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Response to William Lane Craig’s Question 225: “The ‘Slaughter’ of the Canaanites Re-visited” Part II

August 12th, 2011 by Matt

Samuel rebukes SaulIn my last post “Response to William Lane Craig’s Question 225: “The ‘Slaughter’ of the Canaanites Re-visited” Part I” I discussed William Lane Craig’s position on the Canaanite Conquest account (in light of the fact that Craig referred to my argument in his question of the week: “Question 225: The “Slaughter” of the Canaanites Re-visited”). I clarified the delineations as to where he agrees and disagrees with the position I presented at the Evangelical Philosophical Society’s session at the Society for Biblical Literature Meeting in Atlanta last year and I established that the point of divergence in our agreement rests on 1 Samuel 15.

In my Atlanta paper I argued that Nicholas Wolterstorff’s reading of the Canaanite conquest accounts in Joshua can also be applied to the account of Saul exterminating the Amalekites in 1 Sam 15.

First, the so-called ‘genocide accounts’ in 1 Sam 15 are part of a broader context that includes the rest of Samuel and also other canonical books, such as 2 Samuel and the book of Chronicles. When one reads the whole sequence, one observes that while 1 Samuel 15 describes Saul, at God’s command, exterminating the Amalekites, later passages in Samuel and Chronicles proceed on the assumption this never literally happened.

The key passage is God’s command to Samuel, “strike [nakah] Amalek [the Amalekites] and utterly destroy [haram] all that he has, and do not spare [hamal] him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”[1] The text goes on to explicitly state that the Amalekites were all wiped out:

“So Saul defeated [nakah] the Amalekites, from Havilah as you go to Shur, which is east of Egypt. He captured Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed [haram] all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared [hamal] Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.” [2]

A few verses later (15:33) the text records that Agag, the sole survivor, was executed. So, read literally, this passage states that all the Amalekites were killed and all their livestock were either destroyed or taken as plunder to be sacrificed to God at Gilgal.[3]

Now the language of “defeated” (or struck), “utterly destroyed”, the reference to “sparing” and to livestock parallels the language of the command in 15:3. Given this, it seems implausible that we should interpret the command in verse 3 as literal but the fulfilment, just 4 verses later, as hyperbolic; the text requires that the command and fulfilment be read in the same sense.

That said, when one reads this passage as part of as a single narrative a literal reading appears untenable; the proceeding text states quite emphatically that the Amalekites were not, in fact, literally wiped out. In 1 Samuel 27:8-9 David invaded a territory full of Amalekites:

“Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites. (From ancient times these peoples had lived in the land extending to Shur and Egypt.) Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. Then he returned to Achish.”

Not only does this text affirm that the Amalekites still existed but the reference to Egypt and Shur states that they existed in the very same area that Saul ‘utterly destroyed every single one of them’ in in the previous passages. Moreover, David took sheep and cattle as plunder; again, livestock was another of the things Saul was said to have already eradicated.

After the text has told us that Saul “utterly destroyed all the people”, including King Agag, and despite the text telling us that when David attacked an area (the very same areas as Saul) he did “not leave a man or woman alive”, three chapters later we read that a sizeable Amalekite army attacked Ziklag![4] David apparently pursued this army and fought a long battle with them and 400 Amalekites fled on horseback!![5] Where are all these Amalekites coming from?

These are not the only examples. In 2 Samuel 1:8 an Amalekite took credit for killing Saul –but didn’t Saul “utterly destroy all the people”? In 1 Chronicles 4:43 Amalekites were still around in battle-ready numbers during the reign of Hezekiah who reigned after Saul and David.

Read literally, the narrative affirms both that the Amalekites were and were not totally wiped out. This apparent contradiction in the Samuel narrative is not subtle. Those who put these books into a single narrative would have been well aware of the obvious contradictions mentioned above. These editors were not mindless or stupid. If we read 1 Samuel 15 in the broader context of the rest of Samuel and also alongside other canonical books, such as 2 Samuel and the book of Chronicles then the text cannot be sensibly claiming that 1 Samuel 15, 1 Samuel 27, 1 Samuel 30 and 1 Chronicles 4 are all literally true accounts of battles with the Amalekites.

Further, while David’s battle texts appear to be relatively matter of fact records, 1 Samuel 15 appears to be highly hyperbolic and contains obvious rhetorical exaggeration. Saul’s army was said to be 210,000 men, which would make it larger than any army known at this time in antiquity. Moreover, we are told that Saul struck the Amalekites from Havila to Shur. Shur is on the edge of Egypt, Havila is in Saudi Arabia. This is an absurdly large battle field. “It’s impossible to imagine the battle actually traversed the enormous distance from Arabia almost to Egypt”[6] Daniel Fouts notes that exaggerated numbers are common forms of hyperbole in Ancient Near Eastern battle accounts.[7]

1 Samuel 15’s use of the language of “utterly destroying” [haram] populations “with the sword”, is the same phraseology as that is repeatedly used hyperbolically in Joshua. This language also appears to have been used hyperbolically in 1 Chronicles 4. 1 Chronicles 4:41 states “they attacked” [nakah] and “destroyed them utterly” [haram] but only a few verses later we read that the survivors fled to Amalek where they were later all “destroyed” [nakah] a second time.[8] Likewise, the language of killing all inhabitants with the sword is also used hyperbolically in Judges, “after Judah puts Jerusalem to the sword … its occupants are still living there ‘to this day’ (Judg. 1:8, 21)”[9] Similar language is used hyperbolically in the prophetic writings; Paul Copan argues,

“[T]he biblical language of the Canaanites’ destruction is identical to that of Judah’s destruction in the Babylonian exile—clearly not utter annihilation or even genocide… God said he would “lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there” (Jer. 9:11 NIV).  Indeed, God said, “I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin” (Jer. 25:9 NIV).  God “threatened to stretch out My hand against you and destroy you” (Jer. 15:6; cp. Ezek. 5:16)—to bring “disaster” against Judah (Jer. 6:19).  The biblical text, supported by archaeological discovery, suggests that while Judah’s political and religious structures were ruined and that Judahites died in the conflict, the “urban elite” were deported to Babylon while many “poor of the land” remained behind. Clearly, Judah’s being “completely destroyed” and made an “everlasting ruin” (Jer. 25:9) was a significant literary exaggeration.”[10]

Compare for example the language of God’s command to “not spare” the Amalekites, to “put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” with the account of Judah’s defeat to the Babylonians in 2 Chronicles 36:16-17:

“But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and did not spare young men or young women, the elderly or the infirm. God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar.”

This was written to a post-exilic audience who knew full well that not every one of them had been killed. They, as the descendents of the survivors, knew that Judah had been exiled and was later restored under Cyrus; a fact pointed out only a few verses later.[11]

So we see in 1 Samuel that the author(s) juxtaposed several accounts. One tells us that Saul wiped out all the Amalekites at God’s command using obvious rhetorical exaggeration and language known to be hyperbolic and the other, presented in fairly realistic terms, tells us that the Amalekites continued to live in the land as a military threat. Assuming the author was an intelligent person, we are at least owed an argument as to why the literal reading should be preferred in this context.

Craig suggests an argument: “Samuel’s rebuke of Saul in I Sam. 15.10-16” suggests Saul is condemned by Samuel for not “following God’s instructions”. Now, as I noted above, the text tells us that Saul did carry out God’s instruction to kill all the Amalekites; it was livestock, not humans, which were initially spared. Saul is rebuked for taking sheep as spoil. Nevertheless, one could argue that in Samuel’s amplification of his rebuke of Saul he is rebuked for not taking the command literally; see the immediately proceeding verses:

“Samuel said, “Is it not true, though you were little in your own eyes, you were made the head of the tribes of Israel? And the LORD anointed you king over Israel, and the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are exterminated.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD, but rushed upon the spoil and did what was evil in the sight of the LORD?””[12]

Craig appears to be arguing against a hyperbolic reading of 1 Samuel on the grounds that such a reading appears to contradict part of the Samuel narrative; he seems to be suggesting that a literal reading coheres better with this part. I would argue that the crucial issue is whether the hyperbolic interpretation is more plausible than the literal one.

Even if Craig is correct about Samuel’s rebuke, it does not follow that a literal reading is more plausible than a hyperbolic one. As argued above, a literal reading creates incoherencies in the narrative; it puts the whole account of 1 Samuel 15 in contradiction with the rest of the 1 Samuel narrative – particularly 1 Samuel 27-30. It also puts the account in contradiction with the account of Saul’s death in 2 Samuel 1 and the narrative of 1 Chronicles 4.

It is hard to believe the author(s) of the final form was meticulously careful to avoid making a minor incoherence in 1 Samuel 15:17-19 and yet was oblivious to the multiple obvious contradictions I have highlighted above. Taking 1 Samuel 15 as a highly hyperbolic account reads as a much more coherent narrative.

It is far more plausible to think that the author was willing to allow some minor inconsistencies in one part of a narrative that is not supposed to be taken as literally true in its details anyway rather than that he intended a highly contradictory literal reading. I think the conclusion one should draw is that the Holy War narratives appear to be highly hyperbolic accounts of victory that the author, elsewhere in the text, quite candidly affirms are not literally true accounts.


[1] 1 Samuel 15:3 NASB.
[2] 1 Samuel 15:7-9 NASB.
[3] “But I did obey the LORD, Saul said. I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.” 1 Samuel 15:20-21.
[4] 1 Sam 30:1.
[5] 1 Sam 30:7-17.
[6] Ralph W Klein 1 Samuel Word Biblical Commentary 10 (Waco TX, Word: 1983) 150.
[7] Daniel M Fouts “A Defense of the Hyperbolic Interpretation of Numbers in the Old Testament” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40/3 (1997) 377-87.
[8] 1 Chronicles 4:43.
[9] John Goldingay “City and Nation” in Old Testament Theology Vol 3 (Downers Grove IL, InterVarsity: 2009) 570.
[10] Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan “The Ethics of ‘Holy War’ for Christian Morality and Theology” eds Jeremy Evans, Heath Thomas and Paul Copan Old Testament ‘Holy War’ and Christian Morality: Perspectives and Prospects (Downers Grove Ill, IVP Academic: 2011).
[11] 2 Chronicles 36:20-23.
[12] 1 Samuel 15:17-19.

RELATED POSTS:
Response to William Lane Craig’s Question 225: “The ‘Slaughter’ of the Canaanites Re-visited” Part I
God and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part I: Wolterstorff’s Argument for the Hagiographic Hyperbolic Interpretation
God and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part II: Ancient Near Eastern Conquest Accounts
God and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part III: Two Implications of the Hagiographic Hyperbolic Account
God, Morality and Abhorrent Commands: Part I Kant
God, Morality and Abhorrent Commands: Part II Robert Adams
God, Morality and Abhorrent Commands: Part III Philip Quinn
Commonsense Atheism and the Canaanite Massacre

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  • Another example is Psalm 137. The famous ending, “Happy is he who seizes and dashes the little ones on the rock (or cliff),” cannot be taken literally. There are plenty of reasons, and any astute reader would notice them:

    1. In the plains and rivers around Babylon, there are no cliffs to dash the children against.
    2. The text already refers to the Babylonians as Edomites, despite being one of the most prosaic of the Psalms (no meter…little heightened literary features).
    3. In the previous verses, the demand of the opponent was to “tear it down to it’s foundations,” but Jerusalem was not torn down to it’s foundations…in fact, it was inhabited throughout the exile. Ezra/Nehemiah seems to make it clear that only the elites left.
    4. The previous verse says in essence, “Happy is he who does to them what they did to us,” but there is no reason to think from the biblical record or other history that the Babylonians did such a thing to the children of the exiles.

  • Matt I’m not entirely in agreement with your use of the term genocide. ” Amalekites were and were not genocided.” By your definition, the fact that some remained meant that genocide had not occurred. By this definition no modern day genocide has occurred either. Genocide defined by the UN is acts committed with the intent to destroy the whole or part of a religious or ethnic group. So while these people were not entirely destroyed this does not mean that genocide was not committed as we define it today.
    As I see it, no matter what these passages actually refer to, at face value they are pretty vile. Why do so many like yourself spend so much effort defending them instead of just taking them out of the canon? If we were to start from scratch I would put forward that these would be considered to heavily influenced by man and not appropriate for those without a scholarly bent. Historical texts about men of god and otherwise but not useful for daily instruction. When the caveats are longer than the book it’s time to rewrite the handbook

  • So maybe “mass killing”, and not “genocide” is the what Jesus was ordering?

  • I think what it means is that under article IIa, mass killing IS genocide.
    http://www.preventgenocide.org/law/convention/text.htm

  • The issue John, is intent.

    Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

    (a) Killing members of the group;
    (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
    (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
    (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
    (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

    Did the recipients of God’s command to make war on the Amalekites or the Canaanites really intend to destroy every single one of them? If the language used was hyperbolic Ancient Near Eastern “trash talk” then no, they had no such intention.

    As for sanitising the Bible to make it acceptable to the weak stomachs of effete Western men? My Saxon and Norman ancestors are turning in their graves.

  • What all this suggests to me is that scholarly Evangelicals will soon come to accept that biblicism (like monasticism, sacramentalism and clericalism) while a significant element in the history of Christian thought, is not to be regarded as a sine qua non of saving faith or genuine spiritual life.

    Jesus, after all, inaugurated his new community not with a book-launch, but with a shared meal and a round of foot-washing.

  • Jason, I think you missed my point. Today’s definition of genocide does not require the intent to destroy every single one of them. A part is enough and even killing is not required. In fact mental harm to the members of a group is enough. Action against a group is the operative part here, and with today’s definition, I’m sure it was quite common back then.
    I don’t take exception to your ‘weak stomached western men’ comment, instead if that is the price for desiring a world without genocide and war then I’m happy to be called effete. I’ve had a stomach full of war and genocide and don’t really care if our collective barbaric ancestors are rolling or not. They’ve had their time and it’s our job to make up for their shame.
    I’m not calling for the sanitising of the bible anyway.
    If it is the inspired word of God then we should teach it to our children and need to come to terms with the fact that God’s ways are beyond our understanding.
    If it is the truth but an example of the fallen human condition it should be left as it is.
    If on the other hand, as Matt seems to suggest, these sections are the ‘trash talk’ of that generation, then it is neither the truth or the inspired word of God and we should take it off the pedestal it currently stand on in most congregations.
    Peter D, I think allot of people are tending toward this direction. Allot of devout believers that comment here are far more progressive in their beliefs with respect to science and literary criticism than I ever have been.

  • John, with all due respect i think it is you missing the point.
    Matt and others “defending” these accounts do so not to make them out to be other than what they were. Rather it is some modern commentators who in ignorance of literary genre, historical convention and insisting on taking everything with a 21C literal mindset are making them out to be other than what they were.
    We dont do this with Shakespeare, we dont even do it with Dickens, so why does it engender so much debate when people make the effort to understand the language, style, period conventions, and cultural context of different parts of the bible?
    Pretending to understand without doing so is just lying to yourself. Attacking the bible without doing so is just plain dishonest.

  • @ Jeremy

    “We dont do this with Shakespeare, we dont even do it with Dickens”

    The fact that these are writers of fiction speaks volumes!!!

  • Well Paul, we dont do it with Josephus, Kant, Socrates, Plato or Newton either.
    Fiction, history, commentary or news item, its irrelevant, if you dont understand context, convention, idioms, then you are going to misunderstand the message.
    By the way Dickens was fiction but only very “thinly” so, it was social commentary often full of very recognisable characters [ to those who knew them ]. Take Bleak House, if you dont know what the Courts of Chancery were, you didnt know about the legal status of women with respect to owning property and inheritance, and your English was limited, let alone having some knowledge of change in usage over the last 160 years, just how much would you really understand of the story let alone the social commentary Dickens was making?

  • John you write

    In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

    (a) Killing members of the group;
    (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
    (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
    (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
    (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

    If your correct here then I would simply say the modern definition of Genocide is mistaken.

    Take (a) Poles defending Germany against invasion in 1939 would be commiting Genocide they clearly intended to kill some germans they also intended to wound some germans so they commited genocide in definition (b).

    And a social worker who finds abuse in a pacific island, or caucasian, or asian family and so transfers them to the custody of foster parents who happen to be a different race, commit genocide.

    If that’s what people mean by genocide then I suggest the claim that Genocide is a serious moral evil is simply false. On this definition people engage in justified genocide all the time.

    This kind of talk trivialises the word Genocide.

  • Paul the line between history and fiction is not tight either, take the example of Shakespeare, is “Julius Ceaser” history or fiction for example?

  • By necessity all historical writing is perapectival and thus limited in nature and scope. It’s made more complex through our use of language which uses figurative language all the time. There is no such thing as objectivity in reporting, and thus one might claim that the further we move away from the experience of the actual event the more like fiction it becomes. This was the case in ancient Israel. A good introduction is Kugel’s “The Idea of Biblical Poetry,” which while unsuccessful shows the difficulty of differentiating between narrative and poetry in Hebrew literature. The line between figurative, metaphorical, literal, subjective and fictional can be complex.

    In the case of biblical literature though, wouldn’t we prefer interpretation within the narrative? If these are Gods words (and they are) then there is not some hidden event bend the text that is the revelation, but the text itself. Thus, understanding the text in all of it’s literariness should be our primary pursuit. That’s what Matt is doing. His literary analysis informs our understanding of Gods revelation first and foremost and only secondly about what events happened that the text describes.

  • @ GKE

    How can you claim that these are god’s words when they were the interpretation that was written down by humans?

    A Muslim would claim the same of the Koran, yet you reject that?

  • Paul writes “How can you claim that these are god’s words when they were the interpretation that was written down by humans?”

    This seems to assume that either God wrote the text or humans did. That is a false dichotomy, suppose for example someone sends me a letter they have written to parliament, I read it agree with the sentiment and affix my signature to it alongside theirs, it follows that we both wrote it, he wrote the original and I appropriated his words as my own.

    A Muslim would claim the same of the Koran, yet you reject that? Actually I think Muslims claim that the Koran is dictated by God and so actually reject the typical Christian view of how the bible is Gods word. But even if this were not the case its unclear how this is an objection. Why does the fact that someone else makes a claim undercut the falsity of my claim.

    Western humanists claim its unjust to stone women to death for fornications. Some muslims clam its unjust to not stone women. Does this undercut humanist beliefs?

  • @ Matt

    So how can you prove that these are in fact god’s words then?

  • Matt, it wasn’t me who came up with the definition of genocide for the UN rather greater minds than mine have gone into the drafting of these documents. I think they represent a good consensus.

    If you’re talking about a different degree of genocide (ie larger number of people killed) that’s fine, but both are still legally defined as genocide these days.

    If you read the convention, I think you’ll find that the examples you cite would not be considered Genocide.
    Poles defending themselves against the Germans, are killing them because they are attacking them. The fact that they were part of a group was secondary. The Germans killing Jews solely because they are Jews WAS genocide.
    Taking children from a home because they are being abused is to, in the first instance, to protect the children from their parents. The fact that their parents are from a particular ethnic group is secondary as children should rightly be taken from any group who’s parents are abusing them without bias. When children are taken from a group because they are with that group (such as the stolen generation of aboriginal children) could also be considered genocide.
    It does not dilute the crime of genocide to include these examples because the entire group was not wiped out, rather it gives them a voice. There are those who campaign for crimes that have been committed against their groups to be recognized that struggle against the extreme definitions. The genocidal intent is still there no matter how many are destroyed.

    If you don’t agree with the UN convention on genocide and want to use your own definition then fine, but I don’t think that the UN definition dilutes these crimes at all. I would put forward that your definition is intentionally narrow to make a point.

    At the end of it, If I use your ‘utter destruction’ definition, you could say the Israelites had genocidal intent without being able to commit it so are guilty of attempted genocide.

    Here is some of the spread of opinion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocide_definitions

  • John wether you wrote the convention is moot, my point is the definition is a bad one.

    If you read the convention, I think you’ll find that the examples you cite would not be considered Genocide.
    Poles defending themselves against the Germans, are killing them because they are attacking them. The fact that they were part of a group was secondary. The Germans killing Jews solely because they are Jews WAS genocide.

    The definition you cited states

    ” any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:”

    This does not say the acts must be done “because” the person is a particular race. Its states the act must be done with intent to destroy in whole or part, a group. If I intentionally kill german attackers I am intentionally destroying some germans. If I intentionally kill some Taliban insurgents I am deliberately killing some members of a religious group.

    Moreover, why couldn’t ancient Israel make the same response, they were not killing the Amalekites because they were Amalekites they were attacking them because they engaged in aggressive warfare. Or they killed the Canaanites because of certain practises, not because of their race per se.

  • Leave it to phd’s to get so obtusely dense about the definition of genocide. Good lord, are we serious!?!

  • Drj, the definition is relevant if a person uses that definition to mount an objection.

  • @ drj

    Matt’s an apologist, so of course he’s serious! :)

    BTW Matt, if you’re reading this, any progress on my request for proof with regard to god’s words then?

  • Fair enough Matt. Obviously our readings of the UN convention are quite different. Maybe with your interpretation countries who have signed up to it will be less likely to go to war?
    While it’s obvious that there is a wide spread of opinion on what constitutes genocide, and I think we can agree to disagree here.

    I’d still honestly like to know why we need to keep these sections of the bible in the canon. For example, when communicating the gospel we would typically give a new christian a new testament, a single book such as mark, or even just a verse like john 3:16 to begin with, which, I would think, shows that we see certian sections of the bible as more important for our salvation than others. Can’t we just drop some of the more contencious pieces from the mandatory reading list (we are already selective as I’ve mentioned) and get on with the bits that are fundamental? There are plenty of excellent christian texts written since the new testament was penned, some that are inspired, and maybe some of these should be included in a new canon. Arn’t we better able to cast a critical eye over the vast collection of texts these days and do a better job than those who put the canon we have today together? We are no less lead by the holy spirit and have the benifit of an additional +1000yrs. Matt, I’d vote for you to be part of the new council that could meet every 5 years or so to discuss.

  • @ John

    You can’t do that! After all, they are all the “Word of god” :)

  • So, if Matthew has a thing against using the word “genocide” (though everyone in the discussion knows common use of the term “genocide” would cover the actions as ordered in the OT), would it be okay to say BibleGod/Yahweh/Jesus ordered the mass killing of an ethnically defined people, an instruction that when enacted by the Israelites was known (to BibleGod/Yahweh/Jesus) to bring about the indiscriminate killing of men, women, and infants.

    Or is Matthew Flannagan arguing that the ethnicity of those killed was not why they were killed, but rather the threat of their cultural practices and the possibility of those practices creeping into ancient Israelite culture. So is it the is okay to kill if you are afraid someone else’s actions and practices might cause you to do the same?

    Isn’t the latter (so-and -o is different in cultural practice and it is a threat to us) sometimes an excuse for the former (attempted genocide)?

  • Ennenex and others, try reading the post above. To respond with the claim the bible clearly teaches that God commanded Genocide begs the question.

    My point is that the language of kill all men women donkeys and so on is not intended to be taken literally but is hyperbolic. Similarly to the way in a boxing match someone might say, “kill him, hand him his head, make his children fatherless and his wife a widow” its simply a exhortation to defeat ones opponent. Similarly when someone says the all blacks slaughtered the wallabies, totally crushed them, wiped them and and annihilated them” any kiwi knows that this means the all black won. Not anything more.

  • John, that fact you feel free to simply discard books of the Canon you consider unhelpful is rather puzzling to me. It suggests one can simply decide and dismiss books as no longer the word of God.

  • Matt, devout Christians conscientiously discard or ignore many features of the Church which they consider unhelpful.

    The biblical canon is a product of the Church’s decisions.

    So, a fortiori, what’s the problem with John’s suggestion?

  • Peter D, Protestants don’t consider all features of the Church to be the word of God. Some are customs and traditions.

    If a person were to discard a custom that was held by the community to be the word of God because they found it unhelpful I think that would be problematic. It suggests that God is suboridinated to what you find expedient. Note also that removing these passages from the canon has implications, Hebrews mentions Rahab, so hebrews would have to be removed. Deuteronomy 7 would have to go, but Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy on either side of these passages in his temptations so the synoptic would be effected, one could go on.

    Moreover why stop there, if any passage of scripture is troubling or annoying or unfashionable just reject it. God of course is simply now a construction of the reader in whatever image is helpful. I think thats idolatry.

    I think its more plausible that God would say somethings we find odd weird and uncomfortable and we have to live with this, than to simply ignore anything we don’t like.

  • Paul writes Matt’s an apologist, so of course he’s serious!

    I am also an ethicist, which means that I have a thing about charters of rights which talk nonsense. I have heard secular ethicists say similar things about UN charters.

    BTW Matt, if you’re reading this, any progress on my request for proof with regard to god’s words then?

    You’ll have to elaborate on what you mean by proof? I’d also be interested in knowing wether you think that basic sources of evidence require proof before you accept them as basic sources of evidence?

  • @ Matt

    I’ll take that as no then!

  • Matt Said:

    “My point is that the language of kill all men women donkeys and so on is not intended to be taken literally but is hyperbolic. Similarly to the way in a boxing match someone might say, “kill him, hand him his head, make his children fatherless and his wife a widow” its simply a exhortation to defeat ones opponent. Similarly when someone says the all blacks slaughtered the wallabies, totally crushed them, wiped them and and annihilated them” any kiwi knows that this means the all black won. Not anything more”.

    So, using that logic, does that mean that you endorse the perspective of a “Holocaust Denier” who use similar arguments to support their perspective?

  • As I am unable to tell if you Matthew Flannagan have answered my question, I humbly submit it again with minor alterations and a few addenda: Is Matthew Flannagan arguing that the ethnicity of those killed in the OT was not why they were killed, but rather because of the threat of their cultural practices and the possibility of those practices creeping into ancient Israelite culture? Is it the is okay to kill if you are afraid someone else’s actions and practices might cause you to do the same? Does this suggest that it is okay to kill for one’s own (or one’s culture’s) lack of self-control when one fears one’s own culture might begin to adopt another’s culture’s practices?

  • Paul “@ Matt I’ll take that as no then!” then you are choosing to read what I said that way, my answer was actually to ask you to clarify what you mean’t by proof.

    “‘So, using that logic, does that mean that you endorse the perspective of a “Holocaust Denier” who use similar arguments to support their perspective?

    No, it would follow only if holocaust deniers came up with arguments that the holocaust never happend which are analogous to mine in form and also can appeal to plausible premises. They haven’t. I suspect the empirical evidence we have that the holocaust happend is much greater than any argument that can be given for the claim the text was intended to be taken literally and it records accurately what happend.

  • Is Matthew Flannagan arguing that the ethnicity of those killed in the OT was not why they were killed, but rather because of the threat of their cultural practices and the possibility of those practices creeping into ancient Israelite culture?

    I’d argue that their enthnicity was not the reason at all, nor was it soley the fact that their “cultural practises” could possibly be adopted by Isreal. The text does not support either of these options, so I find it a little odd that skeptics portray it this way.

    “Is it the is okay to kill if you are afraid someone else’s actions and practices might cause you to do the same?”

    That might depend on the practise in question, suppose the practise is murder, suppose we know capital punishment of the murderer will deter crime. Would it be obviously absurd to allow capital punishment? I don’t think you can dismiss this claim outright.

    Does this suggest that it is okay to kill for one’s own (or one’s culture’s) lack of self-control when one fears one’s own culture might begin to adopt another’s culture’s practices?

    See above it probably depends on the practise. Suppose for example a terrorist cell is really effective at recruiting youth, suppose it carries out lots of bombings. Could we use lethal force to combat it? I think we could.

  • Matthew writes:

    I think its more plausible that God would say somethings we find odd weird and uncomfortable and we have to live with this, than to simply ignore anything we don’t like.

    For what its worth…

    Actually, I would think just the opposite. An all powerful God who values truth, who is also the author of His words and our brains, would more plausibly, to me, be able to impart his message with the utmost clarity and understanding.

  • My point is that the language of kill all men women donkeys and so on is not intended to be taken literally but is hyperbolic. Similarly to the way in a boxing match someone might say, “kill him, hand him his head, make his children fatherless and his wife a widow” its simply a exhortation to defeat ones opponent. Similarly when someone says the all blacks slaughtered the wallabies, totally crushed them, wiped them and and annihilated them” any kiwi knows that this means the all black won. Not anything more.

    This is all well and good, but if we assume that your myths are true, then shouldn’t an all powerful diety try to be a little more clear in his commands? I mean, if an all powerful diety spoke to me, I imagine I would be inclined to take it literally.

    First Samuel 15 is supposedly god issuing a command, not Pauley telling Rocky to “kill” Mr. T.

  • Additionally, how is a literal reading of First Samuel 15 untenable when Saul is supposedly punished for not doing what was literally commanded in First Samuel 15?

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt that the Hebrews didn’t kill every man, woman, child, baby ox, sheep, camel and donkey, but it seems the logical conculsion is that the story that says they kill everything and who’s story requires a literal reading is simply bad ancient fiction rather than god breathed scripture.

  • Matt, I don’t have any problem with the conclusions you draw about these texts but my issue is really related to the ‘where to from here’.

    You, and not many other christians, find my idea of redoing the canon a good one but none can really fault it aside from the reasons you’ve given such as the fact it would be a difficult task, that we would be tempted to create a God we were more comfortable with or that we would remove sections of the bible that we found uncomfortable. I agree these are all valid concerns but were no less valid to those that put together the collection of books we have today.

    I put forward that God speaks to Christians today and that the church fathers had no greater portion of the holy spirit than is available to us today. He would not lead us into idol worship. As a result it may be that nothing is taken from the bible but rather the next chapter is added.

    Finally you state that, “I think its more plausible that God would say somethings we find odd weird and uncomfortable and we have to live with this, than to simply ignore anything we don’t like.”. I agree that we can’t disregard things we find uncomfortable and your work helps us understand what may be behind and eases the discomfort. However, what I am saying is that certain parts of the bible such as this seem more influenced by man than by God and while we shouldn’t necessarily entirely disregard them it may be more helpful to recommend a seeker read the gospel of Luke first or maybe another work by a modern Christian author. If they never got to read this passage, would they have lost much or missed something vital to their faith?

  • Sorry! that should have been: You, and many other christians, do not find my idea of redoing the canon a good one….

  • Drj “For what its worth…

    Actually, I would think just the opposite. <
    An all powerful God who values truth, who is also the author of His words and our brains, would more plausibly, to me, be able to impart his message with the utmost clarity and understanding.

    This conclusion entails that you are infallible. To suggest that a omnscient, fully rational, perfectly good person would never issue a command at odds with what you or your culture believe is correct is to suggest you and your culture never make mistakes on these issues.

    I always find it odd that people who claim to be skeptics have such faith in their own moral assesments.

  • Additionally, how is a literal reading of First Samuel 15 untenable when Saul is supposedly punished for not doing what was literally commanded in First Samuel 15?

    I address that in the post above.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt that the Hebrews didn’t kill every man, woman, child, baby ox, sheep, camel and donkey, but it seems the logical conculsion is that the story that says they kill everything and who’s story requires a literal reading is simply bad ancient fiction rather than god breathed scripture.

    Two things, first even if the text is fiction ( which I would dispute) why does this mean the text is not God breathed?. Is there some rule that says God only communicates through non fiction? Whats the basis for this rule.

    Second, I think I addressed all these issues above, I gave reasons why its unlikely the author intended the text to be taken literally. The fact that he goes on to say that these accounts did not literally happen latter in the same text, the fact that this kind of language is used so often in contexts where its followed up with matter of fact claims that its not literal on so many occasions, makes it unlikely its a mistake.

    Third, as I noted this kind of hyperbole is very common in ancient near eastern history writing. Are you going to conclude all the ancients just wrote bad fiction.

    It seems to me this kind of response is simply a product of uncharitable reading. When one finds an obvious tension in a literal reading. One always assumes the most likely explanation is the authors were simply to stupid to notice the tensions and intended to speak literally. I think that’s an uncharitable way to read texts and certain no Christian is commited to reading the text this way.

  • I put forward that God speaks to Christians today and that the church fathers had no greater portion of the holy spirit than is available to us today. He would not lead us into idol worship. As a result it may be that nothing is taken from the bible but rather the next chapter is added.

    I put to you that this is hubris, your position seems to me that after 200 years of pretty much unanimous consent by Christians and Jews that 1 Samuel and Joshua are in the Canon, modern Christain’s have finally “heard from God” that in fact these books were not Canonical. This is coupled with your suggestion that modern Christians couldn’t possibly be lead into serious error in doing this, apparent its just that every other Christian and Jewish community has been through out history.

    Sorry but I find this naive in excelesis.

  • This is all well and good, but if we assume that your myths are true, then shouldn’t an all powerful diety try to be a little more clear in his commands? I mean, if an all powerful diety spoke to me, I imagine I would be inclined to take it literally.

    Your a 21st century westerner, of course if God spoke to you you would take it literally. That does not mean however that if God used language like that to an ancient near eastern person they would take it literally.

    First Samuel 15 is supposedly god issuing a command, not Pauley telling Rocky to “kill” Mr. T.

    its an account of God giving a command, using language which is regularly used hyperbolically, in a context where obvious hyperbole is used, in a historical context where people often wrote hyperbolic accounts like this not intending them to be taken literally, and in a book where the author goes on to state it did not literally happen. So I don’t see the force of the “supposed” here. I think when one looks at the context its not obvious at all.

    Simply ignoring these factors and asserting that its what you say it is, is just bad reading of the text.

  • @ Matt

    Firstly, given your expertise and also your christian beliefs, I thought you would have been more than capable of offering proof that these were in fact “god’s words” as you claim, but then again, being an apologist, I’ve seen that you often avoid straight answers, so no surprises there really!

    Second, I feel that your perspective meets the criteria for genocide denial, which is when an act of genocide is met with attempts to deny the occurrence and minimize the scale or death toll. The most well-known type is Holocaust Denial, but its definition can extend to any genocide that has been minimized or met with excessive skepticism.

    The Slaughter of the Canannites has been described by L. Daniel Hawk as a form of “ethnic cleansing”.

    In addition Ra’anan Boustan, Alex Jassen, and Calvin Roetzel assert that – in the modern era – the violence directed towards the Canaanites would be characterized as genocide.

    Further to this, Zev Garber characterizes the commandment to wage war on the Amalekites as genocide and Pekka Pitkanen asserts that Deuteronomy involves “demonization of the opponent” which is typical of genocide.

    Finally Matt, I do understand why you would put so much effort into your stance, as the extremely serious nature of the crime of genocide, along with the terrible reputation it creates, and potential repercussions that may come against a nation, or in your case your god, as a result of committing it, or in his, her, its’ case, ordering it, ensures that whenever genocide is charged, there will be parties that attempt to avoid or divert blame.

    It doesn’t show your god in a very good light does it, so I do understand your motivation completely.

  • Ryan I suspect your claim that you would take this language literally if addressed to you is not not really true.

    First, what God says to Samuel in the passage you refer to is written in ancient Hebrew, unless you are a proficient speaker of ancient Hebrew I doubt you would take the language literally, you wouldn’t even understand it

    Second, its clear you don’t actually take the passage literally when its translated into English here is what the passage literally says.

    “strike Amalek and but under ban all that belongs to him, and do not spare him; but put to death kill from man to woman, child to infant, ox to sheep, camel to donkey.”

    This passage literally tells Saul to strike a single person called Amalek. You interpret Amalek as a personification for a people group and take the word strike to mean kill. That’s probably correct but its not what the text literally says. Your assuming a literary technique of personification is being used.

    You also take the word “ban” to mean “utterly destroy” again that’s probably correct but it’s not what the text literally says.
    Finally, the text literally says that Saul is not spare anything that belongs to this person Amalek, and states they are to kill from man to woman, child to infant, ox to sheep, camel to donkey. You interpret this to mean “man and women” “infant and child” that’s disputable but again you are assuming something other than a literal reading.

    Moreover, I am sure that those who adopt a literal reading think Saul was commanded to not take alive horses or cattle even though only donkeys camels and sheep are mentioned.
    I also suspect that when the text goes on to say Saul “struck Amalek from Shur to Havila” that you don’t think he chases an individual called Amalek from Egypt to Arabia hitting him. You take this as a figure of speech for the claim he killed Amalekites all across this region.

    So in reality you can’t interpret this literally at all unless you already know something of the linguistic conventions of another culture. Moreover those who advocate a literal view in fact accept various figures of speech.
    Whats odd is that once things like cultural context awareness of figures of speech gets a reading that says Saul commited Genocide you suddenly demand people stop doing this, and claim its illegitimate.

    The word special pleading comes to mind here.

  • Just want to say:
    Wow Matt,
    Well done with your responses, you were on quite a roll!

    Especially liked:
    “Your position seems to me that after 200 years of pretty much unanimous consent by Christians and Jews that 1 Samuel and Joshua are in the Canon, modern Christain’s have finally “heard from God” that in fact these books were not Canonical. This is coupled with your suggestion that modern Christians couldn’t possibly be lead into serious error in doing this, apparent its just that every other Christian and Jewish community has been through out history. ”

    I think you meant 2000 years

    and:

    “I always find it odd that people who claim to be skeptics have such faith in their own moral assesments.”

    Brilliant stuff – keep it up!

  • Paul
    You write
    Firstly, given your expertise and also your christian beliefs, I thought you would have been more than capable of offering proof that these were in fact “god’s words” as you claim, but then again, being an apologist, I’ve seen that you often avoid straight answers, so no surprises there really!

    Actually, I am aware given my “expertise” that almost no beliefs of any substance can be proven. One cannot prove for example that reason is reliable without relying on reason and arguing in a circle. One can’t prove that other people exist, one can’t prove the principle of induction, one can’t approve that causes occur, and so on. A little understanding of the history of epistemology and you’d be aware of this to. So when a person asks me to prove something and treats it like a serious objection I ask what they mean by proof.

    Thats not avoiding the question by the way anymore than refusing to answer questions like “have you stopped beating your wife?” are questions.

    So again, Paul what do you mean by proof?

    Second, I feel that your perspective meets the criteria for genocide denial, which is when an act of genocide is met with attempts to deny the occurrence and minimize the scale or death toll. The most well-known type is Holocaust Denial, but its definition can extend to any genocide that has been minimized or met with excessive skepticism.

    This definition is problematic, your suggestion is that anyone who is sceptical of a particular accusation of genocide is a “genocide denier” on par with a holocaust denier. This would mean that the only way one could avoid genocide denial is to accept uncritically every accusation it has occurred. Obviously that is an indefensible position. It would mean in fact that everyone accused of genocide is innocent until proven guilty.

    I also note the interesting reversal of the burden of proof here, atheists like your self demand that people prove certain things are the case before they accept them. Now when its an accusation of Genocide against God you claim that being sceptical is “holocaust denial” . Which is it?

    The reality is that wether its appropriate to be sceptical of a claim of genocide depends on the evidence for the particular claim. Some claims may be well supported others may not be. You can’t decide that because holocaust deniers deny compelling evidence it follows that every other claim of genocide is supported by compelling evidence. Thats clearly silly.

    Suppose I simply asserted that Dawkins was a genocidal maniac, does it follow that your a holocaust denier if you disagree with me? Please don’t minimise the horrible atrocities Dawkins has commited.

    ‘The Slaughter of the Canannites has been described by L. Daniel Hawk as a form of “ethnic cleansing”.
    In addition Ra’anan Boustan, Alex Jassen, and Calvin Roetzel assert that – in the modern era – the violence directed towards the Canaanites would be characterized as genocide.
    Further to this, Zev Garber characterizes the commandment to wage war on the Amalekites as genocide and Pekka Pitkanen asserts that Deuteronomy involves “demonization of the opponent” which is typical of genocide.”

    Here we see you essentially arguing, its Genocide because some people said so, apparently I am supposed to believe things on faith in a written authority.

    I have seen people demonise the wallabies in rugby games. Does that make it Genocide? Try an argument.

    Finally Matt, I do understand why you would put so much effort into your stance, as the extremely serious nature of the crime of genocide, along with the terrible reputation it creates, and potential repercussions that may come against a nation, or in your case your god, as a result of committing it, or in his, her, its’ case, ordering it, ensures that whenever genocide is charged, there will be parties that attempt to avoid or divert blame.

    And now its psychoanalysis.
    Sorry Paul, but if you want to substantiate your position you need to offer arguments for it. Demanding I “prove” something, then turning around and making assertions without proof and , backing them up by insinuating that anyone who disagrees with you is like a neo nazi and then impigning peoples motives really does not cut it.

  • The deity that ordered the smiting of the Amalekites would have felt quite comfortable as a Kommandant at Sobibor, Treblinka, Belzez or Chelmno. The biggest irony is that Christians honestly believe that he was there, at all times, at each of those extermination camps – able to intervene but didn’t. Time to pull out that handy, dandy mystery card …. Jesus, why don’t you drop in on this comment thread and help us out? Oops, I forgot – you are a figment of Matt’s imagination.

  • I see TAM so now it comes to insulting assertions rather than substantive argument.

    Unfortunately repeating athiest chat room slogans and being snarky is not really a rational argument against anything.

  • This conclusion entails that you are infallible. To suggest that a omnscient, fully rational, perfectly good person would never issue a command at odds with what you or your culture believe is correct is to suggest you and your culture never make mistakes on these issues.

    I find it odd that people who claim to be skeptics have such faith in their own moral assesments.”

    That’s not quite what I mean.

    It doesnt entail that people are infallible. God, however, is an infallible communicator, and an infallible inventor. So one might have reason to believe that both the communications – and the recevieng equipment (us) – might have some greater synergy than they do. have to defend genocide.

    Unfortunately, both the message and those of us who are supposed to receive the message, from Bibles to brains, are a hot mess. Maybe there is room for the existence of muddled communication or understanding, but one certainly would think, at the very least, God wouldnt put his followers in the position of possibly believing that he commanded genocide, as many do. The author of our psychology would know better.

  • Ok so the issue is simply that God could have made people who communicated better. He could have made people who shared a common language for example used the same literary conventions across cultures and times, and so on. Or he could have made people with brains that processed information differently, or people who wrote differently or communicated in more efficient ways and so

    Of course there are ambiguities here, is the claim that God could have made us this wayso that we would be radically different culturally and yet still be the same people?
    Or that God could have made people other than us with these abilities? In which case are we better off because he chose not to?

    But even putting these issues aside a world where this is the case would be one with very different history to this world and one with quite different social discourse and practises. I don’t pretend to know what else would or would not be the case in it, and I don’t pretend to know wether an omniscient person who is morally perfect would be required to bring it into existence instead of ours. I think confident claims to this effect are very speculative.

    Ok so the issue is simply that God could have made people who communicated better. He could have made people who shared a common language for example used the same literary conventions across cultures and times, and so on. Or he could have made people with brains that processed information differently, or people who wrote differently or communicated in more efficient ways and so.

    Of course there are ambiguities here, is the claim that God could have made us this wayso that we would be radically different culturally and yet still be the same people?
    Or that God could have made people other than us with these abilities? In which case are we better off because he chose not to?

    But even putting these issues aside a world where this is the case would be one with very different history to this world and one with quite different social discourse and practises. I don’t pretend to know what else would or would not be the case in it, and I don’t pretend to know wether an omniscient person who is morally perfect would be required to bring it into existence instead of ours. I think confident claims to this effect are very speculative.

  • drj
    you seem to be repeating the old “God cant be real because he doest fit my picture of what he should be like” argument.
    Which raises one really obvious question…
    Why on earth should/would God necessarily fit your preconceptions?

  • Matt; I assume if god were to give me command, it would be in English or German. But who knows…

    And I think you knew what I meant by literally, but way to be pedantic.

  • Now for another question
    A few years back in England there was a big outbreak of BSE, almost 200,000 cattle were killed to protect the human population from infection.
    This was perpetrated on one species by another species.
    Further back Germany iniated WW2, this ultimately resulted in the deaths of millions of Germans as the Allies sought to protect themselves from National Socialism. This was perpetrated by one species on itself.
    Assuming there is a Creator God, would He not have every right to do what He considered necessary to protect His creation? If He decided some infection needed cleansing, on what basis can we possibly object. I am not suggesting that the OT accounts provide us with any licence to kill or cleanse.
    I just dont get the objection. We do it to ourselves, we do it to other species [ dust of the ground just as we are]. If there is a Creator God, He is so far above us in knowledge power and understanding that comparison must be impossible.
    If there is no God, then its just survival of the fittest at a societal level, and history is written by the winners. And the objection makes no sense.
    If Adolf and the Emporer had won WW2 how different would our understanding of morality be?

  • TAM
    just the slightest of inconsistancies there.
    God intervenes in the case of the Amalekites and you acuse Him of being Nazi like; you dont see any evidence of intervention at Nazi death camps and you acuse Him of not caring [or being unreal].
    If He was real, which position do you want Him to take? Intervention or non-intervention. Do you think He should have stepped in and wiped the Germans from the face of the planet, men, women, children and cattle? Or maybe He should just go around zapping bad people? But who is bad?
    What if He considered atheist missionaries deliberately trying to keep people away from Him worse than unhappy drunks who accidently run over children? Just a thought, God might have a much longer term perspective than the brief span of years that is a human life. I seem to remember Jesus said something about not fearing those who destroy the body, rather fear those who destroy the soul.

  • Assuming there is a Creator God, would He not have every right to do what He considered necessary to protect His creation? If He decided some infection needed cleansing, on what basis can we possibly object.

    Well Jeremy, let’s also assume he gave us the ability to apprehend moral values and then also assume he has the ability to harden and soften hearts and is omnipotent, so with all that in mind, you tell us how we possibly can’t object.

  • Don’t you know, for TAM, it’s only moral if descent, smart people like Peter Singer condone the “taking of active steps” to kill a specific population of people (i.e. newborn infants)

  • “It doesnt entail that people are infallible. God, however, is an infallible communicator, and an infallible inventor. So one might have reason to believe that both the communications – and the recevieng equipment (us) – might have some greater synergy than they do. have to defend genocide.”

    This seems to assumes that the infallible inventor’s purpose was to create infallible receivers without the possibility of misinterpreting him. So although you claim that it doesn’t entail that people are infallible, you seem to imply later on that it does.
    But perhaps the inventor did not want to create perfect automaton receivers, but receivers with free will with the possibility of misinterpreting the inventor’s messages if the receiver so chooses.


  • But even putting these issues aside a world where this is the case would be one with very different history to this world and one with quite different social discourse and practises. I don’t pretend to know what else would or would not be the case in it, and I don’t pretend to know wether an omniscient person who is morally perfect would be required to bring it into existence instead of ours. I think confident claims to this effect are very speculative.

    Speculative, sure I’ll grant that. But I don’t find it more speculative than any of the mountains of claims about God’s nature, values, or motivations that one can read from any theologain out there. I don’t think they have any special authority or experience when it comes to speculating about the motives and values of an omniscient, all-powerful, all-good brain. And as speculations go, I find mine more plausible than the speculations that God had good reason to either command genocide or include glorified tales of it in his written communications to us. I’m sure our opinions will probably differ on that point.

    And BTW, I imagine your a busy guy and do appreciate the time you take to craft your answers. The discussions are interesting (maybe more so for me than for you, I don’t know!)

  • Jeremy:


    you seem to be repeating the old “God cant be real because he doest fit my picture of what he should be like” argument.
    Which raises one really obvious question…
    Why on earth should/would God necessarily fit your preconceptions?

    Well, I am sort of doing that. But as I said above, its no different than what theologians and philosophers do on a daily basis. That’s a large part of the theology business. And its a perfectly reasonable way to go about things, in my opinion.

  • Stu wrote:


    This seems to assumes that the infallible inventor’s purpose was to create infallible receivers without the possibility of misinterpreting him. So although you claim that it doesn’t entail that people are infallible, you seem to imply later on that it does.
    But perhaps the inventor did not want to create perfect automaton receivers, but receivers with free will with the possibility of misinterpreting the inventor’s messages if the receiver so chooses.

    All these ideas really encircle a general problem evil.

    If God values X, why does the world contain such overwhelming amounts ~X? Well, the theist answers usually propose that there is something Y that God values more than X, which also entails the existence of ~X. So its claimed that Y and ~X, is more valuable than X and ~Y.

    So then we can argue about whether Y and ~X is something a theistic god would actually value more than X and ~Y, or whether Y actually does entail large amounts of ~X (and vice verse). (And notice how both positions actually require each side to speculate about God’s motives, nature, or desires – so nobody really has any higher footing here – we’re all just doing the best we can in reasoning about God).

    In your case, you offer free choice as something God might consider more valuable than perfect (or at least more optimal) communication.

    As for free will, I strongly feel that free will does not entail miscommunication (or even the ability to do evil). So for me, that short circuits the whole thing right off the bat. Y does not entail ~X, so it would be perfectly possible for Y to exist without ~X.

  • Matt / Jeremy, I’m not sure that the fact that you find it arrogant or naive really answers any questions.
    Is it naive to believe that god speaks to us today, that he might have things to say that are not explicitly covered in the bible?
    Is the word of god now decided by consensus r the passing of time as you suggest?
    Should we not be brave enough to admit that it is possible that on some things we may have been wrong for extended periods of time, if we’re accusing people of hubris and naivety then lets start by not assuming that we’ve got everything right as it stands.
    Your post is really saying that the interpretation we have commonly held (for x hundred years) may be wrong.
    Why do you assume that I think we’ve been idol worshippers all this time? I’m not accusing anyone of that and I definitely don’t worship the god of the cannon blindly as you seem to suggest. I worship the god revealed to me by the holy spirit and the canon.
    If you have no faith in Christianity being lead into all truth as the bible promises it how do you trust that those that put the cannon together got the ‘word of god’ right? How do you maintain membership to a church if you do not trust the leadership to steer clear of adultery. Amazingly, in this area, at least I seem to have a little faith.

  • i don’t get the point of this article.

    people attack the bible by saying look, if there is a god today, and he is the same god of the old testament, he condoned actions which drastically violate our sense of right and wrong today, so he is either inconsistent, possibly because he’s imaginary, or he is evil by all our modern definitions of the word. right?

    so how does saying ‘but they didn’t really slaughter ALL of them’ contribute to the conversation? deliberately not leaving anyone alive in even one small village still violates our sense of right and wrong, even if there are plenty of other towns.

    matt says “it would follow only if holocaust deniers came up with arguments that the holocaust never happend which are analogous to mine in form and also can appeal to plausible premises”. but his argument seems to be that there were still plenty of amalekites alive after the fact, so … so what? so the slaughters weren’t really a big deal? or weren’t really ‘evil’? an analogous holocaust denial would be to say that there are still plenty of jews alive today, so if there was a holocaust it wasn’t really a big deal or ‘evil’ either…

  • “As for free will, I strongly feel that free will does not entail miscommunication”

    I agree with you on this point. Free will does not entail miscommunication but it does entail the possibility of miscommunication. How someone interprets a message can be effected by how one wants to by, his own free will, choose to interpret a message.

    for example:
    PB asks a question – “So how can you prove that these are in fact god’s words then?”

    M replies with – “You’ll have to elaborate on what you mean by proof?”

    then PB says – “I’ll take that as a no then!”

    There is a miscommunication here, and it is clear that M did not answer PB’s question with a “no”. However, PB has decided to interpret M’s response as a “no” to fit his own prerogative.

    I submit that free will may allow someone the possibility to misinterpret a message based on one’s own motivation to misinterpret a message.
    Hence, when you ask God to make it so that noone would have the possibility of misinterpreting Him, it is the similar to asking Him to make everyone’s motivation to be perfectly aligned with His with no ability to choose otherwise.

  • If William Lane Craig said that he wouldn’t debate Dawkins because Dawkins didn’t think human beings had any intrinsic value more than mosquitos or pumpkins, New Atheists would be braying from the roof tops about his cowardice. This is all just a diversionary tactic because Dawkins *can’t* debate Craig and certainly doesn’t want to after he humiliated Harris.

  • “As for free will, I strongly feel that free will does not entail miscommunication (or even the ability to do evil).”

    Seriously? you think there could be free will with no ability to do wrong, no ability to do other than you ought? That somehow when faced with a decision between two actions we could have free will but be absolutely incapable of choosing the wrong/evil action?

    Please define “free”?

  • Better also define “will”.

  • Ryan
    lets look at the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.[ but not any arguments over homosexuality].
    .
    Abraham is recorded as objecting to God’s proposed action . He argues with God to the point where God agrees to back off if Abraham can find as few as 10 good people in the two towns.
    Abraham couldnt bring himself to believe these towns were so wholly evil as to merit destruction even though God had told him so. Then given the chance to do just one thing right, they couldnt even treat two strangers with a little respect and dignity.

    What does the story ultimately tell us? Maybe that “God” can “see” just a bit better than we can, “knows” a little more than we do.

    “assume he gave us the ability to apprehend moral values”

    I would agree that we are given this ability. But i still think you are asking the wrong questions. If we have the ability to apprehend moral values, why is the overwhelming evidence of history that mankind consistantly and repeatedly ignores those moral values?

  • Matt; I assume if god were to give me command, it would be in English or German. But who knows…

    In otherwords it would be mediated through the conventions of a human language, and wether you took it literally will depend on those conventions.

    If God communicated to you through english words which are known to be hyperbolic or non literal,if there was a convention of writing highly hyperbolised accounts of the sort in question and God in english followed this communication up with words which showed he did not mean it was literal, would you still take it literally?

    Or would you take it literally and then claim its God fault for not making it clear.

  • Stu

    so how does saying ‘but they didn’t really slaughter ALL of them’ contribute to the conversation? deliberately not leaving anyone alive in even one small village still violates our sense of right and wrong, even if there are plenty of other towns.

    But that’s not my claim, my claim is not that he wiped out whole villages except one.Its that the language of “wiping them out” and stories of doing so are hyperbolic ways of saying ” we totally defeated them”

    Moreover, you need to take into account the other things I argue such as what I spelt out in my previous post, my posts on abhorrent commands: http://www.mandm.org.nz/2010/10/god-morality-and-abhorrent-commands-part-i-kant.html. http://www.mandm.org.nz/2010/10/god-morality-and-abhorrent-commands-part-ii-robert-adams.html http://www.mandm.org.nz/2010/11/god-morality-and-abhorrent-commands-part-iii-philip-quinn.html.

    There is also the other factors in the narrative about the Canaanites, Amalekites, what has already happend, what the conditions were reasons given and so on.

    an analogous holocaust denial would be to say that there are still plenty of jews alive today, so if there was a holocaust it wasn’t really a big deal or ‘evil’ either…

    That caricatures my argument, it would be more like this, (a) there is no archeological or historical evidence apart from Nazi records that the holocaust occured. (b) the nazi records if taken literally state that the holocaust was complete and everyone was killed. (c) the same reports however proceed on the assumption that the holocaust never literally happend and assume this matter of factually through out.(d) we discover that nazi reports like this are often written hyperbolically so that when the win a battle they describe it in highly exaggerated terms. (e) the nazi reports are written in this type of language.

    I think if (a) (b) (c) (d) and (e) did apply to the holocaust one could be skeptical that that the holocaust did not happend. The nazis fought a battle against some jews which they won, and expressed with Bravado. That would be all we could conclude. Of course the fact is (a)-(d) do not apply to the holocaust, we have nothing like that evidential situation with it, and that’s one reason why the analogy fails. We have plenty of historical evidence it occurred, Nazi reports do not proceed on the assumption that it never happened, and 20th century German reports are not written in terms hyperbolised accounts.

  • @ Matt

    Firstly, the burden of proof lies with you Matt, seeing as you are the one making the assertion that these are “gods’ words” not me.

    Second, given that you state that almost no beliefs of any substance can be proven, then that would imply that there is no point in attempting to prove that god exists anyway, as, according to your logic, you can’t!

    Secondly, as far as your issue with regard to “genocide denial” is concerned, you misrepresent my point, namely that the “Slaughter of the Canannites” can, given the description in the bible, be viewed as meeting the criteria for an attempt at genocide.

    Your attempts to reinterpret the text are similar to other examples of historical revisionism, are in reality, just that. Your personal interpretation. I do not share it.

    Thirdly, with regard to the authority of those I cited as endorsing the genocidal interpretation. I understood, given the way you throw academic references around to support your own posts, that this was a completely legitimate practice.

    If not, then I feel I’m equally able to disregard the numerous academics you have listed to support your views as well then.

    Fourthly, as far as psychoanalysis is concerned, I didn’t see my perspective on your personal christian bias as being that at all.

    You would have to be lying if you claimed that your own religious convictions have no influence on what you write, just as surely as I would be if I thought that my atheistic ones don’t influence me.

    Finally, your continued attempts to sanitise the orders and actions of those in the bible is really quite amusing to watch.

    Unfortunately, as you claimed, but have still not proven though, they are the “words of your god” so, at the end of the day, you’re still stuck with them all!

  • “Secondly, as far as your issue with regard to “genocide denial” is concerned, you misrepresent my point, namely that the “Slaughter of the Canannites” can, given the description in the bible, be viewed as meeting the criteria for an attempt at genocide.”

    For goodness sake Paul, that is Matt’s whole point. What is the decription in the bible.? Is it a 21C literal description or was it written according to other conventions? If so, what were they? Once we know them, what does it say in 21C terms?

  • if all the amalekites had all been slaughtered, that would sit uneasy with you. if not then instead of pointing out that they weren’t really all killed, you would be explaining why it wouldn’t have really mattered even if they were. ok i accept that they didn’t really kill all of them, but if they only completely massacred the occupants of one small village with gods approval, that would still violate our modern day sense of good and evil. even on a small scale to “not leave a man or woman alive, but (take) sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes” is not just harmless exaggeration after a successful battle, it deliberately cleansing an area of an ethnicity after a successful battle.

    it makes no difference to morality of the command to kill man, woman, child, and infant that they weren’t actually able to eliminate all amalekites. the command itself is enough.

    and you’ve completely missed the point of the jewish holocaust analogy. i was comparing it to your argument saying that it wasn’t really a big deal because there were plenty of survivors. which is what you’re saying, right?

  • @ Jeremy

    I completely understand the point that Matt is trying to make.

    The basic problem you have, is that either god commanded this act or he didn’t.

    If he did, then you can’t argue that he is the all loving, caring character that you are so desperately trying to protect.

    Or if he didn’t, then you are dealing with what I imagine was typical behaviour of warring tribes at that time and in that area, and for that matter throughout history, such as the use of the christian faith by the Nazis to inspire their troops and people.

    Even today, various factions are quite happy to claim that their god of choice is completely happy in any military or other violent actions eg: Al Queda claiming their actions to be the will of god, etc.

    Personally, my view is that god did not command the act, as I see no proof for his existence, but I see huge amounts of evidence to support the idea that people have used their god, gods of choice to endorse all sorts of action, which is actually what is being described here.

  • “The basic problem you have, is that either god commanded this act or he didn’t.

    If he did, then you can’t argue that he is the all loving, caring character that you are so desperately trying to protect.”

    I dont see this s a problem. Yes God commanded this act, no it wasnt a genocidal action as we understand it, Matt has explained the language conventions of thetime and place.

    And of course this doesnt compromise God’s character. The fact that you forget that God is also portrayed as absolutely holy and just and perfect, as well as loving and kind is your problem not mine. He is not a kindly grandfather there just to spoil us. And we do not set the terms of our relationship with him. We get to approach God as creatures not as equals.
    He doesnt compromise His justice to be kind and loving. Even an ordinary human father knows you have to be father before being friend. Sometimes you have to deny and discipline your children if they are to grow into responsible self disciplined adults. You cannot let children have their way, they simply dont know enough about consequences. Our children are a lot closer to us as mature adults than we are to God..
    You dont believe in God, thats fine, but i dont think much of your concept of what god could or should be anyway. I come across it all the time, atheists who object to God. But what they object to is really an idea of someone who is a slightly more powerful peson who doesnt behave the way they think a person ought to. I find this odd, if only because the first objections tend to be around what “ought” to be.

  • Jeremy wrote:


    Seriously? you think there could be free will with no ability to do wrong, no ability to do other than you ought? That somehow when faced with a decision between two actions we could have free will but be absolutely incapable of choosing the wrong/evil action?

    Yes, I do. The obvious counter example (for theists anyways) to the idea that free will and inability to do evil are logically incompatible is none other than God Himself. If one maintains that position, one will find themselves on a particularly prickly horn – either God has no free will, or He is capable of evil. Depending on your theology, the same holds true for the denizens of heaven. Most theists I know don’t find either horn appealing.

    So if one admits there is no logical contradiction between free will and ability to do evil, then this world needs some additional explanation. Why do we find ourselves in a world where free will results in the ability to do evil? Reasons need to be offered why God didnt just start with a sinless heaven.

    William Lane Craig likes to say that perhaps a heaven populated by those who freely chooose God might not be possible without the natural progression of this world. There are a variety of other possible explanations offered, and while they can save the theist from all out logical contradiction, in my opinion, none seem very plausible, and only end up detracting from the plausibility of theism overall.

  • @ Jeremy

    You said:

    “Sometimes you have to deny and discipline your children if they are to grow into responsible self disciplined adults”.

    So what had the Jews done, that god would allow the holocaust to take place?

    Was this some form of indirect discipline, as you stated?

    If it wasn’t, why didn’t god attempt to help them?

    Allowing such an atrocity, does not strike me as the actions of an, “absolutely holy and just and perfect” god, which is how you described him, her, it, whatever.

  • djr
    Good point.
    Although of course we are not Gods, which could provide the first part of the answer.

    “Reasons need to be offered why God didnt just start with a sinless heaven. ”

    The usual answer is that God chose to make us free to choose Him rather than compelled to do so. Free to choose for is also free to choose against.
    If you go and by one of Japan’s new robotic companions for the elderly or house bound, its not your friend its a machine.
    If you read Paul the Apostle he talks about Gods work in perfecting Christians.
    Ultimately you will have to ask God why He prefers the company of people who choose to be His friends rather than a bunch of robotic companion devices. For myself all i can say is that i find this understandable, i have always preferred the company of those who want to be my friends.

  • “So what had the Jews done, that god would allow the holocaust to take place?

    Was this some form of indirect discipline, as you stated?

    If it wasn’t, why didn’t god attempt to help them?”

    First of all i am not aware of scripture either prophesying or recording the Holocast as God punishing the Jews.

    No i didnt state that this was some form of indirect discipline, thats you deliberately twisting my words.

    You imply that God should have intervened to stop the Germans doing some thing evil. Why? Should He also intervene to save tsunami victims, should He intervene to prevent earthquke related deaths such as happened here in Christchurch?. Should He intervene to prevent rape, burglary, pick pocketing.
    Where and at what level do you think He should intervene in the behaviour and consequence of people to whom He has given freedom. What level of intervention would be Just and Loving when over riding that freedom? Would God be Perfect if He told us we were free but consistantly intervened to over ride that freedom? Or would He be a liar and deciever?
    What, if in choosing to be far more interventionist in our day to day lives, if God didnt like you doing some of the things you like doing?
    Maybe God should consult with you about which things He should intervene in and which He shouldnt. What if your neighbour across the street didnt agree with you?

    Your objections amount to the same as TAMs, God doesnt act according to your agenda.

    Why would you expect that He should? Who are you?

  • So it appears mass-killings occur with and without divine command. No matter what, likely according to MattF and Jeremy, if they are ordered by BibleGod they are just and holy and good and we should worship the BibleGod for these mass killings because it is part of his holiness, as is everything he does.

    Jeremy, what makes you think the mass killings of various Canaanite tribes was ordered by BibleGod/Jesus?

  • @ Jeremy

    Given what you have said, how do you reconcile the supposed fact that your god was quite happy to give the Egyptians a hard time when it came to Moses and the Jews, especially the whole parting of the Red Sea and subsequent drowning of virtually all the troops who were pursuing them?

    Perhaps, as you say, “Where and at what level do you think He should intervene” and also “What level of intervention would be Just and Loving?”

    Maybe the six million Jews who were exterminated at the hand of the Nazis, didn’t qualify when compared to those heading across the bottom of the Red Sea over 2000 years ago.

    Is it perhaps a numbers game. Were there more Jews involved in that event than the holocaust? Just a thought

  • “we should worship the BibleGod for these mass killings ”

    Not to the best of my knowledge, i know of no such command.

  • So , having written an extended answer outling a Christian understanding of disasters, intervention and the change in the way God deals with men from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant , i pushed the wrong buttons and lost it all, and now i have guests. It will have to wait.

  • Paul Bennet “Given what you have said, how do you reconcile the supposed fact that your god was quite happy to give the Egyptians a hard time when it came to Moses and the Jews, especially the whole parting of the Red Sea and subsequent drowning of virtually all the troops who were pursuing them?”

    Yes Paul and look at the great bang up job people with your mentality have done for this world we live in, bravo man, bravo!!!!

    Hey if there is no God, everything is permitted, everything is up for grabs. There is no heaven, no hell. Good people die and everything in their life means nothing as there good deeds go unrewarded.

    Bad people die and everything in their life means nothing as there deeds go unpunished

    There is morality, no good, no evil, no right, wrong, just pointless indifference, we are machines used to propagate DNA…for…….Some reason I guess, who knows, but we won’t be here to see it.

    I love how people like you beat your chest over the fact that life ends in worm food, but if that’s the case. Who Cares what the Bible says what God did?

    First off you don’t even believe in the events of the bible, then you use the Bible make a point against Christians which is an obvious taci-cab fallacy. You are also asserting that the Bible is infalliable.

    See if I were an atheist, I would feel hypocritical bringing up ANYTHING in the Bible, because I wouldn’t believe in ANYTHING in the Bible. What I say is trivial, even hypothetically speaking, because hypothetically speaking one would be stating the Bible has no errors and everything written in it is Correctly written.

    Evil doesn’t exist, Atheism = meaningless, valueless, purposeless lives. So if you are going to LIE to yourself and say Humans have value, then at least admit it. The Universe doesn’t care if you live or not.

    What say you Atheists???? Going to try and BS me to death by asserting a purposeless universe can create purpose on a little speck of sand?

    I mean seriously, who are you kidding? It is what it is

    I say live it up…..Why NOT right?

  • *Their* good deeds
    *Their* bad deeds
    There is *No* morality
    *Taxi-Cab*

  • Ryan Anderson “This is all well and good, but if we assume that your myths are true, then shouldn’t an all powerful diety try to be a little more clear in his commands? I mean, if an all powerful diety spoke to me, I imagine I would be inclined to take it literally.”

    Ryan Anderson uses and argument from personal preference, he is creating “what he thinks” is how a Deity should act. He does what many other loving atheists do and think up a God inside their own mind, then give the God they think up inside their minds a set of rules on how a Deity should act. They don’t realize what they are doing, but they do it anyways, because either they think they can get away with it and no one will call them out on it, or they just don’t realize that are creating an imaginary sky daddy inside their mind to comfort them in this argument in which they are losing.

    Atheists as far as I know, aren’t immune to any double standard when it comes to contradiction, now Ryan I want you to say this with me.

    “I’m not credible to speak on how a Deity should act, because I am just a mere human that will die and end up being food for the worms”

    When in fact, finite human beings aren’t credible to speak on this.

  • Paul you write

    “Personally, my view is that god did not command the act, as I see no proof for his existence, but I see huge amounts of evidence to support the idea that people have used their god, gods of choice to endorse all sorts of action, which is actually what is being described here.”

    Its a fact that through out history people have appealed to alleged moral obligations to justify atrocities.

    In fact secular values and ideals have been used to justify all sorts of atrocities, far more than religious claims ever have.

    Can you prove to me that moral obligations exist?

    If you can’t then can you explain to me why you object to Genocide and the holocaust?

    Presumably you do this because you think its wrong for people to do this. But if thats the case you must believe there exists an obligation to refrain from such things. Seeing you think the burden of proof is on him who affirms the existence of something I assume you can discharge this burden.

    So here is my challenge, provide a knock down proof that moral obligations exist or admit your arguments are bogus.

  • Given what you have said, how do you reconcile the supposed fact that your god was quite happy to give the Egyptians a hard time when it came to Moses and the Jews, especially the whole parting of the Red Sea and subsequent drowning of virtually all the troops who were pursuing them?

    if your going to cite texts do so competently, in fact the Exodus account states God miraculous intervened after several hundred years, including attempts to kill every male hebrew child. It was after this when Moses grew up and returned to egypt that the 10 plaques occured, then at the end of this process after Pharoh released them the event you refer to occured.

    Moreover, Hitler did get a hard time much worse than Pharoh did, his actions lead to war with Germany being bombed the german army killed and Hitler was forced to shoot him self in the head in a bunker. The nazi high command were executed. I don’t remember hearing about Pharoh getting a worse deal than this.

    The facts of the text and history do not support your comparison.

    Of course this does not address the argument from evil it does show that you cite texts and historical facts totally selectively.

    But more to the point, who seem to accept that a loving and just person could never allow the holocaust to occur. In otherwords there is no greater evil averted or greater good actualised as a result of this event that would be known to an omnsicent being that could justify his choice. You stated earlier that the burden of proof was on one who made affirmations. Can you prove this claim?

    In fact there seems to be a moral claim here that the holocaust was unjust and no loving and just person would tolerate it. This can be true only if there are moral facts, can you prove that moral facts exist. You demanded I prove my beliefs above, and poo pooed the suggestion one did not need to prove ones beliefs so where is yours?

  • Yes, I do. The obvious counter example (for theists anyways) to the idea that free will and inability to do evil are logically incompatible is none other than God Himself. If one maintains that position, one will find themselves on a particularly prickly horn – either God has no free will, or He is capable of evil.

    That does not follow at all, the free will defend by (ala Plantinga and Craig) holds its logically impossible for God to strongly actualise a world where every other person freely does good. This is because if God causes them to do good it is not freely done.

    Plantinga and Craig accept that its possible for everyone to choose to never do evil and if every one did choose a world where everyone choose evil would exist. The point is however its logically impossible for God to bring this world about. Only the people in the world can do this by each individually choosing it themselves.

    This does not entail that God cannot be free and sinless, because wether or not God freely chooses not to do evil is up to God. Whereas whether other people freely refrain from doing evil is not up to God. Hence God can strongly actualise the former but not the latter.

    Depending on your theology, the same holds true for the denizens of heaven. Most theists I know don’t find either horn appealing.

    This doesn’t follow either, the heaven is not a possible world where people never do evil. Its a possible world where a certain number do evil for a period of time, freely choose a path of redemption and then at some point cease to do evil. This is entirely compatible with Craig’s claim that God cannot strongly actualise a world where people never do evil

    So if one admits there is no logical contradiction between free will and ability to do evil, then this world needs some additional explanation. Why do we find ourselves in a world where free will results in the ability to do evil? Reasons need to be offered why God didnt just start with a sinless heaven.

    This misunderstands the argument, the claim is not that its impossible for there to be a world where all people always freely refrain from evil. The claim is that its impossible for God to bring such a world about, it can only be brought about by the people in the world in question freely choosing to never do evil.

    So , on the freewill defence God can’t start with a sinless heaven, this can only occur if everyone in the world God actualises freely choose to never sin and continue in this choice.

  • Timelessapologist writes:

    “Atheists as far as I know, aren’t immune to any double standard when it comes to contradiction, now Ryan I want you to say this with me.

    “I’m not credible to speak on how a Deity should act, because I am just a mere human that will die and end up being food for the worms”

    When in fact, finite human beings aren’t credible to speak on this.”

    @Timelessapologies
    Are you saying no human beings is credible when making assertions about how a Diety should act? This is what is understood when you say “finite human beings aren’t credible to speak on this (on how a diety should act).

  • @Jeremy, who says he is unsure of any mass killings ordered by BibleGod.

    Just to be clear, Jeremy, you do not think BibleGod ordered more than one person to be killed at one time ever in the Bible?

  • @Matthew Flannagan
    Seems the bottom line is you are the one making the grand assertion. You consistently say that the acts that god does or allows (in particular the one’s that seem like atrocities to us, including ordering mass killings as well as natural disasters that kill hundreds of thousands) – these acts that god does or allows are for some greater good that we are unable to comprehend.

    Since you claim these acts bring about a greater god, you have the burden of proof. You seem to say that you are unable to meet that burden of proof by saying things like “isn’t it possible” that these acts could bring about a greater good; or perhaps you additionally claim, unsupportedly, that your asserted possibility that this greater good will occur though atrocious actions, is incomprehensible.

    To wave your hands and try to say someone else has a burden of proof while not meeting yours is disingenuous, is it not?

    Basically you are asking us to consider your grand assertion as a “possibility” while it is masked by the incomprehensible. Arguing that something is merely a possibility isn’t that impressive, and when it’s backed by claims about never being able to understand why your chosen possibility reigns supreme, such argumentation becomes vacuous, in my humble opinion.

  • @ Matt

    So here is my challenge, provide a knock down proof that your god exists or admit your arguments are bogus.

  • @enenennx
    not wanting to be rude, but i suggest you try reading my comment again and consider subject object relationships in english language construction.

  • @ Matt

    WRT your take on my comparison of Moses and Hitler situation.

    You’re joking right?

    According to your theistic perspective, your bible contains the word of god right? So, when it states that god parted the Red Sea to allow Moses and the Jews to escape, followed by the subsequent drowning of the Egyptian troops, then I’d say that qualifies as a miracle in my book, no?

    In contrast, stating that Hitlers’ actions led to war and Germany being bombed and then some of the German army being killed and Hitler finally choosing to shoot him self in the head in a bunker and the Nazi high command subsequently being executed, has something to do with god! – LOL!!!

    These are due to the actions of human beings and have nothing to do with god, unless you can prove otherwise.

    Plus, I’d love to see the biblical text that supposedly supports your view, but then again, looking at how comfortably you re-interpret your good book, I wouldn’t be surprised.

    Meanwhile, you neatly ignore the horrific treatment of both the Jews and other individuals who had to suffer at the hands of the Nazis in the concentration camps.

    So, watch this, then tell me again why I have to prove to you that this sort of behaviour is wrong again, I dare you!

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/memory-of-the-camps/

    For those evoking God into the discussion here, you have to ask yourself what was he doing while all this was going on? As soon as the American/English soldiers liberated the camp they set to work in helping these poor people; providing water, food, clothing, medical attention and care. They, like any caring human being in their situation, were in a position to help and did so.

    If your god exists, then, not only did he know that the atrocities were going to take place long before they did,(and went ahead and created a world which he knew would result in it,) he also stood by and did nothing whilst millions of men, women and children were systematically slaughtered in accordance to Hitler’s “Final Solution.”

    Your god, is an insult to the millions who died terrified in the camps, many of whom were no doubt pleading for some divine intervention that never came, right up until they drew their last breath.

    The soldiers did a much better job at bringing the holocaust to an end and providing care and atention to the needy than your god, who, in his infinite power, would have found the task of intervention a trivial baring on his resources, would he not?

    To quote McKown: The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.

  • Paul, you seem to be missing the context here. I was you who said I needed to provide proof that the bible was the word of God before I could rationally believe it was. I denied that claim,

    Moreover, it was you not I, who said you did not believe God issued commands because there was (a) no proof of this claim and (b) many people have appealed to purported divine commands to justify atrocities.

    So, I am not commited to the claim that one has to offer proofs before one can rationally believe something you are

    So instead of evading the issue, how about you either provide proof that obligations exist. Or you admit that the argument you gave is bogus.

    The argument I gave is that a particular passage, is when taken in its literary context probably not intended to be taken to be literally. Pointing out that I have not proved that God issued the command in question does not in the slightest suggest this argument is bogus. But if the argument is sound it would show that appealing to the existence of obligations without proving them is.

    So Paul answer the question, why do you appeal to the existence of obligations without proof and then claim that Christians cannot appeal to divine commands without proof?

    Both are affirmative statements, both have been used to justify atrocities, neither can be empirically proven. These were the grounds you gave for rejecting belief in divine commands.

    I find a skepticism that entails that no one who has commited the numerous genocides throughout history has ever done wrong. A lot less plausible than the claim that on one occasion God might have commanded the killing of non combatants in a single campaign. Moral outrage against the latter which embraces the former is rather odd.

  • Jeremy writes:

    “@enenennx
    not wanting to be rude, but i suggest you try reading my comment again and consider subject object relationships in english language construction.”

    I also don’t endeavor to be rude, but your statement telling me to consider “subject object [sic] relationships in english [sic] language construction [sic]” I find particularly ironic.

    Perhaps you can be kind enough to answer my question directly. In your opinion, did BibleGod order mass killings (the killing of more than one person) in the Hebrew Scriptures? Cheers.

  • @ Matthew Flannagan

    You write “…I am not commited to the claim that one has to offer proofs before one can rationally believe something…”

    I understand this is not the topic of this blogpost, but if you had a moment, 1) what do you mean here by “proofs”?, and 2) what, then, is sufficient for one to rationally believe something in the absence of proofs?

    More to the topic of this blogpost:

    1) Do you believe BibleGod requested mass killings (the killing of more than one person with a single request) in the Hebrew Scriptures?
    2) If “no”, do you think the ancient Israelites carried out mass killings, and, if so, do you think the ancient Israelites believed they were doing so in accordance with god’s will.
    3) If “yes” (that BibleGod requested mass killings), do you have ideas about why he did so?

  • In as much as God mandated war with groups that He opposed and in as much as God mandated the occupation of the Promised Land YES of course He did.

    But to clarify my previous comment, there is no command to worship God because of these mass killings.

    Your objections still all seem to come down to you not liking the idea that God has in the past taken direct action against groups, peoples, cultures that He regarded as evil and rebellious.

    I dont understand your objection.
    If a creator God exists, then He has an absolute right to do as He pleases with His creation and set the rules and consequences, and choose the means by which those consequences occur.

    But if no God exists, then a more effective and successful group moved into and established themselves in a particular territory. Killed some people in the process, so what. Intra -species competition is actually far more common and more of a problem than inter-species competition. Without God there is no right or wrong, only what works.

    Are you sure that deep down inside there is no fear that God may disapprove of your behaviour and ultimately take action against you.

  • enennex asks M:
    “1) what do you mean here by “proofs”?, and 2) what, then, is sufficient for one to rationally believe something in the absence of proofs?”

    earlier M asks PB:
    “You’ll have to elaborate on what you mean by proof? I’d also be interested in knowing whether you think that basic sources of evidence require proof before you accept them as basic sources of evidence?”

    wow… looks like we’ve come full circle.

  • Excellent question Paul, and we dont always know, maybe He was with the Norwegians who refused to hand over Jews or with the Greman families who sheltered Jews or with the Allies who resisted and ultimately conquered Germany.

    But we do know exactly where your god was. Which means the only thing wrong with the Holocast was that the Germans lost. If they had won we would then put it down to just another case of survival of the fittest in the never ending struggle.

  • The Holocast which you keep bringing up, wasnt wrong unless there is right and wrong. Otherwise , there is only what works.

  • @ Jeremy

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/memory-of-the-camps/

    Why did your god not care enough to intervene?

  • @ jeremy: “If a creator God exists, then He has an absolute right to do as He pleases with His creation and set the rules and consequences, and choose the means by which those consequences occur.”

    hypothetically yes of course, and hypothetically if the bible is true, then this is exactly what he has done. the problem is that the killings he ordered and actively took part in himself are wrong by our 21C standards. any modern warlord or general which ordered the killing of men, women, children, and infants would be considered a disgusting monster. it’s pointless to judge ancient peoples by todays standards, but apparently this god is exactly the same one that is still alive and well today. so has he or has he not had a change of heart as to what is and is not appropriate behaviour for his followers? because if not then he is still evil by the common garden variety christians understanding of the word, creating a clear contradiction. it is entirely possible he might even still condone similar killings.

    this would be a lot simpler if you left your bronze age god in the ancient past where he belongs, there is no room for someone who ordered genocide in todays societies unless they acknowledge that what they did was unacceptable. actually, that’s something god could do to fix things. if he spoke from heaven (not really a big deal seeing he’s done it heaps before, right?), and said that he was wrong to order the killing of a men, women, and children, acknowledge that this amounted to attempted genocide, and offered a formal apology to the amalekite victims then perhaps we could move on to other issues. the amalekite victims shouldn’t be very hard to track down, they’re still burning in hell, and will be for all eternity.

    @ matt: oh that’s right, he didn’t really kill ALL the amalekites, did he? because lots obviously survived. well thats ok then. and hitler didn’t kill ALL the jews, so he can’t have been that bad either, right?

    @ jeremy: “But if no God exists, then a more effective and successful group moved into and established themselves in a particular territory. Killed some people in the process, so what.”

    and that’s exactly what happened, and i’m not saying they were right or wrong to do so, only that we would object to anyone doing it today. which is to say, we now seem to value human life higher than god has apparently ever valued saving the human soul from eternal damnation.

    “The Holocast which you keep bringing up, wasnt wrong unless there is right and wrong.” oh no we’re stuck in a moral vacuum! you’re right though. praise be to the spaghetti monster that there isn’t really any external and ultimate standard of morality the way that there would be if there was a god who could decide that ethnic cleansing of jews was bad while the ethnic cleansing of amalekites was good, because that would just be down right confusing.

  • I will repeat my earlier question, do you want God’s intervention on His terms, or only on yours.
    I dont know that God didnt intervene in the Holocast, would Israel exist today if not for the West’s guilt over the Holocast. Germany may have perpetrated the extermination, but the whole of the west bears some responsibility.The allies created the conditions that caused Nazism to florish and turned a blind eye to how Hitler treated many groups.
    But again, without right and wrong, with only competition for resources and survival, what was actually wrong with the Germans trying to eliminate some competition? Why do you keep raising the topic? What offends you about nature ,” red in tooth and claw with ravine” fighting to survive?

  • Jeremy asks: do you want God’s intervention on His terms, or only on yours?

    I would be happy if you could point out a couple examples of Him intervening in our modern world. He seems “divinely hidden” right now. No different than if he wasn’t there at all.

    As for your suggestion that your deity might have preordained the extermination of millions of Jews (or sat back and did nothing while his Sims characters did it) so that the state of Israel would come into being, excuse me while I go puke.

  • “which is to say, we now seem to value human life higher than god has apparently ever valued saving the human soul from eternal damnation.”

    Absolute bollocks Sammy boy. Since 1962 we have aborted 400,000,000 babies. Rather makes Hilter killing 6 milion Jews look like childs play or just a practice run. Whats more we have done so in the cause of pesonal and economic convenience. Currently trans-national corporations manipulate food and water supplies for profit, and millions starve when there is plenty of food to go around. Trafficking in humans still occurs and the Arms industry remains one of the worlds biggest. Any idea that society at this time places more value on human life than in previous times is a complete and utter delusion. Wake up and look around Sammy boy.

    God doesnt damn us, we damn ourselves, the planet is the way it is because we made it so. People treat each other the way they do because they choose to. Are you suggesting God should have stopped us? Which part of freedom to make your own choices will you give up. Do you think God should intervene directly, establish a theocracy and directly prevent or punish evil. No of course you dont, you object to the records of Him having done so in the past.

    And yes if you bothered to follow through the Bible you would see that God has indeed changed His ways of dealing with us, although not His policy.

    Quick overview
    We were created, given everything, we rebelled and went our own way, refused to listen to God.
    He gives humans another chance by being directly involved, leading a special group, providing for them, protecting them, intervening directly to prevent bad influences, giving them a special home, providing explicit guidance. Demonstrating clearly the consequences of evil. But still they always run off rebellious choosing what they want rather than trust their Creator.
    Having demonstrated that even with His direct protection and leadership we humans will still always choose wrong over right , self before ought, God did something different, He became one of us, lived among us, shared our trials, temptations, joys and sorrows. Offers us forgiveness if we will just accept it and acknowledge He is God. The Christian jargon terms are Law and Grace, Old Covenant and New Covenant, [OT and NT].
    The Law demonstrates our inability to save ourselves [even with the benefit of the special relationship Israel had] and our need for Grace. Grace means God extending mercy and favour to us without any merit on our part..

    “and i’m not saying they were right or wrong to do so, only that we would object to anyone doing it today”

    We would? Why? Can you provide a single rational reason for doing so in a world that is a moral vacuum? Because as Paul keeps mentioning it didnt stop Hilter, or Stalin or Mao, or Pol Pot, or the Rwandans, or the Arab Sudanese, or Saddam against the Kurds, or the Serbs, or the Indonesians in East Timor. Possibly the only objectors are those influenced by Christian thought, but if their premises are rubbish then logically so are their conclusions.

    Kind of leaves you in a quandary, on what basis do you object to anything?

  • @ Jeremy

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/memory-of-the-camps/

    Are you seriously saying that you need god to tell you this is wrong?

  • @tammy
    i love the way you twist words. Where did i suggest that God either pre-ordained the Holocast or stood back?

    But tell me , do you think the UN would have voted to establish Israel if the West hadnt felt guilty about the Jews.

    And what constitutes God intervening?

    Does the work of World Vision, Tear Fund, Christian Childrens Fund count. Do the orphanages in Cambodia that my church supports count. Does the work of Mission Aviation Fellowship count or how about the Sallies. Or are these only “Sims” characters and you will only accept God in person charging through on a white horse as intervention.

    We seem to be back to, He has to do it your way or its not acceptable. Dont forget to pray this evening, shout loud , tell God what you would find acceptable.

    Heres a thought , we get rid of all the organisations in the world started by Christians motivated by their obedience to God’s call to love and serve their fellow men, all the charity and care work they do, all the community work they do, anything , and see what the world would look like without God’s intervention.

  • “Are you seriously saying that you need god to tell you this is wrong?”

    Well you tell me Paul, given the evidence of human history and survival of the fittest , on what basis do you think its wrong?
    New Zealand kills more sheep than that every year, if we are just one species among many, who cares about a few million Jews either way.
    Heck the USA aborts 1.2 million babies each year, thats the same rate at which Germany killed Jews [1.2*5=6].
    In fact 6 million kids die of hunger every year, most of us do nothing about it.
    Whats your point Paul? Given God’s command to love your neighbour as youself, are you intervening they waty God has told you to, or maybe claiming He doesnt exist gives you an out.

  • @ Tammy
    Heres another thought, mabe you would be more aware of God’s intervention if you were out helping, being His hands anf feet in the world, instead of complaining that He is not doing it for you.

  • Jeremy wrote: Does the work of World Vision, Tear Fund, Christian Childrens Fund count. Do the orphanages in Cambodia that my church supports count. Does the work of Mission Aviation Fellowship count or how about the Sallies. Or are these only “Sims” characters and you will only accept God in person charging through on a white horse as intervention

    No, although Thor works in mysterious ways (he just instructed me to make a modest donation to World Vision in your honor). All of the examples you cite are just as consistent with the existence of God as they are with him not existing.

    Here’s a little for for thought on divine hiddenness from philosopher Stephen Maitzen: http://philosophy.acadiau.ca/tl_files/sites/philosophy/resources/documents/Maitzen_Hiddenness.pdf

  • @ Jeremy

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/memory-of-the-camps/

    Are you seriously saying that you need god to tell you this is wrong?

    Firstly, I’ll take that as a yes then! Very sad Jeremy.

    Secondly, if your god is so concerned about the huge number of abortions, why does he not directly intervene to save them?

    Oh hang on, if, as you say to Tam that the christian based charitable organisations helping the needy around the world are in fact “god intervening”, then according to that logic, the christian fundies who bomb abortion clinics and kill doctors and nurses involved in this, are, according to your reasoning, an example of “the hand of your god” no?

    Being objective, it seems a tad ineffective in comparison. All things considered, maybe you should be the one praying tonight to remind your god that he may need to motivate an awful lot more christians to learn how to make homemade bombs!

    And talking of your comments regarding all the christian based charitable organisations, there are in fact a growing number of alternatives such as Non Believers Giving Aid or NBGA for short. To find out more about their good work use this link:

    http://givingaid.richarddawkins.net/

    So, to answer your question, “what would the world look like if we get rid of all the organisations in the world started by Christians motivated by their obedience to god’s call to love and serve their fellow men, all the charity and care work they do, all the community work they do, anything”

    Then the vacuum created would soon be filled by humanist based organisations that care about the suffering of other human beings.

    Also, given your logic, how do you then explain the huge number of other charitable organisations based on other faiths, such as Judaism, Islam, Taoism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

    These can’t, according to your theistic view, be motivated by your god, and no doubt you would also argue that the god or gods that they claim to be their motivation do not exist.

    So, as with the NBGA, we are in fact left with the conclusion that all these people involved in these different organisations are in fact motivated by a humanistic perspective.

    Taking your logic even further, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been a teacher for almost twenty years and an atheist for over thirty. Obviously, like myself, there will be many atheists who are employed in education, medicine, the emergency services, etc.

    According to your logic, I, and all these other atheists, should have chosen a criminal life, or at least one based on a much more selfish motivation, such as some form of sales, where the monetary return is the most important aspect.

    Yet I’m not, so according to your logic, you’re wrong!

  • @ jeremy: “we now seem to value human life higher than god has apparently ever valued saving the human soul from eternal damnation.” in light of this, how does pointing out all the violations of human rights that are currently going on in the world help your argument? so we place as little value on human life as god does? you’re agreeing that god doesn’t appear to value humans any higher than human traffickers and multi-national corporations?

    don’t worry about answering that though, because you’ve completely missed the point anyway. whether people are actually mistreating other people or not (and of course they are), we are both agreeing that it is wrong. you and i both object to human trafficking, ethnic cleansing and murdering and forcing out people in order to gain control of their resources. but god ordained these actions and the isrealites carried them out, so they are in violation of the standards of behaviour which both you and me hold yourselves and others to today. no problems there, except that you claim that exact same god is not only alive and well, but worthy of our worship. you are suggesting we should worship a being who fails our own standards of right and wrong.

    “Do you think God should intervene directly, establish a theocracy and directly prevent or punish evil. No of course you dont, you object to the records of Him having done so in the past.” i absolutely think that if god exists and he is omnipotent and benevolent then yes he should intervene and put and end to the suffering and evil, set up a theocracy which he will head and we can all live happily ever after and that will just be great. it would be fantastic if there was an all powerful god who gave enough of a shit about me to look after me. the probem is that he doesn’t exist so can’t actually do this. when has he done so in the past? all religious governments of the past have most clearly been headed by fallable human beings and have caused evil and suffering. absolutely if god exists he should intervene to stop me from harming another person, because their well being takes precedence over my freedom of choice, just like the police can infringe on my free will to protect others.

    “God has indeed changed His ways of dealing with us, although not His policy.”

    so his policy is still that killing people based on their ethnicity in order to gain control over land and resources is still ok? or when you say he’s changed his way, why? did this whole concept of loving everyone only recently occur to him?

    “Can you provide a single rational reason for (objecting) in a world that is a moral vacuum?” no, but evolution has equipped several of us ape species with things like empathy, which enables us to theorise that other people probably have minds and are capable of suffering in exactly the same way that we do. we find genocides disturbing because we can can guess what was going through the minds of the victims, and how the surviving family members feel now. a crying baby makes other babies start crying, and when someone smiles at you, you are likely to smile back, clear evidence that we relate with and share other peoples experiences. this gives us the perfect starting point, is essentially the basis for the golden rule. so i won’t every say that something like genocide is absolutely wrong or evil, only that i object to it will try to stop it if it is in my power to do so, in exactly the same way as other primates regulate acceptable group behaviour without needing to ask guidance from an external scource.

    and yes of course this sounds weak compared to an immortal all-powerful caring and loving god setting an absolute morality. it would be a very nice convenient scenario if he actually existed and intervened, and i wouldn’t mind in the slightest. but given the state of the world he either doesn’t exist, doesn’t care, or isn’t omnipotent, so we are just going to have to make do, aren’t we?

    on a lighter note, this is what it would look like if we truly depended on god for all morality: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDfoJ29CR4E

    it’s clearly ridiculous, so i think we will get on just fine in a godless moral vacuum.

  • Ennenex you ask
    ”I understand this is not the topic of this blogpost, but if you had a moment, 1) what do you mean here by “proofs”?, and 2) what, then, is sufficient for one to rationally believe something in the absence of proofs?”

    1. A proof is a of argument which is formally and informally valid, and the premises are those that all rational people would agree with. Its pretty much uncontroversial that one can believe in something without proof, there is pretty much a consensus amougst epistemologists on this, and has been for thousands of years. Because of the regress problem, which Roy Clouser succinctly summarises:
    ”If everything needs to be proven then the premises of every proof would need to be proven. But if you need a proof for every proof, you need a proof for your proof, and a proof for your proof of a proof and so on-forever. Thus it makes no sense to demand that everything be proven because an infinite regress of proofs is impossible.”

    2. Roughly, I would say that its rational to believe a proposition , P without proof if (i) one perceives it is true through experience or some kind of intuition, or one has been taught it from a reliable authority (ii) one is not aware of any sound argument that P is true or the source of P is unreliable (iii) P is part of a coherent perspective which answers a whole host of existential a theoretical questions better than its rivals.
    More to the topic of this blogpost:

    1) Do you believe BibleGod requested mass killings (the killing of more than one person with a single request) in the Hebrew Scriptures?

    Defined that way yes, in the Hebrew scriptures God has in a single commanded ordered the killing of more than one person.

    Of course defined that way, there is not much substance to this, because the claim its never wrong to kill more than one person is obviously false. If I kill two people in self defence, I would be engaging in mass killing. Similarly if a judge executes two serial killers found guilty by a impartial trial he is ordering a mass killing. And a country that orders its soldiers to repel an invading army engages in mass killing by this definition.

    3) If “yes” (that BibleGod requested mass killings), do you have ideas about why he did so?

    It would depend on the case, often when you examine the passage in context one can ascertain the reasons.

    In the case of the Amalekites for example, the if you read the narrative you’ll see that nation had been engaging in aggressive attacks against Isreal for several hundred years.

    I don’t find it self evident and obviously true that its always wrong to go to war against a nation which has been engaging in repeated aggression against your people.

  • Paul wroteYet I’m not, so according to your logic, you’re wrong!/

    I am still actually looking for you to offer a justification for your belief in the existence of obligations seeing you suggested that its irrational to believe in things which (a) can’t be proven and (b) people have appealed to to justify atrocities. Both these seem to me to be true of obligations.

    Ignoring the problem and repeating athiest slogans which have been addressed over an over is not an answer.

    The fact is a good person will refrain from intervening to stop an immoral action is intervening involves greater evils or results in the loss of greater goods. So for your argument to work you would need to provide us with some reasons for thinking there are no greater evils or greater goods known to an omnscient being in the case you mention.
    Thiests have been asking Atheists to actually establish this vital premise and provide theists with some actual reason for why they are compelled to accept it.

    Oddly enough we just see the kind of emotional out bursts you express here.

    Sorry but demanding everyone you disagree with prove they are correct and then repeating slogans and assertions to substantiate your own points is not much of a rational defence of your position.

    You keep appealing to an obligation to not commit Genocide, I am wanting to know how you prove such obligations exist. You said the burden of proof is on the one who makes an assertion. Do you believe this? or was that just a tool you use to embarass theists and then ignore when you want to make arguments against theism?

  • @ Matt

    Please see the comment from Sam G posted at 10.41 today.

    Although I would also ads to his words that I still maintain that the average human being, other than those who lack empathy, possibly by having different brain development, such as psychopaths, would know implicitly that genocide was wrong without needing your god to tell them

  • @ Matt

    You claim that:

    “So for your argument to work you would need to provide us with some reasons for thinking there are no greater evils or greater goods known to an omnscient being in the case you mention”.

    But I see no evidence to support your assertion that such a thing as your omnscient being, namely your god, or anyone else’s for that matter, exists

    So, as with Jeremy, are you saying that without your god, no human being can claim there is anything wrong with this???

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/memory-of-the-camps/

  • “Also, given your logic, how do you then explain the huge number of other charitable organisations based on other faiths, such as Judaism, Islam, Taoism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. ”

    Can you supply any evidence of these existing prior to the Christian example?
    I think you will find that Christians invented the charitable institution.
    Within Judaism and Islam , charity only applied to others of the faith. One of the reasons Jesus had to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan.
    Islam has no concept of love thy neighbour as thyself. Hinduism and Buddhism strictly speaking believe that charity interferes with dharma, a persons circumstances in life reflect their performance last time around. As such they deserve what ever they have, if they accept without complaint and perservere they will have a better status next time around.

  • @ Paul, Tammy and Sammy

    evolved empathy etc in a naturalistic universe are simply adaptations that work in particular circumstances, eg caring for children, breeding partner etc.
    In other situations they dont work, too much empathy when your life or your childrens are in danger and you may fail to defend adequately.

    These behaviours dont address whether we ought to behave in a particular way.
    They dont tell us that humans are more valuable than sheep, nothing in a naturalistic world view makes any species of greater or lesser worth than another, or any individual member of a species of value. Nothing in this world view makes the Holocast wrong. There is no right or wrong, only what works.
    If Germany had won WW2, it would have achieved a massive resource, social and competative advantage for the German people. What would have been wrong with that? What is the difference between killing humans, sheep or bacteria that are in your way, or for your advantage?

    So far you have given me no reason to accept that wrong even exists let alone that this particular action was wrong, except that you are repulsed by it.
    Ist that a basis for right and wrong? personal revulsion. Most of history this hasnt got in peoples way.

    The Germans actions make perfect sense in a competative, survival of the fittest world. Tell me why they dont. Whats more nothing has changed. Currently the weapons are economic control of resources rather than physical, keeping score is in dollars not occupied territory, and people are dying, being enslaved or exploited at the same rate as ever. Right and wrong seem to have little weight in the world of trans-national corporations.

  • “then according to that logic, the christian fundies who bomb abortion clinics and kill doctors and nurses involved in this, are, according to your reasoning, an example of “the hand of your god” no?”

    quite right, NO
    anyone behaving in this manner is doing so in direct disobedience to the teaching of scripture.

  • “Although I would also ads to his words that I still maintain that the average human being, other than those who lack empathy, possibly by having different brain development, such as psychopaths, would know implicitly that genocide was wrong without needing your god to tell them”

    Two things Paul
    -first you are claiming a moral position and the existance of moral “wrong”
    please provide evidence/substantiation for the validity of such a concept
    -second, your assertion is somewhat at odds with the evidence of human history

  • @ jeremy

    “They dont tell us that humans are more valuable than sheep, nothing in a naturalistic world view makes any species of greater or lesser worth than another, or any individual member of a species of value.”

    valuable to who? god? humans are definitely the most valuable species to me personally, but that’s probably because i am one. if we could ask a sheep which species was the most valuable, it would probably say ‘sheep’. cats definitely think cats are more valuable than humans, and pet dogs don’t count because they think they are human (tongue in cheek, don’t ask for my references). the concept of one species having more value than another is meaningless without god, because it’s actually our value to god that your talking about.

    “There is no right or wrong, only what works.”
    “What is the difference between killing humans, sheep or bacteria that are in your way, or for your advantage?”

    which seems to have been the isrealites reasoning when establishing the promised land, right? which i’m not saying is right or wrong, only that it wouldn’t be acceptable to me or you today. that you feel the need to justify it at all shows that in fact you don’t get your all your moral guidance from the bible, but having an independently existing sense of wrong.

    “So far you have given me no reason to accept that wrong even exists let alone that this particular action was wrong, except that you are repulsed by it.”

    your still looking for an absolute objective standard of wrong, and i’ve already said quite clearly i don’t have one. sam harris doesn’t have one either, which is why craig kicked his ass. but why does that seem to invoke some apocalyptic image of mass murder and destruction? like you said, i’m repulsed by those actions. and like paul b says, “the average human being… would know implicitly that genocide was wrong without needing your god to tell them’. why? because of social instincts instilled in us by evolution, where groups in which members helped each other were more likely to pass on their collective genes. are you seriously suggesting you would be completely neutral about death and suffering were it not for the fact that an external source like god had to tell you that it was wrong? gods test of abraham wouldn’t have been much of a test if abraham was incapable of caring either way. jeremy, in a godless moral vacuum you would still you.

    and again, yes this sounds lame when compared to the idea of all good coming from god, but if there is a god his sense of right and wrong doesn’t seem to have been consistent, and certainly hasn’t been objective, so we’re not really any worse off, are we?

    actually, on a side note, you asked paul b “you are claiming a moral position and the existance of moral “wrong”
please provide evidence/substantiation for the validity of such a concept”, and i’ve i already anwered this for myself (not speaking for paul), but what evidence/substantiation would you provide, given that you also think that ‘wrong’ exists? if your morality comes from god, don’t you need to first show that he exists before you can say that anything is wrong? otherwise all you have is ‘hypothetically, if there is a god, which i personally believe there is, then the jewish holocaust was wrong’. the moment you appeal to the unconsensual suffering of innocents, then your argument is the same as mine, and we are in complete agreement without the need for a god.

  • Jeremy wrote: “Nothing in this world view makes the Holocast wrong.”

    Not from the perspective of sheep.

  • @ Matt

    You claim that:

    But I see no evidence to support your assertion that such a thing as your omnscient being, namely your god, or anyone else’s for that matter, exists

    But that’s irrelevant in this context, people who press the problem of evil are offering arguments against the existence of God, they are arguing that if God existed he would not allow certain evils to exist in the world.
    So in that context you need to give reasons for accepting the premises you assert.

    So, as with Jeremy, are you saying that without your god, no human being can claim there is anything wrong with this???

    No what I said is that if one accepts the objection you made against Theism: that its irrational to believe in the existence of things you can’t prove and the claim that the burden of proof is one the one who makes affirmations, then your affirmation that the holocaust is wrong is irrational unless you can offer a proof that moral obligations exist.

    I agree this conclusion is absurd, that’s my point, the stance you adopt in attacking Thiesm is absurd.

    Your showing of the video suggests that there people can immediately without proof see that moral obligations exist. I agree, many people have the same experience regarding the universe, when they comprehend the natural world they see immediately that there is a being worthy of worship. You dismiss the latter as irrational without the proof but refuse to offer proof of the former. That’s arbitrary.

  • @ Sam, i am glad we both believe there is wrong etc.
    my point is that in an entirely naturalistic universe this is a logically inconsistant position that cannot be derived from what is. As you note, this is why WLC beat Sam Harris hands down. In Harris universe there is only what “works”, not right and wrong.

    “the moment you appeal to the unconsensual suffering of innocents, then your argument is the same as mine, and we are in complete agreement without the need for a god.”

    Here you are right back to the same problem again. You have bought in two “moral” states which have no logical basis in a solely naturalistic universe. “Innocent” makes no sense unless there is right and wrong, good and evil.
    In a solely naturalistic universe death is just a consequence of being alive, an individual has no particular worth to the species let alone the planet. Everything strives for life, sheep and people, but so what.

    And “consensual” also implies moral awareness and right and wrong.
    Do sheep consent to slaughter, does the gazelle consent to being prey for the lion?
    Why ,in a naturalistic universe, is consent relevant?

    “because of social instincts instilled in us by evolution, where groups in which members helped each other were more likely to pass on their collective genes.”

    yet again this is strictly a utilitarian, pretty much only applies in group, and has never stopped war, conquest, exploitation. As previously mentioned it also justifies the German and Japanese attempts to expand their resource bases for the benefit of their groups, their genes.

    “but if there is a god his sense of right and wrong doesn’t seem to have been consistent,”

    I really do not agree. I see your disagreement as an authority issue.
    by way of analogy
    When the British Govt authorised the mass killing of hundreds of thousands of BSE infected or potentially infected cows they had absolute authority to do so. Even over the objections of the cows owners and any striving for life that uninfected cows may have made. No consent was sought. This in no way mandated anyone else doing this kind of thing. No one else has the right or authority to do so. If you or i tried to start killing the British dairy herd, no arguments about consistancy or the general prohibition on us going around killing other peoples stock would gain any traction.
    We acknowledge that even among humans, it is possible for Govt to take actions that are forbidden to the rest of us. This is not regarded as inconsistant.
    At a much lower level, within the context of the workplace, your boss has options which are not available to you. If he owns the business, it is not inconsistant that he may take money from the business and you , as a general rule, may not. Actually it is a crime if you do !

    Also in my opinion [maybe humble maybe not] i dont think that you , TAM or Paul , products of a western culture that has been thoroughly influenced by Christianity truly realise just how Christian your morality is. Ideas about the value of human life and what is right and wrong, equality of the sexes, females being of equal worth to males. It might help if you looked at Chinese culture, which historically at least has placed much less value on individuals, where right and wrong has had far more to do with social status and power than being a human. I suggest to you that where Christian moral restraint is removed, ignored or has never been , the world is invariably a much harsher place. We do not put baby girls out to die. You might like to read Goldberg’s “Lord of the Flies”, the veneer of civilization is very very thin.

    And as a last statement at this point, Yes i do think there is no such thing as right or wrong, good or evil apart from God. Without an external objective standard, there is only what works, strictly utilitarian pragmatism. Whats more i think history proves this point over and over again.
    This is not to say you need to believe or know God personally to be a moral person.
    In a way the mere fact that we are discussing right and wrong, and concepts like “ought” and moral culpability suggest there is more than solely physical reality.

  • jeremy : “in an entirely naturalistic universe (the existence of wrong) is a logically inconsistant position that cannot be derived from what is.”

    correct. i’ve already said this several times, for example: “your still looking for an absolute objective standard of wrong, and i’ve already said quite clearly i don’t have one”.

    “yet again this is strictly a utilitarian, pretty much only applies in group, and has never stopped war, conquest, exploitation. As previously mentioned it also justifies the German and Japanese attempts to expand their resource bases for the benefit of their groups”. lets add american, european, and antipodean governments on to this list as well, given that we have all run roughshod over others for our own gain. this is exactly what the ancient isrealites did, so they’re on the list, and if they were acting on the instructions of their god, he was a utilitarian benefiting his own group through war, conquest, and exploitation as well. given that, what exactly is your point? you’re just saying that our objective external standard of morality is gods utilitarianism.

    “there is no such thing as right or wrong, good or evil apart from God.” you can’t be claiming that your belief in god provides you with the moral guidance to object to something which god himself did, so acts of genocide and ethnic cleansings are not wrong in and of themselves. the only thing wrong with the nazis is that they didn’t have anyone with the proper authority to sanction their actions, like the british government had to kill cows. you need to prove both the existence of god and that he had the proper authority to sanction the isrealites actions before you can say that they were any different to the nazis.

    “there is only what “works”, not right and wrong.” when i say the nazis were ‘wrong’, i am not comparing them to any external standard of wrong, because there is none. i am just saying that they caused immense pain and suffering, and if it was in my power to have stopped them from doing so, i would have done so because of my social instincts and sense of empathy with the victims.

    if you needed to be a philosopher or theologian to explain this, the overwhelming majority of people would only be able to say that the nazis were ‘wrong’ because they were told so by ethicists. the sceptically minded they would ask how you actually knew for sure that the nazis were ‘wrong’, and you’d have to say ‘because god exists’ (ironically it is ‘because god exists’ that killing the amalekites was NOT ‘wrong’). if you couldn’t prove that he did, people wouldn’t have a logical opinion on the holocaust, and no one would ask annoying questions about the canaanites. this is ridiculous, so clearly we already have an idea of acceptable behaviour without the need for your god.

    so i can’t give you a naturalistic definition of ‘good’ that sounds anywhere near as impressive as what you already have, but this isn’t competition to see who can come up with the coolest hypothetical scenario.

    given that you entire premise for right and wrong depends on the existence of god, until you can prove to me that he exists, i will accept anything which doesn’t cause inconsensual suffering in others, and oppose anything which does. i will say that the holocaust was ‘wrong’ because of the pain and suffering imposed on people who were other wise minding their own business. despite being straight i object to christians who persecute homosexuals who were otherwise minding their own business. i won’t commit suicide because that would leave behind suffering families and friends, and i support euthanasia if there is the consent of loved ones, because that option involves the least suffering. i leave the choice of abortion to the mother provided the fetus does not suffer. when i kill an animal, i try to minimise the pain it feels. i will judge actions purely on the impact they have on others.

    as for your trying to claim that the things we value in modern culture are owed to christianity, we’ve already had this discussion elsewhere.

  • @Sam
    I rather think you have missed the point about authority. God is not inconsistant in applying consequences to people, while not allowing us to do the same. The authority sets the standards and enforces the standards. If God killed the Amalekites because of their behaviour it is in no way inconsistant to disallow Nazis from killing Jews.

    I can accept most everything you say in practical everyday terms and i am impressed that you choose to live your life that way. But you have one really big problem. It has all come down to what you like and dislike, and you have provided no reason that anyone else should agree. Where are you when the next person has different likes and dislikes. On what basis are yours preferable. You have no basis for objecting when others choose differently that you.
    While we are on that subject, where are you if you dont happen to empathise with the victims?

  • @ Matt & Jeremy

    I’d be interested with your response to the following

    If, as you claim, objective morals come from god and I accept your argument that my view of naturalistic based morals cannot be proven, even if I see a strong case for the evolved scenario that has allowed us as humans to cope with life initially as hunter-gatherers who worked and lived in small competitive groups, which have in turn evolved to the current larger, generally stable societies which use accepted values and morals that work for the vast majority.

    Then, as some have argued here, perhaps moral relativism is worth using.

    Now, before you launch into how flawed you think that view is, let me explain my thinking.

    So, let’s look at Hitler, seeing as that was the example that I used.

    You would argue that: Relativism means that we have no way to criticize Hitler.

    But I would argue that Hitler’s actions were partially based on false beliefs, rather than values (‘scientific’ racism, moral absolutism, the likelihood of world domination).

    Second, the problem with Hitler was not, perhaps, that his values were false, but that they were pernicious.

    Relativism does not entail that we should tolerate murderous tyranny. When someone threatens us or our way of life, we are strongly motivated to protect ourselves.

    Much in the same way that Matt argued for, “In the case of the Amalekites for example, if you read the narrative you’ll see that nation had been engaging in aggressive attacks against Isreal for several hundred years.

    I don’t find it self evident and obviously true that its always wrong to go to war against a nation which has been engaging in repeated aggression against your people”.

    You would argue that: Relativism means that moral debates are senseless, since everyone is right.

    But I would argue that this is a major misconception. Many people have overlapping moral values, and one can settle debates by appeal to moral common ground. We can also have substantive debates about how to apply and extend our basic values.

    Committed liberals and conservatives rarely persuade each other, but public debates over policy can rally the base and sway the undecided.

    Generally speaking, that is why we prefer the democratic model to the alternatives.

    You would argue that: Relativism doesn’t allow moral progress.

    I would argue that in one sense this is correct; moral values do not become more true. But they can become better by other criteria.

    For example, some sets of values are more consistent and more conducive to social stability. If moral relativism is true, morality can be regarded as a tool, and we can think about what we’d like that “tool” to do for us and revise morality accordingly.

    This is similar idea to the “Moral Landscape” perspective that Sam Harris put forward.

    Finally, I also think that religious people are in fact moral relativists, due to the fact that there is no consensus among believers about what god wants them to do. Even with holy scriptures at hand, there are disagreements about interpretation.

    The fact that they are unable to prove that their god exists is a big problem already, but trying to figure out who that god is and what values are divinely sanctioned is an even bigger problem it would seem.

  • “It has all come down to what you like and dislike, and you have provided no reason that anyone else should agree. Where are you when the next person has different likes and dislikes.”

    i’m no worse off than you when the next person doesn’t believe in the existence of god, given that that is the only grounds you have to say that anything is wrong.

    two points though:

    firstly, but it has less to do with my likes/dislikes than with yours. even if i like being tortured, but you don’t, i would object to anyone torturing you. in this scenario i am guaranteed that at least one other person would agree wholeheartedly with me: you. i don’t like having sex with other men (not that i’ve ever actually tried it), but if two guys do, and they’re not harming anyone in the process, then why should i object?

    “You have no basis for objecting when others choose differently that you.” correct, so provided they’re not harming anyone else without their consent, i WON’T object. if they are then i will object and their victims will agree with me.

    secondly: unlike you, i will be able to explain my postition to the overwhelming majority of mankind; because we are the same species evolution has given us all a common starting point. i can comprehend that you have likes/dislikes, and you can comprehend that i have likes/dislikes. it does not matter that they are different, the point is that you do not want others to do things to you which you do not like, so don’t do things to others that they do not like, and if in doubt mind your own business. i haven’t come up with anything new here, its just the golden rule that jesus and buddha taught.

  • “Relativism means that we have no way to criticize Hitler.”

    No. It would mean that there is no legitimate basis by which we can call Hitler’s actions wrong.

    The truth of his beliefs is a completely different issue. If relativism si true then uou can critize Hitler’s moral actions to the cows come home but ultimately they aren’t any less ‘morally wrong’ than yours.

    “Second, the problem with Hitler was not, perhaps, that his values were false, but that they were pernicious.”

    But under relativism, why should this be considered a problem? For those who think that it is perfectly fine to harm people subtly or blatantly, Hitler’s actions to them are perfectly justifiable.

    “Relativism does not entail that we should tolerate murderous tyranny.”

    It just entails that you can if you want, and there’s nothing ‘morally wrong’ about you for doing so.

    “Relativism means that moral debates are senseless, since everyone is right.”

    Again, no. It means that there is no legitimate basis for calling anyone wrong (or right, for that matter).

    “Many people have overlapping moral values, and one can settle debates by appeal to moral common ground”

    The issue isn’t whether we can find a concensus. The issue is if we can actually legitimately call something right or wrong. If a society decided that, say, slavery, or the extermination of a group of people based on their race was OK, would you say “it’s right for them but not right for us, so let’s leave them be” ? And if your answer is no, would you be OK with the fact that you’d have no justifiable right to intervene?

    “Generally speaking, that is why we prefer the democratic model to the alternatives.”

    Funny, our own democratic model is governed on the ethical principle that all individuals are equal so their voices should be heard – a principle taken for granted to be absolute. But under relativism, there’s actually no reason to accept this to be true. Ironically, this would probably result in whoever has the most military power assuming and keep control. Not quite democracy.

    “You would argue that: Relativism doesn’t allow moral progress.”

    No, it would mean that “moral progress” is a meaningless term. You say they can become better by other criteria, but who defines that criteria, and why should we accept that criteria as a valid measurement of morality?

    “Finally, I also think that religious people are in fact moral relativists, due to the fact that there is no consensus among believers about what god wants them to do.”

    Sounds like you don’t actually know what moral relativism is. Firstly, the existence of moral absolutes does not entail that all people will come to know them.

    And secondly, religious people tend to believe that moral principles are absolute, not relative. Whether they agree on them or not doesn’t make them relativists.

  • @sam g

    “the concept of one species having more value than another is meaningless without god, because it’s actually our value to god that your talking about.”

    Hence the problem of the naturalistic world view. Suppose I was to then say: “The concept of one race having more value than another is meaningless without God”. So the person who believes his ethnic race is more valuable than another is somehow justified in the mistreatment of other races?

    “i’m repulsed by those actions. and like paul b says, “the average human being… would know implicitly that genocide was wrong without needing your god to tell them’. why? because of social instincts instilled in us by evolution, where groups in which members helped each other were more likely to pass on their collective genes. are you seriously suggesting you would be completely neutral about death and suffering were it not for the fact that an external source like god had to tell you that it was wrong?”

    You still fail to understand the argument as you use a quote which presupposes the existence of ‘wrong’ without God to make your point (even though you yourself deny the existence of wrong!). We’re arguing that there IS no right and wrong without the existence of God, not that people are unable to know right and wrong without God. Without God, there are some actions which are only SUBJECTIVELY “harmful” and/or “not-beneficial”, and the point is that there’s not always a good reason for these terms to be synonymous with “wrong”.

    “if your morality comes from god, don’t you need to first show that he exists before you can say that anything is wrong? ”

    Well your morality comes from your particular secular world view, don’t you need to show that your particular secular world view is true before you can say anything is wrong?

    “the moment you appeal to the unconsensual suffering of innocents, then your argument is the same as mine, and we are in complete agreement without the need for a god.”

    This is not exactly true, because the theist can then ask the atheist ‘well why, under naturalism, is the unconsensual suffering of innocents a bad thing’ ? The theist can go onto answer, because God has given people inherent value and meaning and decreed how people are to be treated. What would that atheist say? After all, the party causing the suffering may deem it as good for raising their own morale. Under atheism there’s no more reason to favor the suffering party’s condition and declare the act as “wrong”, than to favor the perpetrating party’s condition and declare the act as “right”.

    “when i say the nazis were ‘wrong’, i am not comparing them to any external standard of wrong, because there is none. i am just saying that they caused immense pain and suffering, and if it was in my power to have stopped them from doing so, i would have done so because of my social instincts and sense of empathy with the victims.”

    OK. Is it wrong for someone to choose to empathize with the perpetrators in accordance with a belief that Jews don’t deserve to live? Holding this belief (without actioning it) doesn’t cause any harm and suffering after all.

    ” i can comprehend that you have likes/dislikes, and you can comprehend that i have likes/dislikes. it does not matter that they are different, the point is that you do not want others to do things to you which you do not like, so don’t do things to others that they do not like, and if in doubt mind your own business.”

    Well here you’re presupposing he knows and agrees with the idea that all people are equal; since he himself doesn’t want to be hurt, he hence believes that another person doesn’t deserve to be hurt in the same way, because he is no better than them. But Jesus only taught this ‘golden rule’ because He believed the absolute truth that God had given inherent value to all men and hence they are equal. Buddha believed that there was no real separation in the universe so all humans are one and on an equal playing field. So by agreeing with the golden you’re actually just assuming the existence of an absolute ethical principle.

  • hugh…

    given that i’ll just be repeating myself again, i’m pretty sure explaining anything to you will be a waste of time, so i’ll just be brief…

    “So the person who believes his ethnic race is more valuable than another is somehow justified in the mistreatment of other races?”

    key word here is ‘mistreatment’.

    “presupposes the existence of ‘wrong’ without God to make your point (even though you yourself deny the existence of wrong!).”

    ok… so if you think that ‘wrong’ is somethings that ‘exists’ independently, and i’ve said i don’t, then when i use the word ‘wrong’, can you see that i’m probably attaching a slightly different meaning to it that you? i can use it as a subjective man-made concept without conceding it exists objectively… seriously dude.

    “don’t you need to show that your particular secular world view is true before you can say anything is wrong?”

    discussion about secular world views and burdens of proof here:

    http://www.mandm.org.nz/2011/08/a-godless-public-square-do-‘private’-christian-beliefs-have-a-place-in-public-life-part-i-matthew-flannagan-theology.html

    in the context of this discussion, if my only view is that one person shouldn’t cause inconsensual harm to another then true or not, their victims will agree with me.

    “‘under naturalism, is the unconsensual suffering of innocents a bad thing’”

    the innocents probably think so. i think so. if roles were reversed and their torments were suffering without consent they would think so. so objectively, i can’t say it’s bad (starting to get sick of repeating myself), but subjectively all parties involved are in subjective agreement that yes it is.

    “Is it wrong for someone to choose to empathize with the perpetrators in accordance with a belief that Jews don’t deserve to live? Holding this belief (without actioning it) doesn’t cause any harm and suffering after all.”

    correct, and i don’t give a shit what beliefs you hold, only how your beliefs impact on those around you. do me a favour next and re-read my arguments before attacking them?

    “here you’re presupposing he knows and agrees with the idea that all people are equal; since he himself doesn’t want to be hurt, he hence believes that another person doesn’t deserve to be hurt in the same way, because he is no better than them.”

    if he is like hitler and believes that he is inherently better than others so they deserve to be hurt then i will object on the basis that he doesn’t have any objective proof that he is actually any better than anyone else. but humour me, hypthetically if he did, how would this justify causing suffering? i don’t have any objective proof that i’m somehow better that a dog, but even if i did, why would this legitimize abusing it?

    “So by agreeing with the golden you’re actually just assuming the existence of an absolute ethical principle.”

    which one am i assuming? jesus’ or buddhas?

  • @ Sammy

    You appear to be getting exasperated because you think we are refusing to understand.
    I am thinking much the same thing.
    Every argument you use contains words embodying moral judgement about right and wrong, eg consensual, innocent. Yet you admit or claim no basis for right or wrong other than personal preference. In the face of some one elses preference, different to your own, where does that leave you? Without any basis to comment at all !! Certainly no basis for action if smoething you dont like is happening, others may like it.
    You are almost getting to majority preference rules! I am sure if you think that through, you will find some serious problems.

  • “but humour me, hypthetically if he did, how would this justify causing suffering? i don’t have any objective proof that i’m somehow better that a dog, but even if i did, why would this legitimize abusing it?”

    fair call, i will humour your you
    justify, suffering , legitimize, abuse…. all imply right/wrong/ought concepts. If there is no actual right/wrong/ought then your question is actually meaningless

    the only question left is “does an action have utility”?

  • “Every argument you use contains words embodying moral judgement about right and wrong, eg consensual, innocent.”

    ‘conensual’ involves no moral judgment in either of our dictionaries, and in this context i used ‘innocent’ to mean someone who was not causing suffering to anyone else. it should also be obvious by now we’re using ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ on two different levels. groups of chimpanzees have concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ behaviour for their members that are created and exist only internally. we would laugh if they tried to present their values as some external and objective standard, and i don’t think we have any right to say ours are either. they’re still just internally created concepts, and when we see them as permanent and absolute it’s illusory. which isn’t to say

    “Yet you admit or claim no basis for right or wrong other than personal preference. In the face of some one elses preference, different to your own,”

    i’ve already explained it’s not my personal preferences, it’s the exact opposite. i don’t believe in a god, but provided your beliefs aren’t impacting on others emotional wellbeing and happiness ( ie gay relationships), then i will side with you when an aggressive atheist tries to interfere with your emotional wellbeing and happiness (ie god loves me and i’m going to heaven when i die). i think you’re factually incorrect but if you’re not harming anyone then i’m glad that you’re glad.

    “where does that leave you? Without any basis to comment at all !! Certainly no basis for action if smoething you dont like is happening, others may like it.” in which case that’s up to them and i won’t comment. like i’ve already said.

    “I am sure if you think that through, you will find some serious problems.”

    feel free to suggest some.

    “justify, suffering , legitimize, abuse…. all imply right/wrong/ought concepts.”

    wrong. (as in, ‘incorrect’, not morally wrong) ‘justify’ and ‘legitimise’ imply reasons, not morality. simply because i am better than my dog (remember this is hypothetical; ‘better’ to who?) is not a reason to cause it harm. if it was attacking you i would kick it, but the reason would be to stop it harming you, not just ‘because i am better than it’.

    “the only question left is “does an action have utility”?”

    no, it’s ‘how does an action impact on others?’. without others all actions are neutral.

    and given that god can order the suffering of others if it suits his ends (establishing a promised land for his chosen people at the expense of previous inhabitants) the only question left for you is ‘does an action have utility to god’.

    which i guess is my main problem. if there is a god he ordered suffering which i do not think he should have, and if he is omnipotent then he is currently standing idly by and watching suffering which he has the power to stop, and i do not think he should do this. so even if he showed that he existed, i would have trouble actually whole-heartedly worshiping a being who violates what i think of as desirable behaviour. i support my government and country but reserve the right to disagree with them, and to stop recognising their authority if they violate their mandate; christians don’t get to do this with god. by my criteria abraham failed gods test because he was prepared to kill a child simply because god told him too. if he was brave enough to refuse to kill another person without reason even though he risked the wrath of an all-powerful god, this would have been heroic. foolish, but noble, like if a nazi had refused to execute a jew despite knowing full well that it meant they would both die.

    and then the only way you can show anything to be wrong is to show that god exists and says it’s wrong. how’s that working out for you?

    but i think we’ve both already said everything either of us has to say on this, and hugh wasn’t saying anything that you hadn’t already.

  • Sam g have you ever studied or read any serious meta ethics at all?

  • not nearly as much as you and probably jeremy, so it shouldn’t be too hard for you to show me why i’m wrong.

  • “if he was brave enough to refuse to kill another person without reason even though he risked the wrath of an all-powerful god, this would have been heroic. foolish, but noble, like if a nazi had refused to execute a jew despite knowing full well that it meant they would both die.”

    You might like to read Hebrews on this Sam. This was a test of trust. did Abraham believe God’s promise that through Isaac a whole nation would grow. Or as another comentator put it ‘did Abraham have a good opinion of God’? would He keep His promises?

  • Sam, I am not sure I entirely understand your position, let me ask you this, is the claim “its wrong to torture people for fun” true?

  • define ‘wrong’.

  • exactly Sam, so you do understand after all

  • jeremy, that doesn’t help much.

    different angle, this might be better: if i was to say that yes, it was wrong (by any definition, take your pick), and someone else disagreed and asked me how i knew for sure, what could i provide to support my statement?

  • Sam, Jeremy is correct that you do not understand.

    You write ”different angle, this might be better: if i was to say that yes, it was wrong (by any definition, take your pick), and someone else disagreed and asked me how i knew for sure, what could i provide to support my statement?”
    That is a different question, I asked wether the claim “its wrong to torture children for fun” is true.

    Your response is to ask how one could show it was true to another person who was sceptical of it. That’s a fundamentally different question.

    Heliocentricism was true in 1200 yet no one at that time could demonstrate it was true. Similarly, its true now that the conjunction of P with not P, is false. But if someone told me they did not believe this and thought contradicts were obviously true I doubt I could show it was true to them. What these examples show is that the claim something is true is not the same as the claim that one can demonstrate it to a person who does not believe it.

    I am asking you again do you think the claim “its wrong to torture people for fun” is a true statement. This will enable me to discern where on the meta-ethical page you are so to speak.

  • i’m genuinely not sure how i can answer the question; i’ll try and explain better.

    in 1200 heliocentricism was true, but if you tried to tell me that it was true, and had no means whatsoever of demonstrating its truth, unless i was prepared to take your word for it, i would have no reason to believe you. i could reasonably be expected to ask ‘how do you know?’, and you would be incapable of answering.

    that it can now be demonstrated that heliocentricism is true is not a relevant part of the analogy; it could just as easy have been something which was later demonstrated to be untrue. this is why, without the benefit of hindsight, it is reasonably for me to ask how you know.

    if i were to say that torturing for fun was ‘wrong’ i would be counting on either a) your willingness to take my word for it, or b) your subjective opinion agreeing with me so that you didn’t feel inclined to ask how i know it is wrong. because if you were to ask, how could i possibly reply?

    when you ask me “do you think the claim X is a true statement”? it doesn’t really matter what i ‘think’; i also ‘think’ vanilla is better than chocolate, but i have no grounds to say that ‘vanilla is better than chocolate’ is a ‘true’ statement because there is no way i can support this and the word ‘true’ takes it out of the realm of opinion.

    i know this is still the different question, but i’ll try and show how it relates:

    your question “(is) it wrong to torture people for fun”? assumes the existence of ‘wrong’. if the ‘wrong’ in this question is meant to be something external and objective, can you demonstrate the truth of its existence? if not, i have no more reason to believe it exists that i would have had to believe heliocentricism 800 years ago.

    assuming i’ve correctly understood what you mean by ‘wrong’, the only way i can answer the question is ‘i have no idea’. if i said anything else you would say ‘how do you know?’, and i wouldn’t be able to reply.

    if i said ‘in my opinion is it right/wrong to torture for fun’, that would be as pointless as saying ‘in my opinion vanilla is better than chocolate’, and probably still wouldn’t answer your question anyway.

    so as someone with a phd in this sort of thing, how do you know that anything you have ‘studied’ is anything more than the pointless ‘vanilla vs chocolate’ opinions of thinkers and philosophers who have gone before you? given that some things will resonate with your personal subjective opinions and some things won’t, what have you ever verified as objectively ‘true’ or ‘false’, or did you just take someone else’s word for it? you of all people should be able to say that you know X is right/wrong “because of Y.” so how do you know any of your statements on morality are ‘true’?

  • Sam
    It seems to me your a bit mixed up here, you seem to be conflating the claims (i)that “its wrong to torture people for fun” is true. (ii) that it can be shown to be true to others (iii) that it can be rationally known to be true by people who believe it and (iv) it makes a truth claim at all or is simply an expression of preference.

    Take heliocentricism this claim is true, and even though in the 12 century people did not know it was true they all would have recognised it was a truth claim, it was a claim that is either true or false. Moreover people would have suggested the evidence either suggested it was false or that one could not know its truth or falsity. No one would say that when a person said “the earth moves around the sun” they were expressing there taste or desires. They were clearly making a truth claim.

    The claim “ice cream is nice” on the other hand does not even make a truth claim at all its merely an expression of my preferences. Claims like this are neither true nor false, any more than my claim

  • “They were clearly making a truth claim.”

    and until such time as someone could show it to be true, or someone else could show it to be false, i would be best to suspend judgment and not take a side. i couldn’t know that it was true if i couldn’t demonstrate it to myself, so couldn’t make the fact claim that it was true. if you asked me if heliocentricism was true i would be unable to answer on any basis than my opinion.

    so when you ask me is it wrong to torture people for fun, i can’t answer because i have no way of knowing what is and is not ‘wrong’. do you? if so, how do you know?

    true statement: i do not want someone to do something to me which i do not want them to do to me. i cannot be truly sure of the existence of anything other than my own mind, but i can know that statement to be true because it takes place in my own mind; it is true because i say it is. it would also appear to be true according to the rules of logic (if A then A. A, so A), but that is of secondary importance. based on this i can theorise that you do not want someone to do something to you which you do not want them to do you.

    from this i can guess that if you did not want someone to torture you, and someone was to torture you, you would feel in much the same way as i would if someone were to torture me when i did not want them too. if their reason was their own fun, i would not feel that this was a sufficient reason for them to do something to me which i did not want. given this, ‘fun’ would also be an insufficient reason to expect you to submit to treatment which you did not want. so if someone does not want to be tortured, the torturers ‘fun’ is not a sufficient reason for the torture. so is it morally wrong? i have no idea, but have explained why i do not think it should be permitted to take place.

    this is the golden rule, and also what your mother was getting at when she asked ‘how would you like it if someone did that to you?’

    so until you can demonstrate the truth of the existence of right and wrong, i can only judge an action based on it’s impact on what i believe are other minds. like i said to jeremy before, without another, all actions are neutral. i can hit a nail with a hammer for fun because i do not believe it has a mind capable of suffering. i will not hit you with an hammer for fun.

    until it can be shown that ‘morality’ is in anyway a meaningful and clearly defined term, it can’t in itself be used as an argument. if by now it isn’t apparent why i can’t answer your question about torture, i’m not sure how to proceed.

    how would you answer the question ‘is it a true that it is wrong to torture for fun’? and if you have an answer, how do you know it is the right answer? you can’t check in the back of the book like you used to in high school.

  • “so is it morally wrong? i have no idea, but have explained why i do not think it should be permitted to take place.

    this is the golden rule, and also what your mother was getting at when she asked ‘how would you like it if someone did that to you?”

    Sam i think you are confusing youself. If right and wrong dont exist, so what if you dont like it done to youself, why does that stop you doing it to others? It might be inconsistant , but again so what? All you have done is stepped back a level and effectively claimed that consistancy is right or ought to be, and inconsistancy is wrong and ought not to be.

    The idea that you should not do to others what you wouldnt like done to you is a moral statement of “ought”. You have come up with things that ought or ought not to be. You have claimed a particular attitude to others to be right or wrong. You have simply fooled yourself by thinking you have avoided the words.

  • jeremy,

    “All you have done is stepped back a level and effectively claimed that consistancy is right or ought to be, and inconsistancy is wrong and ought not to be.”

    yup good point and well spotted, this is about where i’m up too as well. i can see my way forward, but aren’t really ready just yet. it will be something about socially imposed order, given that my mind appears to function the way it would if it had evolved in a small tight knit group setting. keep in mind that i can only judge an action on how it affects others. i won’t say that it inconsistency is wrong, because i can’t, but it will become irrelevant because of the pre-existing nature of our minds. it will still stay essentially true that inconsistency is not wrong. but it’s still a work in progress.

    you and i have both been taught that without an external standard of morality there can be nothing but a bleak apocalyptic picture of carnage and chaos and violence, but i’m not so sure that this is directly follows. do ants have morality? cimpanzees have tight societies with clearly defined guidelines for behaviour, do they have morality?

    i think that if ants or chimpanzees were to develop higher powers of reasoning they might project their own behavioural guidelines out onto the universe and try to ‘see’ it as an absolute standard of morality written in the stars. if so they could then be forgiven for thinking that if this absolute standard of morality were ever shown to be only an internally generate projection, that their social order would have no grounds to stand on and they would all be doomed.

    in the meantime i can try to explain why i won’t murder you. no mind in our society wants to be murdered (true by definition), including me, so we have struck a deal that we will not murder each other. if A murders B, he has broken a contract, which isn’t necessarily wrong, but if he did not care for the mind of B, then he might not care for the mind of C , D, or E either. If nothing else A can no longer be trusted by the other members of the alphabet, which in itself is a disincentive if A is a social animal which craves the trust and approval of his peers.

    anyway, it’s still a work in progress, but what do you think so far?

  • and just to go back a step, pre-inconsistency, are you at least happy that you can understand the impact an actions will have on another mind by comparing it to the impact a similar action would have on you? right or wrong aside, do you agree there is at least the ability to comprehend?

  • @ Sam
    good reply

    “cimpanzees have tight societies with clearly defined guidelines for behaviour, do they have morality?”
    i would have to say i dont know, chimps are apparently self aware and apparently feel empathy [ or at least we anthropomorphise that about them]. But they also commit murder [ defined as killing your own species ] and the perpetrator is not punished by the group. In fact more likely to achieve dominance as a result.

    Likewise in a pride of lions, a new alpha male will murder the young offspring of the previous alpha, including newborns as they arrive.

    The “do unto others” or empathy that you are working toward seems to at least require the ability to be self aware, other aware, and the ability to project self equivalence on to othe other.. There is a really big range in the ability of humans to feel empathy with others. So you are going to get to an equally difficult position. Without an external standard, what degree of genetic expression constitutes an “ought” or a “right”?

  • hang on, back up. what’s the point of this discussion? what useful purpose would a resolution serve?

    there can be the abstract discussion of what is the essence of good, but i can’t seriously participate in that because i see it as being as disconnected from reality as discussions about the nature of middle earth or the aliens of star wars. mildly interesting, but essentially just hypothetical.

    surely the practical application of this discussion is to establish some guiding principles for human behaviour based on something that all can understand and relate too, and can be enforced with legitimacy. in which case i think i’ve already done that, it’s given legitimacy by each member not wanting to be harmed so agreeing to not do harm to others.

    copied this from my discussion with rosijer over in the church and state thread :

    no (paedophilla) can still be criminalised. criminality is a socially constructed concept which goes hand in hand with a social contract. we the people can choose what should and should not be criminal without checking it is consistent with one of the many conflicting moral theories. we would not want to be raped at any stage let alone when we were 6, we do not want our children to be raped, and we have an evolutionary social instinct to try and prevent the suffering members, as social animals which draw our sense of identity from our group we have a sense of empathy which in some small way makes their pain our own pain (documented by psychologists). moral or not we can agree that we won’t rape 6 year old girls, and can establish disincentives if one of us breaks that contract. the 6 year old girls are just as much members of our society as anyone else and the deal is that if we want the group to protect us, we protect other members of the group.

    given that we can’t establish any moral facts but can know for sure that we don’t want what we don’t want, we can at least agree not to cause suffering if in exchange we won’t be caused to suffer. you probably still disagree, but i think i’m happy in my own mind that i’ve finished…

  • “it’s given legitimacy by each member not wanting to be harmed so agreeing to not do harm to others.”

    nice theory, just completely destroyed by the reality of human behaviour. I have never yet met anyone who wanted to be treated badly, never met a burghlar who was happy to have his own home burgled, never met a street thug who liked bumping into a stronger more vicious thug.
    Most people do not make the connection that i dont like it therefore i shouldnt do it to others. Just today i had a conversation with a women telling me her brother was so thoroughly self centred that he admitted quite happily that the only determinant of his behaviour was his own wants. That he might not like the way he treated some one else was irrelevant to him.

  • so i dont disagree with you Sam, except in as much as i believe this is a standard that God sets before us. The trouble as mentioned is that everyone , even people such as myself who have two reasons to accept this standard [God commanded it and i understand why] , everyone fails most of the time. I fail consistantly inspite of accepting and striving to keep such a standard.

  • just thought i’d pop over here and elaborate the sunscreen thing more, based on avoiding inconsensual suffering. i’m assuming you don’t want your loved ones to suffer. they would suffer if you got skin cancer. wear sunscreen.

    this is why i don’t agree that people should commit suicide, but do believe that people should be allowed to be euthanised provided that everyone with close personal ties to the person give their permission.

    i wasn’t alive before i was conceived, and if my memory serves me right it was a thoroughly neutral experience. i won’t be alive after i’m dead, so think it will be just as neutral an experience. even if i’m wrong, it’s still inevitable in the end and the best we can hope to achieve is to minimize suffering while here on earth. so the person who dies is not the one which suffers by being dead, it is the ones with emotional attachments who will mourn and miss them. in the case of dependents they may suffer economically as well.

    based on this, suicide, like murder, is a selfish act which causes others inconsensual harm, and should be prevented. however in the case of euthanasia, provided those who will suffer give their permission then there is no inconsensual harm, although obviously it won’t be pleasant for anyone. the suffering of the ones left behind is currently recognised in that fact that only the family can choose to turn off life support.

  • I Think this comes from your view and value of suffering. It is in effect one sided it implies that the only outcome of suffering is more suffering hence it is okay for euthanasia and possibly abortion if you agree with this too.

    I’d like to ad this has been a great discussion. And rather than have such passages removed surely we could make sure all children know of this passage and have some what more of an understanding in school than them stumbling across it one day by accident and realising on the surface it contradicts all they have been taught. Although i can’t help but see the irony of mothers and children in light of the abuse in the practice of abortion and sterilisation.

  • I’d also like to ad that in terms of the old testament God definitely seems to be physically intervening and making himself known. What is our understanding for why this has changed. Is it because he has already sent His own Son and like the story of the man in hell wanting to tell his brother’s just would not work. Or some other reason. Or is it more hyperbole on account of the authors and the culture incorporating these physical interventions of God. According to a biblical studies teacher at acu in strathfield sydney it is the later that the plagues and like minded stories did not happen.

    p.s thnx for making me do maths 9 x _ = 36…i dislike maths! :)