Monday, August 29, 2011

The Thinking Atheist to appear in OKC

The Thinking Atheist will be appearing at the Disbelief Discourse in Edmond, Oklahoma on Tuesday, November, 22 @ 7:30 pm. Seth gave a great presentation at FreeOK July, and I am very excited that he will be making his way down the turnpike to address our group. The event, as always, is free, but bring money for merchandise. Mugs and t-shirts will be available. Let's make sure he gets a good turnout and a warm Oklahoma City welcome.

For more information on Seth, check out his videos @

The venue is Channing Unitarian Universalist Church in Edmond. 2800 West 15th Street, Edmond, OK.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why Craig thinks this is all silly...and why he's wrong

William Lane Craig has a standard set of responses to the line of thought I've laid out over the last couple of posts. His first has already been alluded to. He argues that his claims rest on metaphysical assumptions and can't be challenged empirically. This is just false. I've already explained why he makes empirically testable predictions. Now, let's look at the rest of his arguments:
On virtual particles:

But there is much debate over the actual existence of virtual particles. Also, virtual particles pop into existence 'uncaused' only given indeterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics like the Copenhagen interpretation, but that may be the wrong interpretation, and most interpretations of quantum mechanics are deterministic, and would not suppose that virtual particles come into existence uncaused. Thirdly and most importantly, even on indeterministic interpretations, virtual particles do not come into being out of nothing. They arise from fluctuations of energy contained in the subatomic vacuum. [Craig & Sinclair, 2009]

First, virtual particles exist. They've been empirically demonstrated.

Second, my entire last post dealt with interpretations of quantum mechanics. I've already explained why Craig has no justification for denying Copenhagen or picking one other interpretation over another. For Craig to get what he wants here, he either needs for there to be time travel or many worlds. He conveniently fails to mention that in his above paragraph, because he has no reason to believe the first is the case and he would abhor the implications of the second.

Third, Craig argues that quantum fluctuations don't undermine his argument because they don't come from nothing. This is just willfully missing the point of the argument. I don't care if they come from nothing. If they are uncaused, whether it came from nothing or not is a moot point. You can go down the rabbit hole of discussing whether or not the multi-verse creates problems for atheists, but better people than I have explained why Craig's arguments fail in this regard. What matters here is that Craig's first premise is false because that premise holds implied premises we can't justify. If Craig isn't going to defend his notion of causality, then he has no justification for all of the arguments he makes based on that notion.

Every single time this is brought to his attention, he makes hand-waving arguments about metaphysical truths. That's code word for unjustifiable presuppositions. You can get away with that with regards to subjects like objective reality and consistent laws of the universe, because we don't have good empirical reasons for calling those into question and all of the evidence to date supports them. We have damn fine empirical reasons for calling our notion of causality into question, and all of the talk about metaphysics and vague references to possible future discoveries in physics isn't going to change the fact that our best current understanding of the universe shows Craig's presupposition to be very questionable.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Where our idea of causation goes wrong or playing dice with the universe

I am going to argue that quantum mechanics undermines our intuitive understanding of causality.

In almost every case where someone begins a debate about the existence or non-existence of something and they make an appeal to quantum mechanics to back up that claim, you should immediately start waving a red flag and telling them to hold up.

So, I'm not going to go into this without seriously backing up my claims.

I want to begin by saying that nothing I'm going to say here is controversial in physics. I'm not going for anything that isn't mainstream stuff. Please, follow my sources for further reading.

I'm not going to give an introduction to quantum physics here. If you really want to read a consumer-friendly book on the subject (and you should because it has implications for all kinds of things), you should start with How to Teach Physics to Your Dog by Chad Orzel. You should also be reading his blog, Uncertain Principles. It is one of the friendliest blogs on the internet dealing with this thorny subject. Another good blog on this topic over at Science Blogs is called Starts With A Bang. Both blogs cover cosmology and quantum physics.

I'm going to assume you at least have a decent grasp of the double-slit experiment, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the Copenhagen Interpretation and Schrodinger's Cat.

The implications of the double-slit experiment and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is what led to the Copenhagen Interpretation. The reaction to Copenhagen is Schrodinger's Cat. If that is gobbledy-gook to you, stop now and go read the links...

Okay, back? Good.

Now, there are three possible implications for the findings of quantum physics (see below). How you side on these implications determines which of the various interpretations you prefer.

Here's what's probably surprising to my readers. I'm not going to advocate for any one interpretation. I would be stupid to do so. We don't know which interpretation is true. We don't know if we will ever know which interpretation is true. I am agnostic about which interpretation of quantum physics is correct. I have no preferences. I'm in the shut up and calculate camp until we have some way of testing which is correct.

That doesn't mean we can't rule out some interpretations. Additionally, the ones left over after we've ruled the others out have massive philosophical implications (especially for causality).

There are three broad approaches to answering the issue of indeterminacy in quantum mechanics (instrumentalist approaches are not actually attempts to answer the issue but to ignore it).

1. Indeterminacy is a feature of our universe and our classical idea of causality breaks down. Instead, nature is fundamentally probabilistic. (e.g. Copenhagen interpretation).
2. Our universe is determined, but the variables that determine it our hidden and travel faster than the speed of light. (i.e. Non-Local Hidden Variable Theories)
3. Our universe is determined, but the variables that determine it are hidden and do not travel faster than the speed of light. (i.e. Local Hidden Variable Theories)

Everybody who likes our current intuitions about causality want #3 to be true. It isn't.

Einstein was wrong when he said, "God does not play dice with the Universe."

So, what are the implications for #1 and #2 for our traditional view of causation?

Well, #1 says that it is simply incorrect. Probability, not determinism, is what it all boils down to. Once you get the outcome of the probabilities, things are determined afterwards (which is why we experience causality in everyday life).

Non-local hidden variable theories (#2), require faster-than-light travel. That means time travel, folks. Time travel breaks causality too.

So, that's the argument. Our intuitions about causality don't square with our empirical observations of quantum physics. People like Craig can argue that our understanding of causation is a "metaphysical principle" all they want, but if that principle doesn't square with empirical observation, that principle shouldn't be used as the justification for a premise in someone's argument for the existence of anything, especially the existence of anything having to do with the Big Bang.

Next, I'll deal with Craig's objections to this whole line of reasoning.


Edit: The Many Worlds Interpretation of QM does allow for locality and determinism, but it creates entirely new problems for Craig. He would never appeal to it. There is still a probability built into Many Worlds in that there is no way of knowing which universe you ended up with until after the fact. It also means that Jesus only died when Craig believes in this particular universe. There is up to an infinite number of other universes out there where this did not occur. See Craig on infinity to understand why he would balk at something like that.

It salvages causality to spite everything else Craig holds dear. Of course, it might very well be true. Only time and science will tell.

Edit again: The Many Worlds Interpretation isn't entire local. It sort of gets around the local vs. non-local issue by just circumventing it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Kalam Cosmological Argument and our intuitions about causes, Pt. 1.

My concerns with the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA) rely largely on my objection to the reliability of our intuitions about the way the universe works on the quantum level.

At face value, this has nothing to do with the KCA, and Craig says as much in his 2009 article. Over the next few blog posts I'm going to outline why quantum mechanics (QM) does matter for cosmological arguments (all of them, not just Craig's) and then explain why Craig's argument shouldn't be accepted as it is currently presented and defended.

I am going to be making two claims that I must defend for this line of reasoning to bear fruit:

1. Craig's first premise relies on our intuitions about causality.
2. Our intuitions about causality are not reliable.

In these two lines of thought, we are going to have to ask some questions that bear on subjects like philosophy of science and other fields, such as: What does it mean to say something is caused? and What are the implications of all of this for the scientific enterprise?

I'm going to spend the rest of this post on #1.

As a reminder, the premise under discussion is:

Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
Craig defends this premise with three arguments:

1.1. Ex nihilo nihil fit
1.2. Why only universes
1.3. Experimental confirmation

We must touch on all three.

1.1. Ex nihilo nihil fit

From Craig's 2009 paper on the KCA:
First and foremost, the principle is rooted in the metaphysical intuition that something cannot come into being from nothing. For to come into existence without a cause of any sort is to come into being from nothing. To suggest that something could just pop into being uncaused out of nothing is to quit doing serious metaphysics and to resort to magic.

Strong words. I'll begin by pointing out the irony of an apologist accusing his opponents of making appeals to magic and move on to the important issue here, Craig is arguing that his first premise is intuitively true. If we deny any of this premise, we aren't doing serious metaphysics.

1.2. Why only universes

From Craig's paper.

The Causal Principle plausibly applies to all of reality, and it is thus metaphysically absurd that the universe should pop into being uncaused out of nothing.
1.3 Experiential Confirmation

And here is where it gets interesting. This should be the evidence we need to leave this whole intuition thing in the dust. Here Craig gives one sentence alone to justify that subheading.

Finally, (1.0) is constantly confirmed in our experience.

The entire rest of the section is dedicated to explaining how, if the first premise is wrong, it is detrimental to the entire scientific endeavor. We'll leave that for later. I just want to point out that there is no actual argument made to defend the thesis he lays out in that first sentence. By all means, go read it for yourself on pages 87-89.

The argument that causation is constantly confirmed in our experience is an interesting one, and true almost all of the time. It is the times when it isn't that we are interested in, and so we will discuss causation and when it breaks down in the next post.

Introducing the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

I have decided to do several posts going into detail on William Lane Craig's version of the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA). This post will outline what the argument is, and the most common scholarly objections to date.

First a little background. The KCA is currently very popular with Christian apologists, particularly Evangelicals, but it wasn't always this way. The argument was originally formulated by Islamic scholars within the Kalam tradition, hence the name. It is William Lane Craig that popularized it with Christian audiences in his 1979 book on the subject.

The argument, as Craig originally put it, goes like this:

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its existence.
  4. Since no scientific explanation (in terms of physical laws) can provide a causal account of the origin of the universe, the cause must be personal (explanation is given in terms of a personal agent)
Craig also provides two other arguments subsumed within these premises.

For premise 2, he argues:
  1. An actual infinite cannot exist.
  2. An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite.
  3. Therefore, an infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist.
Along with:
  1. A collection formed by successive addition cannot be an actual infinite.
  2. The temporal series of past events is a collection formed by successive addition.
  3. Therefore, the temporal series of past events cannot be actually infinite.
There have been oceans of ink spilled over this argument. Most of those oceans focus on premise two, though premise one has also seen its share of comments from the likes of Stephen Hawking.

Craig, along with physicist James D. Sinclair, published the definitive version of the argument in 2009. You can find it in its 101 page glory here. I am going to be relying on that paper for my quotations of Craig in future posts on this topic.

For a very good mapping of Craig's arguments, his main criticisms, and his answers to his critics in his 2009 article, I point you to some of the wonderful work by Luke over at Common Sense Atheism.

The most recent version of the argument that we will be discussing goes as follows (from Luke):

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

But this says nothing about God, so Craig & Sinclair add:

  1. If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.
  2. Therefore, an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.
Next, we will look at one particular weakness with the KCA as it currently exists, and why we can't rely on it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument, Pt. 2

I am cross-posting this from some discussions elsewhere. I'll go back and edit it for quality later.

I'm going to structure these one objection at a time and label them for the benefit of both of us.

Objection 1: Our intuitions can't be relied upon for this discussion.

Before we even start, I want to point out the biggest problem with the KCA and why it is a complete non-starter. It entirely relies on our intuitions about subjects where our intuitions don't apply.

Let's unpack that claim. We have evolved to experience subject matter at about the middle of the size in which events occur. Events that occur on massive scales and near the speed of light don't act in ways that correspond to our intuitions. More importantly events that are extremely small and occur near the speed of light (events that Craig must rely upon to make his points) also don't follow our intuitions.

It becomes impossible for us to rely upon our intuitions about these events because our intuitions have always been wrong. Wave-particle duality is just the crack in the box on this. If you want a good book on just how much modern physics and our understanding of the universe doesn't correspond to our intuitions, a good starting place is How to Teach Physics to your Dog.

So, the obvious response is to ask what can be relied upon for understanding Big Bang Cosmology. Well, science can take us quite a distance, but as Craig points out, science can only get us so far. As for right now, we don't have any uncontroversial evidence of "before the Big Bang." There are good cosmologists proposing possible sources of evidence for something that would qualify for "outside our universe", but all that does is push the problem back further.

I will remind you that Penrose is probably wrong. This data is quite preliminary and he may be drawing the wrong conclusions about it. But even the fact that scientists can have this conversation intelligently will raise problems for some of Craig's later points.

Here is a really good discussion of Penrose's ideas from a blog I occasionally follow.

Whew, okay, back out of that rabbit hole. So yeah, Science can say a lot, but it has limits by the very nature of the process. What can we say when we reach the limits? Not much, for now. Our intuitions broke down at sizes much larger and speeds much slower than where we end up, so to rely on intuitions about these subjects is patently wrong. All we can say is that we don't know about this or that question for one, or both, of two reasons:

1. The question isn't well formed.
2. We don't have access to empirical data that allows us to get at that question.

The topics Craig wants us to discuss run afoul of both.

We'll have to assume that I'm wrong about all of this to even bother going further.

Craig's Kalam Cosmological Argument, Pt. 1.

I am cross-posting this from some discussions elsewhere. I'll go back and edit it for quality later.

Steve - Thanks for the response. You are right that the link doesn't debunk KCA.

It does make my point that the argument is so spread out and nebulous that it can't be answered in the time of a debate. It also can't be adequately presented in the time of a debate without getting to the most superficial objections.

There are some real holes with the KCA though.

I will be more than happy to explain them. I'm not going to lie. It has been a while since I've gone over the KCA, so I'm going to be drawing from three sources:

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's page on the Cosmological Argument (this is a peer reviewed source)

Chris Hallquist's review of Reasonable Faith on

And a book that isn't online titled Philosophy and Physics by Sir James Jeans. I'll posts links to the book on Amazon and to his bio.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A question of pragmatic ethics and societal obligations...

I am currently mulling over an ethical question regarding what is now an ex-coworker. Let me give some background.

I work in a field that does not attract the most savory employees. It isn't necessarily designed specifically for criminals and thugs, but it requires little more than a high school education, the ability to pass a few basic tests, and a willingness to smell bad more often than not. I enjoy the hell out of it, mostly because I don't have to deal with people and I get to listen to my iPod all day long.

There is a guy I work with that has been in and out of trouble with the law since before I was hired over a year ago. In his mid to late 50's, he isn't a danger to anyone, and he doesn't have sticky fingers. What he does do is write a lot of hot checks. He also lies when the truth would do him better. It is habitual with him. You really can't trust much of anything he says, because he'll make up stories for no apparent reason. He's like that kid from school that would always get made fun of for making up obvious tall tales, but just couldn't help doing it. This guy just never grew out of that.

This guy lives with his girlfriend in a hotel. Neither his girlfriend, nor her 30-something son, have jobs. The girlfriend and her son are both on some form of government handout, enough to at least help out with the bills. From what I understand, they spend their money at the casino and bingo parlor, leaving him to cover what little bills there are.

So, after a number of run-ins with the law, his hot checks have finally caught up with him. Before, whenever he was arrested, he would use his entire paycheck to bail himself out. He'd also beg coworkers and his boss for money long enough to keep himself out of jail. He never pays anything back, and nobody is now willing to loan him anything. It has reached the point where his paycheck, with all of the garnishments on it, isn't big enough to cover his bail.

My boss receives calls from debt collectors daily looking for this guy. Now that he is in jail, they are apparently going after him legally. His bail has doubled since he was arrested, from all of the new charges that have been filed. Apparently, knowing that he is already being held helps expedite charges against him because they don't have to actually pay anyone to go out and find him.

Today, he was fired for multiple days of no-call, no-show. I have mixed feelings about this. Let me explain why.

1. He should have been fired a long time ago.

While he is decent enough at his job, his legal and financial troubles spill over into the workplace almost daily. Debt collectors are constantly looking for him and they do call his place of work. Additionally, he was caught working without a license a few months ago. This is a big liability for the company because he is almost constantly behind the wheel of a company vehicle. His license had been suspended over some fines he hadn't paid, and he worked for nearly six months without a license before the company found out. He was able to get his license reinstated shortly after it was discovered, but this was only the most dramatic example in a long line of similar problems.

2. Nobody else is going to hire him now that he has finally lost his job.

Felons aren't legally allowed to have my job. They can't meet the licensing requirements. My understanding is that he is currently looking at a felony conviction.

Even if he is able to retain his license and get out of jail, he is not going to have much luck finding decent paying work in his current situation.

3. I'm fairly certain he has some mental issues that need to be addressed.

I'm not a professional, so I'm not qualified to comment on any particular diagnosis, but this guy clearly has some problems that need to be addressed. He has trouble forming healthy relationships, and tries to substitute them with gifts and monetary rewards. This attracts the kinds of 'friends' that healthy people try to avoid. He is the kind of guy that will go blow his entire check on payday buying rounds for all of his buddies at the bar, in the hopes that they'll genuinely come to like him. Such self-destructive behavior is not the action of a healthy person.

5. Without a job, he is going to end up in prison or at a homeless shelter.

This guy is aging with nothing to show for it but mounting debt and legal fees. He has been given multiple opportunities to turn his situation around, with offers of help from both the state and his employers. He has completely failed at every turn.

All of this creates a frustrating situation for society as a whole and for me ethically. I don't feel like I can help this guy, because he has shown no interest in helping himself. He has made every possible wrong decision at every turn. I support social welfare programs, but it is frustrating knowing that those programs are going to be abused by people like him, his girlfriend, and her son. At the same time, if we don't provide those programs, we'll end up paying for him one way or the other anyway. In prison, he will cost 16,000 a year here in Oklahoma. On the street, he is likely to end up dead or committing violent crime in order to avoid ending up dead. None of these are scenarios I find acceptable.

We talk about people falling through the cracks when we discuss a social safety net, but I don't see this situation that way. This person, and those he chooses to associate with, are blatantly abusing the help provided by others; whether that help be by individuals or funneled through state and federal programs.

At the same time, this guy (I can't speak for his girlfriend and her adult son) seems to need some serious life counseling and psychiatric care...which he is not likely to receive wherever he ends up.

I don't have a good solution to these kinds of problems. It raises serious questions for the fields of applied ethics, political science, social psychology and clinical psychology.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Documenting a discussion from Facebook

This one is going to be long, but I need to get it recorded in case it gets taken down. I don't have control of the board, and I want to have easy access to what turned into a pretty good discussion. I'm only adding the relevant stuff.

Here's how it started, I was in a discussion with someone on facebook about an article that happened to be from an affiliate of Planned Parenthood. The discussion wasn't about abortion, per se (I don't debate that subject), but someone made a reference to abortion being against God's will and I had a moment where I stopped short.

I grew up in church being taught that abortion was wrong, but I'd never actually heard a mention of the particular Biblical basis for this opposition. That seemed like a big gap in my knowledge, so I shot off a message to an old buddy of mine who is an evangelical. He then started an open discussion between me, him, and about 15 evangelical Christians (scary, I know).

Here's how it went. Names are changed to protect the innocent.

Steve (not my buddy's real name)

CJ's questions:

I've been having a discussion with someone about abortion, and I realized something I hadn't noticed before.

I understand that the majority of Christians consider abortion to be in violation of their beliefs regarding the sanctity of life, but I'm not sure I know the Biblical basis for that position.

I don't consider the Bible to be an authoritative text for making moral decisions, but I realize that many Christians do.

Can you point me to the particular chapter and verse that backs up the opposition to abortion?

I'm also curious about what the most common answer is regarding those who defend abortion theologically based on the "trial by ordeal" in Numbers 5 and the claim that life begins with the first breath in Genesis 2:7.

My response:


I am pretty sure our greatest point of theological authority is from the 6th commandment (murder is a sin). Seeing as it is human life after conception, we know that it is wrong to murder the child. I'm sending this to a couple of other brothers and sisters so that way you can not only get an answer from me, but other christians as well.



Your response doesn't address his argument. The argument is because Genesis 2 says God breathed in Adam the breath of life, that the life does not begin until a human takes his first breath. Thus, the 6th does not apply to unborn children, because they have not taken a breath yet.

One of the best passages against abortion is Exodus 21:22-25. If a pregnant woman is in a fight and harm is done to the child, Lex Talionis (the law of eye for eye) is applicable to the situation for harm of the child in the same way it is for an adult (Lev 24:19, 20; Dut 19:20). Therefore, a per-born human is just as much a living person with equal rights under the Law as CJ is or any other fully grown adult. Note especially the phrase "life for life".

Therefore, his interpretation of Genesis 2 must be wrong. He's not reading the Bible to understand it anyway, so this shouldn't come as a big surprise. Adams life may have begun with his first breath, but Genesis 2 speaks nothing of subsequent life and the nuances of traducianism vs. creationism in theological anthropology is no doubt something he would not be disinterested in learning, since both positions assume God to be true.

I'm not sure what his point is with Numbers 5. When I read it I find nothing that can be construed to justify abortion. So unless he develops the argument for you it cannot be refuted simply by virtue of the fact that there's nothing to refute. No doubt, he will not develop the argument himself, but will share a link, or recommend a book or author to you, throw in a condescending remark, and think in his mind that he bested you. That's par for the course.



Nice job insulting the guy when you don't think he is part of the conversation. Fortunately, Steve has some integrity and linked me to the discussion so I can actually follow the along.

Exodus 21: 22-25, according to the NIV sitting next to me, says that causing a woman to give birth prematurely (with a footnote saying miscarriage) when there is no injury to the mother is not an eye for an eye offense, but a fine. That would actually seem to be a argument that the Bible doesn't recognize abortion as the taking of a life. It seems to draw a distinction between harming a woman and the baby she is carrying.

/waits for everyone to go read it

We all back? Sweet.

If my NIV is wrong about the miscarriage reading (which is entirely possible, it isn't the most accurate translation and tends to skew things in favor of certain theological positions) by all means, tell me how.

Let's see, Lev 24 never even mentions children, one way or the other. It talks about neighbors. And since it is the establishment of the eye for an eye thing, which is later not applied to miscarriages (see above) as far as I can tell, I don't see how it bolsters the point.

Deut 19: 20 doesn't mention children either. It is talking about what to do to witnesses who falsely accuse someone of a crime.

I'm having trouble unpacking the double negative in there about traducianism vs. creationism. I'm going to assume, based on the surrounding context, that you are saying I'd be disinterested in some arcane theological debate. That's probably correct.

My question about Numbers 5 had to do with the trial by ordeal. It reads to me that if a woman is suspected of cheating she is given a concoction that will cause her to miscarry if she was unfaithful. If not, it won't destroy her womb and she will still be able to have children. Mind you, I'm still getting this from the NIV with a footnote on verse 27 that specifically references the water causing her to have a "miscarrying womb."

I don't have a dog in this fight. Abortion and contraceptives both could be condemned by the Bible, in much the same way that sex between those of the same gender clearly is, without bothering me one way or the other. I'm much more interested in what the book actually says than what people of certain political ideologies are trying to make it say.

If I'm reading the verses you linked incorrectly, or my NIV is a crappy translation (probably), please give me some context. From what I can tell, the Bible sitting on my shelf at home doesn't seem to care about abortion one way or the other.


Me (being silly)

Bah, all that writing and a typo in the first paragraph.

My proofreading fails me again.



It was not my intent to insult you, and I'm not sure what of my post insulted you. If it was you desire to understand the text as you claim, the issue of abortion should be obvious to you.

I read from the King James, but the archaic language is difficult to decipher sometimes, I just read the NIV, and I believe the footnote to be misleading (the NIV is notorious for this). I referred for my own confidence to some commentaries on the passage; Calvin, Gill, Clarke, Henry, agree with my interpretation. These are Hebrew scholars who state that "serious injury" (as the NIV translates) refers to both the mother and the child. Aside from the reasons these commentators state I can think of other reasons that necessitate this interpretation.

1) The death or harm of a woman is covered under other laws, thus if no protection is rendered to the child who is born prematurely under this law the mention of the woman being pregnant would be of no value and pointless.

2) In Psalms 139:13 David says: "For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb". God's protection was over David even while in the womb of His mother. If David was not a person with life while in his mother's womb, this could not be said, as David's being is both body and soul integrated. David would not be David without his soul. See also Jerimiah 1:5 where God says to Jeremiah: "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations."

I've got to cut this short; there are things I need to do. I will develop my argument further when I can.

P.s. I did not use Lev 24 and Dut 19 in the manner you thought I did. You misunderstood the argument.

Me (several times in a row)

Bah, I had a long post written up and lost it.

Give me some time to write it out again. I'm probably going to break it up so I don't lose it all at once if I hit the wrong button again.

First to the issue of abortion being obvious to me. Why should that be the case? I'm not a Christian or a biblical scholar. When I identified as a Christian, the various churches I affiliated with all opposed abortion, but I can't recall ever having it explained why in reference to particular verses.

And since I've asked the question, I've been given three different answers by two different people. I do think we are getting closer, though.

Now on to the commentaries...

I tracked down you commentaries you referenced online. Here is a link to what I am reading, so we are on the same page.

Brad, do you have a preference for those particular commentaries? Do you consider some better than others or are they just the ones you had readily at hand? I'm not challenging your choices, just getting clarification.

I'm going to look at each one you referenced and provide citation.

To remind everyone, we are talking specifically about Exodus 21: 22-25. The questions at hand are whether these verses do or do not provide an argument one way or the other that an unborn child has the same value (Biblically) as anyone else.

Brad contends it does. I don't read it the same. He says the following four commentaries agree with him and not the NIV on my shelf.

Let's begin with Gill...

Brad (steps in for a quick clarification)
Quick note: the NIV says "gives birth prematurely, it is the footnote (which is not a literal translation) I am contending against.


Okay cool.

Gill - Gill seems to agree with the NIV, specifically mentioning miscarriage in its commentary on verse 22.

Gill then goes on to cite a number of scholars who all agree that it means the childbirth is hastened but that the woman does not die, then the fine is to be decided by the husband.

It then goes on to quote Maimonedes at length on paying the husband for the "price of the birth."

Verse 23 is even more to the point at hand. Gill states that the issue on eye for an eye is the "death of the woman," as opposed to the death of the unborn child.

The reference to the Septuagint is also interesting. It specifically draws a distinction between an unformed child in the mother and a fully formed child in a mother, a distinction that most modern opponents of early term abortion and the morning after pill don't recognize.

A child that wasn't fully formed only incurred a fine of 200 shillings.

All of this seems to be consistent with the NIV footnote. It is also consistent with the interpretation that this passage draws a distinction between the value of the life of the woman and the value of the life of the unborn child (at least one that isn't fully formed).

Next, Calvin... (Sorry I took them out of order from your listing)

Calvin - This should be short.

Calvin doesn't have a commentary on this chapter at all from what I can find. I can't see how he agrees with you when he doesn't comment one way or the other.

Maybe I'm just not finding it and you can point me to the writings.

Next up is Clarke...

Clarke - He also agrees with Gill, making the same points about it eye for an eye only applying if the mother dies or the unborn child was fully formed.

Otherwise, it was just a fine to be decided by the husband.

Finally, I am going to assume you were referencing Matthew Henry and not Henry Law. If I was wrong, please let me know...

Henry - Also specifically discusses it within the context of miscarrying.

Beyond that, I can't make heads or tails of what he is trying to say here. There is some stuff about being careful with women who are pregnant, out of fear of losing both. That seems obvious enough. Beyond that, I can't tell that Henry says anything relevant to the questions at hand.

That is all I have to say about Exodus 21.

Next I will discuss your other two reasons for your interpretation...

Justin now steps in to preach at me with a couple of massive block texts of sermons. I'm not going to bother reproducing that here, because there isn't anything in it that hasn't already been discussed.




Brad, you said:

"1) The death or harm of a woman is covered under other laws, thus if no protection is rendered to the child who is born prematurely under this law the mention of the woman being pregnant would be of no value and pointless."

I don't think your point here is a valid one. There are a number of redundancies in the Bible. There is even an apology dedicated to addressing them.

Finally, you said:

"2) In Psalms 139:13 David says: "For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb". God's protection was over David even while in the womb of His mother. If David was not a person with life while in his mother's womb, this could not be said, as David's being is both body and soul integrated. David would not be David without his soul. See also Jerimiah 1:5 where God says to Jeremiah: "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.""

This is probably your strongest point. It requires some interpretation and ignores the fact that the Psalms verse separates what is clearly a metaphor and what you interpret literally by nothing more than a colon. That being said, it is clearly supported by Jeremiah.

I'll look back at Calvin's commentary on Exodus next...


I don't deny that the text addresses the possibility of a miscarriage (i.e., the death of the child), but it is not retricted to that. The question is: does the punishment and "harm" mentioned refer to the woman exclusivly or to the child as well? I contened it means both.

Gill says in opposition to Jarchi and Aben Ezra who “restrain” the text to refer to the woman only, that “it may refer both to the woman and her offspring, and not only to the death of them, but to any hurt or damage to either of them: now though there was none of any sort”. The quote from Maimonides Gill gives refers to cases where the child is born with no harm yet harm was done to the woman during birth. Remember the fine was for when “no mischief followed” i.e., there was no premature birth. This contradicts what you assume to be the interpretation it doesn‘t confirm it. You misunderstand.

Clarke agrees that the child is included saying: “if the child had been fully formed, and was killed by this means, or the woman lost her life in consequence, then the punishment was as in other cases of murder-the person was put to death” (The fact he believed it only to refer to fully formed children is irrelevant [what does that even mean coming from someone in the 18th century])

I misread Henry. I know what he believed on the topic and read that into his commentary on Ex 21. As it stands there it offers no contribution to the question. He says it refers to miscarriages, but that doesn’t mean it is limited to that. We agree miscarriages are among the possibilities in the text.

Calvin makes it obvious what he thought.


Calvin - Boy, he sure likes to put the cart before the horse, doesn't he?

He admits the passage is ambiguous, but argues that it can't mean what it seems to say because that would mean it isn't a capital crime to "put an end to the foetus." That isn't circular at all.

Brad, thanks for your time on this. If you think of anything else that might be interesting on this particular question, please send it my way. Otherwise, I think I have what I asked for.

My personal conclusions from this discussion:

Psalm 139:13 and Jeremiah 1:5 are the strongest verses on the question of abortion for pro-life Christians.

Exodus seems to disagree. I realize that you don't agree with that interpretation, but a face value reading of the Commentaries (other than Calvin which I think can be reasonably discounted as having not made any kind of a scholarly argument on this point) seems to show otherwise.

It comes down to two questions:

1. When a child is fully formed. That is a question that would require more scholarship into Hebrew than I think is even available on the internet. If you find it, please send it my way.

Mind you, Clarke wasn't the only one to mention the fully formed question. It came up under Gills as well in the reference to the Septuagint.

2. Who exactly is and isn't being harmed when the monetary punishment is applied.

I didn't misread Gills on this point. The scholars he references disagree with your position. That is clear. Gills provides an alternative reading, but he in no way provides an argument for or against that alternative reading. At best, he leaves it ambiguous.

Taken on balance, I think those saying that the Bible opposes abortion probably have it right. I think there are reasonable objections to be made, that the Bible is not particularly clear on the question, and that even a general opposition to abortion needs to be read within the context of what Hebrew scholars mean by a "fully formed" child.

Thanks for the time and effort on this.

Justin, I listened for about a third of it and I've yet to hear the speaker quote chapter and verse. That was exactly what I was trying to avoid. Thanks though.

I think I'm going to call it a day on this one before my wife strangles me.

Brad, thanks for the help.



There are, in my estimation, three areas where you have not only lacked scholarly repute, but betrayed what appears to me to be your agenda. Hear me out on this. I’ve entertained your desire for intellectual stimulation, please reciprocate and allow me to make my point as I think it should be made.

Exodus 21:22, 23 reads (KJV): “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life (ect.)

1) Your original objection to my using Ex 21:22 was to claim that “fruit depart from her” (as the King James translates it) is translated at “miscarriage” in the NIV’s footnote, implying that because it was a miscarriage being spoken of Lex Talionis couldn’t refer to the child as well as the mother. You claimed you understood the NIV to be a crappy translation at times and yet when confronted with arguments against the notion you held (whether by me or the Hebrew scholars I referenced), you ignored or pervert the intent of the arguments rather than conceding, “Oh, the NIV is a crappy translation.” Interestingly, I systematically observed each English translation available on and of the 14 translations I consulted the only translations that translate “premature birth” as “miscarriage” are the CEV, and the foot note of the NIV. In your quest for knowledge you could have taken the 12 minutes to do this as well, yet you neglected to. Do you still think it accurate? 12 verses 2?

2) Based simply on a footnote in Calvin (the footnote was found in Calvin placed by the translator of his commentary, not Gill) and the words “fully formed” in Adam Clark’s commentary, you entertain the idea that Lex Telionis is applicable for a fully formed child as opposed to an underdeveloped child (in which case a fine was the punishment).

Paradoxically you try to maintain two incompatible arguments. You not only want to claim “fruit depart” is better understood as a miscarriage, restricting Lex Telionis to the mother, but you also want to hold that the LXX is helpful in translating “mischief” (in the KJV) as fully developed . Allow me to quote from the English Translation of the Septuagint (ETS) “Now if two men fight and strike a pregnant woman and her child comes forth fully formed (mischief follow in the KJV), he shall be punished with a fine… ect.”

If the LXX is right Lex Telionis applies to the child excluding the mother. You seem to want to maintain the validity of the NIV footnote which exludes the child for the mother and still curiously entertain the idea that the LXX has something to offer. You can’t have your cake and not have your cake at the same time and in the same sense - the law of contradiction, I’m sure you’re familiar with it. The fact that you would like to maintain both is interesting. The only thing the two arguments have in common is they both are contrary to the interpretation that abortion is a crime under God‘s law, other than that, they are absolutely contradictory. This betrays your agenda.

To dispel of the LXX argument I will pose a question: Here are the words that our English translations give for mischief (or fully formed in the LXX):

“harm” NKJV, ESV, ASV
“mischief” KJV, Darby, Young’s Literal
“serious injury” NIV
“injury “ NASB, NLT, HCSB, CEV, NCV
“damage” Amplified
“Misfortune” 21st Century KJV
“badly hurt” NIRV

All of these (excluding the Amplified) are translation from the original Hebrew to English. None of these agrees with the LXX (Hebrew translated to Greek, translated to English). Will you pit all our English translation from the Hebrew against one English translation of the Greek translation of the Hebrew text and still attempt to maintain you guise of scholarly excursion?

Both arguments you posed are so improbable, not to mention incongruent, I need not defend the passage further. Exodus stands vindicated as a passage for the humanity of pre-born children, to attempt to say otherwise would make you appear as a fool.

3) You make your “personal conclusion” on the matter claiming Psalm 139:13 and Jeremiah 1:5
Are the strongest verses for evangelical view of abortion (based on a friend’s facebook friend’s brief defense? Seriously?) but that Exodus disagrees. Which in the case of your former argument the text doesn’t disagree, it simply doesn’t apply Lex Telionis in that particular passage for the child, and in the case of your LXX argument you claim ignorance to a large degree (how then can you claim it disagrees with Ps 139 and Jer 1?). Calling either a disagreement is either sloppy or intentionally deceptive (or both - I lean towards both because you‘ve already betrayed your agenda).

Now, rather than drive home the point that the Bible condemns Abortion by quoting multiple passages and drawing inferences from various Biblical doctrines, I’d like to go right to the root of your objection. I don’t know your story, specifically; I don’t know why you left Christianity for atheism, and it doesn’t really matter. I am not going to “preach” at you (though I do share Justin‘s sentiments); I’m sure Steve has already done that. You want intellectual stimulation, you shall have it.

Epistemology: Why do you believe what you believe. What do you view as the source of knowledge? You have some underlying philosophical world-view that causes you to think one way or another about any given topic. I’m going to guess you’re an Empiricist (most atheists are), but I’d like you to let me know. Whatever, your epistemology is I guarantee you I will soundly refute your superstructure and demonstrate the folly of your presuppositions. You claim to want your intellect stimulated; this will do it. What is your epistemology?

I'm not trying to make an argument for one side or the other. If you think I'm a fool for thinking there is ambiguity in the passage, that's fine.

You brought the passage up as an argument against abortion. All I did was follow up on the commentaries you said agreed with you (full stop). They agreed (not full stop at all) with you while admitting that there were alternative readings.

Calvin specifically admits there is ambiguity there. He just argues that it could only be one possible meaning because otherwise it would be able to justify abortion (lolz). He says it in black and white. Why can't you see that?

I'm not trying to make an argument for one reading over another. I'm fairly sure I didn't even know about the passage before you brought it to my attention.

Look man, I don't have a dog in this fight. You can call me a fool if you want to, but it seems like it isn't me you have the beef with. Just google the words - Exodus 21 abortion - and the first link you get is a scholarly article from a Christian website doing exactly what I said the commentaries do.

It agrees with you on the issue of abortion, while admitting that there is a different reading by rabbis and Jewish thinkers. Mind you, the author doesn't have the courtesy to bother mentioning any of them by name so that you can go read what they have to say on the subject.

To call me a fool for reading the passage and commentaries the way I did is not only insulting, it is disingenuous. Not only are there apparently people who consider the passage part of their holy texts that disagree with you, but this guy thought it mattered enough to take the time to write a long rebuttal to it. (Failing to mention any of those who criticize his interpretation by name).

From what I can tell, you made arrogant and condescending mistakes. You go read some commentaries, gloss over the ambiguity, and then claim that they agree with you entirely. When I call you on it, you accuse me of being a fool. And finally, quoting Logic 101 at me isn't going to scare me into submission when I'm not making any arguments for or against one reading over another.

I'm going to quote the first two paragraphs from the linked article and end my discussion here, because he seems to answer my question better than anything else I've seen.

"Most attempts to argue against abortion from biblical texts are misdirected. In the absence of specific prohibitions of abortion in the Scripture, Christian pro-lifers quote equivocal passages.

Some citations use personal pronouns to describe the unborn, but many of these are in poetry texts, so the conclusion is not entirely convincing. God’s personal acquaintance with the unborn can be explained by His omniscience. After all, some texts make it clear that God “knows” us even before we’re conceived."

As for epistemology, if you are going to quote Plantinga at me, don't bother. I've read him already. If you think that you can "refute [the] superstructure and demonstrate the folly of [the] presuppositions" of anyone who disagrees with you, then you are the fool. Philosophy is about dialogue. There are plenty of open questions in Epistemology and good thinkers are debating them to this very day.

If you really want to discuss epistemology with me, send me another pm so we aren't dragging this on anymore here and filling up everyone's inbox.


That's all the relevant stuff so far.