Rebuttals to Atheist Ideas About Design, DNA Code, Slavery in the OT and the Ordering of Genesis

On YouTube and social media, we commonly encounter the same assertions from atheists, which they consider brilliant, yet in reality are fallacious. I will list these next.

  1. Who designed the Designer?

In his book “The God Delusion,” Richard Dawkins claims that asking ‘who designed the Designer’ is his most challenging question for theists. Yet this question assumes we need an explanation for an explanation. Believing we need an explanation for every explanation would result in an infinite regression of such requirements. As William Lane Craig has pointed out in various debates with atheists, this reasoning is fallacious. His example of support is as follows. Consider if we found a toolbox on the back side of the moon. We would assume that some intelligent life form left the toolbox there. We do not need to offer an explanation for who left the toolbox on the moon to make the assertion that the toolbox was left by someone.

Furthermore, Richard Dawkins’ question only shows us his faulty thinking concerning the characteristics of our Creator. The Maker of the universe is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and eternal. He is our Creator. Accordingly, He does not require a Creator. Such a requirement would suggest an infinite regress from the created to the creator, yet even atheists such as Stephen Hawking have indicated that our universe (time, space, matter) has a start date. Accordingly, creation does not go back into the past infinitely, so our Creator did not require a Creator.

  1. God advocates and explicitly endorses slavery.

According to Sam Harris (in an interview with Ben Shapiro on the Daily Wire) “God expected and explicitly endorsed slavery in the Old Testament. According to Matt Dillahunty (in multiple YouTube videos), God “advocates” slavery in the Bible.

God did not “advocate” or endorse slavery. In contrast, God permitted slaves in the same way Jesus pointed out that God permitted divorce in Moses’ time. Jesus noted that the people had hardened hearts, so though God detests divorce (and only considers it acceptable in cases of sexual immorality), He permitted it during Moses’ time.

 “Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:3-9)

Slavery formed the financial foundation of societies in ancient times all over the globe. The form of slavery in the Ancient Near East among Hebrews was often voluntary, where people who had debt would volunteer their services to others to pay off their debts in a contractual agreement. It was also often the gentler option of handling those who lost in war. Rather than slaughter the enemies in war, the winning warriors would take their enemies into their homes as servants.

Atheists often try to equate servanthood in the Old Testament with antebellum slavery in the United States in recent times. They ignore the multiple translations of the word ebed, which also include bondservant, employee and servant. Yet these comparisons are fallacious. Pastor Mike Winger has outlined some good responses to atheists who make these comparisons. These are as follows:

  • Unlike antebellum slavery, which was perpetuated by involuntary kidnappings of Africans in Africa, kidnapping was explicitly outlawed in the Old Testament, punishable by death (Exodus 21:16).
  • People who seriously injured their slaves had to set them free as compensation (Exodus 21: 26). People who intentionally killed their slaves were punished by death (Exodus 21:12; 21:20).
  • Slaves were given the same human rights as others (Exodus 21). All humans are God’s image-bearers (Genesis 1:26-27).
  • Slaves were to be treated with compassion (Leviticus 19:33-34). “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”
  • Runaway slaves were to be freed (Deuteronomy 23:15). “If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them.
  • When slaves were freed, they were to be given generous supplies. (Deuteronomy 15:14). “Supply them liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to them as the Lord your God has blessed you.”

“Although some claim that the runaway slave in Deuteronomy 23 isn’t a foreigner but an Israelite, we have plenty of reason to reject that idea. For one thing, no mention of the word brother or neighbor is used. In addition, according to Leviticus 25, Israelites weren’t allowed to enslave fellow Israelites. Also, the foreign fugitive slave could freely choose a place to live in Israel (“in your midst,” “in one of your towns” [Deuteronomy 23:16]), unlike the rest of the Israelites, who had to stay put on the land allotted to clans (cf., Numbers, Joshua). Thus, those who benefited weren’t society’s elite but vulnerable, marginalized foreign persons in the midst of a completely different society.” (Copan, 2011, p. 132).

Biblical passages do distinguish between the treatment of Israelite and foreign “ebeds” with the former receiving better treatment. Yet no matter the status as an Israelite or not, all were to be treated as persons, not property (Exodus 21: 5-6). This treatment was unique within the laws governing people in the Ancient Near East. For example, the Code of Hammurabi permitted masters to cut off the ears of slaves, royal perpetrators of the law were not held accountable, kidnapping slaves was not punishable by death, and physical abuse to slaves that resulted in death was not considered murder (Copan, 2011). In contrast, the Old Testament often notes that God held royal perpetrators accountable (1 Kings 11:13; 2 Chronicles 26:19; 2 Chronicles 33:10-11). Leviticus 19:15 states: “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” These were the foundations to our democratic societies today. Leaders in Western societies are held accountable for their actions.

“An Israelite strapped for shekels [money] might become an indentured servant to pay off his debt to a “boss” or “employer” (adon). Calling him a “master” is often way too strong a term, just as the term ‘ebed (servant or employee) typically shouldn’t be translated “slave.” John Goldingay comments that ‘there is nothing inherently lowly or undignified about being an ‘ebed.” Indeed, it is an honorable, dignified term.’ Even when the terms buy, sell or acquire are used of servants/employees, they don’t mean the person in question is “just property.” (Copan, 2011, p. 125).

“If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.” (Leviticus 25:39-43).

Furthermore, to address Sam Harris’ assertion that God “expected” slavery and highlights of the presence of slavery in the Old and New Testament, consider the words of St. Paul.

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.” Ephesians 6:5

Consider that Paul further states that we’re all slaves of sin and enslaved to God in Romans 6:20-22:

“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” (Romans 6:20-22).

Taken together and in the context of life on this planet, we can interpret these messages to mean that we’re all nested within a dominance hierarchy and at the top of the hierarchy sits God. We are to respect order and reject chaos in our lives, seeking alignment with the Creator of order. We are also all to respect those above us in our earthly hierarchical system, paying our taxes and maintaining order within our communities. Respecting and obeying order enhances human flourishing.

“Though Israel’s laws on servitude weren’t the moral ideal, they show far greater moral sensitivity than other Ancient Near Eastern texts” such as the Code of Hammurabi, which emphasized class distinctions and legislation related to slaves, free persons, priests, government officials and others (Copan, 2011, p. 133-134).

“Contrary to what Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris say, servanthood in Israel can hardly be called ‘a warrant for trafficking in humans’ or a means of treating people ‘like farm equipment.’ No, God’s ultimate intention wasn’t for humans to ‘keep slaves.’ In fact, the Genesis ideal is that all humans are equal and that they do not work for another; rather, each person under God’s care is to be his own ‘master,’ sitting under his own vine and fig tree (1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4; Zechariah 3:10). (Copan, 2011, p. 134).

  1. DNA is not genetic “code.” Therefore, we have no need for a “coder.”

Biochemist Sy Garte (2019, p. 105-106) states “For our DNA to work, there must be a genetic code that allows for the translation of the order of bases in DNA into the correct structure of the cellular proteins. The genetic code is the first instance of pure symbolic information in the universe that we know about…In any case, the genetic code is far more than in interesting chemical novelty. Eugene Koonin, a leader in the field of abiogenesis research (who is not a theist), has acknowledged the difficulty: ‘The translation system might appear to be the epitome of irreducible complexity because, although some elaborations of this machinery could be readily explainable by incremental evolution, the emergence of the basic principle of translation is not. Indeed, we are unaware of translation being possible without the involvement of ribosomes, the complete sets of tRNA and aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRS), and (at least, for translation to occur at a reasonable rate and accuracy) several translation factors. In other words, staggering complexity is inherent even in the minimally functional translation system.’”

“We now know a great deal about the language that DNA uses to transmit information down the generations. Francis Collins called it “the language of God” in his seminal book by that title. The DNA language is a chemical language, which is coded and read by other chemicals following the laws of chemistry and physics – but also the specific rules of biology.”

“Among those rules, embodied in the genetic code, is the way the sequence of the bases in DNA is translated by the cell into the structures of proteins. Sometimes people confuse the genetic code with the gene or DNA sequence. The sequence is what distinguishes every organism from every other organism, and a gene is a part of that sequence that is translated into a specific ‘meaning’ for the organization…but all organisms use the same code – the same language or system – that never changes…The code of life tells us that every three-letter sequence of bases in DNA signifies a specific amino acid in a protein.” (Garte, 2019, p. 60).

To bring these lofty ideas down to the lay person, consider this analogy, which is similar to one popularized by Oxford Professor John Lennox. If you saw the letters “I love you” written in the sand on the beach, would you assume this information was provided by a mind – or would you assume randomness?  Similarly, our human genome has been mapped out and we know that our DNA consists of 3.5 billion perfectly ordered “letters” of information.

You may argue that we are highly complex and evolved, yet even the DNA of the simplest of organisms, the amoeba, contains thousands of volumes of information. The latter is noted by Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist scientist.

  1. The ordering of Genesis is not consistent with how scientists believe the earth was formed.

Matt Dillahunty has made this common assertion, yet it is fallacious. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross says, “Think of Genesis 1 as a highlight reel. Its ‘countdown’ from 10 to 1 fits the pattern of showing one feat after another, each more spectacular than the previous, building anticipation for the amazing performance of all. The brief list of divine interventions by no means tells every detail of the creation story, and its brevity draws complaints from many readers. However, according to the book of Job, God’s creation works are beyond human fathoming, measuring, or counting.” (Ross, 2014, p. 37).

One reason Dillahunty’s assertion is fallacious is it fails to account for the frame of reference of the writer. Hugh Ross has pointed to this fallacy in several books, while explaining why the point of view is key to establishing the position the Bible is asserting. Genesis 1:1-19 is as follows:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”  So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so.  God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.  The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years,  and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.  God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.  God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.”

Biblical skeptics often interpret this passage to mean the earth appeared prior to the sun, yet that is not what the passage is indicating. One must consider the viewpoint of the writer. Astronomers have discovered that when new planets with characteristics similar to the Earth form, they are fully covered by dust and weightier materials. (Ross, 2014). The writer’s viewpoint in Genesis 1:1-4 would be that of a person looking up at an opaque sky of darkness.

“Light’s appearance takes center stage on the first creation day…Recalling Earth’s initial condition of darkness and that the frame of reference for this passage is Earth’s surface, we can comprehend what happened on day one: light penetrated Earth’s dark shroud for the first time. Some of the debris that had previously kept light from coming through cleared way and Earth’s atmosphere changed from opaque to translucent – not transparent (yet), but able to permit light’s passage.” (Ross, 2014, p. 38-39). Then on day 4, the skies became more transparent so the Sun, Moon and stars became visible.

Using this methodology of simply considering the viewpoint of the writer, Ross (2014) has carefully gone through each of the days of creation and connected them with actual scientific events and the appearances of life. They marry quite well.

“Unlike other creation stories, Genesis talks of creation taking place over a period of time, marked in divisions of days. God did not poof everything into existence in to what we now know, with vegetation preceding sea creatures, followed by animals and lastly by human beings. These were profound insights that would not have been a natural way for ancient peoples to think.” (Garte, 2019, p. 155).

  1. ‘Look at the trees’ is not evidence for God.

“The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.” – Richard Dawkins

“A crucial question to ask of any scientific theory – from atoms to zebras – is this: if it were true, what would we expect? For example, if Earth’s landmass were once part of a single supercontinent, we would expect today’s continents to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.” (Gould & Ray, 2019, p. 203).

“In recent decades, physicists have found an unexpected pattern among many of the fundamental parameters and initial conditions of the laws of nature: they must have values in a very narrow range for life to exist. This is called the fine-tuning of the universe for life. Similarly, most initial conditions would have resulted in a lifeless universe. The simple fact is that Dawkins is wrong – the universe does not have precisely the properties we should expect of a world without purpose or design. Far from it. Based on what we have discovered, the universe calls out for a deeper story.” (Gould and Ray, 2019, p. 204).

Thank you for your time!

References:

Copan, P. (2011). Is God a moral monster? Making sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Garte, S. (2019). The works of his hands. A scientist’s journey from atheism to faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Kreger Publications.

Gould, P.M. & Ray, D. (2019). The story of the cosmos: How the heavens declare the glory of God. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers.

Ross, H. (2014). Navigating Genesis. A scientist’s journey through Genesis 1-11. Covina, CA: Reasons to Believe Press.

 

 

2 Replies to “Rebuttals to Atheist Ideas About Design, DNA Code, Slavery in the OT and the Ordering of Genesis”

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