It would appear that Loftus fancies the one paragraph “rebuttal” of one of his disciples (Kenneth Winsmann) on my work critiquing him (see Part 10 – Detestable Old Testament laws) even to the extent that he reposts it at his blog. Our purpose here shall be to review the reply by Kenneth Winsmann.
1. Winsmann: “This rebuttal is awful. Appealing to the historical setting and culture is meaningless.”
My Reply: It would seem that we did not make it very far before something stupid was said. Let us be clear: understanding the cultural & background context of any ancient people is hugely important & is key for any historian attempting to study and make sense of the past. Understanding the world behind the text helps us shine light on the actual content of the text itself as well as its author. So, to call an attempt at understanding the world behind a historical document meaningless is simply absurd. I’d strongly encourage Winsmann to attend any 1st year history class.
2. Winsmann: “These laws were inspired by God.”
My Reply: Indeed the laws are alleged to have been inspired by God and when we compare them to the laws of other ANE cultures we find dramatic moral improvements. This would suggest that God was attempting to steer his people in the right direction in order to keep them from committing the evil acts so prevalent within the other surrounding cultures. Secondly, these laws were not the ultimate ideal as God had to work within a culture of a rebellious & fallen people, according to exegete Copan: “New Atheists and other critics often resort to caricatures or misrepresentations of the Old Testament laws. While Mosaic laws do not always reflect the ultimate or the ideal (which the Old Testament itself acknowledges), these laws and the mind-set they exhibit reveal a dramatic moral improvement and greater moral sensitivity than their ancient Near Eastern counterparts” (1). I believe that this demands an explanation.
3. Winsmann: “They should embody perfect justice. Killing a rape victim for not crying out? Forcing her to marry her attacker? A woman loses her hubby in war, but don’t worry! The God of the universe is with the conquerors and he has incredible moral guidelines. As a favor to the widow, she will be forced to marry whoever chooses her! How polite! What if no one chooses her?”
My Reply: How can an atheist make any claim as to what constitutes perfect justice? On atheism good & evil do not even exist. Even the fundamentalist atheist Richard Dawkins admits that there is “at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference” (2) on the atheistic worldview. Considering that the Christian system could hypothetically be the most morally abominable worldview on Earth but why should I take Winsmann’s claim seriously at all, especially since it is undermined by his very own worldview!? The sound of the wind ruffling through the trees have more meaning & value than Winsmann’s argument. This is simply a direct result of carrying Winsmann’s atheistic worldview to its logical end.
Secondly, if God were to apply perfect justice we would die on the spot as Christian theology affirms that all people have fallen short of God (Rom. 3:23) and God also owes no man anything (1 Cor. 4:7; Rom. 11:35; Job 41:11). Apart from Jesus’ atonement on the cross the wages of sin is death and all sinners deserve no life (Rom. 6:23; Eze. 18:4). When we consider this Winsmann can be grateful that the God he rejects allows him to take another breath. With that in mind would Winsmann still want God to apply perfect justice?
Thirdly, Winsmann has made no attempt whatsoever to rebut my article on the laws involved except to make immature sarcastic remarks. Well, what about the fact that God instituted these laws to actually protect women whose value was a little more than a chipped spade on some 1st millennium BC Israelite farm? I guess this is just, according to Winsmann, “meaningless” since it would require us to actually understand the background culture & context, how absurd. So, indeed I agree that “The God of the universe” interjected into a patriarchal culture in order to protect the worthless. Thoughout scripture God cares for those who are valued least by people such as the poor (Prov. 22:9, 31:20; Mat. 19:21; Gal. 2:10; Jam. 2:5), oppressed (Dan. 4:27), children (Mat. 18:10), the fatherless and the widow (Psa. 146:9; Jam. 1:27) and so on. Winsmann’s sarcasm isn’t a answer to my point and thus i believe it still stands. I would also recommend everyone to take a minute to have a read through the initial article where I flesh this out some more detail.
4. Winsmann: “Oh. Too bad. God won’t get around to making women equal for another few thousand years. Can’t you see why these responses are so weak? God’s inspired word should transcend culture, place, and time. Gods laws should be the standard for all civilization. There should be absolutely no way to improve upon them. Epic fail.”
My Reply: Forgive me Winsmann for I truly cannot “see why these [my] responses are so weak,” especially since you appear to ignore them entirely. Instead you tend apply sarcasm as if that is an appropriate response.
It is also erroneous, as I see it, to assume that “God’s inspired word should transcend culture, place, and time. There should be absolutely no way to improve upon them.” Well Winsmann, how would God go about doing that? Do you have any suggestions or is that merely an assumption of how God should act? Instead it is far more plausible that God meets the Israelite people in the midst of deeply embedded fallen social structures and elevates them even if not to the ideal level (see Matthew 19:8 where Moses permits certain laws because of the hardness of human hearts). It is about the transformation of the heart which is by no means an overnight process (2 Cor. 5:17; Phil. 1:6), nor would it take a night to transform an entire society. Let’s make an analogy. We see that God puts in laws to protect servants (or as the atheist likes to call them “slaves” that resemble the 18th century slave trade) from experiencing abuse at the hands of their masters. Old Testament “slavery” was more analogous to “contractual employment” or “indentured servitude” – much like a sports player who is “owned” by a team or a person contracted to serve a set time in the military. However, instead of abolishing indentured servanthood outright God installs laws to protect the servant. For instance, the killing of a servant merited punishment (Ex. 20:21), injured servants had to be set free (Ex 21:26-27), servants who ran away from oppressive masters were to be freed (Deu. 23:15-16), and the servant was given a day of rest every week (Ex 20:10, Deu 5:14). According to exegete Copan “As we progress through Scripture, we see with increasing clarity how women and servants (slaves) are affirmed as human beings with dignity and worth” (3). So, what we have here are laws given by God to protect the value of people who are looked down upon by others in society, however to expect God to outright abolish indentured servitude would cause more problems than solutions. For example, how would those who had hit financial bankruptcy support themselves & their families, or how would they pay off their loans? A person by selling themselves into indebted servitude would have had a roof over their head, food on the table, a bed to sleep in and a place for their family to reside. This is clearly a non-deal situation God had to work through, as Copan has already noted that these “Mosaic laws do not always reflect the ultimate or the ideal (which the Old Testament itself acknowledges).” Further, for God to abolish such a way of life that is so entrenched within ancient Israelite society would be analogous to God banishing the use of computers, smart phones, and even cars in our 21st century context. It just wouldn’t work. What is important are the major moral improvements that ancient Israel strove towards. I also find Winsmann’s comment that “Gods laws should be the standard for all civilization” problematic & ignorant precisely because God has given such laws. It’s called the 10 Commandments.
John Loftus also calls my piece a “really bad post objecting to the arguments in my book.” I was slightly disappointed that he would choose to let one of his followers reply to me instead of himself. This crept even lower when all Winsmann’s comment was is a sarcastic diatribe that took none of my points into consideration. That he would also call my rebuttal to Loftus an “epic fail” appears to me somewhat arrogant especially since what he has written himself is so insufficient & easily refuted. Paul Copan sums all this up quite nicely: “The new atheists are certainly rhetorically effective, but I would contend that they have not handled the biblical texts with proper care, and they often draw conclusions that most Christians (save the theonomistic sorts) would repudiate” (4).
1. Copan, P. 2011. Is God a Moral Monster? p. 146 (Scribd ebook format)
2. Dawkins, R. 1995. River out of Eden. p 131-32.
3. Copan, P. 2011. ibid. p. 83/4 (Scribd ebook format)
4. Copan, P. Is Yahweh a Moral Monster? The New Atheists and Old Testament Ethics. p. 2. Available.