Was Joshua’s Slaughter of the Canaanites Morally Justified? Part 11: Moral Warrant

Was Joshua’s Slaughter of the Canaanites Morally Justified? Part 11: Moral Warrant May 23, 2020

CHILD SACRIFICE AS A MORAL JUSTIFICATION FOR MERCILESS SLAUGHTER

In the previous post,  I examined the following historical question:

Did the all of the various peoples who were actually living in the towns of the Promised Land between 1350 and 1250 BCE regularly and frequently practice child sacrifice? 

I reviewed the first four pieces of evidence provided by the CLUELESS Christian apologist Clay Jones for the claim that the people in the towns of the Promised Land at the time of the alleged Conquest of Canaan led by Joshua would frequently sacrifice a few of their children to a god.  Because ALL FOUR of those pieces of evidence turn out to be IRRELEVANT to the above historical question at issue,  I drew the following conclusions:

There is probably no significant historical evidence to support the above claim, so it CANNOT be used in an attempt to morally justify the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of thousands of elderly men and women, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, teenagers, young children, and babies of the towns in the Promised Land by Joshua and the Israelites, or to morally justify Jehovah for issuing the command to Joshua and the Israelites to carry out that MERCILESS SLAUGHTER.

However, as more than one comment on that post stated, even if it there was solid factual evidence showing that all of the various peoples who were actually living in the towns of the Promised Land between 1350 and 1250 BCE  regularly and frequently practiced child sacrifice, that would in no way provide a moral justification for the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of every single human person living in those towns as part of the Conquest of Canaan commanded by Jehovah and led by Joshua.

Here is how the argument to justify MERCILESS SLAUGHTER would presumably go:

1. All of the various peoples who were actually living in the towns of the Promised Land between 1350 and 1250 BCE  regularly and frequently practiced child sacrifice. (Historical Claim)

2. The practice of child sacrifice is a horrible and evil practice. (Moral Value)

THEREFORE:

3. Jehovah was morally justified in commanding the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of every living person in every town in the Promised Land between 1250 and 1150 BCE, and Joshua and the army of the Israelites were morally justified in proceeding to engage in this MERCILESS SLAUGHTER.   (Moral Conclusion)

As it stands, this argument is logically INVALID, at least in terms of the formal structure of the argument. This defect, however, can be remedied by stating the Warrant for the inference as a conditional claim:

MW. IF all of the various peoples who were actually living in the towns of the Promised Land between 1350 and 1250 BCE regularly and frequently practiced child sacrifice, and if the practice of child sacrifice is a horrible and evil practice, THEN Jehovah was morally justified in commanding that Joshua and the army of the Israelites MERCILESS SLAUGHTER every living human person in every town in the Promised Land between 1250 and 1150 BCE, and Joshua and the army of the Israelites were morally justified in proceeding to engage in this MERCILESS SLAUGHTER.  (Moral Warrant)

We have seen in the previous post that there is no significant historical evidence supporting premise (1).  So, this argument is based on an extremely DUBIOUS premise.  However, we are temporarily setting aside objections to that factual historical premise, to see if the argument is otherwise solid.

 

EVALUATION OF THE MORAL WARRANT PREMISE (MW)

The moral value stated in premise (2) seems clearly to be true.  But the Moral Warrant premise, which is required to make this argument logically valid, appears to be false.  There are different ways of evaluating this Moral Warrant, and I won’t attempt to be exhaustive here, but I will consider two major ways of thinking about (MW).

First, there is the utilitarian or consequentialist viewpoint.  It would NOT be morally justified to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every single human person in all of the towns in the Promised Land on the grounds that this would eliminate child sacrifice from those towns, if doing this would only eliminate child sacrifices for a few years or a few decades.  That is because you would be killing tens of thousands of people in order to save the lives of perhaps a dozen or a few dozen children, if the practice of child sacrifice were to return after only a few years or a few decades.

But how can one be certain that this MERCILESS SLAUGHTER would eliminate child sacrifices in the Promised Land for several centuries (in order to balance out all of the deaths caused by the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER compared to the number of  lives of children saved in future decades and centuries)? 

Child sacrifice was a practice that was, apparently, part of Phonecian/Canaanite culture outside of the Promised Land.  In fact, the main archaeological evidence for the practice of child sacrifice in the Middle East comes from the city of Carthage, as we have previously seen.  Carthage is nearly 2,000 miles away from the Promised Land (if one travels over land).  So, even if the commanded MERCILESS SLAUGHTER did successfully remove child sacrifice from the Promised Land, it might well return only a few years or a few decades later.  So, a utilitarian justification of (MW) does not seem possible.

Also, before a utilitarian or consequentialist would be willing to agree with (MW) it would also have to be shown that there was NO ALTERNATIVE WAY of achieving the removal of child sacrifice from the towns of the Promised Land that did not require the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of every single human person in every town in the Promised Land.

If you could achieve the desired goal of eliminating child sacrifice without killing anyone, or by only killing many of the warriors that would defend these towns, then that would clearly be a better way of achieving the desired goal, and that would mean that the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of every single human person in every town in the Promised Land would NOT be morally justified, on a utilitarian or consequentialist view.

Der Klapperstorch (The Stork), a painting by Carl Spitzweg (1808–1885)

Furthermore, it seems pretty clear that there are ALTERNATIVE WAYS of achieving the desired goal without having to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every single living human person in every town in the Promised Land.  For one thing, Jehovah is supposed to be God, according to Christians and Jews.  But God is OMNIPOTENT and OMNISCIENT, so God can do pretty much anything that it is possible to do.   For example, an omniscient god would know every single couple on the planet that was having difficulty conceiving a child and who would love to have a baby or child magically appear at their door in a little basket.

If Jehovah is God, then Jehovah would be OMNIPOTENT, and Jehovah could instantly teleport every newborn baby and every small infant or young child from any town in the Promised Land where child sacrifice was practiced, to a far distant town, even one on the opposite side of the planet, providing a desperate couple with a child that they would dearly love to raise and care for. 

Jehovah could have a newborn baby or toddler instantly packaged up into a comfortable and well-fitting basket and appear at the front door of a very delighted couple.  Jehovah could communicate to each town in the Promised Land (either directly or through prophets), that if they want to keep their babies and children from vanishing into thin air, then they have to end the practice of child sacrifice.

And if such massive miracle working was somehow against God’s will (not sure why that would be), there are other more “standard” ways of eliminating child sacrifice.  Jehovah could send a prophet to each town, the way he sent Jonah to the town of Nineveh, and thus send a clear warning to the people of each town that they must either stop sacrificing their children or else face the wrath of Jehovah.  If the people of a town then repented (as did the people of Nineveh), then Jehovah would cancel his plans for divine wrath and judgment, and NOBODY would have to die.

There are, no doubt, MANY DIFFERENT WAYS for an omnipotent and omniscient god to achieve the elimination of child sacrifice in the towns of the Promised Land, other than having to resort to the FINAL SOLUTION of having Joshua and the Israelites MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every elderly man and woman, every husband and wife, mother and father, teenager, young child, and baby in every town of the Promised Land.  So, it is clear that (MW) is NOT an acceptable Moral Warrant, at least not from a utilitarian or consequentialist point of view.

One important alternative to utilitarianism and consequentialism is Kantian ethics.  If we consider (MW) from the viewpoint of Kantian ethics it is immediately clear that (MW) is morally unacceptable.  For Kant, the life of each human being is of infinite value, and we cannot ever justify violating an individual person’s basic rights for the sake of achieving some supposedly noble goal.  Kant rejected utilitarian and consequentialist thinking, as have most Christian philosophers and theologians.  Christians have, in general, agreed with Kant that it is WRONG to use a human being simply as a means to an end, even if that end is a good and noble end.  As Christians often say, “The end does NOT justify the means.”

In other words, although the goal of eliminating child sacrifice is clearly a noble and good goal, it CANNOT be used to morally justify the killing of human beings, especially the killing of babies and children who have no choice or guilt in terms of the practice of child sacrifice.   In short, a Kantian, and any logically consistent Christian who believes that “The end does NOT justify the means”, cannot accept (MW) as a true or correct assumption.

I have only discussed two major ethical points of view here, but since (MW) is clearly unacceptable from both of those major ethical points of view, I think that is sufficient to show that (MW) is highly DUBIOUS at best, and that showing (MW) to be true would be an extremely difficult task, if not impossible.

 

CONCLUSION

Therefore, the argument that could be used to support a moral justification of Jehovah commanding the MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of every elderly man and woman, every husband and wife, every mother and father, every teenager, every child, and every baby in every town in the Promised Land on the basis of the historical claim in premise (1) above, is very likely to be an UNSOUND argument, because not only is premise (1) highly DUBIOUS, but so is the unstated Moral Warrant (MW) in this argument.

Two out of the three premises of this argument are highly DUBIOUS, so this argument should be rejected.  It FAILS to provide a moral justification for Jehovah and for Joshua and for the Israelites in relation to the (alleged) MERCILESS SLAUGHTER of every single human person in the towns of the Promised Land.

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UPDATE  ON 5/24/20

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I probably should have said something about the Divine Command theory of ethics. There is, of course, the Euthyphro dilemma provided by Socrates. But there is a simpler objection that can be made here, I think.

Let’s grant, for the sake of argument, the following assumption:

(GC) IF God commands us to do X, THEN X is a morally right action.

The problem with the command of Jehovah to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every single human person in every single town in the Promised Land, then becomes that we can hardly imagine any better or stronger evidence that JEHOVAH IS NOT GOD.

How could a good and morally flawless person (who is also all-knowing and all-powerful) give such an evil command? The fact that some invisible being or spirit issues such a horrible and evil command is powerful evidence that this being is DEMONIC and EVIL, and thus cannot possibly be GOD. If Jehovah is not God, then (GC) doesn’t apply to commands made by Jehovah.

In other words, if SATAN issued a command to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every single human person in every single town in the Promised Land, we have no moral obligation to follow this command, at least (GC) does not imply any such moral obligation, because (GC) says nothing about the commands of SATAN. Also, we can reject this command from SATAN as being vile and evil while still accepting (GC) as a true assumption.

I suppose that a dogmatic hard-core believer could insist on the following being an implication of (GC):

(RAT) IF God were to command that we rape and torture to death every child on the planet, THEN that would make doing so a morally right action.

But by making such a statement, they would reduce their own position to absurdity. If (GC) logically implies (RAT), then we have to reject (GC) as being false, because (RAT) is obviously false.

But if (GC) does NOT logically imply (RAT), then we can presumably accept (GC) and still use the evilness of a command as evidence that the person or being who gave the command is NOT GOD, and thus that we have no moral duty to follow the commands of that person or being, and we are free to reject those commands as vile and evil, even if we do accept (GC) as a true assumption.


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