Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Does the Bible condone slavery?

Matt and Madeleine Flanagan have a wonderful post up to answer this thorny question. These guys are professional apologists, not amateurs, like me! They have footnotes in their post!

Your strategy

If someone asks you a question like this, there are two responses you need to make:

  1. Explain why the Bible does not condone slavery
  2. Ask the challenger why slavery is wrong, on their worldview

Let’s start with number 1.

Does the Bible condone slavery?

MandM’s response is based on the writings of John Locke in his “Second Treatise on Civil Government”. Locke based his argument on a reading of Exodus 21, where the rules of “slavery” are defined.Locke’s argument is that the definition of slavery in the Bible is not the same as the slavery of modern times.

MandM quotes Locke’s argument. Then they summarize it:

[1] If a person is a slave then that person is “under the absolute, arbitrary power of another, to take away his life, when he pleases.”
[2] The institution referred to in scripture that people could sell themselves into, was not one where they were “under an absolute, arbitrary, despotical power.”

Then they explain some reasons why the indentured servitude in the Bible is not the same as slavery in the last few hundred years.

  • there was no kidnapping of an indentured servant, they served voluntarily in order to get rid of a debt
  • there was no racial component to indentured servitude
  • killing an indentured servant was a capital offense, striking one was illegal
  • indentured servitude was for 6 years, not for a lifetime
  • if the indentured servant fled from an abusive master, it was illegal to return teh servant to his master

References are provided for each of these points.

So the Biblical concept of “slavery” wasn’t what we mean as slavery when we look at British, Arab, or American slavery in history. Instead, the Bible is talking about indentured servitude.

What’s wrong with slavery, on atheism?

I think a more fundamental question that needs to be pressed on the atheist is whether slavery is wrong on their worldview. I’ve argued elsewhere that worldviews like atheism do not support the minimal requirements for rational morality.

Specifically, atheism does not ground:

1) Objective moral values: where is the standard?
2) Objective moral duties: to whom are moral duties owed?
3) Moral accountability: will I get caught if I am immoral?
4) Free will: are humans capable of free choice?
5) Ultimate significance: does it matter ultimately?

NEVER let atheists get away with making any moral statements, because even though an individual atheist might get lucky and act morally based on the objective moral law that God actually made, their actions are not rationally grounded by their worldview. Call them out!

This actually came out in the comments for MandM’s post, where John W. Loftus, a prominent lay-atheist, chimed in.

Here is a sample comment:

Rob says: (from Manawatu Christian Apologetics)

I presume John Loftus is a born-again atheist? If this is so, then upon what grounds would he criticize slavery at all?

If atheism is true truth, then I fail to see any possible ground that could provide a basis for outrage against moral evil, since moral evil cannot exist.

Indeed, if the universe is material only, then at what time did atoms create morality?

So John Loftus has to assume a Biblical morality to attack Biblical morality, but he would then be rejecting the basis for his indignation at slavery in the South, or any other slavery for that matter. He cannot logically have his cake and eat it too.

I can’t recommend this post and the comments enough. This is a great post and the comments are totally awesome, although you may find them difficult to understand. You will learn a lot from this post and exchange.

I am really impressed with MandM’s blog. Please pay them a visit and have a look yourself.

Related questions

You may be interested in similar challenges made by atheists that I answered in previous posts.

More questions here.

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How well do Darwinists do in debates with skeptics?

UPDATE: Welcome Post-Darwinist readers! Thanks for the link Denyse!

I thought that I would introduce a couple of my favorite critics of Darwinian fundamentalism, Stephen C. Meyer and Jonathan Wells. Here they are debating with Michael Shermer. I like Michael Shermer for two reasons – fiscal conservatism and engagement with his opponents. I’ve seen him MC sessions at Christian conferences. So let’s give him a chance to make his case.

Biographies of our debaters

Michael Shermer

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine (, the Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and Adjunct Professor of Economics at Claremont Graduate University. Dr. Shermer received his B.A. in psychology from Pepperdine University, M.A. in experimental psychology from California State University, Fullerton, and his Ph.D. in the history of science from Claremont Graduate University (1991).

Stephen C. Meyer

Stephen C. Meyer is director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, in Seattle. Meyer earned his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University for a dissertation on the history of origin of life biology and the methodology of the historical sciences. Previously he worked as a geophysicist with the Atlantic Richfield Company after earning his undergraduate degrees in Physics and Geology.

Jonathan Wells

Jonathan Wells has received two Ph.D.s, one in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, and one in Religious Studies from Yale University. He has worked as a postdoctoral research biologist at the University of California at Berkeley and the supervisor of a medical laboratory in Fairfield, California, and he has taught biology at California State University in Hayward.

Massimo Pigliucci

Massimo Pigliucci, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he conducts research on the ecology of plant populations and the evolution of adaptations…. He received his doctorate in genetics at the University of Ferrara in Italy, his Ph.D. in botany from the University of Connecticut, as well as a Ph.D. in philosophy of science at the University of Tennessee.

Let’s get ready to rumble!

Let’s start with a short 15-minute debate between Michael Shermer and Stephen Meyer, moderated by Lee Strobel.

Meyer starts with these points:

  • the origin of the universe implies a Creator who exists outside of time, space and matter, because he created time, space and matter
  • the physical constants and ratios of physics must be fine-tuned in order to support the minimal requirements for life
  • the cell is filled with molecular machines that are identical to machines built by humans, such as rotary engines
  • the cell contains biological information in the DNA, and the origin of this information cannot be explained by evolution

Shermer makes these points:

  • we should never infer intelligent causes, we should keep searching for a materialistic explanation and say we don’t know until we find an explanation that allows me to continue to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist
  • who made the designer?
  • maybe the big bang will be overturned and then we can go back to the eternal universe that I want to be true in spite of the evidence
  • we can speculate (without any experimental evidence) about alternative theories of how the universe got here, unlike the standard big bang theory which is backed by multiple lines of scientific evidence

Then a dialog ensues:

Shermer: The design of life is sub-optimal – if God did it, it should be perfect, with no trade-offs between non-functional requirements, just like Wintery Knights’ software architecture designs and Java code are perfect

Meyer: There is no such thing as a perfect design. Software architects, like Wintery Knight, who have studied software design, will tell you that non-functional requirements must be traded-off against one another. (Source: Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University)

Shermer: Let me commit the ad hominem fallacy by attacking the motives of intelligent design proponents instead of dealing with their arguments and evidence.

Meyer: Two can play at that game, since evolutionists are atheists and secular humanists. But who cares? let’s stick to the arguments and evidence, ok?

Strobel: Meyer, are evolution and Christianity compatible?

Meyer: No, because evolution requires that the natural processes that create the diversity of life be random and unpredictable.

Shermer: Well, maybe the natural forces could be caused by the designer but in a totally undirected and undetectable way, so you Christians could have blind faith and we could run the public square.

Meyer: But Darwinism says and that no design is detectable in those processes, so they processes cannot be actually directed on Darwinism.

Shermer: But the designer could use natural selection and mutation.

Meyer: If so, then why did Darwin explicitly reject God having a role in these processes?

Shermer: I don’t believe in God because there isn’t enough evidence and it would require too many changes in my life. I like having autonomy from God and his moral demands. Also, we must always prefer material explanations, we can never infer that an intelligence played a role. I will only allow you to have two explanations of natural phenomena: 1) God didn’t do it, or 2) we don’t know.

Meyer: I like that you allow “we don’t know” as an explanation if we don’t know, because that is a rejection of dogmatic explanations that don’t fit the available evidence. But the arguments for design are based on what we do know, not what we don’t know – science gave us these arguments – and the progress of science has only strengthened them.


Well, I think it’s pretty clear who won, and who had the evidence! I like Michael Shermer, though, and I hope that he comes around to our point of view in time. At least he’s willing to debate, and he has a pretty moderate view compared to other Darwinian fundamentalists.

Other debates on Darwinism vs intelligent design

Michael Shermer debates Jonathan Wells at the pro-Darwinism Cato Institute (in 7 parts), MP3 audio is here.

Massimo Pigliucci debates Jonathan Wells for the pro-Darwinism PBS, downloadable video and audio.

John Lennox debates against Michael Shermer about the existence of God.

Further study

Here are posts on cosmological argument and the fine-tuning argument. I’ll respond to hopeful, but unwarranted, speculations about quantum mechanics and chaotic inflationary models, which I will be blogging about later. I’ll blog about molecular machines in a future post.

An essay on the origin of biological information by Meyer is here and a debate between two software engineers on it is here. I’ll also mention Meyer’s forthcoming book Signature in the Cell. Don’t forget about the upcoming debate between William Lane Craig and Francisco Ayala!

By the way, William Lane Craig has also debated Massimo Pigliucci on the topic “Does God Exist?”.

UPDATE: Did you see my post on why Darwinists don’t allow debates like this to happen in school classrooms?

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