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Tooley, Plantinga and the Deontological Argument from Evil Part I

May 13th, 2009 by Matt

This two-part series criticises the deontological argument from evil proposed by Micheal Tooley in The Knowledge of God, the print debate between him and Alvin Plantinga.1 My critique proceeds in four parts. Initially I will sketch Tooley’s distinction between a deontological and an axiological argument from evil and will argue that Tooley rejects the axiological version because it rests on “controversial ethical claims;”2 claims that are “likely to be rejected by many theists.”3 Then I will outline Tooley’s deontological version and focus on the moral assumptions upon which it is based and Plantinga’s criticism of these. This will conclude Part I of the series.

In my next post, Tooley, Plantinga and the Deontological Argument from Evil Part II, I will argue that Plantinga’s criticisms can be reformulated by appealing to a divine command theory of ethics and when they are it can be shown that Tooley’s argument relies on controversial moral assumptions that many theists do, in fact, reject. Finally I will look at two objections to this line of argument; the claim that, even on a divine command theory, God has obligations and Tooley’s critique of the divine command theory. I will argue both objections fail.

Deontological and Axiological Arguments from Evil
Tooley distinguishes axiological versions of the argument from evil from deontological versions. The former, “are formulated in terms of axiological concepts—specifically, in terms of the goodness or badness, the desirability or undesirability of states of affairs.”4 [Emphasis original] The latter, “uses concepts that focus upon the rightness and wrongness of actions, and upon the–rightmaking or wrongmaking–properties that determine whether an action is one that ought to be performed.”5

Tooley suggests that axiological versions are problematic. He takes as a paradigm the version proposed by William Rowe. Central to Rowe’s argument is the following conceptual claim about a perfectly good being.

(2) Any omnipotent, omniscient and morally perfect person would prevent the existence of any state of affairs that is both (a) intrinsically bad, or undesirable, and (b) such that he could prevent its existence without either allowing an equal or greater evil, or preventing an equal or greater good.6

Rowe applies (2) to concrete evils in the world. He identifies various concrete evil states of affairs and contends that these concrete cases meet the criteria (a) and (b) specified in (2).

There are well rehearsed problems with Rowe’s attempt to do this.7 While Rowe can maintain that there are cases where we do not know of any greater good lost or greater evil prevented by the allowance of these evils, this is insufficient to show that the cases meet the specified criteria. His argument requires that we know that there are no greater goods lost or evils prevented known to an omniscient being. Tooley notes that the step from “we don’t know” to the claim that an “omniscient being does not know” is difficult to bridge and Rowe’s attempts to do so have been unsucessful.8

Tooley’s most important objection is to contest (2) itself. Tooley notes that (2) appears to rely on a,

common consquentialist claim … namely, the claim that an action is morally wrong if it fails to maximise the balance of good states of affairs over bad states of affairs. But the difficulty then is that “such a claim is, within ethical theory, deeply controversial, and likely to be rejected by many theists, and others.9

In response, Tooley develops and defends an argument from evil which does not rely on “controversial ethical claims,”10 one that focuses “upon the rightness and wrongness of actions.”

Tooley’s Deontological Argument
Tooley summarises his argument succinctly,

The basic idea involved in a deontological formulation of the argument from evil is then as follows. First, it is claimed that the world contains certain states of affairs such that any action of allowing any of those states of affairs to obtain would involve one or more known wrongmaking characteristics that would outweigh the sum total of known rightmaking characteristics that the action would have. If this is right, then any such action is prima facie wrong, relative to the total information that one presently has concerning the action’s rightmaking and wrongmaking characteristics. Secondly, the crucial question is then whether there is any sound inductive argument that will take one from the conclusion that such an action is prima facie wrong to the further conclusion that the action is probably wrong all things considered. If there is, one will then have an ‘inductively sound’ version of the evidential argument from evil.11 [Emphasis original

As Tooley notes the argument has two crucial steps. The first is the claim that an argument that allows a certain states of affairs to occur is prima facie wrong. The second is an inductive argument from the conclusion that such an action is prima facie wrong to the claim that it is ultra facie wrong; that is, wrong all things considered.

It is clear that Tooley considers the second step to be the ‘crucial question’ and he spends most of his article defending the inductive inference he draws. Tooley appears to think that the first step is fairly straight-forward and uncontroversial. His defence of it consists of a few paragraphs.

Tooley’s Argument for Step One
Tooley’s argument for the first step consists of three premises,

(12) The property of choosing not to prevent an event that will cause the death of more than 50,000 .ordinary people is a wrongmaking property of actions, and very serious one.

(13) The Lisbon earthquake killed approximately 60,000 ordinary people.

Therefore, from (12) and (13):

(14) Any action of choosing not to prevent the Lisbon earthquake has a very serious wrongmaking property.

Tooley then adds as an additional premise,

(15) No rightmaking properties that we know of are such that we are justified in believing both that an action of choosing not to prevent the Lisbon earthquake would have had those rightmaking properties, and that those properties are sufficiently serious to counterbalance the relevant wrongmaking property.12

Tooley believes that (12)-(15) are uncontroversial “(12) makes a moral claim, but one that does not seem at all problematic while statement (13) makes a historical claim for which there is, I believe, very good evidence.”13 Tooley appears to think that the only potentially controversial premise is (15) but that this would be denied only by philosophers who offer a theodicy.14 Tooley maintains that (15) is,

[V]ery reasonable, given the relevant facts about the world, together with the moral knowledge that we possess. For what rightmaking properties can one point to that one has good reason to believe would be present in the case of an action of allowing the Lisbon earthquake, and that would be sufficiently serious to counterbalance the wrongmaking property of allowing more than 50,000 to be killed.15

Tooley concludes that, in the absence of a defensible theodicy, there are compelling arguments for concluding that allowing the Lisbon earthquake to occur is prima facie wrong. This is not an insignificant conclusion. Many contemporary theists discuss the argument from evil by conceding that there are no defensible theodicies and then arguing that even in the absence of such a theodicy, belief in God is not rendered improbable by the existence of evil. If Tooley is correct, this line of argument is mistaken. The burden of proof is clearly on the theist to provide a theodicy; if he or she cannot then God’s action of permitting the Lisbon earthquake to occur is prima facie wrong. Moreover, if Tooley’s inductive arguments hold, the God’s actions will be ultra facie wrong.

Plantinga’s Response
Plantinga responds to Tooley’s argument by calling into question (15).

Christians and other theists believe that God exists and is a perfectly good being. If this is true, then any action that God has in fact performed has the property of having been performed by a perfectly good being. Furthermore, Christians and other theists believe that God performed the action of permitting the Lisbon earthquake. They therefore believe that the action of permitting the Lisbon earthquake has the property of having been performed by God, who is a perfectly good person. This is a rightmaking property that clearly outweighs and counterbalances any wrongmaking properties that action has.16

In this citation, Plantinga denies that only theists who offer a theodicy would contest [15]. Plantinga suggests that theists will typically believe that there is a right making property of which they know of; the property of being permitted by God. This property overrides all others and the action of allowing the Lisbon earthquake has this property. Hence, the Theist has good reasons for rejecting [15] even if he or she cannot offer an adequate theodicy.

Tooley’s response is to deny that being permitted by God is a right making property,

Suppose that God exists, and, thus permitted the Lisbon earthquake. One can ask “What property did the action of permitting the Lisbon earthquake have that made it morally permissible for God to permit it?” The response that it had the property of having been permitted by God, who is perfectly good, is not a satisfactory answer to that question: there must be some other property that made it permissible for God to permit the Lisbon earthquake. The property of having been permitted by God, while it entails that there must have been a rightmaking property, is not itself a rightmaking property.17 [Emphasis original]

The phrase “having been permitted by God” is ambiguous. In one sense it could refer to God allowing an event to occur; if he does not stop it occurring then God permits the Lisbon earthquake. In another sense, however, it can refer to God refraining from forbidding an action. God permits drinking alcohol, for example. If God refrains from issuing a command to abstain from drinking alcohol then it is clear, I think, that Plantinga means the former and Tooley seems18 correct in suggesting that in this sense it is clear that being permitted by God is not a right making property but this leaves an important question hanging; couldn’t Plantinga’s critique be reformulated in terms of the “second sense” of the phrase “having been permitted by God.”

In my next post, Tooley, Plantinga and the Deontological Argument from Evil Part II, I will propose a Plantingan reformulation and address some objections.

1 Michael Tooley “Does God Exist?” in The Knowledge of God eds Michael Tooley and Alvin Plantinga (Malden, M A: Blackwell Publishers, 2008) 70-147.
2 Tooley “Does God Exist?”105.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid, 106.
6 William Rowe “Evil and Theodicy” Philosophical Topics 16: 119-32. I am following Rowe’s enumeration.
7 Stephen John Wykstra “Rowe’s Noseeum Arguments from Evil;” Peter van Inwagen “The Problem of Evil, the Problem of Air, and the Problem of Silence” and “Reflections on the Chapters by Draper, Russell, and Gale;” William P Alston “The Inductive Argument from Evil and the Human Cognitive Condition” and “Some (Temporarily) Final Thoughts on Evidential Arguments from Evil;” Daniel Howard-Snyder “The Argument from Inscrutable Evil” in The Evidential Argument from Evil ed Daniel Howard-Snyder (Bloomington, Indiana University Press: 1996). See also, Alvin Plantinga Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
8 Tooley “Does God Exist” 104.
9 Ibid, 105.
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid, 116.
12 Ibid, 119; I am following Tooley’s enumeration.
13 Ibid, 122.
14 Ibid.
15 Ibid.
16 Alvin Plantinga “Reply to Tooley’s Opening Statement” in The Knowledge of God eds Michael Tooley and Alvin Plantinga (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2008) 170-71.
17 Michael Tooley “Closing Statement and Reply to Plantinga’s Comments” in The Knowledge of God eds Michael Tooley and Alvin Plantinga (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2008) 238.
18 I say seems because Linda Zagzebski’s account of divine obligations would challenge this contention as I will argue in part IV.

Tooley, Plantinga and the Deontological Argument from Evil Part II

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  • I have to wonder whether the reason Christian philosophers bother with such involved reasoning is because it is harder to defend Christianity if they simply stick to what’s alleged in their ultimate authority, the bible.

    Deuteronomy 28:15 is the bible’s most depressing list of atrocities and horrors God threatens to inflict on anybody who disobeys him, and these often cross the line into threats to cause rape (v. 30), and parental cannibalism (v. 53).

    The kick in the pants is that this section concludes with a description of God that justifies calling him a sadistic lunatic. He doesn’t just cause rapes and cannibalism, he “delights” to cause them no less than he “delights” to give prosperity to those who obey him:

    15 “But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:
    30 “You shall betroth a wife, but another man will violate her; you shall build a house, but you will not live in it; you shall plant a vineyard, but you will not use its fruit.
    53 “Then you shall eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters whom the LORD your God has given you, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy will oppress you.
    63 “It shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it.
    (Deut. 28:15-63 NAU)

    All conservative commentaries agree when speaking about passages like Psalm 137:9 that the pagans did the same brutal acts to the Hebrews and others, for example:

    The barbarous practice referred to in v 9 was a feature of ancient Near Eastern warfare.
    Allen, L. C. (2002). Vol. 21: Word Biblical Commentary : Psalms 101-150 (Revised). Word Biblical Commentary (Page 309). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

    So when we assume correctly that the originally intended hearers of Deuteronomy 28 believed the threatened curses were often a reality for themselves and other people, it is rather difficult to believe the predictable thesis of Copan/Flannagan that Deut. 28:63 is mere exaggeration.

    Therefore, if God really did inspire Moses to assert these things as all inerrantists believe God did, then the threats were real, and therefore, God’s “delight” to cause rape to disobedient Israelites justifies the conclusion that the god of Moses was every bit a sadistic lunatic. The only people who would resist this conclusion are liberals who simply deny whatever biblical teaching they don’t personally like, or inerrantists, who think God’s goodness is an untouchable foregone conclusion of absolute truth, when in fact their inability to sustain an anthropomorphic interpretation of Genesis 6:6 makes it clear that the bible-god sometimes regrets his own decisions, and is thus far from the perfect being Christians ceaselessly assume he is…and therefore easily amenable to bouts of unjustified anger or other examples of imperfection.

  • Barry Jones, note what you did there: You essentially ignored the entire post and changed the subject and then suggested the post was to avoid the subject you raised.

    Sorry, thats pretty paper thin example of evasion.

  • So when we assume correctly that the originally intended hearers of Deuteronomy 28 believed the threatened curses were often a reality for themselves and other people, it is rather difficult to believe the predictable thesis of Copan/Flannagan that Deut. 28:63 is mere exaggeration.

    Interesting, Barry, I note however that when you argued that original hearers would take this language literally this you only mention three curse laid down in Deuteronomy 28 and didn’t look at the whole text Why is that?
    Lets look: in v 21, for example, it has the picture of pestilence clinging to them till they are completely destroyed.

    But then in v22 it states they won’t die of pestilence they’ll die of consumption and fever, but they will also die of the sword and also of mildew.

    But then in v 25says they will be defeated in battle and flee in retreat, so they survive

    However, v 26 has them not fleeing in battle but there carcasses lying dead on the battlefield. So apparently the didn’t flee on mass but were all killed on the battlefield.

    But then v 27 says they will be alive, but suffering from “madness and with blindness and with the bewilderment of heart” its clear they are alive because it describes them as groping unable to see and so being subject to robbers and exploitation for the rest of their days. So they aren’t all dead from pestilence, or mildew or killed in battle or escaped by fleeing they continue to live with no eyesight.

    But then in v 31 they aren’t blind or dead because they “see their sons and daughters being deported and there animals are slaughtered before they eyes. Moreover, they are said to yearn continually for them, which suggests they remain alive living in the land after it happens to see this.

    Then v 33-36 suggests they stay alive in the land and see other people occupy it, these other people enjoy and eat the crops they have planted they aren’t blind because they see this and they aren’t dead because it talks of them being continually oppressed. Due to the fact they will have boils from head to foot. Boils are obviously awful but its not mildew or pestilence killing you is it?

    But then in v 38, apparently other people don’t eat the crops because the crops belong to them, the problem is locusts have eaten them and stripped them, it says they cultivate them, so it is their crops and vineyard but its locusts that are the problem.

    Then in v 43, they are alive in the land but in debt to foreigners.

    In v 41 it says they shall “have sons and daughters but they will not be yours, for they will go into captivity.
    But as you pointed out v 55, it says their children are all dead and they will eat the last of their surviving children, so presumably, they don’t go into captivity.
    But then v 59 states they will have descendants, it’s just that the 10 plaques of Egypt will fall on them. So their descendant’s aren’t eaten but live on in the land under the 10 plaques.

    Of course, v 64 has them and their descendants alive and not in the land but spread all over the world, and they have failing eyesight, they don’t appear to be blind covered in boils. Dead carcasses.

    V 68 doesn’t have them in the land or all over the world but all travelling back to Egypt where they sell themselves back into slavery to the Egyptians.

    Of course that’s not all in v 23, they are told they won’t survive, nor will they be carcasses in battle or killed by pestilence or disease, or eaten alive or exiled, rather what will kill all them is that the sky will turn to bronze and the land will be turned into iron and dust will fall from the sky and kill them all.

    So, your welcome to state that, in context, these passages are intended to be literally if you like. But some of us who have read the context, and haven’t omitted all the passages you have in your citation, suspect the rhetorical situation is obviously a little bit different to what you suggest. It seems pretty clear to me that the reader and writer don’t intend a lot of that rhetoric to be taken literally.

  • Dr. Flannagan,

    I’ve reviewed the way you answer other critics, so the reason I answer you in a comprehensive fashion here is because I want the reader to know that the most predictable escape routes inerrantists scholars are known for attempting to take, do not help them. I cannot know when or whether you will ban me, so I cannot assume I’ll get another chance to justify my presuppositions after you attack them.

    First, for the record, you argue like a jailhouse lawyer, that is, you seem to think that if I didn’t mention something, I’m “ignoring” and “evading” and that if I bring up something not directly related to the post, then I’m “changing the subject”.

    I could just as easily charge you with evasion for not applying your exaggeration-hypothesis to the blessings in Deut. 28:1-14, but I’ll more courteously assume you didn’t because you felt doing so was not called for. I will not characterize things you might have done, but didn’t, in language that implies fright on your part. Can you extend me the same courtesy?

    Let’s get more specific on single individual threats from God in Deut. 28, because I think that’s precisely where your “exaggeration-hypothesis” breaks down.

    One of God’s threatened curses upon a disobedient Israel is the rape of Hebrew woman (Deut. 28:30) and the parental cannibalism of children (v. 53-57).

    Please explain HOW and TO WHAT DEGREE these particular threats were exaggeration, and how and to what extent they were serious promises of literal atrocities (because the more you characterize the threats as “exaggeration”, the closer you make them to what we call “empty” threats, and if those being threatened already know the threats are empty, the threats cannot successfully motivate them to obey). While on the other hand, the notion that the threats were promises of real atrocities really being literally inflicted for disobedience, would accomplish the most that mere language could accomplish toward coercing compliance with the Law, and compliance with the Law appears to be Moses’ motive in enunciating such curses.

    If you are a bible inerrantist, then you are forced to ensure your interpretation of this harmonizes with other truths about God expressed elsewhere in the bible, such as God taking credit as the one responsible for causing pagans to commit rape in Isaiah 13:16. See context, God is the one who will cause the pagans to do this, v. 13 and v. 17. If the mob boss who paid the punk to murder a man cannot escape guilt by pointing out that secondary causes separate him from the act (i.e., that he wasn’t the person who actually pulled the trigger), then I fail to see how any argument about God working through secondary causes would insulate God from moral culpability here. Would we have listened to Hitler had he lived and asserted at the Nuremburg trials that he cannot be guilty because he only worked through the secondary causes of his Nazi army?

    And since God can successfully motivate even pagans to do his good will (Ezra 1:1), then when you ask whether God can have morally sufficient reasons for facilitating atrocities on children, the answer is “no”, especially given that your god accepts correction from sinners, a thing that demonstrates he is far from the infinitely wise god you presuppose him to be, see Exodus 32:9-14. I would insist there is no basis in the grammar, immediate context, larger context, or genre of Exodus for you to label god’s reaction in v. 14 as “anthropomorphism”, as you must if you are to avoid the conclusion that your god accepts correction from sinners. I cannot find any inerrantist evangelical scholars who say Exodus 32:1-8 is other than literal history, nor any who say 15-19 are other than literal history, so God’s changing of his mind upon discussion with Moses (v. 14) is sitting in a context of “literal” events. And if God never intended to kill the Israelites as that story says he did (v. 10), but only pretended to merely to give Moses a lesson, then God didn’t “really” change his mind, as asserted in v. 14. What do suppose would happen to Christanity if Christians began believing that God doesn’t always mean what he says?

    As far as your own exegesis of Deut. 28, the literal interpretation which accords evil to God (i.e., causing women to be raped v. 30, causing kids to be eaten by their parents, v. 53, etc) is not limited to the interpretation which asserts that God threatens to kill everybody with one type of atrocity, then in the next threat promises to kill those same now-dead people again with another atrocity (!?).

    The literal interpretation only requires that Moses is giving an overview of the various ways God will respond to Israel’s future possible disobedience at various times. Therefore, you are incorrect that the literal interpretation is so stupid that only your “exaggeration” hypothesis, which you think absolves god of the charge of evil, can make sense of this portion of the bible.

    Other evangelical inerrantist scholars do not say that the presence of hyperbole in the chapter thus rids the threatened actions of their horrific and serious reality:

    “28:53–57 Though the prediction was no doubt laced with hyperbole, the desperation of those under siege for years could not have fallen very much short of the measures taken here.”
    Merrill, E. H. (2001, c1994). Vol. 4: Deuteronomy (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Page 367). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

    God had commanded two Hebrew kings to commit agricultural devastation of King Mesha’s Moabite lands, 2nd Kings 3:19, which obviously was intended to cause Moabites and thus their children, to starve slowly to death, which apparently did actually cause such desperation that Mesha sacrificed his son, otherwise heir to the Moabite throne, to his idol, 3:27 Other Evangelical inerrantist commentators assert that this type of literal attempt to starve a people, as commanded by Elish’s divinely inspired commands, is a mirror image of the horrific realities the Assyrians inflicted on their enemies:

    “Elisha receives his word from the Lord while listening to a harpist play music…Their war against Moab will be successful to the point that they will devastate the land. This victory will be due to God’s grace…”
    House, P. R. (2001, c1995). Vol. 8: 1, 2 Kings (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Page 263). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

    “Agricultural devastation and deforestation were typical tactics of invading armies seeking to punish those they conquered and as an attempt to hasten their surrender. The Assyrian records and reliefs especially detail punitive measures that include felling trees, devastating meadowlands and destroying canal systems used for irrigation.”
    Matthews, V. H., Chavalas, M. W., & Walton, J. H. (2000). The IVP Bible background commentary : Old Testament (electronic ed.) (2 Ki 3:25). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

    And 2nd Kings is one of the “historical” books of the bible 🙂 So that will stand in your way if you try to assert that the story of 2nd Kings 3 is mostly hyperbole, or midrash, or whatever.

    So when God in Deut. 28:53-57 threatens Israel with causing such starvation that Hebrew parents will eat their own kids, it is perfectly consistent with bible inerrancy to say Israel knew such things were actual realities for themselves and others, and therefore, would more than likely have believed, while Moses was speaking the threats to them, that the threats were real despite a bit of hyperbole.

    I’d like to have a formal written debate with you on what I perceive to be the Achilles Heel of the Genocide book you co-authored with Copan. Namely, that your “dispossession” hypothesis makes God look like a greater moral monster than the traditional “kill’em all” hypothesis you were trying to refute.

  • Matt,

    I’ve written almost a 9-page point-by-point rebuttal to you, but in the interest of trying to avoid countless reams of pages of direct rebuttal, I’ve chosen to focus on just a single area of disagreement, where focus might help us resolve our other issues.

    You challenged me with “perhaps you could clarify how any of that provides a reason for thinking that moral requirements can exist independently of God?”

    I responded “You’d have to first clarify what you mean by “moral requirements”.

    You replied “By a moral requirement I mean something that its morally wrong to omit.”

    I don’t see how that clarification benefits us here.

    It’s like answering “which morals am I required to live by in this house?”, by saying “the ones that it would be wrong to omit”.

    Can you provide a specific example of a moral requirement that you think it is morally wrong to omit?

    Also, at another place at your blog, I argued that under historical realities of the ANE, your “dispossess the Canaanites” hypothesis makes God to look like a greater moral monster than the “kill the children” hypothesis you were trying to refute in your book co-authored by Copan. Could you please reply:

  • Matt,

    It’s like answering “which morals am I required to live by in this house?”, by saying “the ones that it would be wrong to omit”.

    No that again seems to conflate issues, when I ask what morals I am required to live by in this house, I am using the word “morals” in the sociological sense, that is a set of norms a person believes in or accepts.

    But, when I refer to moral requirements I am not referring to moral beliefs. I am talking about what morality in fact requires. Unless you think a person or community is never mistaken in what they believe we ought to do, you have to grant a distinction between what a person or groups thinks and accepts is required and what actually is required.

    The fact you spend so much time and energy arguing that the religious and moral beliefs of ancient Hebrew society or the bible are mistaken and in error, suggests you actually are committed to this distinction.

    Can you provide a specific example of a moral requirement that you think it is morally wrong to omit?

    The claim its morally wrong to omit a moral requirement is analytically true, it’s a tautology.

    But here is an example, I think there is a moral requirement to not torture children purely for entertainment. I think this requirement holds even if a person or community thinks it doesn’t so that a community which endorsed and practises child torture would in be mistaken. I also think it’s a categorical requirement so that even if torturing a child for fun met some goal or desire you had, perhaps the sadistic desire to have fun seeing children scream in pain, then the requirement still holds. I think anyone who deliberately does this without some form of mitigation is guilty of not following these requirements worthy of blame and censure, a

    Your free to disagree of course, you can maintain that a community that believes in and practises torturing children for fun doesn’t do anything wrong at all or that such requirements are really hypothetical and don’t apply to people who have sadistic desires, or your free to think people who deliberately and knowingly torture children are worthy of praise and condemnation if you like. If you want to bite that bullet, then you can, but I think ranting about God being a moral monster and how awful it is for ancient cultures to have narratives about killing children ceases to become a terribly plausible past time if you do bite this bullet.

    But all this is irrelevant, because, in the argument, I cited from my response to Carrier, I pointed out the biblical passages you cite, even if your take on them was correct, doesn’t actually provide the slightest reason for rejecting a divine command theory. That attacks the doctrine of inerrancy which is a different and logically distinct position to divine command theories. I note you haven’t responded to it, you have again gone on a long tirade about what you think I argued in a book on a different topic.

  • Matt,

    Again, I’ve written about 6 pages of point by point reply, but again, I will only reply with what I think is the most critical area we disagree on, since I’m well aware of the risk of the point being lost if too much material is posted. If you are curious about how I answered every little point, it’s at my blog

    When I asked you for a specific example of what you deem a “moral requirement”, you resorted to the classic example of a prohibition on torturing children solely for entertainment.

    Several problems:

    Where is the moral yardstick you are using, which you apparently think is violated whenever anybody tortures a child solely for fun?

    Do you say this is immoral because the bible tells you so?

    Do you say this is immoral because the consensus of human opinion on the matter through history says it is immoral, and you think atheists cannot sufficiently account for why that pattern exhibited itself in human values?