Play it Again: God’s Genocides

This is a new feature for the site, where I’m going to try to pull a specific conversation/controversy out of the comments of a previous post and put it back in front of everyone.  I always find it a little harder to follow these involved disputes when they get argued piecemeal in the comments, interspersed amid whatever other arguments are taking place. And just a reminder: if you’re trying to make a lengthy defense of your position in the comments, maybe you should ask about guest posting.

Over in the “Don’t Take Me Literally” thread, there’s been a interesting discussion taking shape about God’s prescribed slaughter of the Amalekites.  There’s plenty of discussion to be had about the historical contexts of this genocide (and William Lane Craig’s somewhat terrifying defenses of the legitimacy of this action as cited in Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith), but, to be honest, most of the historical questions are way above my pay grade.  What interested me most in this discussion was whether the Amelekite massacre was just another iteration of the problem of suffering/evil or whether this case presented a qualitatively different challenge to Christianity.

I’m not as troubled by the problem of evil and suffering as are other atheists, but I find this incident and other similar problems in the Old Testament quite disturbing and they do make me doubt the truth/goodness of either the Christian or Jewish faith.  So I might well ask, “Why is this atrocity different than all other atrocities?”

The crux of the issue is that God is ordering his people to perform evil acts.  The choice that God makes to blot out, rather than redeem seems like an indictment of his mercy and love.  This cruelty is not initiated by fallen man but is blessed by God.

This kind of command runs into the same kind of problem as the sacrifice of Isaac.  If God can countenance acts that would otherwise be immoral, how are humans supposed to try to obey moral law?  In what way is Abraham different that the schizophrenic serial killer, when both put aside their moral scruples to take up the difficult task they believe God has laid on them?

I’d like to hear Christians and Jews talk a little in the comments about how they would judge whether to follow a depraved order that seemed to come from God or a person inspired by God.  Most Christians I know would suspect themselves to be mentally ill if they began receiving orders from ‘God’ that seemed to be incompatible with God’s nature.  Doesn’t this imply that we consider some actions to be unworthy of God?  Why should the Israelites have been so trusting?

If the Amalekites really had to be wiped out, even down to the last suckling child (already a qualm-inducing proposition), why would God force the Israelites to dirty their hands with this unmerciful slaughter?  Clearly the God of the Old Testament had no problem using natural elements to smite (raining down fire, raising up a flood).  Making humans the instruments of divine justice (especially when they aren’t capable of fully emboding divine love or mercy) must be a corrupting force.  How can an Israelite snatch babies from their mothers’ breast, dash them upon the rocks, and not be diminished by the act?

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02487990587362445908 Ash

    If we asked a mainstream Christian if genocide and the slaughtering of children is good or bad in general, the near universal answer would likely be "bad". An honest fundamentalist is forced to answer, "Sometimes", since God required it in the Bible. But then we can say that no actions are good or bad in and of themselves. So genocide is not inherently evil; it is relative to the will of God. The same goes for child sacrifice, as in the case of Abraham and Issac. So clearly there exists no absolute morality as many Christians like to claim since the goodness or badness of an action is entirely dependent on the will of God. We can then deduce that Christian goodness is defined solely as obedience to God, regardless of how contradictory he is or how apparently evil the action might seem. Ick.

  • http://www.ordinary-gentlemen.com/alexknapp Alex
  • Michael Haycock

    On the topic of Abraham and Isaac, I'd recommend Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling." Best analysis I've ever read of that story, and directly addressing your question of "moral scruples" versus "difficult tasks" assigned by God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Fear and Trembling is on my post-senior essay reading list, since it's been recommended to me so many times. The best plug came from Sarah who said, "You should really read F&T;, I think you'd like it." (pause) "Actually, you'll probably hate it, but you should definitely read it."

  • Patrick

    Alex- Recognizing that you aren't endorsing the article, but responding to you anyways since you posted it-1. I think that article misrepresents Biblical Hermeneutics. It presents them as a sort of objective field of interpretive concepts that you need for the Bible to make sense. But Biblical Hermeneutics are anything but that. Biblical Hermeneutics are theological assumptions you bring to the Bible in order to help you interpret it in a particular way. They have no binding power whatsoever on someone who doesn't share those assumptions, nor can they be used to support those assumptions. For example, consider the hermeneutic principle of Christ-Centeredness, which basically claims that everything in the Bible is, in some way, about Christ, even if it doesn't appear to be. That's a theological claim. Its got no hold on, say, the Jewish. If a Jewish person was watching a Christian interpret an Old Testament passage that has nothing to do with Christ on the face of the text, and the Christian comes up with a weird, non-obvious interpretation that relates to the New Testament, the Jewish person would certainly need to understand hermeneutics in order to understand the thinking process the Christian was using… but that's NOT the same as saying that the passage can't be understood without Biblical Hermeneutics! To say that you need to presuppose the truth of the theological principles that compose the hermeneutics. But if someone's asking you how the Bible supports those theological principles… like this guy's correspondent who wants to know how to reconcile the theory that God's nature is a particular way with the fact that the God of the Bible isn't portrayed that way… then reference to these hermeneutics isn't even an answer. Its a distraction.2. The idea that once upon a time people were particularly evil and literally incapable of doing better even with the intervention of an omnipotent deity who embodies love… that's a truth claim. I see no reason to accept it. And in a way, its the perfect example of the problem I have with Biblical Hermeneutics- it seems ad hoc. Why do they believe this factual claim? Well, as far as I can tell, because it makes the Bible less problematic. 3. As usual, I think what's really going on is coherentism.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    From Alex's link:First, if you assume that God reveals himself to people according to their cultural concepts, categories and mindsets, then you will see that God’s revelation will have to develop along with the intellectual and cultural capacity of human beings… people who had much narrower approaches to the world also had a right to receive revelation from God according to what they understood.I'm always amused by the implication of this argument: that God told men in a Bronze Age culture to cut healthy, innervated tissue from their penises, using unsterile instruments and no anesthetic, and they cheerfully acquiesced to this. But if God had told them that they shouldn't keep slaves and should instead pay their workers fairly and treat them justly, they would have found that incomprehensible and would have rejected it out of hand!

  • http://www.ordinary-gentlemen.com/alexknapp Alex

    "I'm always amused by the implication of this argument: that God told men in a Bronze Age culture to cut healthy, innervated tissue from their penises, using unsterile instruments and no anesthetic, and they cheerfully acquiesced to this. But if God had told them that they shouldn't keep slaves and should instead pay their workers fairly and treat them justly, they would have found that incomprehensible and would have rejected it out of hand!"Why so? Body modification for ritualistic purposes is quite common in Bronze Age cultures. To my knowledge, slavery is absent from none of them. People are happy to make the one-time, painful sacrifice, but much less willing to give up economic advantages. Hell, we fought the bloodiest war in our nation's history over slavery.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    This objection bounces around a lot and the fundamental problem is that in discussions of this nature everybody is acts as if God is a man-like being, created like us, and subject to our scrutiny. In essence, the issue has become, "I want God to explain to me what He does with His own stuff!" It doesn't work like that. The first question that needs to be answered is, "Who is God?", please read the following article (it would be helpful to read Al Mohler's link within) then my response.http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2011/03/23/getting-the-creator-creature-order-right/God is the creator. He is not subject to our "moral" judgments for several reasons.1) Humans have extremely finite physical lifespans, (say 90 years) as opposed to (for sake of argument) a being that has existed the BILLIONS of years…GOD. I only use billions because that's how long we assume the universe has been in existence and it's easier to grasp than eternity. How can human creature with a laughably small lifespan even comprehend the mind and/or motives of a being that has been around for billions of years, let alone eternity? Even if He were to explain His reasoning on that particular issue what makes us think we could even understand? The situation is worse than the trying to explaining quantum mechanics to a 3 year old. It just can't be done. The 3 year old can whine, kick, scream, say it's not fair, and demand an answer, but the adult is ultimately going to just have to say, "You have to trust me." That's essentially what God says. The choice is ours. We can either trust the being that created everything, or trust your 20 to 45 year old brain against an eternal brain. As for me, I'm aware of my limits.2) God is the judge. If a creature (that He created) becomes defective (sinful). He has the right to determine when/if it needs to be removed. He alone can make that determination and destroy (judge) anything He has created and personally sustains at anytime. Afterall, it's His creation right? On what grounds can finite humanity attempt to wrench ownership and claim autonomous judgment from the very being that humanity requires for existence? It's like a 3 year old judging her mom for spanking her hand after disobeying.3) God possesses exhaustive foreknowledge. We don't. Not only does he have over several billion years past experience, He also knows the future. If there is something that appears evil now, but does a tremendous good in the future, was it really evil? Let's say you are a time traveler and go back to 1899. You see Hitler as a baby. You know with 100% certainty the murderous monster he will become. If you kill him now you will save the life of millions. If you don't take the shot the blood of millions of men, women, and children are on your hands. Do you take the shot? You can only be moral in taking that shot if you know 100% what the future holds. God has that 100% foreknowledge. He has absolute certainty what would happen if even one child were to survive to adulthood. Christians trust in the being that actually knows the future. Others trust they can make a better decision without knowing the future. How can you say with any authority that the destruction of those societies did not benefit humanity?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    Imagine for a moment you "created" a creature of some sort, for a specific purpose and FOR YOURSELF, in addition, for that creature to even function you must *actively* sustain it by breathing into an apparatus every 5 seconds to give it life. If your creation "decided" you don't own it anymore, are you obligated to continue to sustain it? Keeping in mind that you are SOLE reason that creature even exists and is still functional. Are you under a moral obligation to continue to expend active energy on the rebellious (sinful) creature? Further, what if you wanted a functioning creature to remove the defective creature from the playing field. Are you allowed to do that with your own creation? Are you under any obligation to have to explain why you chose to eliminate rebellious creatures who require your sustenance? A parent doesn't even explain everything to their child and that's a 20 to 30 year difference, why would a creator being with at minimum, billions of years of knowledge have to explain *any* to a questioning 90 year old created being?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    @Eldnar: That framework makes it very hard for me to imagine how mortals could ever come to an understanding of sin and goodness, even on their own scale. I imagine you think that your creator God is good in a way that a computer programmer creating a simulation is not, even though in both cases the existence of any created (or coded) being is entirely contingent on the will of their creator.How would you expect us mortals to distinguish between these states? Is every creator intrinsically good and worthy of worship by virtue of writing the rules?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    Leah, you've grasped the exact point I'm making. First, in that framework, the creator *is exactly* the one that determines what sin and goodness is within the confines of His creation. Who else would do it? Second, the only way mortals could ever come to an understanding of sin and goodness is by revelation from that very same creator. How can the thing created determine its *true* purpose? It can't, it can blindly make up stuff, but ultimately its purpose is is determined by what it was created for. There is no "coming to an understanding on their own scale". You asked, "How would you expect us mortals to distinguish between these states?" Once again, can't be done. Only a revelation from the creator could provide the distinctions.You mentioned, "even though in both cases the existence of any created (or coded) being is entirely contingent on the will of their creator."Bingo! Leah, you are inadvertently becoming a mighty Christian theologian. :)I'm not sure I understand what you are asking when you ask if every "creator" is intrinsically good. What I would assert is that it takes a good creator to continue to sustain rebellious creatures who despise Him with every fiber of their being, who deny Him ceaselessly, and continuously try to bring Him under their laughably limited judgment. Despite all of this He says, "You know what? I'll pay them a visit". This visit ultimately results in Him getting murdered and yet He STILL says, "I love you, trust in me and repent and I'll forgive you for everything." What prince, what king, what ruler, or computer programmer would display so much patience with a continually rebellious populace? Think of the results if such a creator were NOT good. :)I personally find it simple and incredibly good. I don't understand why anyone would have a problem with that. Do you have a problem with a creator who will forgive?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Eldnar, what do you think of theologies that have multiple creator gods who are sometimes at odds with each other? Could moral precepts exist in that framework or is the will of a single, supreme creator required to ground them?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07535825702078498433 Darksmiles

    Eldnar, I have a problem with a creator who will forgive precisely because it assumes that I need forgiveness. Why would I owe it worship in the first place, much less belief given the lack of evidence? And forget costly changes to my dietary, clothing, and sexual habits!I mean, I don't expect my children to owe me someday. I hope they'll love me, and I'll love them anyway, but I don't plan on even asking for something like that, much less demanding it on pain of eternal punishment. And I'm sure I might need help from my progeny a lot more than god would, y'know?The thing is I just don't care if god is more powerful or intelligent than me. I'm capable of joy and suffering and that gives my life intrinsic meaning as far as I'm concerned. That gives every human life meaning for that matter. I suppose at the heart of our disagreement is the fact that I simply don't feel worthless.As a humanist, I think suffering is objectively bad and joy is objectively good, and the only problem is trying to measure all the various types of suffering and joy: fear, anger, sadness, loss, love, pleasure, pain, humor, and so on.The science is just not good enough to measure each scenario authoritatively in many cases, but working for the interest of society using common sense and remaining within the bounds of U.S. law ain't bad – with some exceptions like personhood for corporations but not foreign nationals – which tbh isn't that surprising given that we all have basically similar moral intuitions when we are secure and unburdened by the shackles of religion. Evolved intuitions btw. I <3 science.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Eldnar: I agree that the forgiving, self-sacrificing god you describe sounds pretty 'good' to me, but I thought we began this discussion on the argument that I didn't have the requisite knowledge or perspective to label a god that ordered mass slaughter as 'bad.' Why is my judgment of god as good in the first example more legitimate than my judgement of god as bad in the second?

  • http://www.ordinary-gentlemen.com/alexknapp Alex

    Another perspective I've heard on this topic is that God can grow and change, too. There are some folks in this camp who point to the Book of Job as the moment when God became enlightened….

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17247158157116661448 Sarah

    I appreciate everyone's ideas; I've already got a lot to think about from the comments.I have a few ideas on this topic, as it has weighed heavily on me many times. First, in the Christian framework, Jesus preached to the souls in Hades while he was dead. This suggests that people who died prior to that point were not just out of luck; they had another chance coming to repent and, in theory, go to heaven. If that is the case, death represented only an end to earthly life, not the end of a chance to repent like it does today. Perhaps this is why God almost seems cavalier about death in the Old Testament: he knew it was only a loss of some time on earth, which is small in the scheme of eternity.A second answer I've heard comes from the Catholics in my RCIA class. They pointed out that Catholics do not believe every word of the Bible to be literal truth. One lady suggested that when the Bible says that God sent bears out of the forest to kill people, perhaps people were blaming "God" for things he may or may not have actively intended. Furthermore, it seems clear from everyday experience that for whatever reason, God does not always intervene to prevent people doing terrible things to each other. (Why God does not is another theological debate, a difficult but not insurmountable one.)I'm not sure whether I accept this answer or not, but it's intriguing nonetheless.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    @Eldnar, you wrote:God possesses exhaustive foreknowledge. We don't. Not only does he have over several billion years past experience, He also knows the future. If there is something that appears evil now, but does a tremendous good in the future, was it really evil? Let's say you are a time traveler and go back to 1899. You see Hitler as a baby. You know with 100% certainty the murderous monster he will become. If you kill him now you will save the life of millions. If you don't take the shot the blood of millions of men, women, and children are on your hands. Do you take the shot? You can only be moral in taking that shot if you know 100% what the future holds. God has that 100% foreknowledge. He has absolute certainty what would happen if even one child were to survive to adulthood.I have a couple of points to make in response here, and will begin with what I think is the less significant one. What you are saying here, if I understand you correctly, is that, although Hitler was a moral monster, the Holocaust must be considered, for reasons we cannot comprehend, to have been a good thing. That is, the world is a better place for the Holocaust having occurred than for it not having occurred. We know it must have been a good thing because, in 1899, God didn't "take the shot" and end the life of young Adolf Hitler. Is that correct?Are you willing to go farther than that and say that the Holocaust must have been a good thing, not merely because God allowed Hitler to live, but because God caused Hitler to live, knowing with 100% certainty what Hitler was going to do?You said, "Imagine for a moment you 'created' a creature of some sort, for a specific purpose…." OK, I'll imagine for a moment that God created Hitler for a specific purpose. What specific purpose was that? It seems to me that, if one takes your argument at face value, it could only have been for the purpose of doing all those things God was 100% certain that Hitler was going to do, and that's everything that Hitler ever did. Among the things Hitler did was to bring about the Holocaust. In short, your argument about God's"exhaustive foreknowledge" clearly implies that God must have wanted Hitler to bring about the Holocaust, and that he created Hitler at least in part for that very purpose. That being the case, I don't see why you label Hitler a moral monster, since Hitler only did what God wanted him to do.The only other conclusion your argument about God's exhaustive foreknowledge could conceivably point to is that, if Hitler is a moral monster, then God, who was knowingly responsible for bringing Hitler into the world, must be a moral monster also, but obviously that is not the conclusion you want to reach. I'll cover my second point in a separate comment.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    Leah, I'm not sure if I can answer your question about other theologies. I can try to, but I would have to know specifically which theology you are referring to. I can say that from what I have studied, polytheistic theologies have insurmountable challenges even before arriving at the topic of moral precepts. Although it would a significant divergence from the post at hand don't you think? Your post is about one specific theology and whether a finite human is in a reasonable position to judge a creator who creates for His own purpose, therefore makes the rules, freely and actively sustains each being within that creation, has exhaustive foreknowledge, and has been existent for, and therefore possesses collective knowledge of, at minimum, several billion years (ultimately eternity). The question was on what grounds can a created being who lives to see roughly 90 years judge that? :) Eldnar: I agree that the forgiving, self-sacrificing god you describe sounds pretty 'good' to me,I'm astonished you said that. I really appreciate your reasonableness and honesty. Although I don't comment much (time constraints), your blog is one of my favorite atheist blogs to read.but I thought we began this discussion on the argument that I didn't have the requisite knowledge or perspective to label a god that ordered mass slaughter as 'bad.' Why is my judgment of god as good in the first example more legitimate than my judgement of god as bad in the second?The difference is huge, in the first instance you are judging a decision made by a creator, about His own creation, whose aggregate attributes destroys your ability to even pass *reasonable* judgement. The sole attribute of exhaustive foreknowledge renders any human that does not possess exhaustive foreknowledge, unable to even begin to pass rational judgement. What was going on in their society at the time? What was the threat level of a single survivor to the human race as a whole? What was the level of rebellion against their creator? (Which goes back to my points about the rights of the creator over something He created for His own purposes). What impact that particular civilization would have had in future societies? Until an answer can be provided to at least those questions any judgement outside of having foreknowledge is unjustified. If one being can, with certainty, answer all those questions and another can't, why in the world trust the one that can't? In the second scenario you are judging the merits of an offer of mercy and forgiveness made to an undeserving creature. That is completely different. You don't need exhaustive foreknowledge (or those other attributes) to judge whether such an offer is good.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    Hi Darksmiles,I wasn't going to respond, because it's largely off topic, but I'll give you a few quick answers… I have a problem with a creator who will forgive precisely because it assumes that I need forgiveness.If a creator exists, you need forgiveness if you are in rebellion, if He doesn't exist you're all good. Although I think it's pretty safe to say you've violated even your *own* moral standards at times let alone God's. So if you've violated your own moral standards, you do need forgiveness, you'd need to forgive yourself. Which is usually pretty easy. :) Often our own standards are pretty low and always shifting to justify *anything* we do. We lied, "There was a good reason for that". We stole, "I had a good reason", Hit someone, "They deserved it" etc. For many, is pretty easy to do. If you've never violated your conscience or your own moral standards and therefore never need forgiveness then, I tip my hat to you. :) Why would I owe it worship in the first place, much less belief given the lack of evidence?Again, if God exists and if His very power animates, supports, and sustains you, and was the only reason you were able to talk, to breathe, and type hateful and rebellious statements against Him, I think that would be a few starting reasons for being worthy of worship. :) I suppose at the heart of our disagreement is the fact that I simply don't feel worthless.That's not the heart of your disagreement with me (possibly somebody else). I certainly don't feel worthless.Have a good day!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    Hi P. Coyle,You have an interesting, but horribly fallacious interpretation of what I said. When did I say the Holocaust was good? When did I pass moral judgement either way on it? You read and responded to something that wasn't there.if I understand you correctly, is that, although Hitler was a moral monster, the Holocaust must be considered, for reasons we cannot comprehend, to have been a good thing. You understand incorrectly. We know it must have been a good thing because, in 1899, God didn't "take the shot" and end the life of young Adolf Hitler. Is that correct?No, that's incorrect. Are you willing to go farther than that and say that the Holocaust must have been a good thing, not merely because God allowed Hitler to live, but because God caused Hitler to live, knowing with 100% certainty what Hitler was going to do?Being that I didn't even go as far as your first two statements, why would you ask me if I'm willing to go farther? In short, your argument about God's "exhaustive foreknowledge" clearly implies that God must have wanted Hitler to bring about the Holocaust, and that he created Hitler at least in part for that very purpose.Wow, talk about reading into words. Knowing something will happen is not equal to causing something to happen. You should know this. Every parent knows their child will lie. Does it follow that 1) The parent, knowing the child will lie, therefore caused the child to lie and is morally responsible? 2) The parent created the child, in part, for the very purpose of being a liar? Both are ridiculous.The only other conclusion your argument about God's exhaustive foreknowledge could conceivably point to is that, if Hitler is a moral monster, then God, who was knowingly responsible for bringing Hitler into the world, must be a moral monster also, but obviously that is not the conclusion you want to reach. If we followed all your incorrect assessments of my arguments, then I agree we would logically come to your conclusion. However, if my arguments were represented correctly, you would come to a more accurate conclusion. :)Please, don't bother with your second point until you've corrected your first. There's just too much error already that needs to be fixed before you create more…

  • Patrick

    Eldnar- Hypothetical scenario. A female aquaintance tells you that she thinks God is sending her a revelation that she should kill her children. She wasn't certain at first, but she's becoming more and more certain day by day.How do you respond?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    What can I say, Eldnar? You wrote, God possesses exhaustive foreknowledge. We don't. Not only does he have over several billion years past experience, He also knows the future. If there is something that appears evil now, but does a tremendous good in the future, was it really evil? Then you immediately started going on about Hitler. I thought you were trying to say that, although the Holocaust appears evil now, if we had a God's-eye view of the matter, we might have to conclude that it really did tremendous good. Or is it the case that you were trying to make that point about the genocide against the Amalekites (the topic of this thread), but not about the Holocaust? In other words, were you trying to say, "genocide against the Amalekites good, genocide against the Jews bad"?You wrote: Knowing something will happen is not equal to causing something to happen. You should know this. Every parent knows their child will lie. Does it follow that 1) The parent, knowing the child will lie, therefore caused the child to lie and is morally responsible? 2) The parent created the child, in part, for the very purpose of being a liar? Both are ridiculous.Your analogy is somewhat wide of the mark, so let's tweak it a bit. Suppose you could know, with 100% certainty, that if you have a certain child, that child will become a mass murderer. Indeed, you know with 100% certainty how many people will be killed, who they will be, when they will be killed, and how they will be killed. The mass murder in all its details would be a knowing consequence of your decision to have the child. I would have to say yes, in that case, you would be morally responsible for the mass murder, and you wouldn't be absolved of that responsibility even if you were to claim that you hadn't wanted your child to be a mass murderer. You wouldn't be absolved of responsibility even if you ordered the child not to commit murder, since you knew with 100% certainty that your order would be disobeyed.I take it that you disagree with this line of reasoning.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    This is a bit of a tangent, but I think a point needs to be made. It seems to me that Eldnar is posting a form of Divine Command Theory. I'd like to point out that this is not the only Christian approach to morality, and I personally find it unsatisfactory. I tend towards the Natural Law approach: God does not "speak" good into existence by His commands, but *is* intrinsically good. We are created with sufficient rational, moral, and aesthetic faculties to discern this moral law and orient our lives around it, even in the absence of special revelation. This approach is based on the early chapters of Romans, Platonic philosophy, early church tradition culminating in the Scholastics (notably St. Thomas Aquinas), and of course C.S. Lewis.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07535825702078498433 Darksmiles

    Eldnar, Thank you for your polite response. Unfortunately, I cannot see the justification you propose for ignoring my arguments or P. Coyle's.In my case there is a difference between being worthy of worship and being owed worship as a debt, presumably for an agreement I don't remember making. It's like… George Clooney is clearly worthy of a good screwing, but I don't owe him a lay. It is the presumption that I owe something that I find the most insulting.You either misrepresented or misunderstood by proceeding as if god's will is all that matters, despite my clear argument that human life has intrinsic meaning to us humans. You say you don't feel worthless, but you are all to willing to deny you have any rights to decide what is good based on the outcomes you see in the world; instead you grant all moral reasoning to a book.One could also dispute whether god is good by listing the horrifying evil that has and continues to exist in the world. For millennia people really did live on the brink of starvation and sickness all their lives, with their friends and family, if they had any, almost certainly missing several people as the rule of course. And it might surprise you how many billion people still live that way today. The Western world is a land of plenty unlike anything that has ever existed on earth before.As for P. Coyle's arguments, you baldly stated that he was incorrect multiple times, yet for the life of me I cannot see why. If god had foreknowledge of the Holocaust and did not prevent it, either he thought it was for the best or he doesn't care about the well being of humanity in this life.Having a child despite knowing it will lie is the morally right thing to do (assuming you plan on caring for the child). The value of life is greater than the harm of most any single lie. It is ludicrous to compare a failing to prevent a lie in general to failing to prevent a mass genocide and war; lies are only bad in that they cause harm to other people, not because they're magic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    Patrick,I'd tell her, "Go see a doctor." and probably call the police if she didn't. :)P.Coyle,Thanks for slowing down a bit to better understand the point(s) I was trying to make. I appreciate it.I was not even close to trying to say, Amalekites good, Holocaust bad. My point is, who are you or I to make a judgement on the creator of the Amalekites? I'd need your answer to the questions I asked earlier. What was going on in their society at the time? What was the threat level of a single survivor to the human race as a whole? What was the level of rebellion against their creator who actively sustains them? (Which would then throw us back to my points about the rights of the creator over something He created for His own purposes). What impact that particular civilization would have had in future societies? If you can't answer those questions, then at best you have reckless conjecture. I was saying, the Amalekites was done for a purpose, and the Holocaust was allowed for a purpose. Without knowing what that purpose is, no human is in a position to impose a moral judgement for either.My analogy hit the mark perfectly for what *I* was trying to hit, because you realized that in either situation, the parent did not actively cause the behavior. However I can make a slightly different point using yours. Employing your mass murderer analogy (despite the problems it has because it doesn't illustrate exhaustive foreknowledge for the parent), the parent has limited foreknowledge of the child's future actions, but not all subsequent consequences thereafter. With your limited foreknowledge analogy, I would have to agree there is a certain level of moral responsibility on the shoulders of parent. However, let's add exhaustive foreknowledge to the parent, therefore he/she also knew that despite the child disobeying and becoming a mass murderer killing X number of people, that disobedience *directly* invokes future events that will save (X times 1 million) people, therefore the disobedience is "allowed", but still not caused. This subtle distinction makes all the difference in the world. Coyle, I think what ultimately determines how we view judgements in the Bible depends on our trust in the character of God. This is the heart of Biblical faith. Faith in modern English (often described as belief in the existence of God) is a poor representation of what faith means when the Bible uses it. Biblically, faith means, "to trust". Does one trust that despite the terrible judgements that we read about in Biblical history, that when the exact same God tells us, "I love you. Trust me and repent. I am faithful to my promises to forgive, and at the same time, I am faithful to my promises to judge." As I read the ENTIRE Biblical record without isolating events, or stopping every second to scream "AH HA! Gotcha God!" One begins to understand that God is *very* patient with an incredibly rebellious, stiff-necked, hateful, arrogant creatures that live to be (nowadays) about 90. Some of us think such an offer is incredibly good, others choose to laugh and scoff. Ultimately it determines how you view certain Biblical events that are difficult to understand.Publicus,I'm definitely not a Divine Command Theorist. Thx for asking though. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07535825702078498433 Darksmiles

    Publius, Natural Law is an interesting approach that can be quite broad if interpreted liberally. The things I consider intrinsically good are contentment, peace, love, pleasure, family, friendship, fun – all of which can be described as aspects of joy. Does that mean that god is a metaphor for the experience of joy? Is all other Christian dogma a metaphor too? Are heaven and hell of our own design in the here and now? Are they a metaphor for our conscience – the lawbook written on our hearts? If so, it sounds better than many forms of Christianity.On the other hand, Natural Law can be rigidly archaic and can look to the Christian bible for guidance on sexual habits or family and gender hierarchy and a host of other relatively minor things. I have all the same disagreements with such an interpretation as I do with Divine Command Theory: it puts too much emphasis on the words of an old book and too little emphasis on the evidence of lived experience. Of course, as a pesky little radical myself, I substitute any and none for too much and too little respectively.Which is not to say I dislike everything in the Christian bible: Ecclesiastes can be nice and I like Jesus's take on hypocrisy (clean up your own mistakes before you go rushing off to tell others what to do), especially if it were consistently applied to American foreign policy. Anyway, any elaboration would be welcome, Publius – love the name btw :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07535825702078498433 Darksmiles

    Eldnar, It is precisely that kind of "everything has a purpose" idea that is frightening in many Christians. You don't even condemn the Holocaust. And Americans are worried to elect atheists because we don't have a foundation for our morals. Oh lord, what has the world come to!As your your response to the analogy of a mother of a mass murderer, it is not at all established that the Holocaust and World War II generally prevented anything worse, and even if they did, surely there were better ways to prevent it.Frankly, this attempt to excuse Hitler's life as being for the greater good smacks of desperation and is incredibly insulting to the survivors and to anyone who reads it. 60 to 70 odd million people died as a result of Hitler's actions. The error bar for deaths caused is in the millions!I guess part of what I don't understand is how you can give god the benefit of the doubt to such a degree in this case. Surely such a powerful god should be held to a higher standard, not a lower one, right?You even admit that you don't read the bible to find out if what god does is good or not. You start from the assumption god is good and twist everything to you come across so that it remains so even when the evidence looks damning.And finally, it is your eagerness to sell out your reasoning faculties for what? A shot at forgiveness for breaking rules you never agreed to in the first place? A shot at the reward of heaven? How is that any different from worshiping satan because he offers you toys and power, other than one is more culturally acceptable than the other? By what right do you pass judgement on satan, but not god?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    Hi again Darksmiles!Eldnar, Thank you for your polite response. Unfortunately, I cannot see the justification you propose for ignoring my arguments or P. Coyle's.I didn't respond to certain parts because I didn't think a discussion of your views on humanism were applicable to Leah's post about an Old Testament event. If you want to talk humanism (with me at least), we can chat over email, or we can wait until Leah posts about it.It is the presumption that I owe something that I find the most insulting.We'll probably just have to agree to disagree here. I think it's pretty amazing for God to continue to sustain a teeny, tiny creature who lives every day in stark hatred and utter rebellion of the existence of it's creator. I think that's awesome and incredibly merciful considering the alternative.You either misrepresented or misunderstood by proceeding as if god's will is all that matters, despite my clear argument that human life has intrinsic meaning to us humans.I'd say yes to both. Although there are varying degrees of will. Human will matters, but God's will matters more. :) As much as humans value their own lives, God values it infinitely more. You mean more to Him than you'll ever mean to yourself.You say you don't feel worthless, but you are all to willing to deny you have any rights to decide what is good based on the outcomes you see in the world; instead you grant all moral reasoning to a book.I didn't say we don't have the right to decide what's good. I said we (you either) don't have the justification to judge an explicit decision made by a Creator over *His* creation. You can do it, but without *at minimum* exhaustive foreknowledge, your judgement is not justified and therefore…arbitrary. Second, I don't grant all moral reasoning to a book. The book does provide a foundation though.As for P. Coyle's arguments, you baldly stated that he was incorrect multiple times, yet for the life of me I cannot see why.Simple, it's because I made the comments. Therefore I own the meaning behind them. P Coyle added on to my comments with assumptions, before understanding what I was saying. Since I own the meaning behind my own comments, I alone have the final authority to determine if they were understood correctly. Of course, granting that they could be misunderstood by poor communication on my part. Poor communication aside, P Coyle asked what I meant and I explained further. He didn't seem to have a problem with it. Make sense?If god had foreknowledge of the Holocaust and did not prevent it, either he thought it was for the bestPossible, I'll even say probable. or he doesn't care about the well being of humanity in this life.Also possible, but unlikely given His strict prohibitions about us killing one another (outside of His prescribed limits), His patience with humanity (when annihilation would be much easier), offering forgiveness to whoever wants it, coming to visit to get murdered, and afterwards, offering more forgiveness. :) Having a child despite knowing it will lie is the morally right thing to do (assuming you plan on caring for the child). The value of life is greater than the harm of most any single lie.You missed the entire point of the analogy. The analogy was in regards to moral responsibility. Read it again.I replied more thoroughly because you got a bit fussy with me last time, but most of this isn't even related to Leah's original post. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Eldnar, I want to try to nail down why we're talking about the Holocaust and the genocide of the Amalekites differently. Are you arguing I can't use either slaughter as evidence against God's goodness, because of my small, human perspective, but I can make judgement on the human scale like: Hitler ought not massacre the Jews? Can I say: the Israelites ought not massacre the Amalekite babies? Do I have to stop criticizing Hitler if he believes himself to be acting on God's orders?Also, you can argue that atheists live in rebellion against God, but I don't think most of us harbor an active hatred about a being we don't think exists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    Darksmiles it doesn't look like you're smiling anymore… :( Why so angry?Eldnar, It is precisely that kind of "everything has a purpose" idea that is frightening in many Christians.Now entering… ad hominem areaYou don't even condemn the Holocaust.Uh, I don't condemn God. I certainly condemn Hitler for causing the Holocaust and the actions within.And Americans are worried to elect atheists because we don't have a foundation for our morals.It was tried, in the 20th century, multiple times and in multiple countries. Thus far the body count is roughly in the ball park of 100 million murdered. Can you blame certain people's apprehension for not wanting to try again? :) As your your response to the analogy of a mother of a mass murderer, it is not at all established that the Holocaust and World War II generally prevented anything worse,If it were prevented, you obviously wouldn't know what was prevented.Frankly, this attempt to excuse Hitler's life as being for the greater good smacks of desperation and is incredibly insulting to the survivors and to anyone who reads it. 60 to 70 odd million people died as a result of Hitler's actions. The error bar for deaths caused is in the millions!Sorry this is borderline gibberish until you point out where I excused Hitler's life. A thought experiment is not an excuse, lol. I guess part of what I don't understand is how you can give god the benefit of the doubt to such a degree in this case. One reason is because I admire how much He loves you despite your rabid hatred of Him.Surely such a powerful god should be held to a higher standard, not a lower one, right?He *is* the standard.You even admit that you don't read the bible to find out if what god does is good or not.I did? Please quote me. Thx. :) You start from the assumption god is good and twist everything to you come across so that it remains so even when the evidence looks damning.You start from the assumption that God is bad and twist everything you come across so that it remains so even when the evidence looks good.And finally, it is your eagerness to sell out your reasoning faculties for what?I think we've been reasoning pretty well, until your anger set in (I can tell by you beginning to enter "ad hominem area" . You and I will probably stop reasoning after this post. :) A shot at forgiveness for breaking rules you never agreed to in the first place?I never agreed to the rules of the state I live in, but guess what? I'm subject to them, and if I break them I can either receive mercy or justice.A shot at the reward of heaven?Ahhhh Heaven, such a pleasant thought isn't it? Love it! Come join me! How is that any different from worshiping Satan because he offers you toys and power, other than one is more culturally acceptable than the other?I don't worship created creatures (of which Satan is one), I only worship the Creator. :) By what right do you pass judgement on Satan, but not god?Well, God created Satan, therefore God owns Satan, the owner says Satan is bad news. I believe the owner.Well Darksmiles, I have thoroughly (and I hope politely) engaged nearly everything you said. You seem to be getting pretty angry so I'll bow out (with you) and let you beat on me. Have a good one!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07535825702078498433 Darksmiles

    Eldnar, Bow out if you wish; you did reply to me twice and I thank you for that. I did not mean to appear angry or ad hominem (though it's only ad hominem if it's not backed up by evidence :P). I care passionately, and I don't mind ruffling a few feathers in the hunt for better understanding xDReading over your responses, I'd like to point out that I do not start from the assumption god is bad. I start from the assumption suffering is bad, and then I judge god on his purported actions, as I have repeatedly stated.You have repeatedly stated that you start from the assumption god had ownership over his creations, even if those creations have life of their own. I fail to see how that is significantly different from a foundational assumption that god is good.Indeed all this repetition is likely a sign that we shall ultimately agree to disagree. In fact, you have repeatedly accused me of ad hominem, when perhaps you meant to accuse me of insulting you. One is a fallacy and one is a breach of manners, and I apologize for any impoliteness I expressed, but I'm not wrong, and I don't appreciate the insinuation that you can dismiss my arguments like that.Dislike me all you want, but then I dislike you as well. Your argument that God can do whatever he likes with his creation strikes me as deeply evil. After all a direct extension of that philosophy is justification of all evil, from genocides and wars to natural disasters.Further, you clearly keep trying to smuggle in premises that have not been demonstrated to ease your philosophy (like Hitler was the best way to prevent something worse and of course the existence of god), and this practice betrays a distaste for reason on your part. Again, if you learn nothing else, I hope it is that being mean doesn't make one wrong.

  • Patrick

    Eldnar: One short question, and one long comment.First the question: Why would you send her to a doctor? Is it because you don't think God would tell her to do that? If not, why?Second the comment: The reason people think you are defending the actual real life Holocaust is because… you are. You just haven't put two and two together. You argue that we can't say that the various God-ordered Biblical slaughters were wrong because we lack the epistemic position to know their long term effects on the cosmos. Well, ok. We have a test then. And when we apply it to the Holocaust we end up with the same answer, because our epistemic position with regard to the Holocaust is the same as our epistemic position with regard to the various Biblical slaughters. And there's also the issue of your general argument that everything works out for the better, no matter how horrible. Given that your previously stated standard for everything working out for the better is that its long term consequences are positive, AND your position that one should not morally condemn things which have positive consequences in the long term, you actually are in a position where you can't logically condemn the Holocaust. I recognize that you do… but that would require an entirely different understanding of ethics than the one you're predominately leaning upon.I think a lot of the problem is that you're actually making several arguments, each of which has things you like about them, and things you don't. When you come across a part you don't like, you switch arguments. You probably don't realize you're doing it.But the first framework you've offered is one in which the rightness or wrongness of a mass genocidal slaughter depends on its long term consequences. You then argue that we can't know these.Another framework you go with is one based more on… a sort of supervillain conception of rights, in which God cackles like an evil genius that he created you, and he can destroy you if he pleases. Well, ok. That's a separate system. In that system the long term consequences aren't important. In fact, no consequences are important because this is not a consequentialist framework. Its based on some sort of idea of rights.I think you're jumping between these, and possibly a few other perspectives, without realizing it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07535825702078498433 Darksmiles

    Leah, I apologize your hijacking your thread and being so rude to other commenters. As a first time commenter this evening, I have surely overstepped the bounds of etiquette, even for the internet.I get a bit hungry for a row with theists now and again, and afterwards I always feel like I wasted my time. When will I learn, eh?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    @Eldnar: I now want to get to my second point regarding the Old Testament tale of the genocide of the Amalekites. You wrote, You can only be moral in taking that shot if you know 100% what the future holds. God has that 100% foreknowledge.The story of the Amalekite genocide is told in 1 Samuel 15. To understand my second point, we need to consider the story in more detail. It begins thus:Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”However, Saul and the army spared Agag [the king of the Amalekites] and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.Because Saul failed to carry out the genocide of the Amalekites completely and spared one man, and because Saul's men spared many of the livestock, God begins to turn against Saul. The final interesting sentence of 1 Samuel 15 says, "And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.""And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel." Another way of putting that last sentence is this: "And the Lord concluded that he had made a mistake when he made Saul king over Israel." In short, the end of the story plainly describes a God who, far from having 100% certain knowledge of the future, is capable of error because he lacks such knowledge. This fallible God shows up elsewhere in the Old Testament as well. I submit, for example, that one can only make sense of the first three chapters of Genesis by assuming that the God described therein lacks certain knowledge of the future and is therefore capable of error.I really don't see the point of your trying to justify the genocide of the Amalekites by an argument based on a God with 100% foresight when the very story of the Amelekite slaughter tells of a God who thought he had screwed up by making Saul king.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    My point is, who are you or I to make a judgement on the creator of the Amalekites?And who are you or I to make a judgment on the creator of the Jews? Why draw a moral distinction between a God who causes the genocide of the Amalekites (by ordering it) and a God who causes the genocide of the Jews (by creating Hitler, knowing with 100% certainty that Hitler will carry out a genocide, and then stepping aside while the genocide occurs)?Unless you know all of the consequences of the Holocaust, your own argument would imply that you are in no position to judge that it was morally evil. How many billion years old are you, anyway?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    Darksmiles, I think the Christian natural law approach would be to treat God not as a metaphor for the experience of Joy, but to reverse the two: those experiences point us to the most perfect and intense experience of Joy, which is in the Presence of God. Thus it is God who is intrinsically good, and all other things we might perceive are 'intrinsic goods' are in fact derivative from His nature.I agree that Natural Law theory can be archaic, and that there is a strong temptation to proof-text our views into Scripture. However, by rooting morality in the broader context of the True, the Good, the Beautiful (a Platonic notion), we are better able to perceive what Scripture tells us.For instance, I am actually quite comfortable with the doctrine of hell, in light of a natural law understanding.(This next bit will be a bit of a digression; I apologize in advance.)>>>> It's quite easy to forget that being good is really extraordinarily difficult, in any context: whether being a good husband, a good father, or a good person generally. It takes effort, and often a lot of pain, to do the right thing. Because many people are hedonists, they don't want to suffer in order to be good. They choose the easier path, of less perfection, to avoid pain. But without that preparation (sometimes called 'purification') it would be impossible for them to withstand the Presence of God — for the purest and holiest good would also be the most unendurable for those who are not prepared. Thus, hell (as the absence of God) may be seen almost as a mercy: those who cannot withstand God's Presence, are allowed to exist outside of His Presence. This means they are deprived of all good things (which are derived solely from Him), but they do not have to endure the pain of being near Him, which was precisely their choice in the first place.<<<<<My problem with Divine Command Theory isn't that it puts too much emphasis on the words of Scripture, but that it does so without the context of our own humanity, and our God-given ability to think!I'm not sure if that was what you were looking for, but hopefully you found it interesting.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07535825702078498433 Darksmiles

    Publius, I enjoyed your response greatly, especially your digression ;D In fact, it is my contention that people who are too polite tend to agree that everybody wants what is good, without doing the hard work or ferreting out what good means. So, in the interest of seeking discord:I have long considered myself a child of love, not faith. I wonder, in a conflict between love and scripture, which side would you favor? I am thinking specifically of homosexuality. What does scripture bring to such an issue that is not already inscribed in our hearts? Or any issue for that matter? Surely love is all the answer one needs?Indeed, I am forced to ask what the point of scripture is at all, and why should one believe it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00232551422932887547 Alex Binz

    Darksmiles: Oi, now you're making me think. I'm not sure if a discussion of homosexuality would be terribly fruitful at this point, but I would like to answer your more general question: "Surely love is all the answer one needs?"This strikes me as a fine sentiment, but I don't think I can entirely agree. The story of "Romeo and Juliet" is an inspiring tale of true love: after all, even Christians can approve of the fact that they were married before sleeping together. :-) But due to a lack of communication — and, to put it bluntly, an excess of stupidity — they both ended up dead. A fine thing to read, this tragic romance, but not a fine way to live.This should help us see the broader point: the principle of Love must be balanced with the other virtues. Love must remain our overarching principle, but it will wither if left on its own. It must be supported by other, often more difficult graces. Thus, a mother's love nurtures but will also rebuke — because it cares how a child will grow. A father's love drives men to work (to support their child ), to home (to raise their child), and even to war (to defend their child). These are all components of love, and are connected to the thing itself, but we understand them in the context of other virtues.I think this principle may be applied to Nature itself. I believe we are created to be rational, moral, aesthetic beings, and that we naturally long for God. God created us with the raw ingredients of life. We understand love, as well as some of the other virtues of justice, courage, temperance, and wisdom. The problem — and this is part of what we mean by sin — is that we do not put them in correct proportion to each other. We don't know when to nurture and when to rebuke.To use a horridly ubiquitous analogy, we have all the ingredients of a cake but no recipe. For Christians, special revelation provides that recipe: it helps us understand the principles at play, and understand how they can mesh together. It also adds a few ingredients of its own: faith, hope, and love (in the strong sense of 'charity').Special revelation teaches us not merely of a Creator who designed us, nor even of a God who sustains us, but a Father who loves us. It reveals that He became one of us for Love's sake, to help us out of a ditch we dug for ourselves. We could never know that if we were only relying on what we could know instinctively, by the mere fact of our humanity.I know this doesn't answer your question directly, but hopefully it gives you some idea of why Christians consider Scripture to be a valuable addition to the classical virtues and to general revelation. If you're still curious, I'd be more than willing to discuss the issue of homosexuality, but I don't want to try your patience for this single post. God bless.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    Leah, Sorry about all the deletes, it was pretty late. :) Goodnight!Eldnar, I want to try to nail down why we're talking about the Holocaust and the genocide of the Amalekites differently. 1) The Amalekites was the result of an instance of *God* formally declaring judgment on a nation.2) The Holocaust was a the result of an instance of *man*, who on his own, decided to murder Jews.Said simply, in one instance we have a God command, in the other instance we have a man command. Those are not equal. Is that a bit clearer?Are you arguing I can't use either slaughter as evidence against God's goodness,If you can demonstrate exhaustive foreknowledge about the Amalekites, then you are certainly qualified to use it as evidence against God's goodness. Can you do that? The Holocaust was not a divine command. Why in the world would you want to equate "divine command" with "not divine command"? That makes no sense.because of my small, human perspective, but I can make judgment on the human scale like: Hitler ought not massacre the Jews?We are free to make judgments about solely "human scale" actions. You and I can both, authoritatively say, "Hitler ought not massacre the Jews". We (humans) are making a judgment about another (human).Can I say: the Israelites ought not massacre the Amalekite babies?On a human scale, absolutely.Do I have to stop criticizing Hitler if he believes himself to be acting on God's orders?Heck no! Criticize freely. Insanity does not justify murder.Also, you can argue that atheists live in rebellion against God, but I don't think most of us harbor an active hatred about a being we don't think exists.Fair enough. I'm open to an alternative descriptive word. What word would you use to describe the relationship if you ceaselessly ignored your parents, took the majority of their words and always shed it in the worst possible light, enjoyed defaming their character, they talk to you everyday but you never respond, and you always remind people that you don't have parents? I'd say, you hate your parents, but I'll use another word if you think it would more accurately describe the relationship.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    Patrick, to answer your question, I would send her to a doctor because she sounds crazy.Second the comment: The reason people think you are defending the actual real life Holocaust is because… you are. You just haven't put two and two together.Please, provide me a quote. Thx. I'll be waiting. :)You argue that we can't say that the various God-ordered Biblical slaughters were wrong because we lack the epistemic position to know their long term effects on the cosmos. Well, ok.Again, I can't find that, I'll need a quote.And when we apply it to the Holocaust we end up with the same answer, because our epistemic position with regard to the Holocaust is the same as our epistemic position with regard to the various Biblical slaughters.Wrong. Our epistemic position with Biblical judgments where we have a historical revelation from God passing judgment, is very different from our epistemic position in regards to a man-initiated massacre.And there's also the issue of your general argument that everything works out for the better, no matter how horrible.Quote please. Never said it.Given that your previously stated standard for everything working out for the betterWhere was this standard stated? I need a quote.you actually are in a position where you can't logically condemn the Holocaust.If I said that everything always works out for the better, I would agree with you that the could be a logical problem, but since I never said that, it appears you had a reading "mishap" somewhere along the way. I amused because I know the exact mistake you're making, and you clearly didn't read carefully. Re-read then get back to me. :)I think a lot of the problem is that you're actually making several arguments,I am in making several arguments (that what happens when you talk to 4 – 5 people by yourself), a lot of the problem is you're not reading them carefully.When you come across a part you don't like, you switch arguments. You probably don't realize you're doing it.Apparently not, please provide me with an example. :)But the first framework you've offered is one in which the rightness or wrongness of a mass genocidal slaughter depends on its long term consequences. You then argue that we can't know these.I'm going to help you out this one time. I have never argued that the rightness or wrongness depends on its long term consequences. Ever. What I have said is that since you do not KNOW the reason or purpose for a divine command, THEREFORE you can not JUSTIFIABLY pass judgment. For example someone can see a video clip of you slapping your mom (whoever). They can of course pass a judgment saying you were bad or evil. Now what they didn't know is that you slapped her because she was pointing a gun at the President, and that your slap saved his life and hers. Given all the facts, that person was not justified, they thought they were, but they were incorrect.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    P Coyle,I advised against you making your second point, because of the potential for error. Unfortunately, as I suspected, you are in error.1) Read up on anthropomorphism2) Read up on immutability of God3) Read up on how the Bible in Hebrew defines regret as applied to God.Expressing regret has nothing to do with foreknowledge.And who are you or I to make a judgment on the creator of the Jews? Exactly!Why draw a moral distinction between a God who causes the genocide of the Amalekites (by ordering it) and a God who causes the genocide of the Jews (by creating Hitler, knowing with 100% certainty that Hitler will carry out a genocide, and then stepping aside while the genocide occurs)?I have never said or agreed that God caused the Holocaust, you said that. :) It looks like you already forgot the earlier analogy.Unless you know all of the consequences of the Holocaust, your own argument would imply that you are in no position to judge that it was morally evil. How many billion years old are you, anyway?The Holocaust was not a divine command.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Eldnar, this makes no logical sense: "What I would assert is that it takes a good creator to continue to sustain rebellious creatures who despise Him with every fiber of their being, who deny Him ceaselessly, and continuously try to bring Him under their laughably limited judgment."How can anyone deny the existence of a creator and yet despise It (not Him!) and rebel against It? It is really hard to hate something you don't believe exists, trust me.I'm glad I stayed out this discussion, apart from pointing out logical flaws I'll remain an observer on this one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Eldnar: And there's also the issue of your general argument that everything works out for the better, no matter how horrible.Quote please. Never said it.You don't have to, the concept of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God makes it impossible to be otherwise.What is interesting in these comments is the fact that the roles are reversed – atheists appear to be deontologists (the massacre of the Amelekites was wrong because massacre is wrong) and the religionistas (own the term!) are consequentionalists (massacre was preventing a greater harm long term.)

  • Patrick

    Eldnar- "Patrick, to answer your question, I would send her to a doctor because she sounds crazy."I can't figure out why you think that, given the other things you've said in this thread.I'm not longer certain you know what you're arguing."I have never argued that the rightness or wrongness depends on its long term consequences. Ever. What I have said is that since you do not KNOW the reason or purpose for a divine command, THEREFORE you can not JUSTIFIABLY pass judgment."See? That's just epic fail. For that to work you'd have to believe that the "reason" or "purpose" for a divine command is unrelated to the consequences of that command. Which isn't what you've defended earlier, and in any case… there are only so many nominees for reasons or purposes other than consequences, particularly if you add in the additional restriction that they be things we can't know.I'm just going to bow out.Feel free to count this as a victory if you like.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07535825702078498433 Darksmiles

    It's been fun, but I'm bowing out as well, with one final note to March Hare: massacre is used in part because it is so obviously wrong from a consequentialist standpoint as well as a deontologist perspective. I bet if asked, though, most atheists here would be consequentialists. I certainly am ;P

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    Hi Patrick,I'm not longer certain you know what you're arguing.I'm sorry that you're confused. That can happen sometimes when you insist on telling me what I'm supposed to believe, and working off of that, instead of allowing me to define what I believe and working off of my correction. See? That's just epic fail.The only epic fail is that you continue to insist that you, a non-omniscient being, can make a judgment about an omniscient being. Said plainly, "You desperately want rational justification to call God's actions evil, but I'm telling you that you are not in a position to judge an omniscient being, apparently the concept that an omniscient being knows more than you is a new and staggering concept that blows your mind, therefore you exclaim, epic fail."Feel free to count this as a victory if you like.Patrick, I'm not in competition with you. Thanks for the conversation! Have a good one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    Hi MarchYou don't have to, the concept of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God makes it impossible to be otherwise.Hmm, that might be the source of some of the misunderstandings. It's kind of like the mistake Patrick made by assuming incorrectly, working on that assumption, and arriving at incorrect conclusions. I have never said that God is omnibenevolent. Maybe everybody has been assuming I assign that attribute. I'm uncomfortable using the word omnibenevolent because it needs serious qualification. Too many assumptions can be smuggled in and people end up talking past each other (which may be what is happening). I rarely use it due to the potential for misunderstanding; depending on how it's understood I may not agree. Would you mind explaining how you understand the term? I'll give you an example, I've heard some people say because God is omnibenevolent, everything works out for good for everybody. I don't agree with that. Some say because of omnibenevolence God does not judge or send people to hell. I don't agree with that either. At best I could say that God is working for the good of Himself and those who trust in Him. You could argue, "That's not omnibenevolent" to which I would say fine. I'd much rather use "Holy" than omnibenevolent.What is interesting in these comments is the fact that the roles are reversed – atheists appear to be deontologists (the massacre of the Amelekites was wrong because massacre is wrong) and the religionistas (own the term!) are consequentionalists (massacre was preventing a greater harm long term.)Thank you March, as I read your contrast between deontologists/consequentialists I think I understand where some of the miscommunication is occurring. I'll try to lay it out clearly.Since my position starts with the existence of a creator (namely the God of the Bible), I believe that the creator created the universe with a purpose that is solely His purpose, and that purpose was good, as He defines good, which ultimately flows from His good nature. My point is that when the creator *actively* takes a role in His creation, the results of that action are to facilitate His purpose. Since also I work under the assumption that God's actions are according to His plan, I also assume that His plan is good (for Him and those who trust in Him). So when I say, "If God ordered the Amalakite slaughter, I believe it was good for His purpose" There is no logical flaw in that. I'm definitely not saying everything works out for good for all involved. That's absurd, destruction was obviously not good for the Amalakites. But I can say, that whatever God's plan is, His judgment upon the Amalakites (because of their rebellion and other potential factors) facilitated God's plan. If God's plan is good, and His active participation in an event is according to His good plan, then Him actively rendering early judgment on the Amalakites was good for His purposes. I think another miscommunication is the distinction between "massacre" and "judgment". Since I believe in a creator, who owns His creation, actively sustains it, he is able to render a judgment, at any time, on His own creation. I can say a "judgment" from a creator, about the operation of His creation, is both correct and good. But someone who denies God cannot say, "It was a judgment", but can only say, "It was a massacre" and massacres are intrinsically not good. If you operate under that assumption that creator can judge His own creation, all problem vanish.In a way you could say I'm a "leaky deontologist" but only in the sense of comparing human actions in direct relation to other human actions. Divine actions from an omniscient being are in a completely different category. I'm definitely not a consequentionalists in the traditional philosophical sense unless there is a category called "Divine Consequentialism" :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04746612189094458441 Lukas

    "How can an Israelite snatch babies from their mothers' breast, dash them upon the rocks, and not be diminished by the act?" Truth be told, I don't know.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    @Darksmiles: Don't worry about it. I hope I'll be seeing you in the comment threads again in new posts.@Publius: I absolutely agree that love is not always sufficient reason for one's actions. Love of another human being, can be, but is not automatically ennobling. Lewis did a nice job picturing love that was not the less strong for being unhealthy in The Great Divorce.@Lukas: I just can't wrap my head around a good and loving God that asks that sacrifice of his people.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Eldnar: "Since my position starts with the existence of a creator (namely the God of the Bible)"That's kind of a fundamental flaw, mate. Not saying you're ultimately wrong, but to have that as your default starting position is wrong.Not that I'm the perfect example but as a comparison I start from the position that I know feck all and look for a philosophy, or bits of several, that hang together and make sense to my stupid monkey brain. There are (probably) no absolute answers but some other monkeys might have done the spadework and save me the effort to get closer to what appears, to me, to be the Truth, or some decent approximation thereof.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    @Leah – am I right in understanding that your primary (or only?) objection to the death of the Canaanites, including babies, is that humans were used as the instrument of the deaths? I just want to make sure I understand you right.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    Another question – is it human complicity in the babies' deaths or the babies' sufferings that is the problem? Or does it involve the proximity?Consider a couple parallel universes. In parallel universe 1, Joshua is handed a Canaan-killing death ray. One pull of the trigger, and every man, woman, and child in Canaan drops dead on the spot, without suffering. In parallel universe 2, Joshua2 is given a death ray which delivers death from some painful mechanism. Heart attack, say. In either of those cases, is the problem of human complicity mitigated? Why or why not?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03615608336736450543 Hendy

    @Dave:I can't speak for Leah, but my understanding is that the issue is the contradiction between a good god saying both of the following:- murder is always and everywhere wrong, and- go murder those peopleI don't think the level of suffering has anything to do with it, otherwise the fifth commandment should have had an addendum of "unless it's painless."You might also fiddle with the definition of "murder," and say that this only counts when it's unnecessary (which justifies self defense) and when the murderee is innocent. Thus, the Canaanites were justly killed, not murdered, because they were guilty.Then my question becomes, if then, why not now?To be consistent, it should remain permissible to "kill" (not murder), those who transgress. Carrying out god's will on homosexuals just like god did with Sodom should be permissible, and the abortion-clinic bombers should be celebrated heroes.Mainstream Christians generally frown on this practice, though… why?The human is still taking conscious action to end the lives of other humans. I don't know how your alternative situations avoid that.I think there are some other reasons why it would be objectionable for a "good" god to kill people off, but since "greater goods" can always be imagined or postulated… I think it's easier to deal with the human participation aspect.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    @Dave, thanks for the pick it apart questions. Here are my thoughts:Am I right in understanding that your primary (or only?) objection to the death of the Canaanites, including babies, is that humans were used as the instrument of the deaths? I'm not as bothered by the problem of suffering when it happens as a natural result of human action (if you fall off a roof, you have to end up hurt for gravity to remain a rule, etc), so it's possible that I could accept the deaths of Canaanites as the result of their own actions, but it's hard to imagine the total war strategies of the Israelites as a reasonable response to whatever provocation the Israelites offered. It feels more like unjust cruelty whether or not God was involved, so it's awfully confusing to imagine a good God ordered it.In re the second question about whether I'm worried about the complicity in death or suffering, I'm worried about both, and I'm most worried about training yourself in callousness towards either. I just don't see how you can slaughter infants (painlessly or not) without either being wracked by guilt or inured to compassion (and either one seems like a strange burden for God to set on his chosen people).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    The biggest problem I have with the genocides, Abraham, etc. is that The Bible appears to be saying if you think the voice in your head (or the hallucination you see) is really, really God then you should obey no matter what. It also suggests that you should follow other people's orders regardless of your own views if the person claims to be acting on God's orders.This may be socially cohesive for Bronze Age tribes, but appears a bad lifestyle choice for 21st Century Westerners…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    MH, we agree on that. And it's important to note that this command was only ever given to the Bronze Age tribe in question. Different time, different place, so the same moral principles yield a different result. Specifically, God-ordered violence was done for a precise reason – the establishment and preservation of the Jews. That's a done deal now, and we are authoritatively informed that no such orders will be forthcoming. Leah, we are really much closer to being on the same page than it probably seems. I agree that it seems like it would be cleaner for the Canaanites to be miracled out of the way rather than killed. I agree with your point about training in callousness. I agree that the whole thing seems odd. The point where I think we disagree is that you think these shared opinions of ours are definitive. We both desire a bloodless solution for any given problem. But you seem to be saying that since God in this story acted against our desires, God is therefore not just. You're holding up our personal preferences as a means of judging God. You look at these stories and say, "There is no way a good God would do that," whereas I look at them and say, "I don't like it, and I don't understand it, but I trust in the goodness of God." One of the reasons I can trust in God is that we're not limited to the first few chapters of the book. We can skip to the middle, where Jesus stands and weeps with us. We can skip to the glorious conclusion, when every tear is wiped away.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    "One of the reasons I can trust in God is that we're not limited to the first few chapters of the book."Progress, we don't have to take everything at face value or obey every single diktat from earlier books."We can skip to the middle, where Jesus stands and weeps with us."The incarnate God is merciful, empathetic and charitable."We can skip to the glorious conclusion, when every tear is wiped away."Woah! Wait a minute. The end times happens to leave a lot of us right up sh!t creek without a paddle. The vast majority of the human race, both living and long dead, are now destined for an eternity of suffering because we never heard or never believed that Jesus was God? Either go against most scripture and dogma and tell us God will forgive us or admit that in any human sense your God is not good.Either way, I'd rather be with the devil, anyone rebelling against omnipotence has to be on the side of the little guy. Or at least against the big guy, and that's good enough for me. What did the devil ever do that was bad for humanity? When did the devil lie? I have been going through my Bible and the only time the devil appears to lie is when he's dealing with Jesus – and even then it's not necessarily a lie.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    I never claimed to be a literalist. I think the strongest claim I have made is that, with regard to the Canaanites, the moral question is independent of the historical one. I don't know how you concluded that the majority of humanity are destined for eternity, but that's not a Catholic position. We don't know anything about the relative demographics of heaven and hell. We do know:1. One only goes to hell for unrepentant mortal sin,2. Mortal sin must be deliberate and consentual, and 3. Repentance is easy (see the good thief)I'm willing to talk about the devil, but first I need to know what we are presupposing for the sake of argument. You're obviously not saying "Even assuming everything in the Bible is true, the devil still looks pretty good"; so I can't engage without knowing which subset you're choosing. And, if you don't mind, your justification for choosing that particular subset.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Dave: I don't know how you concluded that the majority of humanity are destined for eternity, but that's not a Catholic position. We don't know anything about the relative demographics of heaven and hell. We do know:1. One only goes to hell for unrepentant mortal sin,2. Mortal sin must be deliberate and consentual, and3. Repentance is easy (see the good thief)John 14:6 – Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."Catechism: He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come.Seems to me that these two cover the vast majority of humanity.There is an idea that the Jesus and the devil are the same character – especially since Jesus descended into hell for 3 days and rose again (possibly taking all the condemned souls with him).But my view of the Bible is that it is a book like any other hence the character of the devil should be discussed as found there. If that is seen as a literal reading of the Bible then so be it, I can only take a work of fiction as I find it. I assume very little in the Bible is true, but, for the sake of discussion, I am willing to treat every word as true. It's either all or nothing since I don't believe in the devil.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    It is true that Jesus is the way that people come to the Father. But Jesus can bring people to the Father in many different ways, given the necessity. Read about invincible ignorance. The Holy Spirit's "job" is the forgiveness of sins. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is refusal to accept that forgiveness. See Catechism paragraph 1864. As for the devil in the Bible – I'm lost now. If we take the Biblical narrative for granted (I know you don't believe it, I'm just saying for the sake of argument), then the devil is guilty of rebellion against a benevolent creator, tempting God's people into similar rebellion, lies, murder, leading an army of demons, seeking to devour souls, and trying to lead humans into eternal torment. I don't understand how you say "Eh, not so bad."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    Dave,There are many ways to look at the Biblical figure of the devil. One way is that he is God's necessary tool to cause Humanity to forsake God and need redeemed and hence explain the existence of Jesus, the improvement of humans from dumb animals in the Garden of Eden to God's special creation. This would be true if Angels had no self determination, which was what I was told in the past and that Humanity was created as God wanted creatures with free will. (I don't believe in free will, but that's another story.)Another way is to see the devil as Jesus, who gave humanity knowledge and free will knowing He would ultimately have to pay the highest price to save humanity and that in doing so He also gained redemption – that's a bit more Greek.And the final way is to view him as he is in the Bible, in a literal sense. The one who told us the truth after God had lied in the Garden of Eden. The one who rebelled against a totalitarian dictator.Incidentally, when does the devil get sent to hell? It appears to be after the Fall, but then in Job 1:6 he meets with God after he has been wandering the earth out of sight of the Lord? Then in Luke+Matthew he tempts Jesus on earth. When was he sent to take stewardship of hell and, more importantly, who created hell? Not benevolent creator, that's for sure.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    These mutually contradictory positions make a fairly good argument against sola scriptura and Biblical literalism. Since I don't hold to either, I can't do much besides shrug it off. It is true that if you take a subset of revelation, you will get a distorted view of the truth. The whole of revelation includes the consistent teaching of Judaism and Christianity for millenia, that Satan is the evil enemy of a good God. I don't know the timeline of Satan's (and his angels') fall. I seem to remember that they left permanent residence in heaven shortly after the creation of the world and humanity. They "landed" in hell, but will not be confined there until Jesus's return. I am probably sneaking Milton into my theology at this point, though. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13116034158087704885 March Hare

    That is the problem with discussion of the devil, we tend to sneak in common mythology from Greek, Roman, Norse and various other origins when describing the devil of the Bible.What I find is that:Satan incites David to do a census of Israel.God boasts to Satan about Job and allows all sorts of misfortune to befall him (especially his family!) before rewarding him.The problem is that The Devil can be Satan, one of many devils, a serpent, a lion or an angel depending on your reading. When Jesus casts a devil out of someone He is accused of being a devil so He says "How can the devil cast out the devil?" The change of plural to singular is strange.So why not give your thoughts of what the devil has done that is wrong (ideally with a book/chapter) and I'll try to show that it could actually be beneficial to the humans in the Bible.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07134832527475707436 Dave

    Thanks anyway, but I'm not really interested in comparing prooftexts about Satan.

  • Darren

    See, now this would be a nice post to revisit, post-conversion. After all, William Lane Craig is now right
    , yes? ;)

    My answer? A Wizard Did It

    Or, the Inverse Thomist Principle: The less like the A-T God a scriptural story makes God appear to be, the more likely it is to be a metaphor or symbolic.

  • http://ehmsnbc.com E.H. Munro

    Divine command theory is a relatively modern theological concept and generally not part of the Catholic faith. I do agree with your Inverse Thomist Principle, though. Out of curiosity, do you read Ed Feser’s or James Chastek’s blogs?

  • Darren

    E. H. Munro said:

    ”Divine command theory is a relatively modern theological concept and generally not part of the Catholic faith. I do agree with your Inverse Thomist Principle, though. Out of curiosity, do you read Ed Feser’s or James Chastek’s blogs?”

    It seemed a bit… direct… to be an orthodox teaching; thank you for the clarification.

    Yes? I just made it up, so thanks.

    I am familiar with Ed Feser; I was impressed by his writings on Thomas Aquinas. I was rather less impressed by his writings on other subjects…

    I had never before read James Chastek, but I have just now given his blog a quick thumb-through. It is interesting, but I shall have to bookmark it and return to it another day. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Just Thomism


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