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Incest and the Situational Evolving Morality of God

Creationism’s Sexual Morality Conundrum

“God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” This well-used assertion, along with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, select verses in Leviticus, and the epistles of Paul, constitute stable and familiar ammunition in the arsenal of the Christian seeking to demonstrate the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual activity. Implicit in this aphorism is the notion that God’s choice of design, namely starting with a single pair of heterosexual, first-generation, procreating humans, also expresses God’s moral view on same-sex activity. The double-edge is that there must also be an implicit approval of incestuous procreation. The first grandchildren of Adam and Eve would have to have been results of incest between either the children of Adam and Eve, or between Adam and Eve and their own children.

The Bible and Incest

The bible explicitly condemns incest, at least in certain configurations. Certain forms of incest, including father-daughter, are punishable by death according to Scripture. Yet, the condemnations of incest in Leviticus not only conflict with incest implicit in and inevitable from the creationist model, they also conflict with the sexual activities of a decent number of central figures in the Old Testament. Genesis gives us Abraham, the ancestor at the heart of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, who marries his half sister, his father’s daughter. Abraham’s nephew Lot, a man righteous enough to be spared the fate of the scorched Sodom and Gomorrah, engages in alcohol-induced intercourse with both of his daughters, impregnating both.

And what is God’s response to these activities? He was responsible for the necessary incest in the creation model, so he certainly couldn’t condemn that. Nor does God condemn Abraham for his incestuous union. When the patriarch lies about Sarai being his sister rather than his wife (which was only half a lie since Sarai was actually his half sister) God does not punish Abraham for lying or for incest. Instead, God afflicts the men who, under the belief that she was not Abraham wife, attempted to rape her. Later, God has face to face chats with Abraham and basically pledges the entire known-world to Abraham and his descendants. Lot also receives no punishment for his incestuous procreation. The passages describing his activities are presented in a morally neutral manner and contain no explicit condemnation; their function is to show the ancestry of the Moabites and the Ammonites and not to condemn the activities described.[1]

So we find ourselves at the familiar juncture of biblical inconsistency and problematic morality. Never fear though, the apologists have a response. As usual, the response raises more issues than it resolves.

Genetic Mutation and the Pre-Leviticus Free for All

In answer to the question where did Cain get his wife, the question and answers from Living Water Publications states, “Cain simply married a distant sister, as each of us do when we enter the matrimonial state with another member of the human family. God had not forbidden what we now call ‘incest.’ It was not against the law, because there was no incest law to transgress.”[2]

Apologists have also contended that the incest necessary for procreation and the specific incestuous instances cited above from the Bible were not immoral and therefore not deserving of punishment from God because they were not capable of producing harmful biological results and had not specifically been prohibited by God. According to the explanation, taken in part from an article by the Apologetic Press, God prohibits incest between people of close degrees of sanguinity–not because it is objectively immoral or just plain gross–God prohibits it because harmful latent genetic characteristics are more likely to manifest themselves phenotypically in the offspring of closely related sexual partners. According to this defense, the earliest human beings were closer to perfect than later human beings; their DNA was closer to the perfect DNA model and through repeated replications, mutations occurred that made later incestuous procreation more risky. Incest was not prohibited for the earlier generations in the creationist pyramid because harmful genetic mutations had not enough time to take root.[3] The genetic rationale has a ring of feasibility to the extent that genetic variation increases with successive generations. Yet it would also appear that incest as proscribed in Leviticus would not be as socially necessarily given a larger population on the planet. Even still, I savor the irony of a creationist employing the fact of increasing genetic-variation in successive generations, a cornerstone of evolutionary theory, as part of an apologetic defense for creationism . Note also that this rationale leaves open the possibility that there is no moral basis for proscribing incestuous activities that have no chance of leading to procreation.

The other leg of the apologetic defense holds that incest was not immoral for the generations before Leviticus because God hadn’t said it was immoral. God had yet to relay to Moses his official rules, so because God hadn’t put it in writing yet it didn’t apply. Therefore, because God hadn’t yet said it was wrong, Abraham, Lot and all the other pre-Leviticus patriarchs could engage in incestuous relations with impunity.

An Indefensible Apologetic

The genetic mutation argument is problematic for notions of God’s omnipotence and omniscience. Couldn’t an all-knowing God design a creation plan that did not necessitate incest of the type that God would later make punishable by death? Was the incest requirement an “oops, my bad” slip of mind? Was his God-breath not high octane enough to fuel multiple pairs of first generation humans whose children would not have to procreate with close relatives? Also there is no reason that an omnipotent God could not design a DNA model not subject to mutative degradation. In any event, an all-powerful God would not have his hands tied in selecting an earth populating model, and could have chosen one not requiring close relative incest which would have to be later prohibited to avoid genetic defects.

The other justification, the “publication and notice requirement,” creates its own set of complications. First, the unabashed assertion by apologist that father-daughter and brother-sister incest were morally acceptable to God for several generations should shock the conscience of theist and skeptic alike. For one, such an assertion suggests an the morality of an arbitrary God and creates an inconsistency with later edicts issued by this same God. In fact, inconsistency is an understatement. God’s moral judgment on the issue doesn’t go from point A, where the activity is begrudgingly tolerated, to point B where the activity warrants mild disproof–it goes from point A, where the activity is a design necessity, to point B, where the activity is punishable by death. Also, this assertion attributes a moral position to God which is in contrast to the position of consensus secular morality, the latter being based in part on the well-documented long-term psychological harm resulting from such incestuous relationships.

Admittedly, though, the publication and notice requirement does have a degree of implicit equitability not often associated with the Old Testament God. But just how fair is it? For example, maybe God does not have to publish, maybe he can just change his mind, and once his mind is changed about a certain issue those on the wrong side of that issue are subject to punishment. This would be consistent for a God who, enraged by the wickedness of the inhabitants of the earth, destroyed all except for Noah’s family and the menagerie before he’d actually handed down the rules of conduct on the tablets to Moses. The flood victims, some of whom would have likely been pregnant women and infants, were judged guilty for offenses unspecified, and executed.

The other puzzling part of this proffered explanation is the concept of God changing his mind at all, especially so drastically. Changes of mind are generally precipitated by receiving new information, even if this information takes the form of changes in internal emotions towards the subject. It’s difficult to grasp how an omniscient God can ever receive new information. If he later hates something he previously approved of, wouldn’t he know of his future hatred at the time of the earlier approval? A God who changes his mind arbitrarily and so drastically makes a philosophically fragile foundation for a moral code, especially a code believed to be supreme and to apply into perpetuity.

Implications for Adam and Steve

The apologetic defenses outlined above uncannily resemble a similar argument to be made against God’s condemnation of homosexuality. If God changed his disposition towards incest based on utilitarian reasons, then the same could be speculated for homosexuality. It would follow that God could have restricted homosexuality in the earlier stages of creation to encourage procreation, but now that we face overpopulation (a situation reached well after any recognized Scriptures were canonized) perhaps God has changed his mind on homosexuality?

Also, if pre-Leviticus close relative incest was not subject to punishment, the same could be said for pre-Leviticus lying with mankind as with womankind. God had yet to issues rules proscribing this activity, which raises questions for the pre-Leviticus destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Their fate either resulted from breaking rules of which they had notice, like the flood victims, or the traditional reading of the story is incorrect; the destruction was not related to homosexual activity.

My alternative apologetic is offered by way of argument only. As a rule, I am no more persuaded by gay Christian apologetics than I am by mainstream apologetics. Though well intentioned (and I am sympathetic with that intention), their extratextual interpretations of passages dealing with homosexuality are ultimately unsubstantiated by the text or any known aspects of the historical context of the writer. It seems clear to me that the passages concerning homosexuality are specifically meant by the undeniably mortal writer to be condemnations of homosexual behavior, and absent any other examples in the Scripture of tolerance or approval of such relationship, no extratextual reading contrary to the plain meaning is supportable. I think the better point to be made from this discussion is that the Bible portrays God’s moral judgments and punishments in many instances as arbitrary and inconsistent, holding people accountable for rules they may not be aware of. The Bible’s treatment of incest is only one example of the Scripture’s inconsistent moral judgments. Gay Christians and every other demographic should eschew wasting time reconciling their ideas about morality to such an arbitrary and inconsistent standard.


[1] The story of Lot’s family after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah provides another disturbing example of the arbitrary morality of the biblical God. Lot and his daughters receive no punishment for their actions, yet poor Mrs. Lot is turned into a mound of Morton’s merely for turning and looking back at the city God had just torched.

[2] www.fishthe.net/raycomfort/questionsframe.htm (question 49)

[3] www.apologeticspress.org/modules.php?name=Read&cat=12&itemid=2181

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