Marshall once again ignores Dawkin’s larger context. He was discussing how Christians pick and choose which parts of the bible to follow regarding morality and which parts they disregard.

    #126 Was Sodom famous for religious piety? (About the rape of two women in the city of Sodom, as recorded in the Book of Genesis): “Whatever else this strange story might mean, it surely tells us something about the respect accorded to women in this intensely religious culture.” (240)

    The culture in question is that of Sodom, hardly a by-word for obsessive piety.

    Yet another example of nitpicking…

    It seems that Marshall is complaining about this mythical story that allegedly took place in Sodom. It is believed that Sodom was never a real place, but that it was a myth based off of earlier Greek stories. [48]

    #127 Starved for love in a cave? “Starved of male company, (Lot’s daughters) decided to make their father drunk and copulate with him.”

    That’s the Phil Donahue version. The biblical account offers more understandable motives for the girls’ seduction of their father (from the ancient Middle Eastern perspective): the desire for prodigy.

    Here is yet another example of Marshall nitpicking The God Delusion to death. He failed to cite a page number (it’s on page 240), and he ignores the larger discussion of Dawkins’, which was again, how do you derive morality from the bible, a book that speaks of such disgusting and, some might say, immoral behavior?

    #128 Why do Levites abuse their lovers? Dawkins retells the story of a gang-rape and murder recorded in the Book of Judges. A Levite was visiting a town in the tribe of Benjamin. In the evening, villagers came to the house he was staying in, and demanded sex from him. Instead, he handed over his concubine, whom they abused until the morning. Finding her dead, and apparently cold as a cold fish, the Levite then cut his lover into twelve pieces, sending one to each of the tribes of Israel, to protest. Dawkins concludes:

    “Let’s charitably put it down again to the ubiquitous weirdness of the Bible.” (241)

    A better course would be to look at the actual explanation, which is given in the text. While gruesome by our standards (it would fit well into ancient Chinese political tales), from his perspective, the Levite’s actions made some sense. (And the people of his day did not get their meat from the butcher – they were doubtless less squeamish than we about cutting flesh!) The Levite was engaging in a “performance art.” He was drumming up outrage against a dastardly crime in a palpable, physical way. He was a shock jock with a purpose. And he succeeded – eleven of the tribes united to punish the guilty village.

    The larger point is that this was not how things were supposed to be. The Bible tells us a terrible story, to make the point that society was a mess — “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” The author assumes his readers will pick up on the moral: the nation was in a state of anarchy, and had drifted far from God.

    Dawkins heroically misses the point.

    Marshall once again ignores Dawkins’ point: How do you derive morality from the bible, a book that speaks of such disgusting and, some might say, immoral behavior?

    I do not agree with Marshall’s odd interpretation of the passage. Nowhere did the author disavow that story. The passage Marshall cites about the author abhorring this act, is in actuality the very last verse in the book of Judges and has nothing to do with the passage Dawkins is discussing. That verse is referring to the final story in the book of Judges when the Israelites murder the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead and steal their wives (21:10-12).

    #129 Why did God tell Abraham to sacrifice his son? One of the most famous passages of the Old Testament is Genesis 22, which tells how God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his longawaited son, Isaac. Dawkins retells the story as part of his brief against the Bible. At the last minute, an angel appeared, telling Abraham to stay his hand. Dawkins explains:

    “God was only joking after all . . . By the standards of modern morality, this disgraceful story is an example simultaneously of child abuse, bullying in two asymmetrical power relationships, and the first recorded use of the Nuremberg defense: “I was only obeying orders.'” (242)

    It is strange to read humor into this passage – unless it is Dawkins who is joking. Again, Dawkins misses not one point, but two. In some ways, (see The Truth Behind the New Atheism, 100-102), this incident represented two great turning points of human history. The real connection to Nuremburg here is that for perhaps the first time, human sacrifice is declined. From Israel (and ancient China) the news would spread, and this gruesome practice would gradually subside, as gentler form of civilization took hold. There is also more than a hint here of an even more revolutionary innovation which would change all the earth in numerous profound ways, when “God provides a lamb” for Isaac.

    I cover this absurd and naive argument in Marshall’s book.

    #130 How do believers understand the story of Abraham and Isaac? “Second, if not as literal fact, how should we take the story? As an allegory? Then an allegory for what? Surely nothing praiseworthy.” (242)

    Aside from the testing of Abraham, about which Kierkegaard wrote a famous and “praiseworthy” book, one thing this story seems to mean is, “God does not want human sacrifice.” Human sacrifice was common around the world at that time. It was the Judeo-Christian (and Islamic) traditions that put an end to it. From that point of view, the story of Abraham and Isaac was a turning point in history. (There is also a parallel in Chinese tradition, with the story of King Tang, who offered to sacrifice himself under a mulberry tree.)

    The great Rene Girard argues that the Bible does to sacrifice exactly the opposite of what naïve moderns like Dawkins suppose: it undermines previously accepted social violence. Girardian scholars point out that the Hebrew term for “God” in the first part of this story is generic; but a more specific term, “The Eternal” is introduced at the climax of the story. What this reminds us, whether so intended by the author or not, is that human sacrifice was a normal religious activity UNTIL God revealed himself. (See http: // fayrights.blogspot.com/2006/08/girardianinterpretation-of-genesis.html.) It was Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and (to some extent) Confucian theism, which ended that.

    The other meaning Christians have long found in this story is symbolic, pointing to Jesus, the lamb whom God provided for our sins. What is unfortunate is not that Dawkins disputes these explanations, is that he appears never to have heard of them. It is like holding two of Darwin’s finches in your hand and asking, “What possible explanation could evolutionary biologists have for these birds’ beaks?”

    This is, once again, another example of addressing the same issue multiple times in order to inflate the number of errors since he just discussed this issue. Again, no this was not a “turning point in history.” Finally, I’d consider this another case of Marshall failing to grasp Dawkins’ point. Dawkins explains his point in mentioning the story about Abraham and Isaac. He writes, “Remember, all I’m trying to establish for the moment is that we do not, as a matter of fact, derive our morals from scripture.” (243)

    #131 Do Christians have any criterion for understanding the Bible? After taking us through much of the Old Testament on his theme tour, Dawkins argues that the Bible cannot be the basis for a Christian morality, because it is such a jumble of contradictory stories. So the real basis for Christian morality must lie outside the Bible: “We must have some independent criterion for deciding which are the moral bits: a criterion which, wherever it comes from, cannot come from scripture itself and is presumably available to all of us whether we are religious or not.” (243)

    Dawkins overlooks a Christian idea that has 2000 years of history: Natural Law, the theory that moral truth is planted on the human heart by God. On that assumption, “independent” moral reasoning (as if anyone really does derive values independent of their own traditions and social environment) derives, when it works well, from the same source as the truths of Scripture – from God.

    More relevantly, though, Christians do have a built-in “criteria” for evaluating Scripture: the life, teachings, and example of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the lens through which we see and make sense of Scripture as a whole, including, of course, the story of Abraham and Isaac that so baffles Dr. Dawkins.

    If David Marshall does wish to use this “natural law” argument he has just conceded Dawkins’ argument about humans’ innate morality, thus confirming that Christians cannot get their morals from the bible, and must derive them from another source. Second, Christians borrowed and adapted the concept of the natural law from the Greeks. [49] Third, regarding Jesus, I cover this argument in my review of his book.

    #132 Does the Old Testament give good reasons to worship one God? Dawkins discusses how ancient Jewish religion excluded “false gods,” quoting Exodus at length. (246) But he omits reasons given in the Old Testament for excluding other deities of the Middle East that might make sense to modern readers – such as widespread human sacrifice, or the political oppression of neighboring states. As historian Donald Treadgold explains, “Hebrew society was unique in the ancient near East in managing to avoid the techniques, devices, and institutions of despotism.” (Freedom, a History, p. 32)

    This is another example of nitpicking by Marshall. He ignores the entire point of Dawkins’ discussion about the bible and morality and continues to nitpick the book to death. Dawkins writes, referring to this discussion about polytheism, “One cannot help, yet again, marvelling at the extraordinarily draconian view taken of the sin of flirting with rival gods. To our modern sense of value and justice it seems a trifling sin compared to, say, offering your daughter for a gang rape. It is yet another example of the disconnect between scriptural and modern (one is tempted to say civilized) morals.” (246)

    Aside from Marshall’s explanation about why Israel moved from polytheism to monotheism there are several theories and one plausible example is that it was spurned on by economic and political reasons. The bible also looks to confirm this theory in the book of Zephaniah. [50]

    #133 Have we learned from the Bible? “All I am establishing is that modern morality, wherever else it comes from, does not come from the Bible.” (246)

    What Dawkins establishes, in his island-hopping conquest of the Old Testament, aside from his own frequent failure to understand the text, is that the moral assumptions of the ancient Middle East were often at odds with our own. They cared mostly for the “in-group;” we believe (hopefully) that a man or woman should not “be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (As Martin Luther King put it.) They engaged in slavery; we pay our employees. They educated boys; we educate children of both genders.

    Coughing up a few ill-digested anecdotes from the Old Testament does not even begin to answer the really important question, “How did these changes come about?” Still less does it confound the argument made by many scholars (including myself) that in fact the Christian Scriptures HAVE deeply influenced whatever has changed for the better in human morals over the past several centuries, that as I show in The Truth Behind the New Atheism, more often than not, it was zealous Christians with Bibles in hand who implemented these reforms.

    Modern morality may have improved in some ways, but the improvement is far from uniform. Some 16 million people around the world are still subject to some form of slavery. The number was far greater during the heyday of the mid-20th Century totalitarian states, showing that progress is fragile and reversible. More and more children are raised with only one, or no, loving parents in the home. Modern technology has made it possible for millions of young people to divorce from reality, to live vicariously through the Internet, or in virtual reality games.

    It remains vital, therefore, to keep a sharp eye out for what has saved us before, in the reasonable assumption that the same source of life might save us again.

    This section makes me laugh. If anyone doesn’t understand the texts he is critiquing it’s David Marshall. I demonstrate this conclusively in my review of his book. I also deconstruct his absurd claim that “Christian Scriptures have deeply influenced whatever has changed for the better in human morals over the past several centuries.”

    #134 How do you judge between Scriptures? “Apologists cannot get away with claiming that religion provides them with some sort of inside track to defining what is good and what is bad — a privileged source unavailable to atheists. They cannot get away with it, not even if they employ that favorite trick of interpreting selected scriptures as ‘symbolic’ rather than literal. By what criterion do you decide which passages are symbolic, which literal?” (247)

    Dawkins’ error here lies in asking an important question, without even looking for answers. (The last question he asks here seems purely rhetorical; after it he begins a new paragraph, and goes on to something else.) But telling literal from symbolic or figurative language is an important element in ALL literary criticism; you can’t get away from it by putting your Bible away. Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff gives a pretty good answer to the question as applied to Scripture, in his book Divine Discourse, which grew out of his lectures at Oxford. If Dr. Dawkins is going to dabble in deep questions, he needs to read thoughtful Christian literature on this subject, and not just mock in ignorance from a distance.

    This response from Marshall fails to address Dawkins’ question. While Marshall did attempt to answer this question earlier (another example of his attempts at inflating the number of alleged errors in Dawkins’ book) by citing natural law theory and Jesus as a basis, these responses are useless. Also as he’s done a few times, Marshall cites an authority without giving a hint of context as to what counter-argument is being made by said authority.

    #135 Do we need religion for “good people” to do evil? Dawkins cites a famous comment by Nobel prize-winning American physicist Steven Weinburg,” “‘For good people to do evil things, it takes religion.” He then points out that Blaise Pascal said “something similar: ’Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.'” (249)

    It’s questionable how similar these two statements are. Weinburg appears to be saying that religion is a necessary cause for “good people” to do evil, while Pascal says that people do evil most wholeheartedly when motivated by religion.

    An initial question to ask about Weinburg’s claim, as a Christian, a psychologist, or an evolutionist, is if there really ARE any “good people.” Why “survival machines” programmed by our genes to kill, maim, gorge, and reproduce at all costs, our minds taken hostage and programmed by vile “memes,” can in any case be described as “good,” or where that goodness could conceivably come from, is murky at best.

    Pascal’s comment can be defended, especially if you define “religion” broadly enough to include the great secular tyrannies that would appear after he made it. But if there really are many “good” people out there, and if “religion” is defined in terms of supernatural beliefs, then Weinburg is plainly wrong. People are pressured into acting in ways that bring discredit to their upbringing or character for all kinds of reasons – finances, love, sleepless nights, torture chambers in the Ministry of Love. Steven Weinburg should read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago or The First Circle.

    Arthur Brooks shows that the average spiritually-committed believer in the United States gives more than three times as much to charity as the average non-church goer. If Weinburg is right, does that mean all those non-believers are NATURALLY so much stingier than believers? This is empirical evidence that at least in America, religion more often helps bad people do good.

    Once again, Marshall ignores Dawkins’ larger context. He is still discussing why Christians don’t get their morality from the bible. Dawkins wrote immediately after the above quote cited, “My main purpose here has not been to show that we shouldn’t get our morals from scripture (although that is my opinion). My purpose has been to demonstrate that we (and that includes most religious people) as a matter of fact don’t get our morals from scripture. If we did, we would strictly observe the sabbath and think it just and proper to execute anybody who chose not to.”

    I believe that Marshall’s claim that the two statements, one by Weinberg and one by Pascal, are not similar is delusional. Of course they are similar, and Marshall fails to successfully explain why they aren’t. His so-called wrong-headed evolutionary argument is again a distortion of evolutionary theory. I’ve covered this previously at #41.

    As for Marshall’s lame argument that non-believers are “stingier than believers” I’ve covered this already at #120.

    #136 How did Jesus treat his family? “Jesus’ family values, it has to be admitted, were not such as one might wish to focus on. He was short, to the point of brusqueness, with his own mother, and he encouraged his disciples to abandon their families to follow him. ‘If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciples.'” (250)

    Dawkins is being obtuse. If “hate” one’s family here means “abandon” them, then what does it mean when Jesus tells his disciples to “hate” their lives as well? Did he want them to commit suicide? There is no evidence that suicide was one of the foundational teachings or practices of the early Christian church – neither was running away from home.

    Here the text demands a little skill in teasing literal and figurative meanings apart. (A job even the strictest biblical fundamentalist usually manages, however!) Jesus was past master at hyperbole, and clearly that is what he was employing here. The disciples did not, in fact, abandon their families; Jesus even healed Peter’s Mother-in-Law. To take a few words out of context, and contort obviously figurative language into literal, is to be obtuse. Dawkins is also obtuse not to notice that the early disciples married, and that they saw it as a vice to fail to care for their families. (“Whoever does not provide for his dependents, and especially for his own family, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (I. Timothy 5:8))

    Jesus might be said to have spoken “brusquely” to his mother on occasion. He also obeyed her as a child, and fulfilled her request to help friends at a wedding. He also remembered to care for her as he was dying on the cross. No doubt it was difficult to be Jesus’ mother, but not because he lacked all “family values.”

    This is another instance of Marshall nitpicking The God Delusion since Dawkins is still discussing the issue about how believers get morality from their bible.

    I find it funny and ironic that Marshall says it takes “skill” to understand the biblical text here because he certainly doesn’t have the skill to argue this point successfully.

    Dawkins did not take this biblical passage out of context. A proper linguistic understanding will demonstrate this. Jesus did indeed mean hate. The word “hate,” or miseo in Greek, is used by the author of Luke 14:26. This same author is also believed to have written Luke 16:13. Hector Avalos explains why this is important for determining the meaning of the passage:

    Luke 16:13 is particularly important as it shows the usage of the word by presumably the same author of Luke 14:26. Luke 16:13 says: “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” The author clearly indicates here that “hate” = “absence of love.” One cannot have both love and hate for the same person. You either love one or the other. Thus, we can develop a linguistic and semantic rationale for our interpretation of miseo in Luke 14:26:

    1. Since miseo is interpreted literally as the opposite of love (= “hate”) everywhere in the Bible,

    2. and since there is no other indication that miseo is not literal in Luke,

    3. then miseo probably means the opposite of love in Luke 14:26. [51]

    As I demonstrate here and in my review of Marshall’s book his lack of understanding of his own bible is just as bad, if not worse, than that of the New Atheists.

    #137 Does modesty cause misery? “The Christian focus is overwhelmingly on sin sin sin sin sin sin. What a nasty little preoccupation to have dominating your life. Sam Harris is magnificently scathing in his Letter to a Christian Nation: ‘Your principle concern appears to be that the Creator of the universe will take offense at something people do while naked. This prudery of yours contributes daily to the surplus of human misery.'” (252)

    On the contrary, Christian sexual morality, when followed, does more to prevent human misery that almost anything. Christian romance binds husband and wife, encourages cheerful sexuality, keeps children within loving families, and prevent unwed pregnancies, STDs, jealousy, polygamy, the gloomiest half of the Country Music chart, and some of the nastiest forms of misery on the planet. I respond to the New Atheists’ claims on this subject on pages 203-206; and with a larger wealth of evidence on pages 61-86 of Jesus and the Religions of Man.

    If God cares at all about human beings, He must certainly care about “what we do while naked.” (Which is, after all, the condition in which He created us.) When followed, Christian “prudery” dramatically subtracts from the sum total of human misery in ways that show up in stats for crime, disease, mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, and every other important measure of well-being and happiness.

    This argument of David Marshall’s is all wrong. First, I completely demolish the cited pages in his book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism, in my rebuttal. Second, multiple studies have proven that abstinence does not do much to help in preventing STDs or engaging in sexual intercourse. The authors of one such study, Hannah Bruckner and Peter Bearman, write,

    Contrary to expectations, we found no significant differences in STD infection rates between pledgers and nonpledgers, despite the fact that they transition to first sex later, have less cumulative exposure, fewer partners, and lower levels of nonmonogamous partners. [52]

    After looking at the above study and AIDS infested Africa, where Christians preach abstinence and the sin of condom use, it doesn’t look like Marshall’s argument holds up empirically.

    #138 Did the Old Testament only teach nationalism? “‘Love thy neighbor’ didn’t mean what we now think it means. It meant only ‘Love another Jew.” (253)

    If that is so, why did the Old Testament command Jewish people to befriend strangers from other lands? Why does it contain the story of Moab, who took an immigrant under his wing? There is nothing in the text that forces one to think God was only talking about Jews. “Thou shalt not murder” is not qualified.

    I cover this absurd argument of Marshall’s in my review of his book but the short answer is, yes, “Love thy neighbor” did mean another Jew.

    #139 Did Jesus condemn all Gentiles? “Jesus limited his in-group of the saved strictly to Jews.” (254)

    The most famous story in the Gospels, if not all literature (Charles Dickens thought it the best) is the story of the Good Samaritan. Dawkins himself uses the term twice — forgetting, it seems, where it came from.

    What was a Samaritan? Not a Jew. Why did Jesus tell the story of a Samaritan who saved the life of a strange Jew? He told it in answer to the question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus concluded his story of the “Good Samaritan” by holding this foreigner up as a model for his Jewish disciples: “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 11)

    If that were not clear enough, John also told the story of The Woman at the Well. The woman in that story is also a Samaritan, a non-Jew. Jesus’ conversation with her is precisely about salvation. “If you knew the gift of God, and who you are talking with, you’d ask me, and I’d give you living water.” The Samaritan woman, noticing no doubt that Jesus is pushing the boundaries of Hebrew custom by talking with her, brings up the question of Jews and Samaritans herself. Jesus responds by saying salvation is “from” the Jews, but that now “true worshippers” are no longer limited to worshipping in Jerusalem or some other site. When his disciples return, Jesus tells them, “Look at the fields! They are white for the harvest!” — clearly referring to what will come next, the salvation of the whole (non-Jewish) village through the auspices of a fallen Samaritan woman. The passage ends with Jesus rebuking his own people by contrast!

    Then at the end of his career, Jesus is shown telling his disciples to go and make disciples of not only Jews and Samaritans, but “to the ends of the earth.” (Matthew 28)

    Through what strange process of self-deception did Richard Dawkins need to pass, in order to project a narrow, nationalistic passion on Jesus of Nazareth?

    I also cover this in my review of Marshall’s book.

    # 140 Does the Bible say, “Thou shalt not kill?” “Hartung clearly shows that ‘Thou shalt not kill’ was never intended to mean what we now think it means.” (254)

    The verb “ratsach” is, commentators generally seem to agree, is better translated here as “murder.”

    While Marshall is correct here, after looking up this passage in The God Delusion Marshall has taken Dawkins out of context. Dawkins commented that the above “Thou shalt not kill” law is similar to the injunction to “Love thy neighbor” in that one should not kill follow Jews. Dawkins wrote, “It meant very specifically, thou shalt not kill Jews.” Marshall’s argument doesn’t even answer address Dawkins’ statement!

    #141 “It meant, very specifically, though shalt not kill Jews.” (254) If so, the author should have said that – but he didn’t.

    It looks like I should have read ahead a bit further. No matter. This is another example of nitpicking by Marshall. He could have addressed this issue with the previous argument but didn’t. Due to my lack of knowledge about the alleged meaning, whether it means do not murder anyone or only fellow Jews, I’m not certain. I will have to reserve judgment.

    #142 Does religion encourage children to justify mass-murder? Dawkins describes an experiment in which Israeli children were told the story of how Joshua destroyed the city of Jericho and its inhabitants, in obedience to the command of God. 74% of the children offered either total (66%) or partial approval of Joshua’s bloody act.

    Dawkins concludes: “Unlike Maimonides, the children . . . were young enough to be innocent. Presumably the savage views they expressed were those of their parents, or the cultural group in which they were brought up . . . (These results) seem to show the immense power of religion, and especially the religious upbringing of children, to divine people and foster historic enmities and hereditary vendettas.” (257)

    The study seems to show no such thing.

    First of all, were the parents of the 66% of the children who approved of the massacre really so religious? Dawkins assumes they were, but gives no reason to think so. He describes the kids as “schoolchildren,” not telling us (though I am sure he would like to) that they attended religious schools. By coincidence, 66% of Israelis describe themselves either as “secular” (44%) or as “non-religious traditionalists.” So it is unlikely that the children who voted Joshua “up” did so purely, or mostly, because of religious training. Certainly, Dawkins fails to justify his assumption.

    Second, I am not sure “innocent” is quite the right word to describe children, when it comes to tribal warfare. The hunt and fight instincts run, on evolutionary theory, strong in the human creature. As Dawkins and Hartung themselves admit, it is very difficult to justify caring for “outgroups” from evolution. “Survival of the fittest” would seem to equip us to be ruthless to opposing tribes. And tribalism seems to come natural to children of a certain age. (We have to remind our children frequently, during an election year, that the candidate we disfavor is not a bad person, and it is wrong to “hate” him.)

    Third, all Jews know they are in a precarious situation, surrounded by hostile Arab nations that daily lob missiles at their settlements, and attempt to blow up Israeli children and other civilians. Children are aware enough of the world to take such facts in. In that context, one hardly needs to mention religion to explain a harsh response to a situation that must have seemed familiar to the children. They would all have recognized that Joshua was “one of them,” which is enough for a child’s innate tribalism to kick in.

    Fourth, children below a certain age are naturally compliant to authority, and to displays of strength. Being asked such a question by an adult of their own “tribe,” and with God as an assumed authority figure within the story, the children probably assumed the act was sanctioned by tribal authority.

    This interpretation is strengthened when Dawkins gives us more information about the survey: [Marshall’s argument continues with the following argument, #143]

    Marshall’s excuses here blow my mind because he’s grasping at straws like mad trying to discredit the study but on pages 255-256 Dawkins cites some of the reasons the children believed Joshua was in the right and they were for religious reasons. Here is one example,

    “Joshua did good because the people who inhabited the land were of a different religion, and when Joshua killed them he wiped their religion from the earth.”

    This is clearly showing a religious viewpoint so Marshall’s lame excuses about Israelis describing themselves as more secular or because of “innate tribalism” are just laughable. Each child makes use of religious language and reasons: god promised this land and so Joshua was right to kill.

    #143 Are Israeli children religious or tribal? “A different group of 168 Israeli children were given the same text from the book of Joshua, but with Joshua’s own name replaced by ‘General Lin’ and ‘Israel’ replaced by ‘a Chinese kingdom 3,000 years ago.'” Now the experiment gave opposite results. Only 7 percent approved of General Lin’s behavior, and 75% disapproved. In other words, when their loyalty to Judaism was removed from the calculation, the majority of the children agreed with the moral judgments that most modern humans would share. Joshua’s action was a deed of barbaric genocide. But it all looks different from a religious point of view.” (257)

    On the contrary, what changed in the second study was not God, but the ethnicity of the human participants. Clearly Dawkins’ interpretation of the first study was wrong. The children voted to express solidarity with their tribe, not with the command of God. When God commanded the same thing, but to another tribe, they no longer approved. God is the constant, and the tribe is the variable that turns out to decide the issue.

    This is another example of Marshall artificially inflating the number of “errors” and as I explained in the last section the religious wording of the children is very clear and Marshall’s excuses are nothing but empty (not to mention pathetic). In addition, the control experiment Dawkins cited confirms that, with god’s commands and religion being taken out of the equation, the children then believed that the actions were wrong. I don’t think it can get any clearer than that.

    # 144 Is the Bible misogynistic? Dawkins contemplates a passage in the Book of Revelations: “Ken Smith goes further, pointing out that the 144,000 elect ‘did not defile themselves with women,’ which presumably means that none of them could be women. Well, that’s the sort of thing we’ve come to expect.” (258)

    I have a technical, “debater’s point” response to make to this jibe, and a more serious and fundamental error to point out here.

    The first is that the passage doesn’t mean that none of the saved would be women. Looked at literally (and the force of Dawkins’ argument depends on a very literalistic interpretation), one could say that half the 144,000 don’t “defile themselves with women” because, perhaps, they are women!

    But probably the author was simply “counting heads” in the conventional way, by the (male-led) household. Certainly he did not mean that women can’t be saved — that is certainly not what the Bible leads us to expect. Watch how Jesus treats the women in his life. In the early Church, too, not only are women believers, they are often leaders, or key supporters, in the work of the Gospel.

    Another example of nitpicking…

    However, after looking up the book Dawkins referenced, Ken’s Guide to the Bible (and no, that wasn’t written by me), it seems to be a tongue in cheek parody about the bible so it’s likely Dawkins took something from it that may not have been the most accurate. I’m unable to find the book to read online so I can’t check the context, but it seems likely that Marshall may be right. But, the overall point, which I’ve covered in my review of Marshall’s book, is that the bible does demean women. For the sake of fairness I will count this as an error by Dawkins.

    48. 101 Myths of the Bible: How Ancient Scribes Invented Biblical History, by Gary Greenberg, Sourcebooks, Inc., 2000; 124, 127

    49. Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, by John W. Loftus, Prometheus Books, 2012; 106

    50. The Evolution of God, by Robert Wright, Little Brown and Co., 2009; 131-187 & 144

    51. Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, by Hector Avalos, Prometheus Books, 2005; 217-218

    52. After The Promise: the STD consequences of adolescent virginity pledges – accessed 4-11-12

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    Article by: Arizona Atheist