The other day, an atheist on YouTube trotted out the Richard Dawkins “cherry picking” argument as if reading a book by an atheist made him some kind of a Biblical scholar. Though I have already dealt with this argument in another post, I thought I would focus on a more primary difficulty with the argument in this post.
The basic “cherry picking” argument is that it is possible to go through the Bible and find some “bad teachings” that would lead one to perform immoral behavior. Because it is necessary to selectively choose (“cherry pick”) certain teachings in order to be a good person, the Bible is not a reliable source of morality. In the discussion mentioned above, for example, the atheist argued that reading the Bible could lead a Christian to stone a homosexual and that, for this reason, the Bible was an immoral book.
First of all, I have to note that this is really an argument against Christian belief and not an argument against Christian truth. What is the difference? After Darwin made it intellectually unfashionable to believe in divine design, Christians tried to preserve Christian influence in Western societies using the argument from morality. They argued that without Christianity there was no sound basis for morals and that, therefore, people who wanted to live in a moral society should “believe” in Christianity for that reason. You could caricature this argument as a priest saying, “Sure Christianity is not really true, but we should continue to be Christians because without Christianity we have no basis for our moral understanding.” Because this argument has been very effective among certain elements of society, it has been attacked by Sam Harris and others as I discussed in another post. Because I argue for Christian truth and believe that the evidence from design is extremely powerful, however, I don’t really care about the “cherry picking” argument one way or the other. The only reason I take the time out to discuss it is because it is a powerful demonstration of the ignorance with which atheists approach Christian beliefs.
According to the Christian Bible, Jesus Christ isn’t just one authority among many. According to the Christian Bible, Jesus Christ is the living and incarnate “Logos”of God. He is the author and the finisher of our faith. He is the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to God the Father but by him. For a Christian, therefore, Jesus is the ultimate authority and his words serve as the Rosetta Stone by which we interpret the entire Bible. Is it possible for a Bible reader to come away from the teachings of Christ thinking that it is okay to stone a homosexual?
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-3)
This is one of the most well-known teachings of Jesus and it seems to be pretty clear. But is there anything specifically about stoning?
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.Now what do you say?”
. . .
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)
So we are to stone someone only if we are without sin. Can we be without sin?
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
Paul even clarifies that when a Christian judges someone else it is only to be a fellow believer:
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (1 Corinthians 5:12)
As anyone who has read the New Testament will know, these verses are just a few of the verses that tell us to live peaceful lives in submission to government authority. Even the argument that Christians should advocate for laws punishing violations of the law of Moses falls apart when you carefully consider the New Testament narrative. It was during the Jerusalem conference of the church when the “Apostles and elders met to consider the question” (Acts 15-6) of whether or not believers should be forced to be circumcised and follow the law of Moses. At this conference, Peter said the following with regards to believers in Jesus Christ:
Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? (Acts 15:10)
As a student of the Bible for more than twenty years, it is highly amusing when those who have not read the New Testament attempt to critique it. I have even read arguments where know nothing atheists say that Jesus never claimed to be God! Evidently, these atheists are unaware that the central event in all of the gospels was a blasphemy trial where Jesus was executed because of the claims that he made concerning himself. Modern atheists may not understand what Jesus was teaching, but the Sanhedrin certainly did. Arguments like the “Jesus never claimed to be God” argument or like the Dawkins “cherry picking” argument betray a fundamental ignorance of the New Testament that would be comical if it was not so sad. All one can do is pray for these people as Jesus did.
Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)