Apologetics: May 2008 Archives

I haven't seen Expelled, and I probably won't, but I've read some reviews of it across the spectrum of thought about design arguments and the particular species of them that people are calling Intelligent Design. It's been a nice occasion for everyone to say pretty much the same old things, with virtually all opponents of ID misrepresenting it pretty drastically amidst a few legitimate complaints and many supporters overstating their case, confusing some of the same basic distinctions ID opponents regularly confuse, and setting up science against religion rather than what the argument itself is supposed to suggest, which is that science and religion are in fact compatible.

So this film has drawn out much of the same nonsense that usually gets thrown around. Yet occasionally some real gem pops up that strikes me as insightful and helpful, and this time around I see that in Mollie Hemingway's wonderful critique of the media coverage surrounding this film. Several interesting points stand out:

1. She notices that the mainstream media have largely ignored this. That seems right from what I've seen. She only cites two examples, one that she doesn't think got the film quite right and the other that even I can see gets it completely wrong.
2. She compares it in style and tone to the strident, ideologically-colored, often fact-challenged documentaries of Al Gore and Michael Moore. Since I've seen none of the above, I can't comment, but it's an interesting suggestion.
3. She points out that Moore and Gore have garnered far more mainstream media coverage, not just of their documentaries, but of the issues their documentaries are about.
4. She also takes note of opinion media's much more substantial treatment of the film, and I think that's even much more obviously true when you take into account blogs (which she doesn't mention).

She doesn't really draw the conclusion that's just begging to be drawn and that I think she's suggesting. Whether a strident, ideological, fact-questioned documentary garners media attention and brings about a significant discussion of a certain issue seems to depend on what it's about or what ideology is behind it. It's unclear which it is in this case, which may be why she doesn't draw the conclusion explicitly. Is it because it's an ideology that's associated with conservatism and in particular religious conservatism? Or is it because of the issue rather than the viewpoint? Would a documentary by Michael Moore on the idiocy of intelligent design have the same no-impact result as this film has had in the major media? Would a conservative documentary starring Ben Stein but on health care or the Iraq war have the same attention Moore got with his films on those subjects?

My suspicion is that the answer is no in both cases, which if true means it's the ideology and not the topic that has made the difference. That doesn't demonstrate the point the documentary aims to make (which is about academic freedom), but it does demonstrate a similar point about which views are considered kosher by the establishment media.

I've heard it said that the Levitical requirement for priests to marry virgins is a sign of an assumption that virgins are more pure, which implies that sex is in itself impure. Here is the relevant passage:

And he shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, or a prostitute, these he shall not marry. But he shall take as his wife a virgin of his own people, that he may not profane his offspring among his people, for I am the Lord who sanctifies him." (Leviticus 21:13-15, ESV)

There are several things wrong with this argument. One is that the priest is supposed to be pure after marriage too, and if sex is impure then how is he going to remain pure if he has sex with his wife? Another is that there's a reason give, one that doesn't have to do with the purity of the bride but with the offspring. I suppose it's possible to take that as assuming the offspring will be polluted because the mother is polluted, but I don't think that's what's going on here. One of the priestly requirements during Ezekiel's vision of a renewed temple in the last chapters of his prophecy sheds some light on this issue:

They shall not marry a widow or a divorced woman, but only virgins of the offspring of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest. (Ezekiel 44:22, ESV)

If the issue were some animus against people who had had sex, then why would a widow of a priest be ok? Presumably if pollution from sex itself transferred pollution to any offspring, then wouldn't the widow of a priest be just as problematic as the widow of anyone else? This suggests some other reason why priests needed to marry virgins in Leviticus, a reason that must be consistent with marrying widows of priests in Ezekiel. It's unlikely that there's different reasoning involved in the two cases, even if you don't accept divine inspiration behind the two passages.

A much more likely explanation is that the issue with offspring is that virgins raise no problem for offspring having been fathered by someone else prior to the marriage. If a priest marries a virgin, any child she gives birth to will be of the priestly line. If he marries someone who is not a virgin, there is always the possibility that any offspring might have been fathered by someone who is not a priest. At least that's true if her previous sexual activity was with someone who was not a priest. If she was married to a priest, her offspring would still be assumed to be of priestly descent. So this interpretation makes sense of the second allowable condition in Ezekiel, in keeping with the spirit of the Leviticus passage.

Those who begin with the assumption that the Bible is anti-sex like to come up with these implausible claims, and someone who doesn't think carefully about the biblical passages in context can easily come away with the conclusion that these charges have some foundation. Biblical passages certainly do assume a sexual morality that differs from popular views today, but it doesn't follow that the assumptions behind that sexual ethic are anti-sex. Even ignoring the celebration of sex in the Song of Songs and Paul's insistence in I Corinthians 7 that sex should be a normal and regular part of marriage, you still can't easily get the conclusion that sex itself is impure unless you ignore much of the ancient context and often even the literary context of biblical statements.

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