Matt Slick defends “honor killing”: a woman’s hymen is worth more than her life

By way of introduction, some of you will remember Matt Dillahunty’s on-air debate with apologist Matt Slick of the CARM website, which was recorded on February 22, 2009. If you missed it, here you go. Keep in mind this is the first of nine parts.

Recently one of our viewers emailed us about a rather alarming article by Slick on the CARM site that stands as an exemplar of just how religion’s confused notions of what constitutes “morality” has led religion to be the foremost enabler of atrocity in history. In brief, when Christians insist that morality itself is impossible without Christianity, and atheists reply by rattling off endless examples both from scripture and real life of the devout behaving badly, the spin machine kicks into gear so fast you can practically see the Higgs boson particles zinging off it in all directions. Justify, justify, justify, is the order of the day.

Here, Slick justifies what may be one of the most appalling crimes there is: the “honor killing” of daughters (yes, it’s always daughters) who are not acceptably virginal in the eyes of their fathers and grooms. In this context, “father” and “groom” is a term interchangeable with “owner.”

Slick begins by quoting a lengthy passage from Deuteronomy in which God’s laws for dealing with an insufficiently chaste bride are detailed. The passage first declares that any groom who is caught trying to weasel out of his marriage by lying that his bride was not a virgin will be fined 100 shekels and then forbidden from ever divorcing his wife as long as he lives (which I imagine is considered the worse punishment). On the other hand, if it turns out that the bride was indeed not a virgin at her nuptials, then the skanky ho is to be taken out and stoned to death.

So let’s review. Man at fault = fined money. Woman at fault = murdered. Yeah, that sounds ever so egalitarian!

To attempt to defend a practice so primitive, inhumane and frankly monstrous, one would, you’d think, have to be not only an idiot, but someone plumbing hitherto unexamined depths of idiocy just to see how far he could go before imploding into something like a black hole of idiocy so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape. Well, folks, we have that intrepid explorer right here. Step right up, Mr. Slick.

When you got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose, and so Slick leads with his worst punch.

Critics of the Bible must be careful not to impose their present day moral system upon that of an ancient culture found in Scripture and then judge Scripture as though it is inferior to their own subjective morality. The above verses were written 3,000 years ago in a very different culture and location.

Uhhh…yeah. Let’s see, how do I explain this to someone so intellectually impacted?

What is at issue here is the notion of treating a human being as property, denied any sense of personal agency. By slipping in that favorite of all apologetic weasel phrases, “subjective morality,” Slick doubtless believes he’s scored a home run right out of the dugout, when in fact it’s a pop fly. If anyone here is exhibiting “subjective” morality, it’s Slick, making the above quote one of the most awesome irony-meter-melting sentences you’re likely to read from an apologetics source.

Slick appears to accept that our moral precepts are different from those of 3000 years ago. Thus he suggests that while we may be right to be appalled at savage acts of cruelty towards young women in 2011 CE, we have no reason to be appalled by the same acts in 989 BCE. (Yeah, I used a calculator.) I guess time heals all wounds, eh? And yet, Slick gives us no reason why we should suspend our “subjective” morality in this way. Beyond basically saying “This is how they rolled back then,” we are given no valid moral justification (hell, I’d have even taken a mildly coherent one) for why we should think misogynist brutality is A-okay as long as it happened long long ago.

Moreover, is there a statute of limitations (maybe in the fine print at the bottom of the decalogue tablets) for this kind of thing? Is there a cutoff period where my “subjective” morality just becomes straight-up morality and it’s okay for me to call an atrocity an atrocity? Can I just look at American slavery and say, “Well, I must must be careful not to impose my present day moral system on the culture of 160 years ago.” Or is it too soon?

Let us briefly consider what is involved in stoning someone to death.

Matt Frauenfelder at Boing Boing (too many Matts in this piece, I must say) has helpfully provided us with an illustrated guide. This graphic shows how they do it in the Muslim world, which is the only contemporary culture I know of still goat-fucking barbaric enough to pull this crap. The details might have been different when the ancient Jews did it, but I suspect the results were the same: a dead girl.

First the victim is partially buried standing up, because it’s no fun if the stonee is running around frantically for her life. You might miss and hit your mom or something. Then, the actual process of killing the victim can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on, I don’t know, whether the victim’s skull is especially thick, or whether the stones are nice and hard or soft and crumbly, or maybe it’s just a matter of how goddamned sadistic the killers are feeling that day.

Imagine being in the pit. You can see nothing, but you hear the deafening roar of the crowd’s bloodlust. Your pulse is hammering, and you have probably already shit yourself in blind terror. Then, after what seems like an agonizing eternity, the first rock clips you. Maybe it hurts like a bastard, but wasn’t hard enough to kill you. (In Islamist countries, there is in fact a law that the rocks used cannot be so heavy and large as to kill with the first blow. Not nice spoiling everyone’s fun.) But after the explosion of pain, you start feeling light-headed, dizzy. A few more blows, and you go into shock. Your vital signs plunge, your whole body begins to feel cold, and if you haven’t shit yourself already, now you do. You slip out of consciousness. If you’re lucky, you’ll die very soon after this.

I suspect this is as terrifying and brutal a way to die 3000 years ago as it is today. I see no reason to think a young girl experiencing the above back in the distant past would have felt any less horror, agony and despair than her modern-day counterpart. So why is Slick telling me that it’s okay to be appalled by modern-day stonings, but that I’m out of line for being appalled by 3000-year-old stonings? Is there some “moral absolute” at play that I’m just not Christian enough to get here?

Anyway, let your imagination run with all this as you continue to read Slick’s apologia. Remember the above is what he’s defending.

Sexual purity was very highly valued, unlike today, and when a man would marry a woman, her virginity was critical. In ancient times a dowry was paid to the father of the bride and the rightful expectation was that the bride would be a virgin.

So there, you see? She’s his property, so that makes it okay. And notice the snide aside about “sexual purity [being] highly valued, unlike today.” Yeah, because we all know a woman’s hymen is of more value to her male owner than her fucking life. There’s your religious “morality,” gang.

When you’re in a hole, stop digging, unless you’re a Christian apologist. Slick goes on yet some more, reiterating that really, it’s just all about teh mehnz.

In the culture of the time it was the father who was charged with the covering, care, and well-being of his daughter. Her sexual purity was representative of the father’s ability to raise her according to the laws God. Therefore, in that culture, a man’s reputation, as well as the family’s reputation in the community, could be adversely affected by the fornication of his daughter. If his daughter had been promised to a man to be married, and a dowry had been paid, there was every expectation from the bridegroom that she would be a virgin. If the contrary was discovered after the marriage, then the implication is that there had been a deception in which the father could be implicated, or it would mean that he was unaware of her sin and this would bring great shame to the family and the community, not to mention it being a display of outright rebellion against God’s law. In this case, to insure the integrity of the family, and to remove the evil of adulterous/fornication from the community, stoning was advocated.

Again with the “in that culture” business. Here is why Matt Slick is a moral imbecile: S.F.W. if this activity was the norm “in that culture”; does Slick think it’s right or wrong to do this to another human being, period? Especially — especially — for reasons as pitifully selfish and banal as your own “shame.” Slick steadfastly avoids passing any moral judgment upon the killing, while telling “critics of the Bible” they are in no position to pass a moral judgment either, which is itself a moral judgment. Somehow, you can’t condemn death by stoning (if it’s ancient and Biblical, that is, because something tells me Slick would flip-flop in a picosecond when presented with the spectacle of modern-day Islamist stonings), but you can condemn those who’d condemn it, on the ground that they are somehow applying “subjective” moral standards.

So what is the Godly “moral absolute” on this issue then, Mr. Slick? Can young women be treated as chattel by their fathers and husbands, or not? Can they be murdered for making men embarrassed about their pee-pees, or not? If a “morally subjective” approach is the wrong way to think about all this, then clearly a “morally absolute” approach is the right way. So what does the absolute moral lawgiver have to say, Mr. Slick? Is he pissed off that we no longer stone our women to death? If his morals are absolute, shouldn’t this still be common practice today?

I think I’ve said enough. If any article demonstrates better than this one how badly religion can screw up a human being’s fundamental sense of right and wrong, I’ve managed to miss it. Religion, far from providing anything like morality, simply sets a list of arbitrary rules that allow any number of vile acts to be visited upon the helpless, and it is all elaborately justified with feeble rhetoric later. Secular morality may not be perfect either, but it is immeasurably stronger for being rooted in basic human empathy and reason. Not only do I not need a God to tell me that “honor killings” are a horrible evil, but it appears that people who do have a God don’t think it’s all that evil after all. Lord, protect me from your followers!

(That was sarcasm.)

Open thread on episode #695

Today’s show was, as usual, fraught with difficulties, though not as many as we originally suspected. Once again, the calls were problematic, with some callers having a hard time hearing us. Whether the problem is with our audio, their cell phones, or a combination of everything, is unclear. But we’re well aware of ChannelAustin’s long history of audio problems. Not only that, we dropped the damn UStream feed in the last ten minutes, but the full video should be fine.

It turns out that the first call today, with Mark from Austin Stone Church, may not have been a problem on our end after all. Russell and I thought we just lost the call, which happens. After the program, Frank and John in the control room told me that Mark’s feed was just fine. Only after we’d brought up problems with Matt Slick’s TAG, Mark apparently stopped talking, then hung up.

If that’s the case, it can’t have been Mark’s proudest moment. According to him, he had the whole congregation watching (awesome!), and, if he indeed hung up, they watched him basically wither in his defense of the faith without much of a fight. Still, we’d have put him at the head of the line had he called back. Better luck next time, Mark.

Note to self: When Christians call the program and immediately demand politeness from us, they are probably about to launch into a string of absurdities and falsehoods that they don’t want us to call them on. Frankly, the minute Mark listed the risible Ray Comfort as some authority on evolution, and repeated the tiresome canard that there are “no transitional fossils,” I was done with politeness. No, I’m not going to scream nasty names at you while I correct you. But the fact is, with the plethora of scientific literature and research out there demonstrating to as high a degree of certainty as science can promise that evolution is real, there is no excuse for willful ignorance and the deliberate dissemination of disinformation about what science actually says. Frankly, the creationist line that there are no transitional fossils is on the same level of intellectual irresponsibility as flat Earth belief.

This is an aspect of religious fundamentalist dishonesty I think deserves zero tolerance, and there’s been way too much coddling and misplaced “fairness” towards a “controversy” that does not actually exist. If you’ve only read Ray Comfort and not any actual scientific text, and you want to call us and challenge us on evolution, know this: it will not be a pleasant experience for you. You are simply not in possession of the facts, and we will steamroll you with them.

Also, since the gang at Stone Church seem to think Matt Slick is impressive somehow, let me share with you an email we got from a viewer today, who passed along a question from Slick.

How can an atheist trust his own judgments if his brain is completely restricted to the neurochemical laws and cannot operate outside of those laws? Doesn’t this necessitate that all the laws/chemical reactions/brain arrangement require certain reactions based upon the stimulus that produces a specific and predictable result due to that person’s particular neurochemical arrangement in his brain? How then can such a person trust that his conclusions about the universe be accurate since what he believes and interprets is governed by those laws? How does such required neurochemical reactions produced truth and proper logical inference? If the atheists cannot answer this, then it, demonstrates his worldview has serious problems.

Jeff Dee caught this grenade and lobbed it right back.

How can a theist trust his own judgments if his mind is completely unconstrained by any rules? Doesn’t this necessitate that all of his thoughts are random disconnected nonsense? How then can such a person trust that his conclusions about the universe are accurate, since what he believes and interprets is NOT governed by any laws? How does such unconstrained rambling produce truth and proper logical inference? If the theist cannot answer this, then it demonstrates his worldview has serious problems.

So I’d suggest apologists start looking for another hero. Matt Slick isn’t as slick as he thinks.

Another friggin’ post on the Transcendental Argument :)

I’m never prouder of the Atheist Community of Austin than when we all manage to pull together in a discussion about serious topics of philosophy and presentation strategy. Last night six of us got together in an Austin coffeehouse to discuss several issues for the show, and for the first hour we went over Matt Slick’s Transcendental Argument for God (TAG) with a fine-toothed comb. I see that Martin has already outlined several conclusions of that conversation admirably, so I won’t need to go over all of it. I’ll defer to his well-written response.

At this point people who are interested in arguments and not a glimpse at behind-the-scenes process might want to skip down to the bold header below, where I will take up one final argument against TAG.

We have received a veritable flood of comments about the Matt Slick call: by email, on the blog (both here and here), on the Iron Chariots forum, and on my favorite hangout, the Atheist Fools board (115 posts at the time of this writing). All told, there have been several hundred comments about that episode, which I think probably makes it one of the most talked-about episodes ever.

That didn’t necessarily make it a good episode, of course. The feedback has been mixed, and I’ve listened to all kinds of criticism that I take very seriously. Matt D called me almost as soon as the show was over to vent his frustrations about some aspects of the call. While most of the email and online comments have been positive, an uncomfortably high number of them have also said that Don and I handled the call “disgracefully,” that we were rude and impatient, and that Matt Slick was right to call us out for interrupting him a lot. A couple even said it put them off the show permanently.

I don’t dismiss these comments. We’re only human. In a 1997 article from the Internet Infidels library, Michael Martin says:

“Ignorance of TAG is hardly surprising since it plays no role in the position of the most famous contemporary religious apologists and is not covered in standard texts in the philosophy of religion. In fact, I myself was unaware of it when I published a book on atheism in which I spend hundreds of pages refuting theistic arguments (Martin, 1990).”

I wouldn’t say that I’ve never heard the TAG before, but because it’s never been a common argument from our callers, I’ve never given it a lot much consideration at all. I’ve been told that I was rushing so much to find a contradiction in Slick’s logic that I jumped ahead to parts of the argument that hadn’t been made yet, allowing Slick to make us look bad by saying that he wasn’t saying those things at all.

Of course, reading his argument online, it’s crystal clear that he damn well was going to say many of those things, but apparently wild indignation at not being allowed to talk is Mr. Slick’s style. Commenter KaylaKaze pointed us to a debate Slick had with the Rational Response Squad. He was allowed to speak uninterrupted for much longer periods of time, and yet he still complained about how he wasn’t allowed to keep talking.

It’s a fine line to walk. Matt D and others who gave feedback are absolutely right that I should have exhibited more patience and let him go through more of the argument without interrupting. I also regret being a little more jokey than usual, appearing to dismiss and ridicule Mr. Slick. However, give an apologist too much air time and he’s liable to pull a Gish Gallop, presenting a long stream of misconceptions that must be gone over in great detail. So as Martin says, Monday morning quarterbacking is easy, and I’ve done plenty of it myself; being in the position makes it trickier to see the long view.

I received some excellent advice from Motley Fool poster jgc123, who said:

“When you are hearing a new argument, admit that it is a new one or one that you have not worked through as thoroughly as the others. Or just tell the person that you are not sure you understand their version of the argument and keep asking questions until you are really ready to respond. If necessary, pull a Larry King and let them have the stage for the full hour, after which you invite them to come back. You can’t win anybody over by not listening to them.”

Words to live by. Thank you, everyone, for your feedback, both good and bad.

TAG Redux

Martin already did a great job recapping the highlights of our discussion from last night, but there’s just one more point I’d like to raise with regard to the specific form of TAG that Matt Slick used, and he doesn’t address this one on his website. Essentially it’s a reformulation of the well-known Euthyphro Dilemma, which we refer to a lot on the show.

In point 6A, the TAG argument states that “Logical Absolutes are conceptual by nature,” and therefore their existence is necessarily contingent on the existence of a mind (such as God’s) to conceive them. For example, the law of identity, “A is A,” is true only because it is held in a perfect mind. You’ll notice that in point 4C, Slick says that “Logical Absolutes are not dependent on people,” and the reason he gives is that people’s minds are different and may contradict each other. Presumably this includes a mind contradicting itself by having different opinions at different points in time. So here’s my question:

Can God change his mind?

I suspect that Slick would say that God is eternally correct and unchanging, but let’s clarify that question. Suppose God said “A is not A.” Would the laws of logic then change? If he says that they do, then logical absolutes are no longer so absolute; they are subject to the whims of a capricious mind, and we’re back to the same problem that Slick highlighted in 4C.

However if, as I suspect, the answer is that God cannot change his mind — if he is logically bound to uphold the unalterable truth that A is A — then God isn’t the author of logical absolutes at all. His mind is an extraneous addition to the question. With or without God’s mind, things would still be equal to themselves.

Thus, as a proof for the logical necessity of God, the TAG fails.

In conclusion, please be sure to catch next week’s show with Matt and Tracie. Our hosts have the benefit of a week-long conversation under their belts, and they’ll be taking the topic up again. Matt has encouraged Matt Slick to call back again, and while he may not do so — I am also in possession of a rather testy email protesting his treatment — there will be discussion on the topic either way.

As I said in my lecture about atheist evangelism, you don’t learn to play games well without exposing yourself to toug
h opponents and acknowledging weaknesses in your own style. The TV show has always been a learning process for all of us, and I thank you all for giving me the opportunity to learn through error as your host.