Religious morality does not change

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Some apologists claim that the moral system created by God is unchanging.

"Although societies and religions may change, the Word of God stands forever. This tells us that true morality is unchanging, because the Word of God is unchanging. Truth, according the Word of God, is the measure.[1]"
"If God is absolute and unchanging, why would he change various laws regarding such things as not eating pork (Deut. 14:3,8 Bible-icon.png) and not wearing clothes made with two kinds of material (Deut. 22:11 Bible-icon.png)? [...] The answer is simple. Not eating pork and not wearing clothes woven of two kinds of material are not moral issues. Instead, they are commands aimed at ancient Israel as examples of cultural and spiritual separation from the unbelieving world. Lying, stealing, homosexuality, bestiality, etc., are issues of morality that deal with all people, everywhere.[2]"
"Morality does not change with times. It remains constant - God's laws cannot be messed with and He is very clear on how we are to live.[3]"
"God's laws are unchanging and unchangeable. They can never be repealed, never abrogated.[4]"

However, this claim is not consistent with morality as taught and practiced by members of religious institutions.

Contents

Related arguments

God's morality is absolute according to scripture

"Share the following biblical principles that display how God’s moral standard is objective and absolute. When he faces up to God, he will have no argument. Who can contend with the Almighty (Job 40:2 Bible-icon.png)?[5]"

This argument from scripture is not persuasive, as the reliability of the Bible has not been demonstrated. Since the Bible is not historically accurate, would should not blindly trust it on morality either.

We understand the bible better

"Take the Reformation. It's easy to believe that the average Christian had a better understanding of the Bible, on the biblical record on grace, 100 years after the Reformation than 100 years before.[6]"

Few, if any, changes in humans' moral understanding can be attributed to a better understanding of the Bible. So called advances in theology are not accompanied by changes in moral understanding. Scriptures are reinterpreted to catch up with changing cultural norms, rather than the other way around.

"Religious morality appears to change under only two conditions: either secular morality moves ahead of religious morality, causing it to change (e.g., treatment of women and gays or, in this case, condom use and birth control), or scientific advances show that the scriptural basis of religious morality is simply wrong (e.g., there’s no Adam and Eve and hence no Original Sin).[7]"

Laws change but the values behind them do not change

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On possible response is to say laws or commands can be set by God in particular circumstances but do not apply universally. However, the values behind the laws are universal. This supposedly allows different sets of laws or covenants to apply at different times or to different people. [8] This effectively abandons moral absolutism, which is commonly accepted by theists.

It is also difficult to know or agree on what the values behind the moral laws actually are. How does the apologist know that the values are consistent?

Counter arguments

Religious morality changes over time

Most mainstream religions have clearly changed their position on slavery which was permitted in the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. This shows that religious morality is not unchanging.

"If morality is an objective unchanging fact then it cannot change with time. The morality of yesterday is supposed to be the same as today, and should be the same as tomorrow. If morality does change with time then morality is not an objective unchanging fact. However, we do see morality change with time. It evolves within each different culture. If anything is a fact, then what people once considered to be a moral fact is no longer considered a moral fact, leading us to think people in the future will consider moral facts to be different than they are today.[9]"

Christian attitudes to sexuality have also evolved significantly over time. Environmentalism has recently become a topic of concern for many Christians. Most religions have traditionally had little concern for democracy, freedom of speech, racial equality, weapon ownership rights, gender equality and civil liberties. They are now generally accepted as moral behavior.

Most Christians make no attempt to follow the law about keeping the Sabbath (one of the Ten Commandments) because the Sabbath is not on Sunday, and the do not limit their activities as mandated in the Old Testament.

Abrogation

Main Article: A perfect book would not require abrogation

"If God was absolutely moral, because morality was absolute, and if the nature of “right” and “wrong” surpassed space, time, and existence, and if it was as much a fundamental property of reality as math, then why were some things a sin in the Old Testament but not a sin in the New Testament?"

— Rachael Slick, daughter of Matt Slick[10]

The Bible

The Bible teaches an "eye for an eye" morality Exodus 21:24 Bible-icon.png but Jesus abrogates that in Luke 6:29 Bible-icon.png. He also abrogates divorce Matthew 19:3-8 Bible-icon.png, keeping the Sabbath Matthew 12:1-8 Bible-icon.png, the taking of oaths Matthew 5:33-37 Bible-icon.png and dietary laws Mark 7:14-23 Bible-icon.png. The moral system he describes contrasts with the Old Testament on many points (although he did claim he provided continuity with earlier scripture).

The Qur'an

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For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

Islam has the concept of abrogation (Naskh) in which verses in the Qur'an revealed later replace contradictory verses that at an earlier time. This accounts for about an eleventh of the entire text! [11] Since the entire Quran is considered to be authored by Allah, it apparently shows him changing his mind on moral questions.

Alcohol was permitted in early Islam Surah 2:219 Bible-icon.png, Surah 4:43 Bible-icon.png [12] ([11], [12], [13], [14]) and Muhammad was recorded to have consumed Nabidh ([15] although the alcohol content is unclear). The newer sections of the Quran abrogate this to make it forbidden. Surah 5:90 Bible-icon.png [16]

The "sword verse" Surah 9:5 Bible-icon.png is thought by some Muslims to abrogate many of the peaceful sections of the Qur'an. Other Muslims disagree.

Surah 4:11-12 Bible-icon.png regarding inheritance abrogates Surah 2:180 Bible-icon.png and Surah 2:240 Bible-icon.png.

Muslims recognize the Bible as scripture but consider it to be abrogated by the Qur'an.

Incomplete

A fixed moral system has difficulty being applied to new situations. It is therefore essentially incomplete.

References

  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]
  4. Lyman S Abbot, God's Unchanging Law October 19, 1935 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel
  5. [4]
  6. [5]
  7. [6]
  8. [7]
  9. [8]
  10. [9]
  11. John Burton (1990), Islamic Theories of Abrogation, pp. 184-187, Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 0-7486-0108-2
  12. [10]

See also

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