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Objection #4: God Isn't Worthy Of Worship If He Kills Innocent Children (2001)

(Interview w/ Norman L. Geisler, Ph.D.)

Kyle J. Gerkin

 

I would broaden this to include not only children, but any innocent person. I also do not think the extreme case of "killing" is necessary to void God's worshipful status. The simple cause of needless suffering and pain is enough for me. Geisler contends God is innocent of cruelty in either Testament, as he is one in the same perfect God (115-8).

Problems:
Right from the start, Geisler alleges, "The Bible doesn't have any cruel and torturous executions God commanded" (117). Really? Is drowning humane then? How about drowning (almost) every living creature? Admittedly, God doesn't command this - he enacts it with his own hand. I'm not sure, but I think that makes it worse. Speaking of the hand of God, what about incinerating entire cities (Gen. 19:24)? I imagine burning to death is at least a little cruel. But as for God's commands, what of Ex. 22:18? "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" sure sounds like a death order to me (made worse by the fact that there are no witches, so instead it has resulted in the countless deaths of frightened old women). How about Lev. 20:13? Referring to homosexuals, it says "they shall surely be put to death." There's not much getting around that one--how can it mean anything but an execution? And it is immediately followed by the command that a man who sleeps with his wife's mother shall be burnt to death - along with the mother. Just read all of Leviticus if you need more examples.

Geisler then attempts perhaps the most pathetic argument I have ever seen. He counts the number of times the words "love" and "mercy" appear in each Testament.  This is a rather meaningless endeavor. I might as well conclude that Hitler is a great man based on the number of times he uses the word "great" in Mein Kampf. It's called context. Then again, even if this word-counting wasn't totally worthless, it is misapplied. Geisler notes, "the word 'love'...occurs 322 times in the Bible, about half in each testament. So you have the same emphasis on love in both" (117). Except that the Old Testament is about three times as long as the New, so we have nowhere near the same emphasis. Geisler then suggests, "you could make a case that God is more judgmental in the New Testament than the Old" (117). This is due to the New's emphasis on eternal punishment, which is all but absent from the Old. He immediately follows that comment with a denial that there is any evolution in God's character. Hmmm...which is it, Geisler?

Gods Orders To Kill
Geisler shrugs off God's death orders, excusing them because: (a.) The people deserved it; (b.) We're all sinners, after all; (c.) God made us, and he can unmake us (118-9).

Problems:
Strobel only highlights a few of the instances in which God orders killing, and Geisler addresses less. I suppose a Christian reader is supposed to walk away satisfied that all the troubling incidents have been answered, but a quick read of the Bible will reveal otherwise. In this section, Geisler focuses on the Amalekites, whom God wants the Israelites to wipe out. Geisler defends this first by asserting that, "they [the Amalekites] were totally and utterly depraved" (119). I don't believe the Bible makes this point clear, but even if it did, are we really to believe every ounce of the culture is pure evil and rotten to the core? Especially coming from the biased view of the Israelites who were their bitter enemies? This is not an accurate portrait, but a cartoon, and should be recognized as such. Even when a nation commits great evil, such as Nazi Germany, it's citizens aren't in totality (or even in majority) wicked, or even that much different from how anyone would be in the same circumstances.

Geisler then condemns the Amalekites as a "vicious and warring people" (119). And just what were the Israelites? Engineers of countless raids, sieges, and battles throughout the Old Testament - if we are going to be fair, they must be condemned as well. Best yet, Geisler would have us believe that the Israelites needed to be saved because of "the Messiah who was to be born among them" (119). What kind of impotent and unimaginative God is this? Consider: (1.) He is omnipotent, yet he couldn't bring about Jesus except through the Israelites? (2.) He can't think of a better way to save the Israelites than the wholesale genocide of the Amalekites? (3.) The Israelites must be the instrument of God? Why does God need help, or, as Captain James T. Kirk so eloquently phrased it in Star Trek V

But there is a more fundamental concern with God's orders to kill. A God who commands murder opens a horrific set of floodgates. Suddenly, you've got any number of wackos who can claim as a motive for murder: "God told me so." In fact, whole nations channel this concept into "holy wars." Of course, almost everyone considers these people psychopaths but is that really a fair attitude for Christians to have? After all, how do they know God didn't command the slayings? He's done it before. Surely, an omniscient being would've recognized that setting such a dangerous precedent was pure folly.

Geisler then expresses the notion that "people [incorrectly] assume what's wrong for us is wrong for God" (119). Basically this is an excuse for God to get away with anything. It renders God above our judgments of evil. What I think most theologians fail to understand is that, if we render God above judgment for evil, then he is above judgment for good as well. We cannot consider Him anything but amoral.

What About the Children?
Geisler assures us that the Amalekite children's deaths were the best thing for them. He suggests that the cultures God sent the Israelites to war with had plenty of time to repent - and those who did were saved. Plus, the women and children probably got out (for the most part anyway!) and Israel always first offered peace to the cities they besieged (120-2).

Problems:
Geisler tells us, "In that thoroughly evil and violent and depraved [Amalekite] culture, there was no hope for those children" (120). Thus, it's good the kids died young, before "the age of accountability" so they could go to heaven, whereas "if they had continued to live in that horrible society...they undoubtedly would have been corrupted and thereby lost forever" (120). Wait a minute, now. Why couldn't the Jews raise the children instead of killing them? And is Geisler suggesting that even if left where they were, societal circumstances would've shaped the kids irrevocably? What happened to free will? Or is that one of the many concepts Christians use when it supports their purposes, but ignore when it conflicts with them?

Likewise, Geisler says, "[abortion is] contrary to the teachings of the Bible" (120). I think it's worth noting that the Bible is actually completely silent on the issue of abortion. There is not one scriptural passage dedicated to the issue. You can argue that "thou shalt not kill" encompasses abortion, but why then doesn't it cover the killing of the Amalekite children? Or war or capital punishment?

Geisler tries to build a case for God's mercy that is summed up by the following: "whoever has repented, God has been willing to save" (121). He suggests that those whom God ordered destroyed had plenty of time and opportunity to repent. But let us realistically examine the religo-historical context of this portion of the Bible. Yahvism (we can't call it Judaism yet) was hardly the dominant religion. There were scores of Gods and religions (which the Bible openly refers to) [12]. In many cultures, they probably had little knowledge of Yahvism, if any. With all these religions, none proving to be particularly stronger than another, is it reasonable to expect everyone to recognize Yahvism as the one true religion and repent? Realize that their own God (in which they most likely believed) was apt to be just as jealous and petty as Yahveh, and just as likely to order death to those who worshipped "false" Gods.

Once again trying to escape the issue of death to the innocents, Geisler informs us, "...most of the women and children would have fled in advance before the actual fighting began..." (122). Is that supposed to be comforting? They couldn't exactly stay at the Holiday Inn while the war was going on. Even if Geisler were right (and the Bible doesn't say such a thing--he's just making it up), they could only have fled on an ill-prepared trek into the harsh and unforgiving desert where many no doubt suffered and died anyway. But the Israelites were fair! Or so Geisler would have us believe. They always made an offer of peace when they invaded an enemy city. "The people had a choice: they could accept that offer, in which case they wouldn't be killed, or they could reject the offer at their own peril" (122). I think what Geisler fails to mention that if the offer was accepted, sure, they wouldn't be killed - but they would be subjugated into a life of slavery! (cf. 1 Chronicles 5:20-22 for instance). This is a choice that hardly vindicates God.

Strobel says, "What about the children?" but I have another question: "What about the Israelites?" I mean, even if you buy into the notion that the Amalekites and their ilk were corrupt through and through and God needed the Israelites to destroy them, why must Israelites die fighting them? After all, they are doing the work of God! It's bad enough that God is too lazy to take care of the problem himself, but furthermore, he is so facile that he can't even manage to protect the righteous fathers and husbands he sends to do his dirty work!

Cosmic Overkill
Geisler defends the bear rampage God unleashes on little children who poke fun at Elisha's baldness (122-5).

Problems:
I have rarely seen a better example of an apologist desperately trying to twist matters in God's favor. First, Geisler contends that the KJV translation "little children" is in error and should be "youths." He then says, "As best we can tell, this was a violent mob of dangerous teenagers, comparable to a modern street gang" (123). I must've laughed for a good two minutes at that one. Even with the damning "youths" correction, a quick reading of 2 Kings 23-24 will reveal absolutely no basis for this wild characterization. In fact, as best we can tell, they were a bunch of kids. Geisler tries to convince us "they were assailing Elisha - a man of dignity and authority as a prophet of God..." (123). But no matter how you spin it, God had two bears tear 42 "youths" to pieces because they called Elisha a "baldhead," and for no other apparent reason. Geisler suggests this was a "...preemptory strike to put fear into the hearts of anyone else who would do this..." and "...The disastrous fall of Samaria would have been avoided had the people repented after the bear attack" (124). I would again like to question the wisdom of a god who launches a preemptory strike while armed with the omniscient foreknowledge that it will fail. And if God is so concerned with protecting the dignity of his representatives, how come those who launch far more scathing attacks than "baldhead" at his representatives today aren't struck down? For instance, I might say the Pope looks like a walking corpse with arthritic hands clenched around a crazy Skeletor Power Sceptre, yet I am unharmed.

The Pain Of Animals
Geisler rejects the predator/prey nature of animals as a criticism of God since this was not the way God intended things in the Paradise of Creation. Only Adam & Eve's fall led to this state of affairs (125-6).

Problems:
Firstly, there is the obvious doubt that such a Paradise ever existed. But, even granting that it did, it raises the issue of God's accountability once again. I hate to beat a dead horse, but Christians have consistently failed to provide me with an answer to this conundrum: How can you say God didn't intend for the Fall to occur, when he created every aspect of the universe with precise knowledge of how it would unfold? When you possess ultimate power combined with ultimate knowledge, you cannot escape ultimate responsibility. And why should the sin of two humans cause the suffering of billions of innocent animals anyway? What did they do to deserve that? Can't God hit the right target?

Geisler also tries to justify the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament by saying they, "pointed ahead toward the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ..." (126). Of course, the scripture itself provides absolutely no basis for this conclusion and it is clear that the sacrifices served an important role in and of themselves whose roots lie in the barbarism of idolatry. Here again we see scripture can be twisted to fit any set of conclusions. The fact of the matter is, there are so many atrocious things in the Bible (see Don Morgan's "Bible Atrocities," for example) that it soon looks absurd when someone tries to explain them all away like this. And why is so much work needed by mere mortals like Geisler to explain these things? Couldn't God have inspired a much clearer, nobler book to begin with?

Can The Bible Be Trusted?
Obviously Geisler thinks it is the inspired word of God, so he answers in the affirmative. He gives two reasons for saying so, both of which are discussed below (127-31).

Problems:

Reason #1: Confirmation by Archaeology

Geisler reels off a list of archaeological finds that support the Bible. Because I have encountered so much dishonesty in Fundamentalist propaganda, I wouldn't be surprised if Geisler is reading more into some of these discoveries than is warranted. But no matter, for I will give him the benefit of the doubt. The problem is that these discoveries do little more than point toward a conclusion which is undisputed: namely, the Bible is a historical document. No one questions that the Bible (especially the Old Testament) records a history. Secular people simply recognize that this is a history written and edited by people with very limited knowledge, based much on hearsay, where events were free to be interpreted in terms of superstition. It should not be greatly surprising that there was, in fact, a King David, or a Temple of Solomon. What is in doubt is the contrived hero-making tale of David slaying Goliath, or certain dimensions in the Temple that give pi a value of 3.

To compare with the Iliad once again, we do not doubt that a war between Greece and Troy took place - but we do doubt Homer's details. Actually, Geisler isolates the problem right at the beginning. He says, "if we can trust the Bible when it's telling us about straightforward earthly things that can be verified, then we can trust it in areas where we can't directly verify it in an empirical way" (128). But this is exactly what we cannot do. The reason we can't verify many of the Bible's claims is because neither could the authors. That is why they attributed them to God. And the fact of the matter is, there is a lot that discredits the Bible, as is shown in the Secular Web's libraries on Biblical Errancy and Biblical Criticism.

Reason #2: Evidence of Divine Origin

There is really nothing here other than the assertion that God created the Universe, so he could certainly do anything else too. But using The Bible's account of Creation to support the validity of the Bible is circular and invalid, and even if a god created the universe this has no bearing at all on whether any book has a divine origin, much less whether the Bible is that book. I suppose Geisler is aware of this because he immediately launches into the argument that, "...the Bible is miraculously confirmed by the fulfillment of predictive prophecies, and...by the miracles performed by those who purported to be speaking for God" (131). We shall see.

Confirmation By Prophecies
According to Geisler, "The Bible...has precise, specific predictions that were made hundreds of years in advance and that were literally fulfilled" (131). This is grossly overstating his case.

  1. The Bible prophecies (like most all prophecies) are often vague and undefined. This allows them to be ascribed to a wide variety of events, which they may very well have not been intended to predict.
     
  2. Considering that Biblical scholars now have 2000 years of human history to scour for anything that resembles a particular prophecy, it would be surprising if they could not find a close fit for most of them.

To really grasp these points, one must see the Secular Web's library on Prophecy. For brevity's sake, here is only one criticism of a specific "supposed" prophecy. For many more, see Drange's essay [13], from which I draw this quote:

(I) Bethlehem

Consider, first, Micah 5:2 (or Micah 5:1 of the Tanakh), which is supposed to prophesy that the Messiah will be born in the town of Bethlehem. According to the New Testament, Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Mt 2:1) and that was a fulfillment of the Micah prophecy (Mt 2:5-6, John 7:42). However, there are many problems with that:

(1) The verse in Micah may not be referring to a town at all, but a clan. David had been from old times described as "the son of the Ephrathite of Bethlehem" (1Sa 17:12). The verse in Micah states, "out of you [i.e., the clan, Bethlehem Ephrathah or Bethlehem of Ephrath] will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel." It may be that all Micah intended there was to affirm that the Messiah will be a descendant of David.

(2) Jesus was claimed to be a (bodily or blood) descendant of David (Ro 1:3), but it is unclear how that could be. According to both Matthew and Luke, Mary's husband Joseph was a descendant of David (though they disagree about the exact genealogy, as discussed below). However, both Matthew and Luke deny that Joseph was Jesus's father, so their genealogies of Joseph (Mt 1:2-16, Lu 3:23-38) should not be regarded as genealogies of Jesus. Matthew erred when he called it that (Mt 1:1).

(3) The prophecy seems further not to apply to Jesus, for it says that the Messiah "will be ruler over Israel." Jesus was not any ruler over Israel. In fact, he himself is supposed to have denied that his kingdom was of this world (John 18:36). Also, the ruler is to make Israel a secure place to live (Mic 5:4), but that certainly did not happen. It is understandable why Jews, reading Micah, believe that their Messiah has not yet come.

(4) Even if the prophecy were taken to refer to the town of Bethlehem, there is room for doubt as to whether Jesus really was born there. The birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are inconsistent with each other at various points. Furthermore, both stories contain dubious elements. Matthew's story of the magi who followed a star (2:1-10) seems far-fetched. And the story in Luke 2:1-5 about Mary and Joseph's journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to participate in a Roman census seems contrived.

For these reasons, the alleged fulfillment of the Micah prophecy by Jesus is quite doubtful. It certainly cannot be taken to be evidence of the divine inspiration of the Bible.

The claim that the Bible has 100% predictive accuracy is simply false. Here is a sampling of 5 unfulfilled prophecies. For many more, see [14].

1. According to Ge 2:17, Adam will die the same day that he eats the fruit, but that did not come about, since, according to Ge 5:5, Adam lived to age 930. [Note that the same Hebrew word for "die" is used as elsewhere in the Old Testament, standing for physical death.]

2. According to Ge 4:12,14, Cain will be a fugitive and a vagabond, and constantly subject to assassination, but that did not come about, for, according to Ge 4:16-17, Cain had a wife and family, and lived in the same area all his life, and built a city.

3. According to Jos 17:17-18, Ephraim and Manasseh will drive out the Canaanites, but according to Jg 1:27-29, they did not drive out the Canaanites.

4. Jer 34:5 prophesied that Zedekiah will die in peace, but according to 2Ki 25:7 and Jer 52:10-11, that did not happen. Instead, he saw his sons killed, was carried off in chains, blinded, and eventually died in prison.

5. Am 7:17 prophesied that Amaziah's sons will die by the sword, but according to 2Ch 26:1,21, Amaziah's son Uzziah died of leprosy.

Confirmation By Miracles
Geisler proceeds to list miracle workers in the Bible. I don't know if he lost the thread of his argument or what, but he originally said, "the Bible is miraculously confirmed...by the miracles performed by those who purported to be speaking for God."  As Geisler well knows, he can't use miracles contained in the Bible to authenticate the validity of those same miracles. This is a complete failure as far as arguments go, as one can see in the Secular Web's library on the Argument from Miracles.

Coping With Contradictions
Geisler notes, "...I haven't found one single error in the Bible" (137). For example, he raises the question of the number of angels at the tomb in John (2) vs. Matthew (1). He says, since there were two, mathematically there was one, so they are both correct.

Hmmm. No contradictions? Here are some:

At what time in the morning did the women visit the tomb? At the rising of the sun (Mark 16:2), or when it was yet dark (John 20:l)?  Was the tomb open or closed when they arrived?  Open (Luke 24:2). Closed (Matt. 28:l).

Who came? Mary Magdalene alone (John 20:1), or Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Matt. 28:1), or Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome (Mark 16:1), or Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James, and other women (Luke 24:10)?

Did Mary Magdalene know Jesus when he first appeared to her? Yes, she did (Matt. 28:9), or no, she did not (John 20:14).

The "Annunciation" took place after Mary was pregnant (Matt 1:18-21), or the "Annunciation" took place before Mary was pregnant (Luke 1: 26-31).

Jesus was born during the reign of Herod, who died 4 B.C. (Matt. 2:1), or Jesus was born at the time of Quirinius, in 6 A.D. (Luke 2:2).

Jesus was crucified when it was the third hour (Mark 15:25), or it could not have been the third hour since he was still before Pilate (John 19:14).

At the hearing before Pilate, Jesus answered no charges (Matt. 27:14), or Jesus responds directly to all of Pilate's questions (John 18:33-37). [15]

As for the angels, I assume that angels weren't just popping up everyday. Therefore, it seems reasonable that if there were two, this would have struck Matthew as quite amazing and he would have mentioned as much. But, ignoring that - since mathematics were mentioned, let's consider them. I can think of no more glaring challenge to the Bible's infallibility than 1 Kings 7:23. In the verse, Solomon is constructing a Temple for the Lord. Part of its construction is described as follows:

And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and its height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits
did compass it round about.

These dimensions give pi the startling value of 3. One can hardly suggest the "figurative language" excuses this, or that the author was just rounding off, since the various dimensions and details of temple construction are otherwise described in mundane and exacting detail. The only real possibility is that the author is ignorant of basic geometry. While Geisler is blind to any errors in the Bible, others find hundreds, as one can see in the Secular Web's libraries on Biblical Errancy.

Why Is It Hard To Believe?
Of course, Geisler contends that it is not difficult to believe as the evidence is all around us. He criticizes famous philosopher Bertrand Russell who said, "Well, if I heard a voice from heaven and it predicted a series of things and they came to pass, then I guess I'd have to believe there's some kind of supernatural being." Geisler responds, "Mr. Russell, there has been a voice from heaven; it has predicted many things; and we've seen them undeniably come to pass" (141). On the deceased Russell's behalf, I'd like to point out that he would first take issue with the word "undeniably." Then, he would note that he said, "If I heard a voice..." not "If I read a book about people who heard voices..."

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