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Divine Commands Post 9/11

September 12th, 2011 by Matt

The night of September 11, 2001, was a night we did not get much sleep in. By 4am September 12 (New Zealand time) our two-week old son and 14 month old daughter had woken us twice already. Frustratingly, I awoke again sometime after 4am to a different noise coming from the lounge; it turned out that our eldest son, then aged 6, was up watching television. I stumbled into the room and told him to go back to bed. As I got back into bed I told Madeleine “It’s OK hon, it was just Christian watching some movie about New York” (I’d seen the Twin Towers on the screen as I switched the TV off). Less than an hour later our sleep was interrupted again, this time by the telephone. Madeleine, awoken for the 4th time that night, angrily moaned “who the hell is ringing at this time? Don’t they know we have a newborn?” It was my Dad.

“Matt” he told me tersely “I am just ringing to say I am alright. I got grounded at Heathrow airport and did not fly into the US as I had intended to this morning and so was not caught up in the drama that’s unfolded.”

“What drama?” I said bewilderedly “why wouldn’t you be ok?”

“Haven’t you heard?” he responded “planes have been high-jacked; there has been a terrorist attack in America – the World Trade Centre has been hit, as has the Pentagon”.

I suddenly was wide awake.

9/11 World Trade Centre Terrorist AttackOne particularly poignant fact about the events of 9/11 is that the terrorists who carried out the attacks justified their actions by claiming God commanded them to do so. That fact has lead many contemporary commentators to argue that a divine command theory of ethics is indefensible. September 11 is just the most recent example in a series of incidents throughout history such as the Crusades, Inquisition and wars of religion. Divine command ethics is discredited by the fact that people appeal to such commands to justify terrorism.

At first glance this objection is hard to take seriously; the premise is that some people have appealed to divine commands to commit atrocities. The conclusion is that any appeal to divine commands in ethics should be rejected.  This conclusion does not follow. To be valid the objector must assume a tacit premise: if people appeal to certain reasons to justify atrocities, then appeals to those reasons are always problematic. This premise is false.

An analogous line of reasoning applies to appeals to right and wrong per se. Take any historical atrocity that people have attempted to justify; in almost every case the justifier will have argued that the action in question was the right action to do, the justifier invariably appeals to the purported rightness of their action. If the tacit premise is true then appeals to right and wrong are always problematic.

Other examples illustrate the same point. The “reign of terror” during the French Revolution was justified by appeals to liberty, equality, fraternity and the rights of humankind; one victim of the guillotine famously remarked, “Oh, liberty, what crimes are committed in your name?” Millions have been slaughtered by appeals to the greater good of society or the liberation of the oppressed classes and it is well known that people have defended wars on the basis of justice and social peace. Should we therefore avoid liberty, equality, opposing oppression, seeking justice, social peace and so on? Obviously not.

The fact that people have attempted to offer justifications for atrocities by appealing to some reason does not entail that any or all appeals to such reasons are problematic. This is a fairly innocuous claim. Take any premise you like – secular or theological – it is true that a person could appeal to this premise in an attempt to justify something but this fact does not mean the premise is problematic. For the appeals to atrocities argument to have bite one needs to show more than just that someone has tried to justify an abhorrent action by appealing to God’s commands; one would have to show that they did so successfully, that God actually commands such practises.

The claim that God commands atrocities appears to be indefensible. We need to remember that we are not talking about the commands of just anyone; we are talking about God, who is typically defined as a being who is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect. So, as the terms are defined, the claim that it is possible for God to command people to torture others for fun is true only if it is possible for a morally perfect person to command an atrocious thing. But this is not possible. The very reason that critics cite atrocities in their arguments against God is because they regard these actions as paradigms of conduct that no morally good person could ever entertain or endorse.

At this point, a second line of argument is mounted; it is claimed that God, in fact, has commanded atrocities. Sceptics have argued passionately that the bible portrays God as issuing commands that are at odds with contemporary modern understandings of morality. They claim that God commands us to punish adultery with death, women to marry their rapists and parents to execute naughty children. They claim that God condoned slavery and that he commanded the killing of non-combatants in “holy wars” against the local Canaanite population.

There is a lot that can be said about these concerns (and I have said a lot about most of them and more on this blog previously). Here I will offer three points.

First, even if the Bible does teach these things, it does not follow that our moral obligations are not, in fact, divine commands. The claim that moral obligations cannot exist independently from the existence of a just and loving God is not the claim that the Bible is an infallible source of information about what God commands. While I do not hold this view, it is possible for someone to argue that the wrongness of an action is based on God’s commands but that we know and recognise what is right and wrong from our conscience and not from a written revelation. Some leading writers on theological ethics have suggested precisely this. What this argument shows then, at best, is that the Bible is not an infallible source of information about Gods commands.

Second, often the interpretation of the Bible undergirding this objection is suspect. In many instances the sceptic fails to appreciate the context and genre of the passages he cites. The sceptic fails to understand the difference between indentured servitude in the ancient Near East and antebellum slavery; they fail to understand that that “cursing their parents” in ancient Near Eastern law does not refer to children being cheeky nor does it refer to children who are minors. They fail to understand that ancient societies consider seduction to be a form of rape. They fail to appreciate that ancient Near Eastern conquest accounts employ highly figurative rhetoric that hyperbolically describes victories in terms of total annihilation of the enemy. They fail to appreciate that ancient Near Eastern legal texts, as noted by Raymond Westbrook, “reflect the scribal compilers’ concern for perfect symmetry and delicious irony rather than the pragmatic experience of the law courts.” They miss that, as JJ Finkelstein points out, the commands “were not meant to be complied with literally” but to “serve an admonitory function”; so the commands probably do not command execution for the crimes mentioned.

Sceptics can fail to grasp that claiming the Bible is God’s word does not mean that it did not come to us mediated through the writings of human beings who wrote in a particular time and place using the language, rhetoric and literary conventions of their time and so and frequently they fail to appreciate that the bible is a Canon and that passages need to be read in their broader context i.e. taking into account their place within the whole Bible.

Third, it is worth reflecting on the general method in play here. In each case the sceptic takes a purported divine command and compares it to a moral belief that she takes to be correct. The conclusion she draws is that the purported command is inauthentic. This is of course a possibility; however, there is another possibility that on, at least, some occasions the moral statements these sceptics are relying on are mistaken. Objections like this assume that when a purported moral claim contradicts a theological claim about what God commands it is the latter that should be rejected.

All of this raises an interesting question: why does the sceptic assume that God, if he exists, would never command anything contrary to his own moral beliefs?

The most sustained argument for this method I know of comes from Robert Adams in Finite and Infinite Goods. Adams states that “Our existing moral beliefs are bound in practise, and I think, ought in principle, to be a constraint on our beliefs about what God commands.”

Adams reasons that we can only accept the claim that God’s commands constitute our moral duties if God is understood as perfectly good. If God were evil or morally indifferent then it would be possible for him to command wrongdoing and we cannot have a duty to do wrong. Once this assumption is granted one cannot coherently say that God has commanded just anything. We have some grasp of what goodness is – what counts as right and wrong, what kinds of things a good person does not command. Therefore, God cannot coherently be called good if what he commands is contrary to “our existing moral beliefs”. As Raymond Bradley argues, to do so would be “playing word games which are intellectually dishonest [that deprive] the word ‘holy’ of its ordinary meaning and make it a synonym for ‘evil’.”

In response I will simply note that critics of Adams’ argument have shown that, as it stands, it needs qualifying. It is true we have some grasp of what goodness is but this is mitigated by two factors.

First, our moral judgements are fallible. While God does not command wrongdoing, it is likely that a perfectly good omniscient being would, at some time, command something contrary to what we think is wrong. To say otherwise dogmatically assumes that we are such good judges of morality that God could never disagree with us.

Second, our moral concepts are subject to revision. We change our opinions about the goodness and rightness of certain things without “playing word games which are intellectually dishonest [or depriving] the word ‘holy’ of its ordinary meaning and mak[ing] it a synonym for ‘evil.’” If this were not the case then one could never honestly or rationally change one’s mind on an ethical issue.

Consequently, Adams’ argument does not show we cannot attribute to God commands that are contrary to “our existing moral beliefs”. Rather, as he says elsewhere, we cannot coherently ascribe to “God a set of commands that is too much at variance with the ethical outlook we bring to our ethical thinking.” Elsewhere Adams allows for “the possibility of a conversion in which one’s whole ethical outlook is revolutionized, and reorganized around a new center” but “we can hardly hold open the possibility of anything too closely approaching a revolution in which, so to speak, good and evil would trade places.”

Therefore, Adams does not establish the claim that “our existing moral beliefs must serve as a constraint on our beliefs about what God commands.” It does, on the other hand, suggest that we cannot coherently “accept a theological ethics that ascribes to God a set of commands that is too much at variance with the ethical outlook we bring to our ethical thinking.” Adams argues that we cannot coherently or defensibly accept a theological ethics that, in effect, makes good and evil trade places and which so radically transforms our concept of goodness that it becomes a synonym for what we call evil. Nor could we accept an ethical system that calls our concept of goodness so radically into question that it breaks down.

Certain beliefs such as the claim that “killing, assault, theft and lying are in general wrong and can only be justified if some overriding moral reason applies” or that “without special overriding reason it is wrong to inflict pain and suffering on others or treat them with contempt” are so central to our account of goodness that we cannot coherently accept that a perfectly good being has issued commands that negate them.

Many moral claims are highly controversial and such that people can debate them and change their minds on them and so on. When they do it is implausible to suggest that their concept of goodness was so radically at odds with previous beliefs that “good and evil would trade places” or that there new position it is merely a word game.

Consider, for example, the debate over whether the bombing of Hiroshima was justified because it saved a huge number of lives by ending a war early. While I myself do not share this opinion, I would not say that it is obviously self-contradictory.

Similarly, consider moral debates about capital punishment or euthanasia or affirmative action. While I believe there are defensible and justified answers to these questions, I doubt we can dismiss those views we disagree with as all being conceptually incoherent and so radically at odds with our understanding of good so as to be incomprehensible or merely semantic gymnastics. Even when we disagree with people on these issues, in many instances, we need to take what they say with genuine seriousness and be open to the possibility that they might be right and we may be wrong.

This means one should not be too quick to dismiss a purported divine command merely because it is contrary to contemporary liberal morality. Obviously one cannot coherently attribute anything at all to God and claim that he is good and that Adams is correct to say that we cannot accept a theological ethics that ascribes to God a set of commands that is too much at variance with the ethical outlook we bring to our ethical thinking.

One function of theological reflection is to critique our contemporary mores and an authentic encounter with God’s will is likely to contrast with some of our moral beliefs. It is sheer hubris to suggest God would always agree with us. Is it really impossible for an all knowing, all good being to disagree with us on the seriousness of adultery or the propriety of capital punishment? To say no is to tacitly assume that modern 21st century liberal westerners have made no mistakes and their understanding of morality is infallible and inerrant. Those who make such an assumption have a dogmatically certain faith in contemporary liberal mores. Such attitudes are normally attributed predominantly to religious fundamentalists; I think the irony of this speaks for itself.

So the appeal to historical atrocities, on examination, is often found to be based on a fairly selective analysis of the evidence. The Bin Ladens and Hitlers of this world are clearly dangerous but so too are the Stalins, Pol Pots and secular groups like the Tamil Tigers who pioneered the practice of suicide bombing long before Al-Qaeda came on the scene. People fight and kill for a number of reasons; sometimes these are religious, more often they are secular and sometimes they are a combination of both. When people care deeply about something sometimes they will kill to protect it. Religion is no exception.


This post was published as part of the Apologetics Bloggers Alliance collaboration for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Other participating blogs are:

“The Problem of Evil:  Whose problem is it?  Is it a problem?” (Tilled Soil)
“The Need for Moral Choices and Consequences”(Possible Worlds)
“Ground Zero:  Why truth matters in preventing another 9/11-style attack”  (Wintery Knight)
“9/11 Memorial: Christianity Gives Authentic Hope In The Face Of Suffering” (Bringing Back the Tao)
Remembering 9-11:  Which revelation is true?  The need for evaluating religious claims” (Ratio Christi – Ohio State University)
“If God, Why Evil?” (In Defense of the Christian Faith)
“Unsung Lessons from 9/11:  ‘Moral Monsters’ & Fear of Death” (Clay Jones)
“9/11 and Religious Pluralism” (Another Ascending Lark)
“The Tiptoes of Tolerance” (Valley Girl Apologist)
“9-11″ (Deeper Waters)
“Do all roads (and flights) lead to God?” (Sarcastic Xtian)
“On September 11, 2001, harmless things became fearful” (J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”)
“Remembering 9/11:  A Young Californian’s Perspective” (Take Two Blog)
“The Two Ground Zeros” (Reasons for God)
“Suffering and the Cross of Christ” (Hieropraxis)
“America after 9 11:  Is Religion Evil?” (Apologetics Guy)
“Resources on the Problem of Evil” (Apologetics 315)
“Atheism, Evil, and Ultimate Justice” (Faithful Thinkers)
“9/11: ‘Full Cognitive Meltdown” and its Fallout” (Thinking Christian)
“Where was God on 9/11?” (Cold and Lonely Truth)
“The Three Faces of Evil and A Christian Response” (The Real Issue)
“Christianity and 9/11:  Guilt by Association?” (The POINT)
“Did God Allow the Attacks on 9/11 for a ‘Greater Good?’” (The Gospel According to Erik)
“Where was God on 9-11?” (Neil Mammen’s Blog)
“From Ground Zero to Ten Years Later–September 11, 2001″ (Sententia)
“9-11 Remembered” (Answering Muslims)
“On the anniversary of the attacks of 9/11″ (Mirror of Justice) 

RELATED POSTS:
9/11 
Religion, Science, 9/11 and the Moon: Dawkins’ Response to Copan
Religion and Violence
The Problem of Evil: Why does God Allow Suffering?

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  • [...] Divine Commands Post 9/11 Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Uncategorized, Worldview [...]

  • Thanks for posting this Madeleine. I’d love to talk to you about autism sometime.

  • Sam Harris has a different perspective ten years on from 9/11

    “Whatever else may be wrong with our world, it remains a fact that some of the most terrifying instances of human conflict and stupidity would be unthinkable without religion. And the other ideologies that inspire people to behave like monsters—Stalinism, fascism, etc.—are dangerous precisely because they so resemble religions. Sacrifice for the Dear Leader, however secular, is an act of cultic conformity and worship. Whenever human obsession is channeled in these ways, we can see the ancient framework upon which every religion was built. In our ignorance, fear, and craving for order, we created the gods. And ignorance, fear, and craving keep them with us.

    What defenders of religion cannot say is that anyone has ever gone berserk, or that a society ever failed, because people became too reasonable, intellectually honest, or unwilling to be duped by the dogmatism of their neighbors. This skeptical attitude, born of equal parts care and curiosity, is all that “atheists” recommend—and it is typical of nearly every intellectual pursuit apart from theology. Only on the subject of God can smart people still imagine that they reap the fruits of human intelligence even as they plow them under.”

    For the full article use this link:

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/september-11-2011/

  • Harris is a smart guy, so I doubt he thinks that he’s actually saying anything of substance. He’s just taking advantage of the anniversary of a national tragedy to go off on a rant, and remind everybody that if only everyone were a skeptic, then this never would have happened. stay classy, Sam.

  • Human history presents a bit of a problem for Sam Harris, because human behaviour has always been at odds with his view. Maybe he should look at the way people are instead of making silly statements about what history would have been if people had been something other than people.

    “This skeptical attitude, born of equal parts care and curiosity, is all that “atheists” recommend—and it is typical of nearly every intellectual pursuit apart from theology. Only on the subject of God can smart people still imagine that they reap the fruits of human intelligence even as they plow them under.”

    I love the way atheists like to pretend that the atrocities perpetrated by atheists ideologies are somehow devorced from their atheism and their humanity.
    People do these things, sinful, fallible, imperfect, selfish people. To pretend otherwise is delusion.

  • @ Matt S

    If I was as cynical as you, then I would tend to think that Matt was using the anniversary for the same purposes. Stay classy!

  • @ Jeremy

    I agree that people do these things, sinful, fallible, imperfect, selfish people, but that doesn’t change the truth of what Sam Harris is talking about.

  • Of course it does, He is trying to blame religion for what is a characteristic of people. If there was no such thing as religion, people would be no different. He even acknowledges as much when saying that the behaviour of atheistic anti religious people like Stalin is like religion.
    He just has it around the wrong way, the behaviour of some religious people and some atheists is just like the behaviour of people.

    See if you and Sam are right and there is no God, who are you going to blame? If “Whenever human obsession is channeled in these ways, we can see the ancient framework upon which every religion was built. In our ignorance, fear, and craving for order, we created the gods. And ignorance, fear, and craving keep them with us” is true and religion is hence nothing more than a manifestation of our character all that will happen is we will create new gods, such as the materialism that is currently killing our planet. If we got rid of every trace of religion currently on the planet we would simply replace it with something else and continue on in exactly the same way , doing the same things, perpetrating the same atrocities. Any excuse will do.

  • Sam, simply doesnt understand the difference between a symptom and a disease, he confuses effect with cause.

  • @ Jeremy

    I appreciate your perspective, but I don’t see how that helps with a defence of religion. It also is nothing but a construct of human beings.

    And your right about the removal of religion, it certainly wouldn’t put a stop to some people acting in bad or good ways, but what we are essentially looking for is an improvement in the whole surely.

    You choose your god in the belief that that will help, while I don’t.

    Ironically, your god just happens to mirror your own personal beliefs, but that again comes down to human behaviour once again as this new study illustrates. Funny that!

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2009/11/30/creating-god-in-ones-own-image/

    Funny that!

  • It doesnt defend religion, it just means attacking religion is absolutely pointless because it is people who are the problem, not religion as such.

    No my religion doesnt mirror my personal beliefs. To the best of my knowledge i have had no influence on Christian doctrine or the Canon of scripture. I do hope very much that my personal beliefs mirror the teachings of Jesus Christ

  • @ Jeremy

    To quote Nicholas Epley, the author of the study:

    “People may use religious agents as a moral compass, forming impressions and making decisions based on what they presume God as the ultimate moral authority would believe or want. The central feature of a compass, however, is that it points north no matter what direction a person is facing. This research suggests that, unlike an actual compass, inferences about God’s beliefs may instead point people further in whatever direction they are already facing.”

    Now who is the deluded one?

  • It is probably true that most people want God to be on their side, but thats a messed up way to look at things. Its the kind of thinking that leads to the problems you complain about.
    The question is never ” is God on our side?” but rather “are we on God’s side?”

    I suspect all the researcher proved is that most people never really examine what they believe or why they believe it.

    And no i dont choose to believe in God “because it will help”. It has never been about what i can get out of it, though of course i believe that following my Creators guidelines is likely to be more successfull than ignoring them. Certainly not going to run around after Sam Harris’ advice, the guy cant tell a symptom from a problem.

  • Interesting use of the compass analogy. Course it is only an analogy and falls down the minute we acknowledge people seem to be pointing in all sorts of directions [self will].
    Aspects of the compass analogy show up in the Christian understanding of sin and repentance. To genuinely repent is to turn away completely from that which was wrong, kind of a 180 degree turn. The compass illustration also shows up in understanding truth and falsehood. ie being only 1 or 2 degrees off course misses your destination as surely as being 180 degrees out. Either way you end up in the wrong place.

  • To quote George Bernard Shaw:

    “No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means”.

  • From the op:

    The claim that God commands atrocities appears to be indefensible. We need to remember that we are not talking about the commands of just anyone; we are talking about God, who is typically defined as a being who is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.

    Don’t most versions divine command theory define “moral” in terms of God’s commands?

    If so, then there’s little meaning in the term “God is morally perfect”, since “moral perfection” is simply defined as whatever God happens to command.

    In other words, God can’t give evil commands because all his commands have been defined as “good”. Sure its trivially true that God is “morally perfect” if that’s how we define our terms, but “morally perfect” really tell us much anymore.

    The moral rightness or wrongness of an act is no longer tied to its potential effects on humans, its character or anything else – the sole defining property of the morality or immorality of an act is whether it was issued by a divine agent. Strange (and a little troubling) indeed!

  • @d

    Most Christians tend to distinguish between moral values and moral obligations. It is at this point the problem you raise disappears.

    @Matt, I will link to your post ASAP. :)

  • Jeremy writes:

    It doesnt defend religion, it just means attacking religion is absolutely pointless because it is people who are the problem, not religion as such.

    Well, in Sam Harris’ case, he brackets the term “atheist” because he generally doesn’t really self-identify as atheist, and I think he would agree actually agree with your statement that “people are the problem”… or more specifically irrationality, unreasonableness, and dogma are the problems.

    He does spend a fair amount of time attacking religion, because he views religion as one of the manifestations of human irrationality and unreasonableness… but his overall message is that we need to all be more reasonable.

  • @randy

    I’m not sure how that makes the problem disappear. So one might define morality to be the set of values that God holds – well, that’s really the same situation – God is morally perfect simply by virtue of the fact that you’ve defined the things he values as “moral”.

  • d,

    Sorry I wasn’t more clear, as that is not what I am saying. What divine command theists who make this distinction mean is that there are objective moral values (things that are always good and evil–like love, malice, what have you), which cannot change, and moral duties, which may change but will always be in alignment with objective moral values. So, on this account, God could command me to go to medical school, but in another circumstance he could have commanded me to be a lawyer (for a trivial example). In any case, since duties cannot violate the values, it is up to the objector to say why this is not a coherent account (as it does away with the charge that God could command that which is evil; such a state of affairs is impossible).

  • @ Paul
    GBS was a very clever and intelligent man, he was also a socialist, a Stalinist, an adulterer and belonged to the eugenics movement in Britian.
    I am not suprised he didnt like the Bible as it stands in direct opposition to much of his behaviour.

  • “Don’t most versions divine command theory define “moral” in terms of God’s commands?”

    Actually No version of a divine command theories defines what is moral in terms of Gods commands.
    Divine command theorists typically claim that moral obligations are identical with Gods commands.

    This is not the same thing, first something can be morally good to do without being obligatory. For example donating a kidney to a need stranger might be a really good, benevolent action but its not obligatiory.

    Second, claiming that a particular concept is defined in terms of another concept, is not the same as claiming two things are identical. Superman for example is identical to clark kent, it does not follow that the word “clark kent” means superman. Similary, Water is identical with H20, it does not follow from this that the word “water” simply “means” H20. A person who said water is H20 is not uttering a tautology on par with the phrase “water is water” he is making a substantive claim.

    “If so, then there’s little meaning in the term “God is morally perfect”, since “moral perfection” is simply defined as whatever God happens to command.”

    This does not follow because a divine command theory does not “define” morally perfect in terms of Gods commands. There is nothing incoherent about a a divine command theorist can quite sensibly claim that God has certain character traits such as being loving, just, impartial, empathic and so on.

    “In other words, God can’t give evil commands because all his commands have been defined as “good”. Sure its trivially true that God is “morally perfect” if that’s how we define our terms, but “morally perfect” really tell us much anymore.”

    Like I said thats based on a caricature of divine command theories.

    “The moral rightness or wrongness of an act is no longer tied to its potential effects on humans, its character or anything else – the sole defining property of the morality or immorality of an act is whether it was issued by a divine agent. Strange (and a little troubling) indeed!”

    Again that’s false, on a divine command theory, wrongness is (is identical) with the commands of God, where God is understood to have certain character traits (outlined above) essentially. Obviously the actions which a being with these character traits would command are those which have certain effects on people.

    With respect d, I suggest you read what Divine command theorist have actually written as opposed to what sceptics claim they have written, there is a quite enlightening contrast.

    I have spelt some of this out before at http://www.mandm.org.nz/2007/10/the-euthyphro-dilemma-against-divine-commands-i-avoiding-strawmen.html and http://www.mandm.org.nz/2009/05/john-w-loftus-on-the-christian-illusion-of-moral-superiority-part-i.html

  • @ Jeremy

    Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian, non smoker who liked animals.

    So your point about GWS is what exactly???

  • Paul, this is circular Sam says

    “Whatever else may be wrong with our world, it remains a fact that some of the most terrifying instances of human conflict and stupidity would be unthinkable without religion. And the other ideologies that inspire people to behave like monsters—Stalinism, fascism, etc.—are dangerous precisely because they so resemble religions. Sacrifice for the Dear Leader, however secular, is an act of cultic conformity and worship. Whenever human obsession is channeled in these ways, we can see the ancient framework upon which every religion was built. In our ignorance, fear, and craving for order, we created the gods. And ignorance, fear, and craving keep them with us.

    Note the reasoning hear, religions cause evil, and secular ideologies that have caused evil do so because they are like religions, why, because they are cultist, fearful, and nuts, in otherwords evil.

    Your welcome to lap this sort of stuff up.

    I do have a question though, why do atheists take Sam Harris so seriously. I have had the priveledge earlier this year to attend a conference where probably the worlds best athesit critic of divine command theory was presenting. We had a really good discussion in the Q&A. Guys like this are a thousand times more competent than Harris, yet its not there work that people like yourself run to. I find this quite bizzare.

  • Religious people want to talk away my freedom and kill my family.

  • Matt, clever marketing I guess. But not as clever as the marketing religion has done throughout history, they have done very well to sell their nonsense to billions of people.

  • Matt, what do you think of Julian Savulescu, the Oxford philosopher?

  • Matt

    Any chance of passing on the individuals name so I can take a look at what they have to say?

    Thanks

  • Ok, I read your other articles…

    Actually No version of a divine command theories defines what is moral in terms of Gods commands.

    Divine command theorists typically claim that moral obligations are identical with Gods commands.

    Ok, so actions based on divine commands are just a subset of morally good actions and are obligatory. But not all morally good actions are obligatory. Easy enough.

    So then, what does it actually mean to say “God is morally perfect” (along the lines of “water is H20)?

  • Matt,

    Guys like WLC and Plantinga exist, but most average Christians will lap up the drivel of people like Rick Warren and other pop preachers, before they’d get anywhere close to reading or listening to the former.

    I suppose the same is true for atheists, and Harris (et al.) Popularizers (atheist and theist alike) don’t demand much rigor.

  • “To say no is to tacitly assume that modern 21st century liberal westerners have made no mistakes and their understanding of morality is infallible and inerrant. Those who make such an assumption have a dogmatically certain faith in contemporary liberal mores. Such attitudes are normally attributed predominantly to religious fundamentalists; ”

    I’m glad that you called people who believe in the infallibility of the Bible dogmatic and fundamentalist.
    Funny, I always thought that you were one of them (you know, a Biblical inerrantist)

  • “Guys like WLC”
    you mean someone who believes the Bible is inerrant?
    well according to Matt someone who has faith in the infallibility of the Bible is a fundamentalist (and dogmatic), just like Craig :))
    unless of course Matt denies that holding to Biblical inerrancy is dogmatic (just to the infallibility of your morality) in which case he’s a hypocrite
    as for Plantinga, that’s a guy who basically thinks philosophy is about justifying (one might say, rationalizing) the believes you already hold. ha!
    those guys are a disgrace

  • Matthew Flannagan says:

    “I do have a question though, why do atheists take Sam Harris so seriously. I have had the priveledge earlier this year to attend a conference where probably the worlds best athesit critic of divine command theory was presenting. We had a really good discussion in the Q&A. Guys like this are a thousand times more competent than Harris, yet its not there work that people like yourself run to. I find this quite bizzare.”

    Might you provide the name of that critic, and the conference, and the papers of his you recommend, if you find a moment? Thanks.

  • AOR you write I’m glad that you called people who believe in the infallibility of the Bible dogmatic and fundamentalist.
    Funny, I always thought that you were one of them (you know, a Biblical inerrantist

    Actually if you “read” the quote you cite I did not say that, what I said was people who believe that they have made no mistakes and their understanding of morality is infallible and inerrant. were dogmatic.

    Biblical inerrantists do not claim this and neither does Craig. They of course accept that God does not make mistakes. But that is quite different from saying our understanding of him or his commands or morality does not contain any. I doubt Craig would claim this was the case.

    But I note you ignore the point I made and engage in character assanation instead. Nice to see you illustrating nicely the point I was making.

  • Guys like WLC and Plantinga exist, but most average Christians will lap up the drivel of people like Rick Warren and other pop preachers, before they’d get anywhere close to reading or listening to the former.

    I agree, I think the difference is that Christians who do this do not claim to be offering an intellectually rigorous critique of atheism. New atheists however do.

    If you were to look at popular Christian apologetics, the names of people like Craig do mention.

  • Paul and Ennemex, I was refering to Eric Wielenberg, I mentioned him and the conference here:
    http://www.mandm.org.nz/2011/07/naturalisms-in-ethics-auckland-uni.html

    and here:

    http://www.mandm.org.nz/2011/07/the-australasian-philosophy-of-religion-association-conference-auckland-university.html

    I find it interesting to note the contrasts, often I will be told by people like AgeofReason that a view is clearly Pscyopathic on the authority of Sam Harris and obviously false. Then attend a conference like this and have a dialogue with someone like Eric, and they tend to agree with a large number of my criticisms and offer new more thoughtful and challenging ones in response. The dissonance is I think quite interesting.

  • d. Divine command theorists offer different accounts of Gods goodness, at the very least it means that God has certain character traits essentially such as being loving, being just, being, impartial, empathetic and on so on.

  • Dicky P, haven’t really come across his stuff in the literature so can’t comment.

  • Look him up then. Please get back to me.

  • An interesting post Matt.