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Archive for July, 2007

In my last post, I mentioned one of McLeroy’s bad arguments against evolution: “It is a tautology … The survivors survive.” I wanted to drop a link in there pointing to a good rebuttal, but when I did a google search, I didn’t immediately come up with any good, succinct rebuttals. Which is unfortunate. When evolutionists can’t immediately come up with a good way to explain the fallacy, it leaves creationists with the feeling that evolutionists have no good rebuttal. I’ve rebutted this argument numerous times. So, here it is:

According to the tautological argument, the fittest are those who survive, and the survivors are deemed ‘the fittest’. In other words, if we say, “survival of the fittest” and define “the fittest” = “survivors”, then “survival of the fittest” really means “survival of the survivors”.

Yet, no biologist would seriously believe that those that survive are always the fittest, or that the fittest always survive. It’s trivially obvious that ‘the fittest’ can and do die. “Survival of the fittest” is a merely simplified version of the observation that, in nature, the fittest tend to survive *more frequently* than the unfit. For example, let’s assume we have a species of animals and divide them into two groups: the fit and the unfit. Further, let’s say that all of the “fit” organisms are genetically identical, and all the “unfit” organisms are genetically identical (thus removing the argument that I did a bad job of picking which organisms go into which group). Let’s say that 50% of the ‘fit’ organisms die before reaching maturity, but 75% of the ‘unfit’ organisms die before reaching maturity. This case confirms the idea that the fit tend to survive more frequently than the unfit, and illustrates the point that “the fit” and “the survivors” are not identical groups — half of the ‘fit’ organisms died early, and 25% of the unfit organisms survived. Similarly, let’s assume we have two rabbits identical in every way except that one rabbit can run faster than the other. Since the ability to run is important for the survival of rabbits, we would say that the faster rabbit is more fit – and therefore, more likely to survive. However, if the faster rabbit happens to get an infection and dies, we do not simply say that the slower rabbit *must* have been more fit to survive because it survived when the faster rabbit didn’t. We maintain our original idea that the faster rabbit was more fit, but that *in general* the fittest organisms tend to survive more frequently than the unfit. The argument that “survival of the fittest is a tautology” claims that evolutionists believe that “the fittest” and “survivors” are identical groups (evolutionists don’t believe that), and that evolutionists have no way to judge fitness other than survival (which is false). From a definitional standpoint, “fitness” means possessing traits which aid in survival, which is correlated with (but not identical to) survival itself.

Further, if we seriously believed creationist’ arguments about the tautology, imagine how else we could apply it:
– People who run fast win foot-races. And, people who win foot-races run fast. It’s tautological, and therefore, meaningless to say that fast runners win foot-races. It’s the same as saying “people who win foot-races win foot-races”.
– People who are in the World Series of Poker are the best poker players. The best poker players are in the World Series of Poker. Therefore, people who are in the World Series of Poker are in the World Series of Poker. It’s tautological! See – we have no reason at all to think that people in the World Series of Poker are any better than any random group of people.

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[via The Bad Astronomer] Texas governor Rick Perry has appointed a Don McLeroy (creationist) to head the Texas State Board of Education. If you want to read some of Dr. McLeroy’s opinion’s on creationism, he has put his ideas on the web (put out in 2003) – showing that not only is he a creationist, but he’s willing to put himself out there and fight for it. It’s sometimes fun to shoot down creationist arguments, but I have to wonder how useful it is. I think for most creationists, the arguments for creationism aren’t foundational to their belief, but they are justifications for their beliefs. In other words, if you knock down someone’s foundation for belief, you might stand a chance of convincing them to change their viewpoint. On the other hand, if their arguments are merely justifications for creationist belief, then knocking them down won’t do much good to convince them – those arguments are just there to give them an air of objectivity. More likely than not, McLeroy believed in creationism long before these pro-creationist arguments ever crossed his mind, so knocking them down will just set him back to where he was earlier: believing in creationism without any arguments for it. (That’s not necessarily useless, and it’s important to show other people the vapidness of creationist ideas, but he’s not likely to change his ideas.)

Anyway, some laughable arguments made by McLeroy: “All fossils to date have been either ape or man.” (see Talk Origins: Comparison of all Skulls, which shows that creationists can’t agree among themselves which ancient skulls are human and ape), and “It is a tautology … The survivors survive.” (my rebuttal)

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[Via Pharyngula] Christian groups must be getting more and more aware of the rise of atheism and agnosticism. Now, they’re mounting television commercials to attack those beliefs.

New Commercial Refutes Atheism!

American Vision is launching a relentless and systematic response to militant atheism. We’ve produced a brilliant 2-minute commercial that we plan to broadcast globally via the Internet and Television. Atheists present themselves as enlightened and civil. But this new commercial will reveal the shocking truth to viewers. The French Revolution, Communism, Nazism, etc. have taught us that the atheistic worldview will inevitably lead to the persecution of Christians and the killing of anyone who gets in the way. What’s worse is that atheism is paving a wide road for Islam to advance in our nation and around the world.
(American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry)

We’ll they’ve convinced me that people who use words like “reason”, “rational”, and “real” are anything but. Thank goodness I can trust Martin Luther: “Reason is the whore of the Devil. It can only blaspheme and dishonour everything God has said or done”

Let’s do a quick check on the information presented in that video:

(1) Robespierre – A major figure of the French Revolution which involved the overthrow of the French royalty. The French Clergy has supported the monarchy, and, as a result, had gained the ire of the French people. Robespierre opposed the atheists of the day, and according to wikipedia:

Robespierre’s desire for revolutionary change was not limited to the political realm. He sought to instill a spiritual resurgence in the French nation based on Deist beliefs. Accordingly, on 7 May 1794 Robespierre had a decree passed by the Convention that established a Supreme Being. The notion of the Supreme Being was based on ideas that Jean-Jacques Rousseau had outlined in The Social Contract. In honor of the Supreme Being, a great celebration was held on 8 June. Robespierre, as President of the Convention, walked first in the festival procession and delivered a speech.

In this speech, Robespierre made it clear that his concept of a Supreme Being was far different from the traditional God of Christianity.

Robespierre intended to establish the Cult of the Supreme Being as the French state religion after the revolution. (Rotten.com has a good summary of the Cult of the Supreme Being.)

The fact of the matter is the Robespierre was not an atheist or agnostic, and putting him (a bloodthirsty deist supporting a national religion) in with modern day atheists (who write books) is nothing but propaganda.

(2) The pictures shown in the latter half of the commercial involved:

(a) Racism against Blacks in America What does this have to do with atheism and agnosticism? Nothing. These acts were carried out by Christians. The KKK has always maintained and supported the idea of the United States as a Christian nation. See also the Curse of Ham.

(b) Nazism. For a long time, Christians have attempted to tie atheism to the crimes of Nazism. Sometimes, I think Christians merely see the world as “Christian” and “Non-Christian/Not-Real-Christian” (lumping together Nazis, Muslims, Atheists, and everyone else into one monolithic group). The fact of the matter is that many Nazis were Christians (Hitler didn’t put “God with us” on the belt buckles of Nazis soldiers for nothing). Hitler referred to God and Jesus on numerous occasions:

“My feelings as a Christian point me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter.”

“Secular schools can never be tolerated because such a school has no religious instruction and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith … We need believing people.”

“We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit … We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theater, and in the press … we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess.”

In many ways, Hitler’s views about Jews mirrored Martin Luther’s – the very same Martin Luther who was a former Catholic turned Protestant reformer in 16th century Germany.

He argued that the Jews were no longer the chosen people, but were “the devil’s people.” They were “base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.” The synagogue was a “defiled bride, yes, an incorrigible whore and an evil slut …” and Jews were full of the “devil’s feces … which they wallow in like swine.” He advocated setting synagogues on fire, destroying Jewish prayerbooks, forbidding rabbis from preaching, seizing Jews’ property and money, smashing up their homes, and ensuring that these “poisonous envenomed worms” be forced into labor or expelled “for all time.” He also seemed to sanction their murder, writing “We are at fault in not slaying them.” (Link)

(c) Stalin appears briefly in one picture. He was an atheist. Communism is a bad economic system, and seems to favor dictatorial control. Some atheists consider communism to be a kind of state religion, and a great deal of harm has been caused in the pursuit of this type of utopian dream. I consider communism to be the cause of these evils, and the atheism favored by communism is somewhere between a historical accident (reflecting Marx views) or was a means to clear away people’s allegiance to anything other than the state. Christians like to argue that communist atrocities are what happens when you kick God out of the country, but I think it’s a lesson in what happens when you subjugate everything to one ideology – regardless of whether it’s name is “Communism”, “Christianity”, “Islam”, etc.

(3) Richard Dawkins thinks that “parents who teach their children about God should be arrested”. This goes back to a petition that Dawkins signed and then retracted his signature on. Dawkins stated:

I did sign the petition, but I hadn’t thought it through when I did so, and I now regret it. I have asked the organizer to remove my name.

I signed it having read only the main petition: “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16.” I regret to say that I did not notice the supporting statement with the heading, “More details from petition creator”: “In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians.” If I had read that, I certainly would not have signed the petition, because, as explained in The God Delusion, I am in favour of teaching the Bible as literature, and I am in favour of teaching comparative religion.
(Link)

Specifically, Dawkins reacted to the word “indoctrinate” in the heading of the petition, and also believed it was wrong to refer to children as “Muslim”, “Christian”, or some other religion if they were under 16, since they didn’t really have any opinions of their own – they are merely parroting the religion taught to them.

I can assure you that atheists do not want to make teaching religion illegal. It’s much better that people come to atheism and agnosticism through their own experience. Having governments encourage or coerce people into any belief is the wrong way to go about it – and atheists agree.

(4) “If God does not exist, then everything is permitted” This is a quote attributed to Dostoevsky (although it’s actually a paraphrase of an idea expressed by one of the characters of Dostoevsky’s book The Brothers Karamazov). Dostoevsky was a Christian, and that makes the phrase not the statement about atheism from an atheist, but rather a statement about atheism by one of it’s opponents and detractors. It is describes the fear that religious people have of atheism and atheists – that “godless” does not merely describe a lack of belief in god, but also a moral depravity.

While I’ve talked about the source of my morality in earlier posts, most atheists/agnostics believe that conscious beings have certain inalienable rights simply based on the fact that they are conscious beings – we have no inherent superiority or inferiority to anyone else, and we feel no need to derive these rights by divine fiat. It makes us all equals, and from that equality comes morality – i.e. the legitimate ways of interacting with each other.

Additionally, when we look at the world, we find that atheistic countries (like Scandinavian countries) have lower crime rates than the US. If atheists truly believed “If God does not exist, then everything is permitted”, then we should see much higher crime rates. Polls in the US have also shown that religious people are more likely than atheists to support the death penalty and torture. If atheists believed that “everything is permitted”, then the approval rates for torture should be much higher among atheists.

Abrahamic religions are essentially a big “might makes right” system of morality where God is defined as the ultimate “might” and is described as good – therefore, everyone needs to do good because that’s what the most powerful guy in the universe says. (And when there are cases of Old Testament atrocities – Christians cannot object to them because God approved them.)

(5) “atheism is paving a wide road for Islam to advance in our nation and around the world” This was not in the commercial, but was in the summary of the commercial. It’s an odd thing to say that rejecting the idea of God existence can lead people to Islam. The only thing I can say about this is that some people will reach a point in their life when they will search for meaning and purpose in their lives through cults and religions. It’s an unfortunate fact of society that people will look to religion’s empty promises for meaning and purpose. Atheism does not offer meaning and purpose (you have to find that on your own), and so people will probably always look to religious leaders offering up big, empty claims and easy pathways to life’s meaning.

In Christian societies, those people will tend to look to Christianity for those answers. In places where religion has been cleared away by atheism, a person might look in more diverse places for that “meaning and purpose” – they might look at various cults (e.g. Scientology, Aum Shinrikyo, Falun Gong) and major religions (Christianity, Islam, etc). So, I think there may be a grain of truth in the statement that atheism can lead to a diversification of religious views – even if the actual number of religious people is shrinking. I also think that atheists and agnostics should make sure they are addressing the failure of Islam as a religion. (We tend to point out the problems with Christianity first because most atheists are in Western, Christian countries, and we know a great deal about Christianity from personal experience. Foreign religions, on the other hand, are a little harder for us to criticize simply because we are less familiar with them.) I dislike Islam more than the other major religions – primarily because of the dictatorial aspects of Islam (apostates are to be killed, unbelievers are considered inferior Kafir, there are many verses in the Koran advocating violence, Islam has failed to create modern scientific societies, it advocates a marriage of government and religion, many fundamentalist Muslims consider democracy to be against the teachings of the Koran, etc). Islam would brings all the problems and backwards ideas of 7th century Saudi Arabia and attempts to entrench them in modern society. If atheists and agnostics can make any religion falter, I think we should work towards making Islam the first one eliminated.

.

The unfortunate thing is that Christians can put out this kind of disinformation about atheism and agnosticism, we’ll never be able to fully blunt the propaganda effects because they are much more numerous and have more money. Unfortunately, in the minds of many people, their disinformation will become fact.

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US voter shifts

I thought this was an interesting graph from the NYTimes. (Link to the article.)
nytimesyouth_political_att_3.jpg

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A great video of College Republicans at that College Republican National Convention Tour speaking out in favor of the war in Iraq, but declining to actually serve – offering “I’ve thought about it” (…and?), “I have health problems”, “I’m more career oriented”, etc. I couldn’t help laughing at the kid explaining that he’s though he’s thought about being with guys, he had prayed about it, and he definitely knows he’s not gay. (Uh huh. We’ll check back in a few years, and here’s a tip: don’t get married.)

The whole “we fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here” is such ridiculous logic, and it’s really the only argument they even tried to make.

It’s always odd to see these college students walking around in their suits – as if it will buy them respectability. They are, no doubt, looking for jobs in business, hoping to become wealthy CEOs, listening to speakers tell them that they are “on a battlefield on your own campuses” (fortunately for them, no one is shooting at them on those battlefields). Meanwhile, they talk about how important it is for other people to do the gritty work of shooting, getting shot at, and avoiding IEDs. But, hey, these college republicans are totally equal members in this war on terror. Maybe they’ll do a little bit of multitasking and help OJ search the golf courses for the real killer.

Interesting minutia: one of the bumper stickers on the table of Republican bumper stickers is “Evolution is Science Fiction”. I definitely like the bumper sticker at the end, though.

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When I was younger and attending Christian school, we would sometimes read a kids newspaper called, “It’s God’s World” (now called God’s World News – hmm, I wonder if it has anything in common with the Weekly World News). It’s essentially a newsy kid’s booklet teaching kids to read while teaching Christian conservative values.

I happened to look it up as part of another post I was writing, and had to write a whole new entry about it. What happened was that I was looking at an example copy of “God’s World News” for 4th and 5th graders (that’s ages 10, 11, and 12 for you foreigners), and had to laugh at the anti-French bias in the story. Obviously, they’re teaching Republican values, too. Here’s the text:

French Tantrums
(Are Protesting Students Hurting Their Own Future?)

After two months of rebellion in the streets, they finally did it. Disruptive labor unions and angry student mobs forced French President Jacques Chirac to give in.
He has thrown out part of a new labor law. That law gave employers the right to fire firsttime employees under 26 years old within their first two years of work.
The unemployment rate among young people in France
is extremely high—especially in immigrant communities. Most
employers simply don’t hire them for fear of getting stuck with incompetent workers. The new jobs law was intended to
remove that fear and help young people get jobs.
Instead of being grateful, students across France hit the streets, sometimes up to a million at a time. Protestors blockaded and shut down dozens of universities. They ripped up street signs and park benches, hurled chunks of pavement at police, and smashed store and car windows.
Roving gangs even beat up innocent bystanders.
The frequent protests were supported and encouraged by labor unions. They called strikes to tie up train and air travel and disrupt public services such as garbage collection.

Editorial on the next page:

France has not been very popular among Americans recently. France refused to back the U.S. war on terror in Iraq. Many Americans see that as a betrayal. They remember the great sacrifice made by U.S. soldiers to rescue France from the Germans in World War II.
But disappointment with France runs deeper than that.
France was long known as a Catholic nation. But today, the number of professing Christians in France is tiny. There is little biblical foundation to support French society and government.
So trouble is to be expected.

Behind the Scenes
The new labor law would have helped young people get jobs. You may wonder why they opposed it.
Most American news reporters have not explained why. Maybe they don’t really want you to know the failure of French socialism.
You see, French law makes it nearly impossible to fire anyone.
French law guarantees any employee a job for life—even if he does a bad job.
So employers often refuse to hire young people with no experience. They don’t want to get stuck with employees who might prove unfit.
No wonder the unemployment rate among French young people is so high.

At the Root
The new labor law would have given millions of unemployed young people the opportunity to be hired. But instead of being thankful, they threw tantrums.
French youths have been taught to believe they have a right to a job for life—that France owes them a living. They want the government to guarantee them a paycheck. And they’ll riot in the streets to protect that “right”—even if they end up with no jobs.
They seem more interested in what others can do for them than what they can do for others.

Labor Laws
The Bible says God holds people accountable. French labor laws make it difficult to hold people accountable.
The Bible says people who refuse to work should not eat. Those who do work are commanded to do it with all their heart. That means responsibility — not a lifetime job no matter what.
The Bible commands employers to pay fair wages. It also gives them freedom to fire unworthy workers. Remember the parable about the talents? One employee diddled around instead of doing his job. Jesus described him as “wicked” and “lazy.”
The Bible commands workers to be obedient. To force President
Chirac to reverse the new law, French labor unions called nationwide strikes. They disobeyed their employers and purposely hurt millions of people — just to get their own way.

Your Job
Nations with irresponsible governments and irresponsible people are weak nations. French socialism is hurting French business and driving the nation dangerously into debt. France is in trouble. Widespread lawlessness and foolish labor laws are just two of many symptoms.
France and its people have slipped far from biblical decision-
making.
The United States shows some of those same signs. You
are learning how to live as followers of Christ. Be ready to make a difference in your community and your nation—to the glory of God.

Then they provide some thought-provoking questions to the youngsters:

Who pays for “free” government services?
Do you have a right to receive good grades?

Isn’t it funny how Christianity in America has become so tied up in pushing pro-capitalist, anti-socialist, anti-union, anti-French ideas? While I don’t really agree with French labor laws, reading phrases saying that France is experiencing “[w]idespread lawlessness” make me laugh a little bit. I mean, you’d never guess from this article, but (“godless”) France’s homicide rate is 40% of the (“Christian”) US rate (yes, you read that right – France has less than half as many murders per capita as the US). But, it’s nice to see a good Christian kids magazine teaching good, Christian, anti-French, anti-socialist ideas.

* BTW, whenever I see Christians bashing socialism or communism, I just can’t help but be reminded of Acts 2 – which talks about the structure of the early church and it borders very much on communism:

And all that believed were together, and [shared] all things common;
And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all [men], as every man had need. (Acts 2:44-45)

Good God, that sounds just like Marx: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”!

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Lots of Right-wing Christians like to claim that the Ten Commandments are the basis for the US government, saying things like:

The Ten Commandments have been the foundation upon which much of America’s legal system has been built. To deny this fact, one would have to rewrite American history.

When our nation forsakes the moral basis provided by the Ten Commandments, all of our freedoms are in jeopardy. When the ACLU and its allies file their seemingly endless and costly lawsuits to remove the Ten Commandments – and other public vestiges of faith – they are systematically stripping our nation of its legal heritage and history. Once you remove the moral basis for our laws, the respect for all law weakens. This potentially results in social anarchy, and makes America a far more dangerous place to live. And once the moral basis for laws is removed, we increasingly move toward a society where “anything goes” at any time. (Link)

(Ah, so many things to disagree with in that quote, but I’ll skip past them.) They hope to push more and more religion into government, and by promoting this revisionist history, they hope to make it appear that a more Christian-based government is not a departure from the original concept of America, but rather, a return or restoration to America’s Christian founding. The whole idea of the Ten Commandments as the basis for the US laws is absurd. Craptaculus does a great take-down of that idea:

The Ten Commandments: The Basis of America’s Laws.

It seems like every other day I hear another story about the ACLU suing some school district or county court for displaying the Ten Commandments. Don’t they know our laws and our entire system of justice are based on the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments?

So, just to prove this to ourselves, let’s examine each Commandment’s influence on our laws in detail. Using my trusty Bible:

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Many of our laws make it illegal to worship non-Christian or non-Jewish gods, and rightly so. The First Ammendment to the United States Constitution even says something similar I’m told. So this one checks out.

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
Since day one in American history it has been a crime to cast a golden calf or other idols. Check.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
Swearing is a crime, and always has been. Bingo.

4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
It’s illegal in many places to sell alcohol or certian other products on Sunday, and going to church is a legal requirement. Another point.

5. Honour thy father and thy mother.
If you forget a Mother’s Day card, you go to jail. It’s been that way for a long time. Tick!

6. Thou shalt not kill.
Killing is always illegal. Spot on.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Adulterers are routinely put in prison. Score!

8. Thou shalt not steal.
Taking something that is not yours is always a crime. Ba da bing!

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Lying is a crime, always. Cha-ching.

10. Thou shalt not covet.
If you desire your neighbor’s wife or car, you can be fined up to and including $60,000. Exactamundo!

Final score:
Ten Commandments: 10
ACLU: 0

I hope the ACLU will now acknowledge it is wrong to try to remove the Ten Commandments from our schools and our courtrooms.

Unless, of course, they don’t want to be judged by its laws?

That’s what it all boils down to, isn’t it? They think that by removing the Ten Commandments from a courtroom, they can make people forget that adultery is a crime and adulterers should be locked up. They want people to not remember that heathens should be put in jail. They don’t want to have to go to church or be arrested!

See what happens when we forget the source of our laws? We start forgetting them. We start not arresting people for worshipping lesser gods. We start letting people get away with killing other people when they are acting in self defense. We let coveters get off without punishment. Do you want that? Do you want your kids to grow up in that kind of world?

I know I don’t, and if you don’t either, I urge you to call or write your congressmen and ask them to keep throwing killers, liars, and heathens in prison. Tell them to keep the Ten Commandments! Remember, this is for our children, our country, and most of all, our God!

But, more than that, I want to talk about one specific commandment: the fourth commandment “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”. Now, keeping in mind that most Americans believe that everyone should follow the Ten Commandments, we have to ask: “Why do so many businesses, including Christian bookstores and other Christian businesses, have their employees work on Sunday?” In fact, it’s difficult to find any businesses that are closed on Sunday. Christian employers and employees really don’t even give it a second thought. If they thought about it, they would probably downplay the importance of the fourth commandment to justify their repeated breaking of this commandment. Now, the ten commandments are written in Exodus 20. Eleven chapters later, in Exodus 31, God tells Moses what should be done with people who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14-15):

Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it [is] holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth [any] work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
Six days may work be done; but in the seventh [is] the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth [any] work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.

If God recommends death for breaking the Sabbath, then He must be very serious about it. This is the exact same punishment that God recommends for homosexuals (Leviticus 20:13):

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood [shall be] upon them.

Yet, Christians cite the death-penalty for homosexuals as proof that God disapproves of it, yet, ignore “keeping the Sabbath” despite the fact that the same punishment is recommended for breaking the Sabbath. Even further, homosexuality isn’t even mentioned in the Ten Commandments, but ‘keeping the Sabbath’ was. I’ll be looking forward to seeing Christian outreach programs equivalent to Exodus International (a Christian “ministry” to turn gay people straight) that help teach Christians to respect the Sabbath.

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