A Excerpt from "Christianity is Not Great" On Prosecuting Accused Witches

What grates on me a bit (sorry) are people who comment here who haven't read my books. I have a good guess they haven't because commenters don't usually refer to them when they would greatly contribute to the discussion. But what grates on me much more are believers who don't think very deeply, who act as know-it-all's about everything regardless of the discipline with a quick Google search to any face-saving way to avoid the truth, written by others who don't think very deeply, who act like know it all's looking for any face-saving way to avoid the truth. Take Don Camp, PLEASE! He's here again (has he ever left?). This time he's an expert on the Salem Witch Trials:
God has placed people in the position of his agents for justice n the world. We have the God-mandated responsibility to stop injustice. That is you me and everyone else.

And that is what happened.

There were twenty witches tried and executed in Salem in 1692-1693. Higher courts finally made those trails illegal. The system that God had established worked.
Camp never considers what might result had the witch trials been divinely averted. He only looks to the potential good that came from them, if one can say that. Listen up, eventually anyone can find something good in any event, no matter how horrendous. The problem is the very sufferings of a tragedy and what might have happened if they had never happened. Looking for the any good result due to rosy god-glasses is not treating events dispassionately with objectivity ('tis typical of believers who seek understanding of their faith, per Anselm). Eventually someone who looses an arm might find something good that came of it, but the real question is whether an amputee's life would have been better had the arm never been severed in the first place, and my bet is every amputee would rather have the arm back.

Don again:
The problem in Salem and elsewhere was not the command but the question who is a witch. As it turned out the people of Salem were wrong about what a witch was. They were wrong about how to detect a witch. They were wrong about how God would have us deal with witches in the era of Jesus and the gospel.
Here's the excerpt from my chapter on the witch hunts. I think it helps the discussion a bit:
The Rules of Evidence in The Bible

The biggest legal factor of all was the use of torture. The use of torture to extract confessions was highly successful, to say the least. It created the early-modern European witch hunts in countries that allowed it (for the most part England did not). More than anything else, it produced the so-called witch-crazed hysteria, or pandemonium (literally “all demons”), which spread over large swaths of Europe roughly between 1450 to 1750. However, if authorities had adopted better rules of evidence for criminal proceedings, they wouldn’t have heard so many confessions under torture, which provided a growing number of accomplices who subsequently also confessed to witchcraft under torture, implicating still others. In turn, the fears of the ruling elite would never have reached the extent they did, so they would not have been so alarmed by the threat of a social upheaval in the first place.

The rules of evidence we find in the Bible to convict people of crimes were of no help in the witch trials. Human testimony of two or three eyewitnesses was the standard (Deuteronomy 17:6). One eyewitness was not enough (Deuteronomy 19:15). But this rule could be circumvented by recruiting lying witnesses (1 Kings 21:8–10; Mark 14:56–59). If the judge determined that a supposed eyewitness was falsely accusing someone, then that person would suffer the same penalty intended for the accused (Deuteronomy 19:16–17). If there are no eyewitnesses to a crime, then the accused would be acquitted upon taking an oath of innocence (Exodus 22:10–11).

If judges could not determine whether the accused is guilty, they were to inquire with the priests, who presumably could determine God’s verdict (Deuteronomy 17:8–13) by casting lots using the Urim and Thummin. In one case a priest used them to determine whose fault it was that the plunder of the Philistines wasn’t greater after a battle. If Saul or his son Jonathan were at fault then God would respond with the Urim, but if the men of Israel were at fault, God would respond with the Thummin. We read: “Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared. Saul said, ‘Cast the lot between me and Jonathan my son.’ And Jonathan was taken.” (1 Samuel 14:36–46). In the mythical tale of Jonah, when a storm arose that threatened to kill everyone in the boat that Jonah boarded to escape God’s mission to Nineveh, the seafarers cast lots to determine the guilty party. This was a terrible, superstitious way to determine guilt.

The case of Achan in the Book of Joshua is instructive here. The Israelites failed to conquer the city of Ai. God reportedly told Joshua that their failure was because someone had stolen items from Jericho, a city we’re told they had defeated earlier. So to determine the guilty party, Joshua had every tribe come before him one after another. Of them the tribe of Judah was chosen, presumably by lot, the same method used to allocate territories between the tribes when settling in their supposed “Promised Land.” Then the clan of Judah came forward, and the Zerahites were chosen, out of which the family of Zimri was chosen. Then each man was presented to Joshua from the family of Zimri, and Achan was chosen, whereupon he confessed and was stoned to death. One can only wonder about the odds of this, since it wouldn’t surprise me to learn many of them had stolen things in the frenzy of the plunder.

If a husband suspected his wife of getting pregnant by another man then he could submit her to a trial by ordeal, by drinking water mixed with the dirt of the tabernacle floor that almost certainly had nasty blood pathogens from animal sacrifices in it. If she was guilty she would suffer severe abdominal pains and have a miscarriage. If she survived she was innocent (Numbers 5:11–31). This is horrible. It’s not that evidence wasn’t sought though. If a husband believed his wife was not a virgin when he married her, she would be required to produce the bed sheet containing the dried blood from her wedding night before the elders at the gate. However, how could she prove this blood was from her wedding night, and what if she lost the bed sheet? If she could not produce it, for whatever reason, she would be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:13–21).

King Solomon was known for his wisdom in deciding a case between two harlots who both claimed a particular child was theirs. Solomon settled the matter by ordering that the child be cut in two, with each woman receiving half of the child, then he listened to the women’s pleas to determine the real mother (1 Kings 3:16–28). However, it was possible that neither woman was the child’s mother. And the real mother might have wanted the child killed rather than have it raised by such a conniving thief. Or, a smarter baby-stealing thief might simply have said the same thing the real mother did, that Solomon should give the child to the other woman, in order to save the child from being killed. What would Solomon do then? We really don’t know if the real mother got her child back.

In the trial of Jesus, as told in the Gospel of Mark, he is arrested based on one accuser, Judas. The Sanhedrin was looking for evidence in the form of eyewitnesses, but the eyewitnesses contradicted each other. When they thought they heard a confession from Jesus himself, they sent him away to Pilate (Mark 14:43–64). When Jesus was brought before Pilate, the governor was seeking a confession from Jesus, too, or at least a denial of his accuser’s testimony (Mark 1–15). The trials in the other gospels are of the same kind, with the addition in the Gospel of Matthew of the evidence of Pilate’s wife, who had a dream indicating Jesus was innocent (Matthew 27:19).

None of these biblical rules of evidence are reasonable ones, except the desire for two or three noncontradicting eyewitnesses, if possible, and the confession of the guilty party (in Achan’s case, and in King David’s case, see 2 Samuel 12:13). But most crimes are done in secret without any eyewitnesses, and guilty people are not so quick to confess if they know the punishment will be brutal.

If there were a God, he could have averted the witch hunts by simply providing better rules of evidence. Even with just a minimal amount of foresight, any omniscient, perfectly good God worthy of the name would have granted people certain reasonable civil rights. Such a God would have foreseen the need to grant people the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. He would have granted people the right to be free from unreasonable search and the seizure. He would have forbidden police entrapment. He would have stipulated the corpus delicti principle, whereby a crime must first be shown to have taken place before someone can be convicted of doing it. Just because a cow died unexpectedly or a child got deathly ill does not automatically mean a crime was committed. Such a principle would have disqualified many forced witch confessions, since they admitted to crimes that did not happen or were even impossible for them to have done. An omniscient, perfectly good God would have provided for the use of advocates who could argue on behalf of the accused, trials by a jury of the accused’s peers, and a standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt before an accused person could be convicted of a crime. Most emphatically, such a God would have forbidden accused people from being forced to incriminate themselves or face punishment if they refused to do so. He would have forbidden trials by ordeal. And he certainly would have foreseen the need to condemn torture as a means of extracting a confession. But none of these things are found in the Bible. No legal guidance on these matters can be found from a supposedly omniscient, perfectly good God.

When dealing with this lack of sound divine legal guidance, something I call the problem of divine miscommunication, Christian defense lawyers, called apologists, seek only to get their divine client acquitted no matter what the intellectual or moral cost. Rather than face this evidence that shows their God to be nothing more than the product of ancient people, who didn’t have a clue about legal matters, these apologists use convoluted legalese to obfuscate and confuse the jury.

Typically they’ll say we couldn’t possibly know what an omniscient God is thinking, so we have no right to judge him and his ways. However, even if this is the case, it changes nothing. Tens of thousands of people, mostly women, suffered intensely and were killed needlessly because this God didn’t do anything to help them.

Christians will further object that we don’t know if God did anything to help them, to which the obvious answer is that this is my point. If he did something to help them there isn’t any evidence that he did. Such an objection is based on faith not evidence, the very thing that produced the witch hunts in the first place. His failure to give sound legal guidance shows an utter lack of care for the very individuals who suffered as supposed witches. No amount of higher divine intelligence could assuage their sufferings or offer any comfort to them as they were being tortured. No amount of future compensation in heaven could justify what this God failed to do either. The human equivalent would be to argue that a person is morally justified in forcibly plucking out a man’s eyes so long as the victim is rewarded with a million dollars. If God had some higher purpose or end in sight, then he merely used these people as a means to an end. He did not care for them as individuals. And if God really wants us to believe in him and believe that he loves us, this is a strange way of going about things. For an omniscient God would have known that later generations of intelligent people would find him to be guilty of not doing what decent people would do if they could, and as a result, disbelieve in him and his love.

The best Christian defense lawyers are liberals who admit there are texts in the Bible that, to a great degree, are reflective of an ancient outlook rather than the rigid literalism of conservative believers. In their view, God’s revelation is progressive, becoming better as humans grope to understand the divine. In other words, theology evolves. Liberals didn’t come by this conclusion easily though. Down through the centuries they came to it as the realities of life and the results of science forced them to accept it. Yet this view is exactly what we would expect to find if there is no truth to their theology. It’s what we would expect if there is no divine mind behind the Bible or the church. If there is a God then his so-called progressive revelation is indistinguishable from him not revealing anything at all, and, as such, progressive revelation should be rejected as an unnecessary theological hypothesis unworthy of thinking people. Furthermore, such a view actually undermines their theology, for it leads to theological relativism, since there was no point in the history of the church when any theologian could say that a final, unchanging theology had been attained. So the theology of yesterday was true for Christians of the past, as the present-day theology is true for others, as the theology of tomorrow will be true for still others. Liberals therefore cannot state any theological truth that is true for all time. As far as they can know, the end result of revelation could be the death of God, the conclusion that we don’t need God, which would make him effectively dead. As far as liberals can know, atheism may be the future of their theology. The only reason they won’t accept the relativism of their theology is that they perceive a need to believe. They are playing a pretend game much like the people in M. Night Shyamalan’s movie The Village. In my opinion, liberals should just stop pretending.

The bottom line is that the whole notion of progressive revelation is a “heads I win tails you lose” strategy. If their God had revealed the truth from the beginning these Christians would use that as evidence he existed. Since he didn't do this, the introduction of progressive revelation betrays their desire to believe no matter what the intellectual cost. What they’re doing is justifying their God “after the facts,” rather than asking “before the facts” what they would expect of their God if he lovingly communicated to human beings.