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The Best Reasons…(pt. III)
November 26, 2014 D.J. Clark

The Best Reasons…(pt. III)

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Continuing from the last post, where I have been listing what I consider the best reasons for atheism. Or if not the “best reasons, full stop”, at least the “best reasons for someone in an epistemic position kinda like mine.” Thus far I’ve listed three: The Problem of Evil, The Problem of Silence, and The Problem of the Church. This is the fourth and final reason for atheism — The Problem of Fitting the Old Testament to the New (and to our moral intuitions). In the next post I will begin considering the best reasons for theism and Christian theism.
#4: The Problem of Fitting the Old Testament to the New…and to our Moral Intuitions. In many ways, the Old Testament seems to fit remarkably well with the New Testament. The Bible does seem to offer a continuous narrative, with exciting twists and turns along the way, but twists and turns that seem to contribute to the quality of the story. That said, there are some features of the Old Testament that seem downright perplexing when read beside the New. They don’t seem to make any sense. But perplexity isn’t much of an argument against this story I don’t think. Perplexity should be expected if the biblical story is true; God, presumably, would do a lot of things that we couldn’t understand. So perplexity isn’t a strike against the truth of the biblical narrative. But there are some features of the O.T. which go beyond perplexing into the territory of downright indigestible. The most prominent of these features is probably those darned Genocide passages atheists are so found of pointing to, and Christians are so fond of looking away from (they make us blush). These passages seem to assert that God commanded the Israelites to commit genocide, a command that seems to clash (to put it mildly) with the teachings of the New Testament and with our moral intuitions. The problem of course: The Old Testament and the New Testament do not present a continuous narrative, and the Old Testament seems to contain some serious falsehoods. There are about ten thousand moves that the apologist can make to deal with this problem, and ten thousand countermoves that the critic can make to defend the problem, and I have no interest in commenting on any of these moves today. But I will say that, if there is a really good response to this problem, it is not an easy one to come by, it relies on some contentious and complicated premises, and it does not have that ring of “this is obviously the right thing to say!” Moreover, I had had a well-respected Old Testament scholar who was also a committed and orthodox Christian tell me that he believes there to be no satisfactory response to this problem, and that he persists in his faith, not because he has an answer to this question, but because he is more confident in his Christianity than he is that there is no satisfactory response to this problem. So on the basis of (i) how serious the contradictions seem to be between the Genocide-types passages and the NT/moral intuitions, (ii) my own struggle to find a really satisfying answer to this problem, and (iii) what-I-consider-to-be-reliable testimony, I find this problem to be a pretty serious problem and a pretty good reason for atheism. (I understand the Christian apologist/philosopher Paul Copan has a new book out on this topic.)

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