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Raymond Bradley’s Opening Statement: Bradley v Flannagan Debate

August 5th, 2010 by Madeleine

On Monday 2 August at the University of Auckland Emeritus Professor of Philosophy Dr Raymond Bradley and Dr Matthew Flannagan (of this blog) debated the topic “Is God the Source of Morality? Is it rational to ground right and wrong in commands issued by God?” For the benefit of those who could not be there, who are awaiting the editing and uploading of the video of the debate, we will be running a blog series where we bring you some of the debate in written form.


Published here with permission

It gives me great pleasure to introduce Ray Bradley to you.

Ray was a student of philosophy at this university in the early 1950s. He also attended the Auckland Teachers’ Training College and become a school teacher.  But then he won scholarship to the ANU to do advanced research in Philosophy where he wrote a PhD thesis entitled ‘Free Will and Logic’.  One of his papers that emerges from this research is on fatalism ‘Must the Future be what it is going to be?”. This paper has been anthologised and it is a pretty good read about what is wrong with fatalism.

After the ANU Ray spent a year at Oxford and then returned to teach philosophy in Australia.  He was appointed to the Chair of Philosophy at This University in 1964 at the very young age of 33 – he is most likely the youngest professorial appointment at this university. It was at this time that I first met Ray as a student in the Dept.   He was an energetic shaker of a number matters from the organisation of the dept and its courses to protesting against the Viet Nam war. And also debating about religion; he took on the professors of Botany and Classics in a series of about 20 debates.

Unfortunately he left Auckland at the end of 1969 for a professorship at Simon Fraser University. There he produced many papers and two books: the co-authored ‘Possible Worlds’ and ‘The Nature of all Being’. When Ray retired from Simon Fraser he returned to NZ to live in Northland by the sea.

Living in Canada gave Ray his chance to realise one of his great passions – skiing. He has won over 60 medals in National and International events, including three World Championships in the speed event known as Super G. You can read about this in the recent Sunday Times article on Ray: they devoted more space to Ray as a skier than Ray as a philosopher.

One of Ray’s other abiding passions has been to combat religion. In his youth he was a believer but he gave this up in his teens. As a professional philosopher he entered into debates with a range of people from local advocates of religion in Auckland and those elsewhere such as William Lane Craig and Anthony Flew who had a late life conversion from atheism to religion. There are many of Ray’s papers on religion around, – you can find some of them on the web. One of the finest is Ray’s exposition of the claim by David Hume that the rivalry between religions discredit them all, that is, their rivalry shows that each is highly improbable. – see Ray’s paper ‘The rivalry of religions’.

Tonight Ray is on one of his favourite themes – the connection, more strictly the lack of a connection, between God and morality.

As I have indicated, Ray has debated issues about God at this University for over 50 years – tonight is yet another stage in Ray’s long engagement with the atheism and his presentation of it.

Welcome to Ray Bradley.


Published here with permission

I come not to praise God but to bury him along with the dead gods of now forgotten religions. Not to praise him as the source of all that’s good in the world, and hence the ultimate guide to human morals, but to indict him as the self-confessed source of all that’s wrong with it. When the Christian God says in his Holy Scriptures, that he is the creator of evil, I am prepared to take him at his word.

I will assume the role of prosecutor in providing grounds for agreeing with God’s self-indictment. And having conducted God’s trial in accord with the principles of morality and logic, I will hope to see him put, first, into a straightjacket, and then forever in his grave, no longer to command the belief of men.

Matt will act on God’s behalf as counsel for God’s defence, what theologians call an “apologist”.


I’m going to indict God on four categories of charges. Each category has scores, if not hundreds or thousands of instances. If God is guilty of even one of these instances, that alone would be grounds for his conviction. Drawing upon evidence provided by God himself in his so-called Holy Scriptures, I hold that he’s guilty of them all.

A. Crimes against Humanity

The pagan religions typically invoked various gods as supernatural causes of natural phenomena: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, lightning, plagues, famines, and so on. The biblical god takes over the same sort of role, only he claims to be responsible for the lot. He boasts of repeatedly using natural events such as these to injure, maim, starve, drown, and in other ways kill off millions upon millions of people. Disease and disaster are God’s weapons of mass destruction.

B. War Crimes

This god is guilty of the crime of genocide. According to the story of Noah and the flood he wipes out “every living thing on the face of the earth”. In his role as Commander-in-Chief of his chosen people, God is guilty of ethnic cleansing. He orders the slaughter, without compassion, of hundreds of thousands of women, children, and suckling babes. He condones the taking of orphaned virgins for use as sex slaves by his conquering soldiers. He threatens, too, to have unborn children ripped out of their mothers’ wombs; and seems to relish the prospect.

C. Licensing Moral Mayhem and Murder

This God prescribes the death penalty for at least 15 alleged offences. These include being a stubborn and rebellious son (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), hitting or cursing one’s father and mother (Exodus 21:17, Leviticus 20:8), desecrating the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14), being a woman who cannot prove she was a virgin prior to marriage (Deuteronomy 22:20-21), being a woman who did not protest loudly enough when she was being raped (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), being a blasphemer (Leviticus 24:16), being an adulterer (Leviticus 20:10-12), worshipping some other gods (Deuteronomy 13:6-9), and being a homosexual (Leviticus 20:13). God’s recommended penalty? Stoning, usually.

God tells us unambiguously that he’s committed all these crimes and countless more. And he never says sorry for any of them or even shows a trace of regret.

But all of these crimes pale into insignificance compared with that for which I’m now about to indict him. For all of these are finite in duration, whereas the next is supposed to go on and on for all eternity.

D. Crimes of Torture

This god, in the person of his son, Jesus, commits the vilest of all crimes: torture of infinite duration in the fires of hell. For whom and why? The majority of the human race for the simple alleged offence of not having the right religious beliefs.

There are at least thirteen passages in Matthew alone in which Jesus talks about the fate of those who will go to hell—a fate that he describes as “eternal”, as “fiery”, as a place of “unquenchable fire”, as a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. The apostle Paul (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9) looks forward to the time when, in his words, “the Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God.” And the author of Revelation paints a picture of hell in all its voyeuristic obscenity when he reports that all whose names were not written in the book of life would be “cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15), a place where all non-believers will, in his words, “be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment ascendeth for ever and ever” (Revelation 14:10-11). The expression “the Lamb”, scholars and theologians agree, refers to Jesus. Nice to know that Jesus will watch the eternal tortures of the damned, i.e., of many like me, and hosts of unbelievers like some of you.

Is it any wonder that Christians who take God at his word have tortured themselves with fear about their own eternal prospects, have burned heretics at the stake so as to save their souls from eternal perdition, or have dashed infants’ brains out on the stones so they wouldn’t have a chance of becoming non-believers? Yet God, by virtue of his omniscience, knew all this.

Is it any wonder that televangelists are able to use the fear of hellfire to bring money into their coffers?

Who today, you may ask, would take this sort of moral primitivism seriously? Well, many Muslim fundamentalists certainly do: the Taliban, for instance. Arguably, the moral laws they and other Islamic fundamentalists seek to enforce are little more than the Islamic versions of the Old Testament, which Mohammed drew upon freely.

Ditto with many Christian fundamentalists—the Christian Reconstructionists, for instance. Comprising a sizable and increasingly influential proportion of the Southern Baptist Convention—itself the most potent force for evangelical Christianity—the extreme Christian Right, like their Muslim brethren, demand their country become a theocracy and unflinchingly acknowledge that implementing God’s commands would inevitably result in the death of tens of millions of their fellow citizens: over 45 million, on one estimate. Welcome to a replica of Sharia Law.

It’s not just the ultra-fundamentalists of theistic religions that take God’s precepts seriously. Even the relatively liberal branch of the Christian church–as represented by the Church of England and its Episcopalian offshoot–are troubled enough by God’s word to agonise over some of them, what he has to say about homosexuals in particular: that they are an “abomination” who should be killed in this world and spend the next in hell. Hence the prospect of another great schism in Christianity, and the pathetic excuse by gay bishop, Bishop Gene Robinson that the church is “still trying to figure out God’s will” on the subject. Robinson and Archbishop Rowan Williams (who’s on the other side of the debate), should read the Bible. It reported God’s will long ago.

Has God changed his mind about any of his moral dictates? If so, he has kept it to himself. Yet acclaimed Christian philosopher and apologist, William Alston, claims God still communicates with sincere Christians. Could it be that all those sincere Christians who–for about two thousand years–have gone on crusades with God’s word on their lips, are listening to themselves, not God.

Why don’t any ever report having heard God say clearly “Stop! You’ve got me wrong.”

The biblical god is not what Saint Anselm thought he was: that than which no greater, no more morally perfect, can be conceived. Out of his own mouth God condemns himself as that than which no viler, no more evil, can be conceived.

“God is love” is a sick joke. The pleasantry, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”, is little more than propaganda to cover up God’s true nature. The Golden Rule we might applaud, as a rough rule of thumb. But it’s a bit rich, don’t you think, coming from the mouth of someone, Jesus, who would send most of us to hell? No moral reciprocity there!

How do God’s depictions of his own behaviour square with the belief that he’s perfectly good? Or that he’s the source of what some call “The Moral Law”? They don’t.

Putting God and his Defenders in a Logical Straight-Jacket

The fact that God himself chronicles all his crimes–often in graphic and gruesome detail–falsifies the belief that he is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good. His self-revelation places both God and his followers, such as Matt, in a logical straightjacket. For there is no way of escaping from the following set of five mutually inconsistent propositions:

1. What God proposes for our belief–including beliefs about what we ought to do–is what we ought to believe or do.

2. In his holy scripture God proposes for our belief that he has caused, committed, condoned, or laid down commands for us to obey, every one of the four types of crimes of types A, B, C, and D.

3. It is morally wrong to cause, commit, condone, or command any of the crimes of types A, B, C, D.

4. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.

5. A morally perfect being would not do anything that is morally wrong.

Theists believe in all five. The trouble is that these five statements form an inconsistent set such that from any four one can validly infer the falsity of the remaining one. Thus, one can coherently assert (1), (2), (3) and (4) only at the cost of giving up (5); coherently assert (2), (3), (4), and (5) only at the cost of giving up (1); and so on.

The problem is to decide which of these five statements to give up in order to avoid contradiction.

To deny (1) would be to deny that we ought to do what he says we should believe as to matters of morals, or matters of fact. It would be to deny, for instance, that we ought to obey God’s commandments, such as those instanced in category C. It would be to deny that God is the ultimate authority on what is true or false, right or wrong.

To deny (2) would be to deny the authority of scripture. It would be to say either (a) that God didn’t know how to say what he meant or (b) that he really meant what he so clearly said. But the first alternative would entail denying his linguistic competence and hence his omniscience. On the other hand, the second alternative would entail that we have to rely on human interpreters to tell us what he really did mean. That’s where the art of apologetics comes in. But in that case, the so-called Word of God becomes the word of man subject to rival, subjective, interpretations. All pretence of objective moral truth is then abandoned. We would then place ourselves in the same sort of position as primitives who wait on witch doctors to tell them what the chicken entrails really mean.

To deny (3) would be to assert that it is morally permissible to cause, commit, condone, or command some of the vilest crimes imaginable. It would be to ally oneself with moral monsters like Ghenghis Khan, Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot.

To deny (4) would be to deny that the god we are talking about has the properties that theologians regard as the defining, and distinguishing, properties of the Christian God. In short it would be to deny the core belief of theism.

Finally, to deny (5) would be to deny a virtual truism. To deny it would to license the use of the word “good” so as to mean the equivalent of “evil”. It would be to play word games, like Humpty Dumpty who thought he could make words mean whatever he wanted them to mean–including their opposites.

Which, I wonder, will Matt deny so as to avoid contradiction?

Let’s wait and see.

I’ll also challenge him to discuss the false scientific presuppositions of the story of God’s genocide by means of Noah’s Flood, and the dubious historical presuppositions to the stories about Jesus condemning unbelievers to eternal torment in Hell.

Please note that this series is not a transcript of the debate. Each post in this series is effectively a very close approximation of what was said on the night and has been put together from the papers and notes each speaker prepared and spoke from plus any additions each recalled making.

Video: Bradley v Flannagan “Is God the Source of Morality?
The Podcast: Bradley v Flannagan
Joint Communique: Bradley v Flannagan Debate
Matthew Flannagan’s Opening Statement: Bradley v Flannagan Debate
Bradley’s Reply to Matt: Bradley v Flannagan Debate
Flannagan’s Reply to Ray: Bradley v Flannagan Debate
Glenn Peoples’ Review: Bradley v Flannagan Debate

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53 responses so far ↓

  • You decisively dealt with his ‘Iron clad straight jacket’ Matt with your 3a answer. And I am reminded of when I first tried to understand A Flew and all his ‘logic’ that was supposed to thwart God…It was pure gibberish! I was struck by its absolute irrelevance yet could not help thinking it must be my own stupidity that i could not understand his genius so I fearfully put his book back on my self, and simply could not deal with it and had to tell thoughs who had recommended him that I could not fathom it.
    Yet the Lord is faithful! I only had to wait a decade or two before Flew himself had the decency to write off his own writings as wrong, and so I found myself vindicated in thinking it was all absurd!
    I say this here because It amazes me how so-called great logicians make such foolish claims!
    You swatted his logic like a fly!
    I also stake a claim as to my question that refuted utterly Prof Bradley’s comments against God, Hell, and Jesus as an advocate of hell…which he himself hung his whole theory as the greatest atrocity of all. My question regarding Hell as an objective fact as vindication of Christ utterly destroyed him and I actually felt sorry for the old guy!
    He utterly failed to answer me, abandoned the moot, and in fact just dug a deeper hole for himself as if what he felt and believed (denying Christ was even real) was an objective moral argument. Others have expressed how disappointed they were that the debate went off subject…yet this was because Prof Bradley had no relevant answers and attempted a most sad and archaic sidestep that utterly destroyed his credibility!
    Saying he did not believe That Jesus ever existed would have even made the Rationalists cringe!
    You rescued him! Saying he was tired.

    I dont wish to steel any of your glory Matt.
    None of this is about me. You were the one who stepped up the atheist challenge. I was only your supporter.
    He did beat you up though on many points and I await Glens review as an opportunity to discuss the short comings of your argument which were obvious to many…and I hope to yourself too.

  • @ Tim

    Seeing as you mention the Q&A after the event, how do you explain the question regarding the biblical quote, about the person who chose to collect firewood on the sabbath, was brought before Moses and he asked god what should be done with him. God emphatically stated that he should be killed.

    I’m struggling to see the metaphor here. Any suggestions?

    Also, any thoughts on the vid I posted RE: Dr Andy Thomsons’ presentation regarding the source of morality, that he gave at the 2009 AAI Conference.

    I posted it in response to the first post RE: Bradley v Flannagan Debate

  • It was a good question I think Tim (I held the mic). The ‘Jesus never existed’ line is something Dr Bradley has been saying for a while, but I doubt very much he would have run it in his debates with Blaiklock in the 60s; I just can’t imagine him seriously saying that in debate with an ancient historian expert on the NT. It is popular with internet skeptics and says something about that subculture I think. That and his ‘Christians burned books’ (presumably referrring to the popular skeptical myth about the library of Alexandria?) claim seem to both be historically dubious, to understate things.

    Paul: here Matt can fall back on the fact that what is morally right for us and moral for God need not be the same thing, (the 3a / 3b distinction I think) particularly if God can see that a greater good will come from some act. It seems too that this is a variant on the problem of evil and perhaps vulnerable to the standard ‘skeptical theist’ reply. Note that God’s command to kill one person who has broken the law is not the same as the genocide claimed by Bradley – if God is a consequentialist of some form, the death may well be balanced out by the benefits of the law to the Israelites. If you’ll accept God’s omniscience for argument’s sake, perhaps you see that the burden is on the skeptic to show there could be no such greater good – a task skeptics are finding difficult, given recent trends in presenting a probabilistic problem of evil. On the night I think Matt also suggested that the story may be midrashic, concerning the importance of the law, particularly given that Numbers is a legal text.

  • Paul,
    I was giong to wait for Glen, yet Im glad you brought that up!
    It is a sure weak point in Matts whole theology and one of the sure nails in his hyperbole interpretation coffin.

    Matt does not represent ordinary bible believing Christianity but belongs to sophist cult!…A type of Christianity that is only believed by modernist ‘Scholars’ who have been trained to think the bible is full of errors and is in fact just another ancient text, and is to be treat as such. (And this cult is now busy corrupting the church)
    He talks of ‘genres’…he say the bible was a copy of Babylonian myths rather than the other way around.

    As one other commentator said about his theology…”Wont Jesus be very angry with you”…
    I agree!
    None of Matts methods of interpretation are scriptural, but are contrary to it!

    “Let no man corrupt you from the simplicity of Christ!…Matt has been corrupted.

    Matt would have us believe we need his scholarship to tell us how to interpret the scriptures and was taken to task for it by Bradley who said rightly That Matt has accrued to himself the position of authority that Rome and its wicked priest craft claimed for itself ie that the plebs need the Priests/scholars to save them from their own ordinary interpretations!

    I have been trying to sway Matt on this point and was not surprised that he was taken to account on this.
    Prof Bradley correctly derided Matt for what he called ‘the Niceties’ that attempt to reduces the magnitude of such situations as you have mentioned (The gathere on the sabbath), and as the scriptures clearly show God clearly ordered his death.
    The truth is Matt puts his own scholarship ahead of faith in the ‘commands of God’ despite correctly arguing that Objective morality is founded upon the commands of God…not feelings/sentiments…not beliefs…not survival of the species.
    Matt clearly lets his own feelings and training get in the way of believing all that the prophets have spoken…and unnecessarily falls from the high ground he staked out as his entire claim to the foundation of objective morality (Gods commands).
    It is a sad and unnecessary fall because as he himself argued in his core position It is possible for God to order the man be killed in this situation, even though it would be wrong for a man to make the same order! How?
    This was Matts 3a position which nullified Bradley’s 5 point straight jacket ie that God can issue such an order without violating the Objective standard as laid out by the God command theory.
    The reason God makes no bones about ordering such a death is because he is showing his authority as God to do just that …and remain holy!
    This is the ultimate showdown between those who will submit to God and those who wont!
    Those like Bradley and Dawkins who say God has no right to pass such judgments have morally failed to acknowledge Gods right to be God!
    He is the ultimate judge in all matters and Man can never be his judge.
    Man has no place to stand in judgment of the Almighty but his own imagination and feelings no matter how righteous or real or objective his personal sentiments appear to himself.
    The man who stands in judgment of God is a fool and wicked.
    Thats an objective it or lump it.
    This is why God does not hide the fact he is a judging God, nor does he need Matt to say his judgments are mere hyperbole. They are objective truth weather we like it or not.
    This does not mean God enjoys burning infidels alive, or stoning them, as he is not willing that any should perish, yet having given us free will and moral accountability means when his offer of mercy and grace is rejected, he will judge righteously!
    He sent Christ to save us from this inevitable truth. But it is up to us to choose for ourselves our own fate.
    It is in Christ that both justice and mercy find their ultimate realities. God commentedeth his love toward us by sending Christ who took upon himself the sins of the world…that whosoever sees their own sin and need…believes…receives the free gift of salvation.
    This offer is what Prof Bradley has rejected and will be held accountable for in spite of his unbelief…because it is objective truth. He will be damned by his own folly and evils.
    Now Matt has ulterior motives to ignore what I have said here…He has a career planned that could lead to fame and fortune if he sticks to his hyperbole doctrines.
    It will be a massive proof that his heart is in right place if he admits the hyperbole argument is bad and unnecessary because of the Command theory and has the courage to cancel his trip to the states. Will Matt choose fame before being a true Man of God? Lets see!
    I await to uplift him with great joy, or to sadly watch him leave like the rich young man who put his own worldly wealth first.
    ‘Tis harder for camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a scholar to enter the kingdom of heaven!’….Remember the scribes and Pharisees who teach the traditions of men instead of the commandments of God

  • It is with great fear that I have spoken thus. I know I will not popular on this blog for what i have said. I Like M+M very much and wish to stay friends with them, yet friends risk losing their friendship rather than speak flattering lies.
    I believe Matt could become a truely great teacher, if he trusts in the Lord with all his heart, and leans not unto his own understanding and university. That in all his ways he aknowledges God and his word, whom shall direct his path.

  • Spoken like a prophet, TIm.

  • Yes I agree, very wise words. If more people had your insights the world would be a better place.

  • OK, I’ve just sent my final version of the debate review to M and M.

  • Tim

    I appreciate your honesty, but if as an atheist, I buy into Matts argument about the bible being made up of metaphors and hyperbole, especially when viewed in the context of the time,
    then doesn’t that also allow for key aspects of the bible to be interpreted in a similar way.

    For example, maybe the terms: “Virgin Mary” actually relates to a woman who is pure of faith or something similar. “Jesus walked on water” may be a metaphor for his ability to bring together so many followers. And the resurrection might actually imply the strength of his message living on after he did. That sort of thing

    Otherwise, I have to accept as you obviously do, that the words of the bible are a literal truth. When god orders death, he actually means death and Virgin Mary actually means a woman who conceived a child without the normal biological act of conception taking place.

    You see the problem I have here. I find Matts’ argument actually has made it harder for me to see which way I should go here.

    I don’t know if you or anyone else will have an answer, but that is how I ended up viewing things after some refletion.

    That’s why I find the argument for a basis of belief from an underpinning evolved biological basis, much easier to believe as being reasonable.

  • @ All
    The fundamental problem with Ray’s arguements is the big logic hole right at the beginning.
    He says God doesnt exist [ie the atheist position] and then accuses God of and finds Him guilty of a whole bunch of things Ray doesnt like.
    You cant have it both ways either-
    God doesnt exist and the “evil” He is accused of is mankind behaving the way mankind so often does,
    God does exist and we get to fit in with our Creator, not Him fit in with us.
    As a Christian I believe God has given us the freedom to choose, to obey or not, but please try for some consistancy.
    If you choose to deny His existance thats your perogative but then you cant blame Him for anything, all you have left to blame is humanity.

  • Sorry, I’m just trying to find a point in Ray’s diatribe. I think the mockery that is usually directed at this level of “argument” is that “atheists believe there is no god, and they hate him.”

    Paul, you’re right that if you accept the Christian position then you also have to accept that God (a being possessed of unmeasurable creative power) can create a living human inside a virgin woman, that he can at times overrule the normal effects of buoyancy, and dead doesn’t mean “dead” to him.

    However the Bible is a book written by ancient peoples using the normal range of literary types. They do engage in metaphor, hyperbole and the like. They also use contemporary language imagery. There are elements that Matt identifies as being hyperbolic in nature, such as the injunction to utterly destroy the Canaanites. If you follow the progress of their wars, and compare it with such events as Samuel’s confrontation with Saul over the the battle Saul fought while taking the enemy king captive “destruction” could mean as little as dispossessing the city and killing their king. On the other hand, there were accounts of complete destruction as in Jericho.

    “Plain reading” is the position taken by most conservative commentators on the Bible. Historical-grammatical method is the technical term. To try to understand any text in the same way as it would have been understood by its writers and first readers.

    As for claiming that belief is the result of an underlying evolved biological basis? Please excuse me while I chortle merrily. Evolution is a proposition attempting to explain the observed facts concerning variation and selection within organism population. Attempting to go beyond that, and attempt to explain anything and everything using it, takes it out of the realm of science and into the world of philosophy, where it sinks like a stone. Appealing to “magic thinking” is not science.

  • @ Jeremy

    I can’t agree. The subject of the debate was “Is god the source of morality” NOT “Does god exist or not”

    And I know Bradley made errors, such as claiming Jesus never existed, even though he had already used him as the witness to god burning unbelievers in hell for all eternity, earlier in his argument. The evidence for this is, in my opinion, too weak for that to be a viable contention at present anyway

    But Matts use of a logical counter, especially the case for a reinterpretation of biblical literature, which takes the context of the time and the writer into account, is the part that I find hardest to accept, because, as I said to Tim, where then do you stop using this approach?

    If you can use it to reinterpret the issue of what happened to the Cannanites on god’s orders, or the stoning of individuals on his instructions, etc, etc.

    Then doesn’t it also logically follow that many other areas of the bibles’ writings can also be reinterpreted?

    This then means that our morals, religiously based or otherwise, are simply a human interpretation of some words in a book that have no validity other than the interpretation that we put on them, not anything else.

  • Paul

    I actually addressed your piont about metaphors repeatedly in the debate. I noted that its simply false to assert that because on part of a text is metaphor then the whole must be.

    I noted the rationalist members of the audience kept pushing this line after I repeatedly refuted it. Perhaps you can answer my response, I noted Ray used metaphors in his talk, he stated he was putting God in a logical straight jacket, taken literally this means God exists and straight jacket. If you take this metaphorically as the audience did, how do you stop everything he said being a metaphor, perhaps his claim that God does not exist is a metaphor? Perhaps I should read everything athiets say metaphorically if they ever use a figure of speech? Funny how no athiest ever applies this logic to their own position,

  • Paul,

    You wrote:

    “If you can use it to reinterpret the issue of what happened to the Cannanites on god’s orders, or the stoning of individuals on his instructions, etc, etc.

    Then doesn’t it also logically follow that many other areas of the bibles’ writings can also be reinterpreted?

    This then means that our morals, religiously based or otherwise, are simply a human interpretation of some words in a book that have no validity other than the interpretation that we put on them, not anything else.”

    On your view, the strictly literal read is just a human interpretation too, right? Even if it is a correct interpretation, I assume you would say it is an interpretive act by a fallible human.

    Also, it should be noted that on a prudent understanding of allegorical interpretation (see Richard Swinburne’s “Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy” 2nd edition), there are criteria for denying the literal or historical sense of a text. One of them is that you should only deny the literal or historical sense of a text if reading it literally and/or historically leads to a more absurd reading than a metaphorical, allegorical or non-historical-grammatical reading. You don’t just reinterpret whatever you feel like. And if you look at how ancient Christian allegorical interpretations of Scripture operated, they were very moderate.

    I think a parallel problem about reinterpreting the historical sense of Scripture can come up if you look at OT anthropomorphisms. The suggestion that the divine nature is embodied based off of an “obvious” (which really here means literal) interpretation of various texts in the OT is more absurd than thinking God’s “hand” or “backside” is a manifestation of God’s bodiless power. Similarly, it could be suggested that many OT texts that seem to imply morally bad actions done by God, and that this is more absurd than saying these texts are non-literal or non-historical. The logic in each case seems the same. For consistency’s sake, shouldn’t you say God is embodied?

    Also, if we interpret the OT in light of the NT, we should filter our understanding of God’s actions in the OT through the clearest revelation we have of how God is loving, just, and merciful–Jesus. Jesus’ attitude towards sinners and children sure seems, at face value, incompatible with a literal read of various OT passages that ascribe apparently immoral actions to God. We shouldn’t conclude that God’s character changed, or that the Bible is errant, but rather that the OT needs to be interpreted in light of the NT. The higher authority that is being appealed to when some Christians deny the historical sense of particular passages in the OT is Christ, not privately-held, post-Enlightenment, liberal opinions about morality.

    Much of the meaning of the OT was not clear until Christ came. He revealed the true intent behind various passages that were not recognized as Messianic prophecies. The history and grammar of such texts was not sufficient to show that they were Messianic prophecies; but Jesus, as the divine author of those passages, revealed that they had a deeper meaning. Because He is the one whom the Scriptures are really about (John 5:39) and all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in Him (Col 2:3, 8, 9) we shouldn’t expect to be able to understand the words of the OT correctly unless we see them through the Word, who is the lens by which all reality is interpreted.

    Some interesting passages to consider are Luke 9:52-56:

    And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw [this], they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save [them].

    And 2 Corinthians 9:7-10:

    Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he [it] altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, [this] is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.

    Regarding the Lukan passage, does Jesus exercise or approve of retribution (like what the Apostles wanted for the sinners in the village), and the destruction of innocent life (like the children in that village)? If Jesus inspired the OT, and acted in Israel’s history, then how could the *actual* (as distinct from apparent) meaning of the OT ascribe the exercise or approval of retribution and the destruction of innocent life on the part of God?

    Regarding the Pauline passage, does Paul think that God wrote that verse in the law for the sake of oxen, and that the divinely-intended meaning is that oxen should not be muzzled? Is the divinely-intended meaning the historical meaning? If not, what’s wrong with denying that the historical meaning of an OT text is always identical to the divinely-inspired meaning?

    It is interesting that some of the early Christian interpretations of the OT deny the historical and literal sense of a handful of passages that seem to ascribe immoral actions to God. Given the proximity of such writers to the language, thought, and way of life of the New Testament Church, it doesn’t seem so incredible to take this approach. And if you view such theologians as authorities, then the problem of “when do you stop allegorizing?” goes away; the interpretation of the Fathers set the limits and bounds for the extent to which Scripture should be allegorized.

  • You miss the point a little bit, Matt. They are not taking EVERYTHING as a metaphor, just the things which seem fantastical. For instance Jesus walked along the lake will probably not be seen as a metaphor in their minds, whereas Jesus walked on the lake would be. It is not an all-or-nothing approach as you caricature it as being.

  • Max, first in the debate the issue was not miracle stories but moral teaching. It was suggested that if one understands the book of revelation and the parables metaphors about judgement and hell metaphorically then one could do the same with the ten commandments. that strikes me as evidently mistaken.

    Second, I think with Miracle stories the issue is different, what I argued was the considerations of context and Genre, should lead one to consider certain passages as not literal descriptions. With Miracle stories its not the context and Genre which leads to the conclusion, its metaphysical beliefs about the possibility of miracles. That seems to me to be a different issue.

    I think you have expressed sympathy with my basic point, so many athiests adopt a really flat fundamentalist hyperliteral reading of the text, and then reject Christian ethics because of this, that is hardly a sensible position.

  • @ Paul
    You are quite right about the subject of the debate, but it doesnt alter my criticism of Rays position. A claim about God’s existance must surely preceed claims about God being the source of anything.

    Having declared himself an atheist [ a claim about God’s existance] he then claims God is not the source of morality but infact evil by trying to make out that God is immoral and claimed to provide examples. But if God doesnt exist then Ray’s examples are examples of human behaviour and only of human behavior. Therefore according to Ray it can only be humans who have been so “immoral” and evil. If God doesnt exist you cant indict Him for what He couldnt do.

    If God does exist [ which he would need to do to be the source of morality] then the Creator is entirely within His own perogative to set rules for His creation, it does not follow that they would/should apply to Himself. We may or may not like those rules but, so what? The clay has no basis to make any complaint to the potter.

  • Paul, I note you use the word “re-interpretation” in fact much of what I said was not re-interpretation at all. The understanding of revelation as metaphoric neither is hardly a re-interpretation, nor was the basically annihilationist interpretation I offered, it has been around for centuries even millennia. Similarly, the idea that the capital sanctions in the OT were not mandatory but in practice could be substituted for a ransom was part of Jewish interpretations from before the time of Christ. Walter Kaiser notes that it has been a common Protestant and Jewish interpretation for centuries. Even my ideas on the Canaanites are not entirely novel, Glenn notes that Luther granted some hyperbole, Wolterstorff notes the same with Calvin, many early church fathers interpreted this passages allegorically and so on, so I did not really offer a re-interpretation or even a modernist interpretation as Tim says. What happens is atheists caricature Christian thought in terms of stero types and then when challenged claim they are being representative and I am re-interpreting.

    Tim is welcome to believe these views are just the views of a modern sect, and historically Christians believed in a verbally inerrant king James bible, interpreted everything literally and were dispensationalist, if he wishes, he is however simply wrong from a historical perspective, the hard-line fundamentalist view he puts forward in fact is largely 20th century phenomena. Its sad Tim also does not attempt to engage the arguments from scripture I gave but rather maligns my motives

  • Ray didn’t argue for the historicity of the flood. He said that he didn’t believe it happened.

    His claim was that Christians have to believe that it’s literal history.

    And as for whether or not “nothing” separates Matt from atheism, I;m inclined to think that Matt;s belief that God exists, made the Universe, finds moral fault with dinful people, sent his son intot he world to redeem us from sin, raised Christ from the dead, among a few other things, might drive a slight wedge between Matt and atheism. Just a little one. 😉

  • Nice one Glen, I look forward to reading your take on it.
    Paul, Yes of course you as an atheist would think the bible is just another acient text, and that is the problem…Matt is not supposed to be an atheist but a believer in Divine revelation.
    It was an irony that at the debate, the atheist was arguing for the historisty of Noahs flood, and the theist was mocking it as mere myth!
    Matts own arguement of The God Command theory negates his Hyperpole arguements! It was a frustrating and unnessasary contradiction in which he Poses as ‘an expert’ rather than a man of simple faith. Hes bought into the notion of his own greatness and superiority…of his credentials as athoritive over Gods Word.
    In short nothing separates him from atheism, and it is almost an act of deception to call himself a Christian…he can only get away with it because it is today such a broad term.
    Jesus and Paul would not call him a christian, but an atheist.

  • Come to think of it, why are the Old Testament laws harsh and draconian? Paul has a point on some of his arguments for example putting to death someone who wanted to gather wood on the sabbath, that’s very Taliban of God. I understand the underlying motive for God to command extermination of the Canaanites and Amalekites by expelling them because they were heinous and barbaric, but the punishment in this case does not fit the crime of violating the sa bbath. I don’t understand why God could have imposed a penalty instead of carrying out execution for sabbath-breakers, (they didn’t harm anybody)

  • @ Alvin
    Possibly the point was to show that even with penalties as harsh as death th think on man was still incapapble of keeping the Law in his own strength. The LAW exists to point to the level of perfection and absolute holiness needed to enter God’s presence and our utter incapability of acheiving this. Then Jesus came along and raised the standard even higher in the Sermon on the Mount when He exposed the difference between action and motive. He pointed out that God sees not just our actions but the true heart attitudes behind them and judges these.
    Jesis then offers Himself as the way to reconciliation with God.

  • Jesus and latter Paul [the Apostle not the Blogger] latter point out the anyone who breaks the least part of the Law is guilty of all of it,ie it doesnt really matter whether human wilfulness and disregard for God is shown in small and apparently trivial ways [eating forbidden fruit] or in mass murder it is always a case putting yourself above God, choosing our own way ahead of our Creators.

  • Paul, I agree that my on the spot response to the passage cited was not the best. However, I disagree the text proves my so called re-interpretation was wrong.

    What I claimed was that when the torah prescribes death for an offence, their is an implict assumption that it could be commuted and replaced with a financial fine called a ransom. I noted two reasons for this (a) studies of ANE law suggest this and (b) the text itself says so.

    Lets look at the second of these. Exodus 21: for example states

    “If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten. But the owner of the bull will not be held responsible. 29 If, however, the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull must be stoned and the owner also must be put to death.”

    There we have it, a literal command to put the owner to death, implictly by stoning. The next passage however states. ”if payment is demanded of him, he may ransom his life by paying whatever is demanded.”

    Note what the text literally says, it literally commands a person to be put to death and then immediately assumes the punishment can be commuted for a fine set by the courts. This is a conclusion established by reading the text literally. Then there is Numbers 35

    “’These are to be legal requirements for you throughout the generations to come, wherever you live. 30 ” ‘Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.”

    Here it literally states the murderer should be executed. Then in the next verse it states.

    31 ” ‘Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death.”

    Here the text assumes the existence of a practise of substituting capital punishment for a fine exists and will be taken for granted by the reader and so explictly forbids it in this instance, again this is what the text literally says. I noted the conclusion from Joe Sprinkle ““The availability of ransom seems to have been so prevalent that when biblical law wants to exclude it, as in the case of intentional murder, it must specifically prohibit it.”

    So taken literally the text implies that what I said is correct, the fundamentalist and athiest literalists apparently fail in this instance to take the text literally.

    Turning to the text Paul cites Numbers 15, this is actually compatible with what I said, the text in Numbers states.

    “32 While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, 34 and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” 36 So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses.”

    This text does not deny that a general practise of ransoming occurs, in fact it seems to support it. In Exodus the Torah had already stated that a person who works on the Sabbath must be put to death, yet despite this it was unclear what to do with him. They hebrews need an explict command in this instance to justify the punishment. Only when God explictly authorises it for this case do they carry it out. As I stated “he availability of ransom seems to have been so prevalent that when biblical law wants to exclude it, as in the case of intentional murder, it must specifically prohibit it.”

    Its also worth noting the context of this command, the text has been talking about unintentional sins, it then states

    ”But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. 31’Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt will be on him. 32Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the sabbath day.”

    So the Isrealites had just been warned to not defiantly disobey God and immediately afterward a person broke the known law, and gathered sticks on the sabbath. (Gathering sticks for a fire in a camp is not a minor job btw if you have tried to build a fire to last all night in the freezing cold you’d know this). So what this text states is that in a particular instance of out right defiant law breaking God required the death penalty to be literally carried out.

    Like I said at the debate, one can’t from this text alone infer a general conclusion that the death penalty was always literally applied or even generally applied literally. This text does not support Ray’s claim that God requires the death sentence for 15 sentences ( in earlier writings he has falsely claimed it was over 35 offences) and that God endorses general murder and mayhem of people on the basis of the capital sanctions in the torah.

  • Yeah, I was taken of guard in the Q & A a bit because I could not find the passage quickly and had to go from memory. I did make this point, but not as well as I could have.

    It is disturbing however how often the cited passage is taken out of context.

    Its sad that Tim who advocates reading the bible literally fails to accept what it literally says in this instance and suggests I am an atheist, arrogant, proud and motivated by money. I find this quite bizarre.

  • Nicely argued Matt, nothing quite like checking the context, is there?

  • None of what you said Glen would cut it with Jesus or Paul. Both would see Matts treatment of the scriptures as identical with the Scribes and Pharisees who likewise professed to be Gods experts at the Law ,yet taught the traditions of Men.
    Matt even says the Bible is mere tradition borrowed from Babylon, not inspired by God…and that it ought to be interpreted as tradition, by traditional methods that focus on the traditions of the middle East! His doctrines have the agreement of Antichrist atheists right here on this Blog!
    We are warned by Jesus and St Paul to beware of those who would pretend to be the servants of God but are not so.
    I dare to say they would call him a wolf in sheep’s clothing!
    In grace I say he’s a victim of Modernism which is pure atheist theory cloaked as Christianity.
    Knowing his ‘education’ it would be amazing for him not to hold the ideas that he has. He was a good student!
    Jesus position on the scriptures is in stark contrast to Matts.
    He not only believed in Noahs Flood as literal, but preached…as the day Noah were…so shall they be again at his second coming…that people will be busy eating and drinking and marrying…and will be swept away.
    Dont you think that it is wicked to preach like that, if you don’t really believe it would literally happen? Would not that be just cheep fear mongering…and actually lying?
    Matt is exposed as a false teacher. His only hope is to repent.
    Not to me, but to the Lord of the Bible!
    He does not need to do this here and now. It has taken him years to get the ideas that he has, and it could take years for him to change them…if ever….I hope he has a seeking heart that loves God, which alone will lead him into the light.
    If he closes his ears, hardens his heart, and resists the Holy Ghost he will be an enemy of Gods word. That will be up to him.
    Yet I say There is reason for Hope!
    I can see that all this can be for good If Matts heart is in right place. Perhaps he will travel to the US. Perhaps it will be the experience of being exposed there, or he will meet someone there who has the power to persuade him of his errors.
    I have not written him off whatsoever!
    Im a Libertarian and Grace believer. I believe Matt can become a mighty soldier for Christ!
    I will love Matt and try and win him over by being graceful unto him. But I will never shrink from warning him and reasoning with him, unless he cuts me off, which is his right to do.
    I know God leads us down some strange roads to get us to where he wants us.
    Matts education is still very valuable, if he can rise above is grievous flaws.
    I myself have chosen to walk alone rather than surrender to expediences which could have made me much money and power. It is a hard road with few to call understanding friends. I know how hard it is to boldly proclaim the truth in the world. I am counted a fool by everyone.
    I understand the forces that Matt would face should he choose a similar path to my own…rejection and dishonor is the temporal reward. But I look to the day that I will be with God! He will have forgiven me my sins, and will say to me ‘Well done my son!’…That is the only reward I need. I need it badly! I could be in Heaven tomorrow!
    I’m a dirty scoundrel compared to Matt, who is full of virtue. It is only by Gods grace that I have any hope for myself.
    I have more hope in Matts goodness than my own.

  • Matt
    You may smoke a few innocent souls here but not me.
    You have said nothing here that makes the death sentence a hyperbole, nor to undo your blatant atheist position on the book of Genesis and the flood!
    Your position of Evolution as ‘reasoning to the best conclusion’ is yet another example of how you preach the opposite of Christ and st Paul.
    Why wont you admit that the Command theory deals decisively with the apparent moral problem of Gods command to destroy Canaanites?
    You know it does!
    I know You know it does!
    You know, We all know! yet you carry on with the charade!
    It is only your vanity , and the opportunity to be ‘a somebody ‘ that makes you continue to flog this dead horse!
    You are exposed!
    You mishandle the word of God and it is a most serious offence!

  • @ Tim and @Matt
    May i politely suggest that some parts of the recent comments would be more properly made in a private context eg private messages on Facebook.
    I suggest 1 Cor 6:1..
    Please accept this comment as being as respectful as i can make it in this type of forum.

  • One of the downsides of being a Christian is having pals like Tim. Isn’t that right Matt and Jeremy?

  • Well Richard If you think being a friend involves ass kissing Im glad your not my friend!
    But I will depart on my own pilgrimage, having overstayed welcome here.
    I dont dust off my shoes. I have never meant to curse anyone.
    Good Bye.

  • Good bye fruitcake.

  • Ok, now I’m really confused!

    Matt says to look at the historical context of the biblical passages to see that they are not to be taken literally and to be honest, the case he makes is good. I got that.

    However, Tim also states that Jesus spoke of such aspects as Noah & The great flood in a very literal sense, as follows:

    He not only believed in Noahs Flood as literal, but preached…as the day Noah were…so shall they be again at his second coming…that people will be busy eating and drinking and marrying…and will be swept away.

    This would then appear to imply that even if Matt feels we should not take the bible literally, Jesus, the supposed son of god does!!! And Matt, you’re viewed as the expert in all this.

    Also, another aspect that I find strange, is that if you should not view the bible in a literal sense and view the words it uses in context, then where does hell fit into all this?

    Unless of course, hell, a place where sinners supposedly go to burn for all eternity in a lake of fire, is just another metaphor.

    The trouble I have, again. Is, if that is the case, then firstly, what is hell a metaphor of and secondly, more disturbingly I feel, if it’s a metaphor for something much less intimidating, for example, remaining ignorant of gods love (sorry best I could think of) then other than wanting to be good, what actually stops someone from leading a wicked life, if there is no actual eternal damnation if you choose to reject god?

    That’s why I tend to believe that we have inbuilt morals, born out of our evolution, as Dr Andy Thomson shared at the AAI 2009 Conference that I posted earlier.

    Seriously, I’m interested in an answer, if you have one.

    And Richard, I may not agree with Tim, but I don’t feel the final comment you directed at him was helpful here.

  • @Richard
    Friends like Tim are not a downside even when one disagrees with them.
    I am glad Tim has the courage of his convictions and respect that.

  • Paul, your comment:

    This would then appear to imply that even if Matt feels we should not take the bible literally, Jesus, the supposed son of god does!!! And Matt, you’re viewed as the expert in all this.

    No, not at all. If I were to say “what’s happening right here is like a scene out of Star Wars,” you wouldn’t think that I am committed to the view that Star Wars is literally true, right? Of course not.

    So how come when jesus says “what will be happening is like a scene out of the flood narrative,” you insist that he must believe that the flood narrative is literally historical?

    Or are you just using bizarre reasoning because you like the conclusion (i.e. that Matt must be wrong)?

  • Tim, I’m assuming that Richard’s rather malicious personality doesn’t phase you, but if it helps, bear in mind that he’s a jerk to pretty much everyone.

  • @Paul
    Matt and Tim clearly different views on some things, and Im not going to comment on that.
    But Hell thats another matter. As I’m sure you have noticed I harp on about the fact that God gives us choice,and He respects the choices we make. If we say we want nothing to do with Him then he steps back and honours that choice. Hell is the consequence. Yes it does exist but that is spiritual rather than physical, the words try to describe what we have not yet experienced and have no reference point to understand. Its kind of like Genesis , a true account of Creation but not a scientific treatise on the physics of how God did things. So with the descriptions of Hell, a true warning of what it means to be eternally separated from God but we lack the frame of reference to have the details explained. So its literal, figurative and metaphoric all at the same time.
    One of the best [for me] explanations i have come across is that Gods holy presence is bliss for those who have chosen Him but at the same time torment for those who have rejected Him .
    So ultimately no one goes to hell for wrong religious beliefs or doctrinal differences but because they chose to and God respects thier choice.
    The very unpleasant pictures try to warn us that choice has consequence.
    A simple analogy can be found in the road rules–
    if you drive a properly warranted and serviced car within the speed limit on the correct side of the road taking account of the road conditions you should get to your destination safely.
    if you ignore all the above and drive an unsafe car too fast down the wrong lane in wet weather there is a damn good chance you will kill yourself and others as well.
    You cant blame the road rules, the road, the govt or other drivers for your choice and the resulting mess. The analogy is not perfect but Im sure you get the idea.
    MAybe it helps

  • Glenn, Richard’s comment seems fair given the jekyll-hyde praise Tim gave Matt at the start of the comments in this thread for his stellar Christian performance at the debate then the about-turn calling him an atheist.

  • Paul, Glenn has addressed the flood issue well, with regards to Hell the answer is that the word hell in the new testament clearly is a metaphor when its used by Jesus. the Greek word for hell is Ge-Hinnom. Ge-Hinnom was a valley outside of Jerusalem. In the time of Manasseh, this valley was used for human sacrifices to the Canaanite God Molech. For this reason the area became a euphemism for disgrace, shame and contempt. Later after the Assyrian invasion, it was a place where dead bodies were piled up and cremated. Isaiah used metaphors of mass cremation as a metaphor for future judgement. This imagery became a metaphor for final judgment in Jewish Apocalyptic writings.

    Jesus in fact when he refers to hell in Mark cites from Isaiah 66 note the comparison

    “47And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48where ” ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” (emphasis mine)

    Here alluding to Isaiah 66

    “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD. 24 “And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”(emphasis mine)

    The reader familar with the Old testament would not fail to notice the allusion. Cremation was a shameful dishonourable death for Jews. So the same picture is being used.

    I noted in my opening statement that the references to hell Ray cited, from the book of revelation in fact take symbols from the old testament where their meaning is fairly evident in their context. I wrote a fuller post on this a while ago at

    Now the idea that the references in Jesus or revelation Ray cited are metaphorical language is not controversial. The book of revelation very clearly for example is a symbolic book.

  • Paul wrote That’s why I tend to believe that we have inbuilt morals, born out of our evolution, I don’t know why its hard to get this point across, but evolutionary accounts are not accounts of the existence of morals, they are accounts of how we developed beliefs about morals. That is not the same thing. This has been pointed out so often its hard to understand why skeptics keep ignoring it.

  • Glenn there is also an inconsistent literalism in athiest exegesis. For example in the flood narrative the story states explicitly that everyone alive was committed to evil and the few good people alive were spared, hence taken literally it does not teach that God wipes out millions of innocent people. What skeptics do is take the story to be teaching that God sent the flood and then they claim the story about everyone being committed to evil can’t be literally correct, and on the basis of this claim the bible teaches that God killed innocent people.

  • Typical case of trying to have their cake and eat it too.

  • It looks like both the atheists and some of the Christians here want to place a blanket hermeneutic over all of the Bible as though it did not include various genres, styles, linguistic strategies, etc. No evangelical can allow for this to happen. God has inspired diverse writings by a diverse array of authors, and we should interpret these writings as such.

    Nobody here is suggesting that any “uncomfortable” section can be taken metaphorically or symbolically just because we don’t personally like it. Thus, those suggesting that if you take this language non-literally you have to take every passage non-literally are simply incorrect.

    The argument is that it is both theologically and linguistically acceptable to translate certain language and specific phrases in these passages non-literally because that’s the way the author(s) intended them to be interpreted. This argument is based on both mainstream and evangelical scholarship, which you can see since Matt always cites his sources.

  • I don’t know why its hard to get this point across, but evolutionary accounts are not accounts of the existence of morals, they are accounts of how we developed beliefs about morality

    It might be that you’re not listening. Most people that propose evolutionary origins of morality are also arguing that to the extent that morality exists it is beliefs held by people – purely a function of human brains.

  • David, are you implying Ray Bradley is actually a nihilist who doesn’t believe that there are any moral facts at all, ony facts about belief?

    I don’t buy that. Usually the entire debate exists simply because atheists do think that morality has some truth beyond what we believe, and they think, for example, that people can do things that are morally wrong even if those deeds align with the culprit’s own beliefs.

    granted, there are some genuine ni9hilists who do argue this way (e.g. J. L. Mackie did). But most atheists I know of who have spoken on the matter are not nihilists, and they think that there really are facts. Sam Harris is an example. As someone who is very familiar with the meta-ethical question in discussion, I can tell you that it’s not that Matt hasn’t been listening. Some people really do give an epistemic account of moral belief, and incorrectly infer that this settles the question of moral foundations. It is suprisingly common, and Matt is correct to note that people just aren’t seeing that they are making the error even after it is pointed out.

  • David, I am listening, the argument theists like Craig make is that naturalism cannot provide an adequate account of the existence of objective moral duties, To respond, evolution can explain why we believe such duties exist does not answer this argument.

    Either the belief corresponds to something real or it does not. If it does then the question can be asked again, how does naturalism provide an explaination for the existence of objective duties which evolution causes us to believe. If it does not then Craig’s point is in fact granted and the position is essentially nihilism, evolution causes us to believe something exists but in reality it does not. Morality would therefore be an illusion

  • […] can also read the opening statements on Matt’s blog (Ray’s opening statement is here and Matt’s is […]

  • Matt and Glenn,

    Well, obviously I don’t know about the formal literature, but when I’ve read people on the evolutionary origin of morality it’s almost always included the conclusion that morality (in the sense of moral properties existing outside of our brains) was an illusion. It’s very had to see how you could conclude anything else, since if moral properties did exist we have no reason to imagine evolution would find them (so no reason to trust our moral intuition).

    Of course, that doesn’t mean you can escape your moral senses, or that that our ethical systems don’t contain rights and wrongs.

  • […] POSTS: Joint Communique: Bradley v Flannagan Debate Raymond Bradley’s Opening Statement: Bradley v Flannagan Debate Matthew Flannagan’s Opening Statement: Bradley v Flannagan […]

  • @ David
    “It’s very had to see how you could conclude anything else, since if moral properties did exist we have no reason to imagine evolution would find them ”

    That would pretty much be the Christian position, moral standards exist independant of humans, rather they are grounded in the character of God, and we need external imput to provide them and incorporate them.

  • People often confuse the concepts of “objective” and “external” to humans. For instance, it is an objective fact that a healthy human has two hands, each of which has ten fingers. However – I don’t think most evolutionists would want to say that there is a law of the universe where tens-fingeredness is an eternal and universal truth. No. Rather it is a result of evolution, and we happened to develop this way. Nevertheless it is still an objective fact that we have ten fingers – despite the fact that there is nothing external to us which compels us to have ten fingers. I labor the point because there is a constant confusion about this in some folk’s minds.

    Now apply the same logic to morality and you can again split apart “objective” and “external”. Yes there is objective morality among humans, a result of our evolutionary history, but there is no external source of this objective morality. Compare it to your fingers. Consider.

    Now – my usual disclaimer – I don’t believe this at all, but put it out there to help clarify confusion.

  • Matthew Flannagan vs. Raymond Bradley Debate: Is God the Source of Morality? MP3 Audio…

    In this debate, Matthew Flannagan and Raymond Bradley face off on the topic: “Is God the Source of Morality: Is it rational to ground right and wrong in commands issued by God?” Bradley’s opening statement can be here….