From *The Skeptical Review Online*:
By Farrell Till
The longer I live, the more puzzled I am by the way that people will cling to beliefs that are clearly disputed by the realities that they see around them each day. These could be social, political, or just any kind of testable beliefs, but religious beliefs are the most tenacious of all. With earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, mudslides, tsunamis, avalanches, famines, epidemics, and other natural disasters killing thousands of us each year, people will still believe that a benevolent, loving deity watches over us, and some will believe that this deity even assigns personal guardian angels to protect us. When disasters such as those just mentioned create a cognitive dissonance between personal beliefs and the realities of the disasters, those who desperately wish to believe in a benevolent, caring deity will close their eyes to reality and continue to believe what they want to believe.
This was recently brought home to me with vivid clarity during a morning walk. As part of the therapy recommended to help me recover from an ischemic stroke that I had in early 2005, I walk three miles each day. A few weeks ago, I passed a pickup truck parked on the street that had a bumpersticker on it proclaiming that "God Is Pro-Life." I am sure that the "God" referred to in this slogan was the god of the Bible, but I am even more sure that the owner of this truck is either ignorant of what the Bible says about this god that he thinks is pro-life or else he has made an accommodation with cognitive dissonance and chosen to believe what he wants to believe about this god despite how barbarically he was presented in the Bible. Those who don't allow cognitive dissonance to influence their understanding of the Bible, however, know that about the last thing that could be said of the "God" depicted in it is that he is "pro-life."
In "The evolution of God," I showed how much of the barbarism attributed to "God" in the Old Testament was toned down by New Testament times, but all through Hebrew "history" Yawheh was depicted as a god who would kill at the blink of an eye if anyone crossed him, and the people in those days seemed to think that this was the way that any self-respecting god should act, but one of the most disgraceful things of our time is that people living now, who should be enlightened enough to know better, still cling to those ancient, superstitious concepts of God. The pro-life slogan on the bumpersticker mentioned above epitomizes that ignorance.
This god, who the truck owner apparently thinks is "pro-life," showed very early in the Bible that he has little respect for human life. Even though he is presumably omniscient and should, therefore, have known how his creation would turn out, he decided to destroy the entire earth because he saw that "the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen. 6:5). This sounds like a bit of biblical exaggeration to me, but let's assume that it is an accurate statement of conditions at that time. Why didn't the omniscient, omnipotent deity who created the world and then humans as his crowning achievement know that they would turn out that way?
I guess that doesn't bother people who are determined to believe in their omiscient, omnipotent, benevolent god, but have they ever stopped for just a moment to think about what would have necessarily entailed if this god did indeed send a flood to cover the entire earth to destroy all life on it except for the eight humans and their menagerie aboard the ark? Let's just suppose that the population of the earth at that time was only, say, a hundred thousand. Even with a population that small, there would have necessarily been children and babies and, yes, unborn children still in their mothers' wombs who were killed in the flood. If "God" is indeed pro-life, as the bumperstick claimed, how does the truck owner explain the drowning of so many children, who, even if their parents were wicked to the core, had not the intellectual maturity to know the difference in good and evil (Deut. 1:39)? I personally can't see much benevolence in a deity that would send a flood upon the earth to destroy all of the elephants, giraffes, antelopes, squirrels, rabbits, etc., etc., etc.--except, of course, for the few that were on the ark--but children, babies, and the unborn--there is certainly no benevolence in a deity who could perpetrate such an act. Certainly, a god that would do such a deed as this cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called pro-life.
A universal flood that destroyed all life on earth except for the occupants of the ark would disqualify the god who sent it from ever being described as pro-life, even if he had forever after shown boundless love for humanity, but, according to the Bible, which was no doubt where the truckowner had learned of the "pro-life" god he worships, this deity continued to show that he has no respect for human life.
- He rained fire and brimstone down on Sodom and Gomorrah to wipe them and the people living there off the face of the earth (Gen. 19:23-28).
Well, yes, worshipers of this god will say, but the people living there were wicked and deserved to die, but again they forget about the children, babies, and the unborn. In the cities of the plains that God destroyed on that day, there were surely children, infants, and unborn babies still in their mothers' wombs. If "God" is indeed pro-life, as the bumpersticker proclaimed, then how could he have brought destruction upon innocent children and infants and unborn babies? Talk about abortion on a mass scale--it happened that day if the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah is historically accurate.
- He sent a plague on Egypt that killed all of their firstborn.
Those who worship this god will again say, "Well, yes, but they were wicked people who had enslaved the Israelites," but, as before, they keep forgetting about the children. As this story is told in the Bible, every firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh to the firstborn of the captives in dungeons, died that night (Ex. 12:29), and he even threw in the firstborn of the cattle for good measure. How many of those firstborn were children and babies, who were in no way responsible for the enslavement of the Israelites? Census figures in the book of Numbers require biblical inerrantists to believe that the Israelite population that left Egypt was somewhere between 2.5 and 3 million people. A nation that could have held this many in slavery for 430 years would have had to have been more numerous than its three million slaves, so the plague against the firstborn in Egypt would have necessarily killed thousands, many of whom would have been children. How could a god who is "pro-life" have perpetrated a deed like this against children?
There is a veritable treasure trove of examples in the Bible that I could cite to show that this allegedly "pro-life" god showed little respect for human life throughout the Old Testament, but I intend to restrict myself to examples, like those above, where deeds attributed to this god would have necessarily killed children, infants, and unborn babies. The Israelite blitzkrieg through the land of Canaan is another prime example. Before they crossed the Jordan, Yahweh--the "pro-life" god of the truck owner--had ordered them to take no captives but to "leave nothing alive to breathe."
Deuteronomy 20:16 But as for the towns of these peoples that Yahweh your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. 17 You shall annihilate them--the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites--just as Yahweh your God has commanded....
Notice that this passage clearly says that Yahweh, the god of the Israelites, ordered them not "to let anything that breathes remain alive," and the book of Joshua, which recorded the conquest of Canaan, claimed that this commandment was obeyed.
Joshua 10:40 So Joshua defeated the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings; he left no one remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as Yahweh God of Israel commanded.
Joshua 11:10 Joshua turned back at that time, and took Hazor, and struck its king down with the sword. Before that time Hazor was the head of all those kingdoms. 11 And they put to the sword all who were in it, utterly destroying them; there was no one left who breathed, and he burned Hazor with fire. 12 And all the towns of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua took, and struck them with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them, as Moses the servant of Yahweh had commanded.
Joshua 11:14 All the spoil of these towns, and the livestock, the Israelites took for their booty; but all the people they struck down with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them, and they did not leave any who breathed. 15 As Yahweh had commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did; he left nothing undone of all that Yahweh had commanded Moses.
What was described in Joshua's conquest of Canaan would be somewhat as if the U. S. Army in its invasion of Iraq--to rid it of weapons of mass destruction--had completely annihilated the civilian populations in all the towns and cities of that country, including women, children, infants, and unborn babies. If this had been done even the staunchest political and religious conservatives here and around the world--with the probable exception of Ann Coulter--would have cried in outrage, but many of those same conservatives will read about Old Testament atrocities ordered by the god they believe in and apparently think nothing about it. The words go in one ear and out the other, like water being poured onto a duck's back. They apparently give no thought at all to what would have necessarily happened if these "conquests" had happened as claimed in the Bible. In the first place, the seven nations inhabiting Canaan before the Israelite invasion were said to be "greater and mightier" than the Israelites (Deut. 7:2). As noted above, the Israelite population at this time numbered somewhere between 2.5 and 3 million people, so if the seven nations in Canaan were "greater and mightier" than the Israelites, they would have numbered even more than 3 million. In a population of three million, there would be many pregnant women at any given time, so if the Israelites killed everyone and left no one alive to breathe, they would have necessarily killed hundreds of pregnant women.
Bible believers grappling with cognitive dissonance, of course, will try to rationalize away biblical atrocities like those identified above. When the Bible says that the Israelites left no one alive to breathe, they will say, that means that they left no one alive to breathe in the Canaanite armies, but they would not have killed children and unborn babies.
Oh, no? Well, those who so rationalize will have to think again, because the example of the worldwide flood that I cited above either involved the killing of children, infants, and unborn babies, or else the Bible is incorrect in its description of the consequences of that flood.
- The flood waters rose 15 cubits [about 25 feet] above the highest mountains on earth (Gen. 7:18-19).
- All flesh, animal and human, upon the earth died (Gen. 7:21).
- All in whose nostrils was the "breath of the spirit of life" died (Gen. 7:22).
- Every living thing, both animal and human, creeping things, and birds "were destroyed from the earth" (Gen. 7:23).
- Only Noah "and they who were with him on the ark" were left (Gen. 7:23).
So the language of the Bible is clear enough for all who want to see what it teaches in this matter to understand: The "pro-life" God of the truck owner once sent a flood upon the entire earth that killed all children, infants, and unborn babies on the entire earth at that time. I said all children, infants, and unborn babies on the entire earth, because there were no children in Noah's family at this time, and the birth of Noah's first grandson didn't occur until two years after the flood (Gen. 11:10). So if only adults were aboard the ark, all children, infants, and unborn babies at that time would have been killed in the flood sent by the truck owner's "pro-life" God. Why would he have done this if he is as vehemently pro-life as the bumpersticker proclaimed?
Those who think that God's command for the Israelites to "leave no one alive to breathe" in Canaan didn't include children need to read again and pay more attention to details this time. The story of the Israelite invasion of the Midianites clearly shows that the Israelites included little children in their massacres.
Numbers 31:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 2 "Avenge the Israelites on the Midianites; afterward you shall be gathered to your people." 3 So Moses said to the people, "Arm some of your number for the war, so that they may go against Midian, to execute the Lord's vengeance on Midian. 4 You shall send a thousand from each of the tribes of Israel to the war." 5 So out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe were conscripted, twelve thousand armed for battle. 6 Moses sent them to the war, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar the priest, with the vessels of the sanctuary and the trumpets for sounding the alarm in his hand. 7 They did battle against Midian, as Yahweh had commanded Moses, and killed every male.
"Aha," those looking for just any way to come to terms with their cognitive dissonance will no doubt exult, "this says that they killed every male, so women and children were excluded." Before they rejoice too much, those who so rationalize should read on.
9 The Israelites took the women of Midian and their little ones captive; and they took all their cattle, their flocks, and all their goods as booty. 10 All their towns where they had settled, and all their encampments, they burned, 11 but they took all the spoil and all the booty, both people and animals. 12 Then they brought the captives and the booty and the spoil to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the Israelites, at the camp on the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. 13 Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the congregation went to meet them outside the camp. 14 Moses became angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. 15 Moses said to them, "Have you allowed all the women to live?16 These women here, on Balaam's advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against Yahweh in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of Yahweh. 17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. 18 But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.
On this occasion, the Israelite army did indeed spare women and children, but before the rationalizers get too excited about this, they should notice that the sparing of these Midianite civilians greatly angered Yahweh's chosen emissary, who then gave the orders in the passage quoted above. The nonvirgin women and male children were killed, and the virgin girls were left alive for the soldiers who had taken them captive. Anyone who sees reason to rejoice in this is really desperate for straws to grasp.
The rationalizers will even go so far as to say that Moses commanded the massacre of the male children and the nonvirgin women captives, but Yahweh would never have commanded such a horrible deed.
Oh, no? Well, let's look at another biblical account of the Israelite massacre of an entire nation of people.
1 Samuel 15:1 Samuel said to Saul, "Yahweh sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of Yahweh. 2 Thus says Yahweh of hosts, 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'" 4 So Saul summoned the people, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand foot soldiers, and ten thousand soldiers of Judah.... 7 Saul defeated the Amalekites, from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. 8 He took King Agag of the Amalekites alive, but utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.
This text is clear enough for anyone to understand. It claims that the Israelite god Yahweh ordered Saul to go and utterly destroy an entire nation of people, and the command even stipulated that women, children, and infants were to be included in the massacre. The final verse quoted above claims that Saul killed all of the Amalekites except for their king, so this brings us back to the problem already discussed above. If an entire nation of people was massacred as claimed in this text, unborn babies, as well as children and infants, would have died when their mothers were killed. How can anyone who knows that this story and many others like it are in the Bible possibly believe that "God," meaning, of course, the god of the Bible, is pro-life?"
For those who still want to believe that "God" is pro-life, there are other biblical passages to consider that clearly dispute this view of the biblical god. Consider, for example, the curse that this god pronounced on Samaria.
Hosea 13:15 Although he [Ephraim] may flourish among rushes, the east wind shall come, a blast from Yahweh, rising from the wilderness; and his fountain shall dry up, his spring shall be parched. It shall strip his treasury of every precious thing. 16 Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword, their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.
That's rather clear, isn't it? Samaria's "little ones," i. e.,its babies, would be dashed in pieces, and the pregnant women of Samaria would be ripped open. How could a "pro-life" God pronounce a curse against a people that would include dashing their "little ones" to pieces and "ripping open" pregnant women? Just what would this god have to do to convince people like the truck owner that he is not "pro-life"?
In previous articles, I have cited biblical passages to show that the god of the Israelites was everything but pro-life. In "Abortion and the God of the Bible," I quoted the entire context of the "trial by ordeal" that Israelite women, by direct command from Yahweh, were required to submit to. This was an ordeal that would cause the uterus "to drop" and the womb "to discharge" (Num. 5:21-22). In other words, this "pro-life" God of the truck owner actually ordered Israelite women to submit to a trial by ordeal that would have caused them to miscarry if they were pregnant. That is "pro-life"?
In the article just linked to, I also quoted Exodus 21:22to show that Yahweh, who had decreed the death penalty for the killing of another person, even if the killing was unintentional (Deut. 4:41-43; Deut. 19:7-10), required only the payment of a fine for an injury that caused a pregnant woman to miscarry. I personally find abortion to be very deplorable, as I explained in "Does a Person Exist at the Moment of Conception?" but to say that the god of the Bible is pro-life and therefore opposed to abortion is to claim something that is not taught in the Bible.
There are sensible, logical reasons why a person could be against abortion, but to oppose it on the grounds that the Bible condemns it is not a viable reason. When someone opposes abortion on biblical grounds, the only thing he proves is that he is not very knowledgeable in biblical matters.