Monday, September 24, 2007

Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Dawkins But Have Been Forced To Find Out

If you enjoy this essay, please consider purchasing a copy of Where Dawkins Went Wrong and Other Theological Blockbusters from this address - a collection of  some of the best and most-linked-to essays from this blog and its predecessor. It contains my five part assault critique of 'The God Delusion', along with essays on gay bishops, the 'gospel' of Judas, the 'legend' of the three wise men.

2: Reviewers, accuracy of

"Some good, literate, entertaining anti-Dawkins stuff by Andrew Rilstone (RC I think)"

"As far as I can determine, the reviewer is a Roman Catholic, and holds to the brand of theistic evolutionism espoused by the Vatican."

"Please tell me this guy is a satricial take on religious bloggers written by Craig Brown?"

"You present yourself as a liberal Christian who tries to be reasonable and who believes most of what scientific research claims to have discovered, and accordingly are probably, in many ways closer to Dawkins philosophically than you are to many other religious persons, which may be partly why Dawkins annoys you so much."

3: Dawkins' y-fronts, combustibility of

During a '60 second interview' in Metro Richard Dawkins denied that the Bible is a peaceful book. ' "Thou shalt not kill" really means "Thou shalt not kill another Jew" ' he ranted.

That little word 'really' is doing a lot of work. As we have seen, in The God Delusion Dawkins makes the theological claim that the Talmud says that the killing of gentiles by Jews is not murder. (It has been suggested to me that the passage he quotes is actually talking about 'friendly fire' incidents in time of war: is there a Rabbi in the house?)

But in the newspaper interview, "was held by the most learned commentators of the 2nd century CE to mean " has undergone a random mutation and become "really means". This is misleading almost to the point of dishonesty.

Someone will correct me, but so far as I can tell there is no Hebrew word that means "to kill a Jew": Strong's Concordance lists ten words under "kill", with shades of meaning such as "to slaughter an animal", "to sacrifice", "to put to death" and "to dash to pieces".

Dawkins is, of course, on stronger ground when he talks about the bloodthirsty sections of Old Testament: but you can't easily go from "In the book of Joshua, YHWH approves of wars" to "YHWH thinks that it's okay to kill gentiles whenever you feel like it." Since YHWH is neither a pacifist nor a vegetarian, most people who have bothered to read any theology think that "Thou shalt not kill" 'really' means "Thou shalt not kill human beings, except in the case of war, self-defense or possibly capital punishment", or as most modern Protestant translations render it , "Thou shalt not murder."


  1. Why do you keep acting as if Dawkins is actually saying something?
    Whether or not the Bible is a peaceful book matters not a tidally pomp.
    I suppose Dawkins thinks being "peaceful" is "good" and being "violent" is "bad"?
    Dawkins is simply a walking fallacy, he proclaims there is no "God" while proclaiming himself (or some enigmatic "group" of which he is a member) the very same.

  2. The Hebrew text in both Exodus and Deuteronomy is LO TIRTZACH, which translates to 'thou shalt not murder'. 'Thou shalt not kill' would be LO TAHAROG. Someone with more knowledge about the development of Hebrew, however, will have to tell us whether the distinction between TIRTZACH and TAHAROG dates to before or after the relevant text was composed.

    Something that tends to aggravate me in discussions of the ten commandments, and the old testament in general, that come at them from a Christian perspective (as Dawkins is clearly doing), is that there is seldom a recognition that the commandments are part of a much larger body of law, and, more importantly, that law - not moral guidelines, but the actual bedrock of society - is what the commandments and all the stuff around them are. This is a legal code - barring the Hamurabic Code, the oldest one in existence, and, for its time, extraordinarily progressive. I'm always irked when people talk about the violence of the old testament, because alongside some admittedly bloodthirsty stuff (mostly in Leviticus) there are also genuine attempts to curtail slavery, to protect the lives of accidental killers, and to do away with rape as a weapon of war.

    Or, to put it another way, say that LO TIRTZACH really was intended to encompass only Jews. Given the period in which it was formulated, wouldn't this be significant step forward?

  3. Is a former yeshiva boy good enough?

    The Hebrew commandment commonly translated as "thou shall not kill" actually says "thou shall not commit murder" and is not constrained by any qualifier.

    The Talmud, however, indeed interprets it as forbidding murder of Jews, as it does not recognize non-Jews as humans (noting that touching gentile dead bodies does not make you impure, it says that "you are called human, but they are not").

    Given, however, that the Talmud is actually later than Christianity, I think Dawkins' point is moot.

  4. Thank you. I stand partially corrected.

  5. Or, to put it another way, say that LO TIRTZACH really was intended to encompass only Jews. Given the period in which it was formulated, wouldn't this be significant step forward?

    I don't think this is right. There is no known human society in which murder of members of the in-group was not proscribed. (Hobbes was wrong; humans have never lived in a "war of all against all.") Had it been intended to encompass all people and not just Jews, then it probably would be considered a step forward. The major difference between modern morality and ancient morality (bar a few things here and there) is how expansive we are in granting rights, not so much in the rights we grant.

    Hammurabi's advance was not in having a code of laws, but in having a written language to communicate it. Even then, he doesn't win. There are at least three known Sumerian codices which predate Hammurabi by 100-300 years and Hammurabi's code clearly implies the existence of earlier codes in Babylon.

  6. "Given, however, that the Talmud is actually later than Christianity, I think Dawkins' point is moot."

    You mean, I think, that the Talmud is later than the New Testament. The Talmud and Christianity (i.e. the Ante-Nicene Fathers) are exactly contemporaneous.