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I am curious as to your response to attack on my somewhat skeptical position on this issue by turretinfan.
You are still a little too generous regarding the options facing the Amalekites. According to Deuteronomy 20:10-18, the options were not eviction, conversion, or extermination. The options were, for some peoples, (1) slavery or (2) extermination, and for other peoples just, (1) extermination. Conversion and eviction simply weren't on the table.
--A Christian considering deconversion.
Nice post, Keith.
For my part, I find the Numbers 31 passage even more problematic, as it there has Yahweh command the Israelites not only to slaughter all the infants, parents, children, etc., but also to "keep the virgins alive for themselves." Hmmm. For what purpose, do you imagine?
Yep, I noticed that about the passage from Numbers where Moses says to spare only the virgins. I imagine a more accurate translation of that passage would read "Kill ye all of them, except they be hot in thy sight; these shalt thou spare for thyself, thou lucky dog."
Disgusting. I'd be interested to see the sorts of moral contortions of the apologists would perform to justify this one.
'Israel worshipped the True God and the Muslims do not.'
Muslims worship the creator of the Universe. Sounds to me like the same god as the one Christians worship.
Then they both worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster, also creator of the universe.
This sort of objection to Christianity has relevance to the Argument From Religious Experience (AFR). One objection to the validity or veridicality of religious experience is borrowed from an objection Hume raised against miracle claims: religious experiences support various contradictory religions and theological viewpoints. Miracles occur in various religious and theological traditions, and thus miracles appear to provide support for contradictory beliefs. Thus, Hume argued, the many and various miracle claims cancell each other out. The same problem has been raised concerning religious experience. Swinburne replies that God is known by different names, and thus the experiences of God by people of different faiths and theological traditions may generally be valid and veridical experiences of the same being. Also, non-Christian religious experiences of finite gods or spririts does not contradict the claim that there is an infinite God who is the ultimate source of all other contingent beings. Finally, when religious experiences do conflict it may often be poassible that the experiences in question were caused by an actual supernatural being(s), but that one of the experiencers misperceived some details about the object of experience, perhaps due to religious or theological preconceptions.The religious experience of the O.T. prophets, and the contradiciton between their experiences and those of more modern Christian believers, however, cannot be explained away in this fashion. If God as experienced by O.T. prophets was an advocate of slavery, sexism, wars of aggresion, genocide, and torture (burning women to death for being a witch or a promiscous daughter of a priest), and Christian believers expereince a God who is opposed to slavery, sexism, wars of aggression, genocide, and torture, then these religious experiences of God cancel each other out. Furthermore, this is clearly NOT a matter of disagreement on details. This is a very fundamental contradiction concerning the basic moral character of God.And the problem is worse than that, because Jesus who is God incarnate according to Christian believers, admired the O.T. prophets and taught that their 'revelations' were true and of divine origin. So, Jesus endorsed the religious experiences of the O.T. prophets. Thus, when Christians have relgious expereicnes that appear to be of a loving and just God who is opposed to slavery, sexism, wars of aggression, genocide, and torture, their experiences contradict the experiences of people whom Jesus endorsed as having valid and veridical religious experiences.
Bradley,This is a good point. However, here is something we should keep in mind: That some of the authors of OT texts report experiences of a God who commands genocide and approves of slavery, sexism and torture does not entail that anybody actually had experiences of such a God. There are alternative explanations of the reports (lying for political purposes comes to mind).
On the other hand, the concerns you raise about Jesus are harder to explain away. God, if he exists, would want nothing to do with texts that depict him as commanding genocide, approving of slavery, etc. If Jesus approves of such texts. then that is strong evidence (bordering on proof) that he is not God.
"That some of the authors of OT texts report experiences of a God who commands genocide and approves of slavery, sexism and torture does not entail that anybody actually had experiences of such a God. "
I take it you mean "does not entail that anybody actually had experiences that SEEMED to be of such a God." And I agree with the point you make that the report might be a lie.
Another problem here is that since God is, by definition, a perfectly morally good person, it is not possible to have a veridical experience of an evil or wicked God. Since a "God" who advocates slavery, sexism, wars of aggression, genocide, and torture would be an evil person, it is not possible to have a veridical experience of a God who advocates slavery, sexism, etc. It is no more possible to have a veridical experience of such a person than it is to have a veridical experience of a four-sided triangle or of a married bachelor.
Thus, the religious experience of the O.T. prophets is clearly and obviously non-veridical. However, what seems obvious to you and me, sadly, is not so obvious to Christian believers. So, my argument was of an ad hominem nature. I was appealing to beliefs of Christians that I myself do not necessarily hold (i.e. that the reports of the religious experiences of the O.T. prophets were true, and that those experiences were at least presumptively veridical).
Here is another problem with any attempt to make the slaughter of the Amalekites morally palatable: The horrors of the slaughter are not limited to the pain, suffering and deaths of the Amalekite victims, though obviously those are the most salient and significant evils associated with it. The perpetrators of the genocide (or whatever you want to call it) are being asked by God to do something that no human being should be asked to do. To be the perpetrator of a mass slaughter is not only a crime; it also entails harm to oneself. No human person should be asked to kill children, even if those children are unrepentant idolators. Nobody should be asked to kill hundreds of fellow human beings in the manner in which God is described as asking the Israelites to slaughter the Amalekites even if those fellow human beings are irredeemably corrupt. People should not be asked to be the perpetrators of such horrendous acts because, again, such carnage involves harm not only to the victims but to the agents themselves.
So, if God believed that the Amalekites were evil to the extent that the only possible and just solution was to eradicate them from the land given to the Israelites, then he should have removed them himself in the most painless way possible. Why order human beings to slaughter other human beings in a horrible and grotesque fashion when you can effortlessly and painlessly annihilate them all in the blink of an eye?
Actually, it's worse than you (probably) realize, Jason. This story of Saul and the Amalekites wove its way through the rabbinic literature. I remember being taught that Saul's decision not to kill every last Amalekite was the reason for basically all the oppression of Jews for the rest of history. This story could well be dusted off and used to justify genocide at any point in the future.
True indeed. Someone in some of these debates spoke of the killing of the Amalekites as "euthanasia." No, sorry, I don't see hacking and stabbing as a "mercy killing." As you say, God could simply have made everybody instantly fall dead, or just cause them to disintegrate, or board them on a spacecraft and take them somewhere else...or something. I am always amazed at how believers, by implication, attribute such a lack of imagination and power to God.
The comparison with the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas is telling. I see passages like the massacre of the Amekelites as akin to the Western movies of the 1950's: legendary exploits as apologia for Manifest Destiny. Of course, the American film industry had an actual crime against humanity within historical memory to justify; the Israelite expression is justification for post-Exilic hegemony over the region by a particular group of elites in the terms of Ancient Near Eastern political/military supremacy. It was a world where might very much made right, and the very fact that an enemy was vanquished by your putative ancestors was proof enough that (a) God was on your side.
Excellent points. Really, what information do we have about an ancient tribe called the "Amalekites?" All we have is testimony from their enemies, the Israelites. Consider the characterization of American Indians, not only by Hollywood, but by many others. Even the Declaration of Independence makes reference to "the merciless Indian savages." My bet is that the Amalekites were probably a pretty tough bunch, but at least they did not invoke a holy war to justify massacring their neighbors.
"Veritas, with admirable frankness, admits that the passage says precisely what it appears to say.
You must be referring to a conversation with a different Veritas.
"...I don't think the OT passages usually brought up fit that definition..."
"Your point is predicated on those passages showing genocide. I don't think they do..."
I have a hard time describing this possession of eaten cake either frank or candid.
Let us know if Veritas ever shows us that the Judeo-Christian God is in fact the true one™.
I think he's saying you agree that the order was to kill all the Amalekites, not just the combatants. He's not saying you agree that the proper term is "genocide." Do you think the order means something else than "kill all the Amalekites, even the non-combatants?"
I'm having trouble parsing this, maybe it's the "you agree" verbiage which seems unrelated to whether Veritas is being somewhat Janus-faced on this topic. No, I don't think the order to kill them all means something besides kill them all. He apparently does, though.
That's entirely my fault. I completely misread your comment. Would delete if I could.
In a universe where we're all just meaningless bags of chemicals, why would you bother? :)
Ha! Because I prefer to!
Scott & Ghost
Yeah. Sigh. All the zest has drained from my life since I found out that I am just a meaningless bag of chemicals. I think I will just go crawl in bed and emulsify.
Here's the thing. Steve has continually asked why a moral nihilist takes the actions he does. But consider two people, one a moral nihilist, the other a moral realist. The moral nihilist refrains from murdering people because he dislikes murdering people. The moral realist refrains from murdering people because he thinks it’s objectively wrong to murder people (for whatever moral position you like, theistic or otherwise). Now these two people could display precisely the same behavior: their reasons are just different. The moral nihilist could even conceivably act more moral than the realist, because his dislike of murdering could be much higher than the weight the moral realist gives to what he thinks are objective commands not to murder (and it’s clearly possible for moral realists to not follow what they think are objective commands).
That’s why this seems like a non-issue to me. Saying one party has no objective reasons to act a certain way does not mean that party can’t act in that fashion—it just means he has to rely on subjective reasons to act in that fashion. Ok. So what?
Besides, I really don’t see how theism solves this. Even if God commands something, the agent may still freely prefer not to follow God’s commands. Or he may prefer to follow them. Regardless, it’s a subjective appraisal that will ultimately determine the actions he takes. I could similarly grill the theist: Why do you act morally? Because God tells me to. Why do you follow God’s commands? Because otherwise I’ll burn in hell. Why don’t you want to burn in hell? I don’t like being in pain. Why don’t you like being in pain. I just prefer not to be in pain. But that’s subjective—some people love pain. Or perhaps the theist follows God’s commands because he loves God. Ok, but surely love is a subjective notion if anything is.
Notice the glaring equivocation. A moral nihilist can't act more morally than a moral realist on nihilistic grounds. At best, he could only act more morally on realistic grounds. But that's judging his conduct by the very position he repudiates. So the comparison is incoherent.
No, I don't think so. You say "judging his conduct by the very position he repudiates" is incoherent. Really? If a moral nihilist went on a shooting spree, would you refuse to judge his conduct by the very position he repudiates? My guess is no. Would you say comparing that moral nihilist to a moral realist who didn't go on a shooting spree is "incoherent?" My guess is no.
"A moral nihilist can't act more morally than a moral realist on nihilistic grounds."
But you're not a moral nihilist, so what do you care? If the moral nihilist acts in the most upright manner you possibly can think of but the moral realist acts like a terribly awful person his entire life, would you deny that the moral nihilist has acted more morally?
Perhaps you'd feel better about the comparison if we FIND and REPLACE moral nihilist with moral subjectivist. Then the moral subjectivist is acting perfectly morally by his own lights--he thinks morality is subjective, and he acts on his own subjective preferences.
Regardless my point is the moral subjectivist or nihilist and the moral realist can display the exact same behavior, so I'm curious why you keep trying to show the moral subjectivist's behavior to be incoherent.
Moreover, I'm honestly curious how theism solves anything here. Why does God commanding anything thereby make it moral?
""But you're not a moral nihilist, so what do you care?"
So are you asking the reader to judge the actions of the shooter by Christian ethics? How does that advance the argument for atheism?
"If a moral nihilist went on a shooting spree, would you refuse to judge his conduct by the very position he repudiates?"
Scott, what is the standard of comparison? You keep tripping over the same issue.
In your original comment you indicated the irrelevance of moral realism. You said on the one hand that a moral realist might violate his own principles. On the other hand, you said a moral nihilist might, for subjective reasons, do what the realism failed to do.
So how are you asking the reader to judge the shooter? By moral realism or moral nihilism?
"But you're not a moral nihilist, so what do you care? If the moral nihilist acts in the most upright manner you possibly can think of but the moral realist acts like a terribly awful person his entire life, would you deny that the moral nihilist has acted more morally?"
He acted more morally in spite of his position, not because of it.
"Regardless my point is the moral subjectivist or nihilist and the moral realist can display the exact same behavior…"
In which case, why bring up the shooting spree? If it isn't wrong to go on a shooting spree, what does your example illustrate?
"…so I'm curious why you keep trying to show the moral subjectivist's behavior to be incoherent."
You keep missing the point. Why is that?
I didn't suggest his behavior was incoherent. Rather, I said your evaluation of his behavior was incoherent.
"Moreover, I'm honestly curious how theism solves anything here. Why does God commanding anything thereby make it moral?"
If you're honestly curious, who have you read on the subject?
Steve, thanks for the response.
I said: “But you're not a moral nihilist, so what do you care?”
Steve: “So are you asking the reader to judge the actions of the shooter by Christian ethics? How does that advance the argument for atheism?”
No, I’m asking people who believe morality is either objective or subjective to judge the shooter. You obviously fall in the former category. I’m in the latter. And people who fall in either one of those categories can judge what the shooter did to be immoral. You judge it wrong because a biblical God told you that killing was wrong (in some circumstances).I judge it wrong because I would prefer people not go around killing people (in some circumstances). For those out there who think going on a shooting spree is just fine and dandy—BE THEY THEIST OR ATHEIST!—well, I’m not talking to you. Let’s set up an appointment for a later date.
How does that advance the argument for atheism? Well,actually, I think it’s an interesting argument to anybody, but in this particular instance: 1. You repeatedly have questioned, “Why do atheists do X, when they aren’t moral realists?” One could respond, well, actually, a lot of them are moral realists. Maybe even most of them. But that’s not the route I’m taking. I’m saying: This question is irrelevant because, look, a person who isn’t a moral realist could still do X for entirely subjective reasons. In fact, a person who isn’t a moral realist could act exactly the same as a moral realist, even better (by the standard of anyone who isn’t a moral nihilist): his reasons for doing so are simply different. So the repeated question: “Why do atheists who aren’t moral realists do X?” is irrelevant. And once I show that that's irrelevant, hopefully we can get back to the topic at hand, and the topic of Parsons's post: God acted really abominably during the whole Canaanite fiasco.
Strangely enough, I think Bill Craig would agree with me onthis. He has repeatedly said that atheists can act just as morally as theists, or even more so. He would only argue that, on the atheist view, there’s no objective base to that moral behavior. But if the behaviors are the same, theissue seems more and more academic. Like I said, if the choice is between a neighbor who’s a theist and acts like a dick, and an atheist who acts like a saint, I’d prefer the latter. But even that's probably giving the theist too much, since 1. it's unclear how God grounds morality better than anything else; 2. and even if 1 weren't an issue, there's no God, so we're up a creek.
I said: "If a moral nihilist went on a shooting spree, would you refuse to judge his conduct by the very position he repudiates?"
Steve: “Scott, what is the standard of comparison? You keep tripping over the same issue.”
By a subjective or objective standard of comparison. So this applies to you, because you have an objective standard of comparison. It also applies to me, because I have a subjective standard of comparison. Either way, I take it both of us would deem what the shooter did was wrong, no?
I said: "But you're not a moral nihilist, so what do you care? If the moral nihilist acts in the most upright manner you possibly can think of but the moral realist acts like a terribly awful person his entire life, would you deny that the moral nihilist has acted more morally?"
You said: “He acted more morally in spite of his position, notbecause of it.”
I take that as an admission the moral nihilist acted moremorally. And I take that as a huge admission. But you say it’s in spite of his position, not because of it. That’s possible, but not necessary. It’s perfectly possible that he acted more morally because of his position. It depends on the facts. Imagine that our moral nihilist was once a moral realist. And he believed, for whatever reason, that moral realism entailed being a terribly awful person his entire life (maybe his only guide to morality was the book of Joshua!). Then one day, he becomes convinced that there is no objective morality, and thus there is nothing commanding him to be a terribly awful person. So he no longer feels compelled to do it. In this case, his moral nihilism is the cause of him acting more morally (by the point of view of either you or I, we who aren’t moral nihilists).
Now can we imagine the contrary? That he acted less morally (by your or my estimation) after becoming a moral nihilist? Certainly. But you seem to think that it’s only the latter situation that arises. That doesn’t follow.
I said: "Regardless my point is the moral subjectivist ornihilist and the moral realist can display the exact same behavior…"
Steve said: “In which case, why bring up the shooting spree? If it isn't wrong to go on a shooting spree, what does your example illustrate?”
I never said it wasn’t wrong to go on a shooting spree. It iswrong. It goes against my subjective preferences and it goes against what you take to be objectively true.
I said: "…so I'm curious why you keep trying to show themoral subjectivist's behavior to be incoherent."
Steve said: “You keep missing the point. Why is that? I didn't suggest his behavior was incoherent. Rather, I said your evaluation of his behavior was incoherent.”
No, you suggested his own evaluation of his behavior wasincoherent. The moral nihilist can’t make such assessments. I agree: he can’t. But I can, and so can you. But regardless, that’s not what I was referring to. You not only asserted that the moral nihilist’s self-evaluation was incoherent (which I agree, it is; that’s why I never referred to his evaluation), you’ve also repeatedly questioned why I do certain things. I’ve always understood the thrust of this was to suggest that it’s incoherent for someone to 1. Not be a moral realist and 2. Perform certain actions.
But as I’ve shown, and I think you've admitted, the non-moral realist can take any action he pleases. He can take the exact same actions as the moral realist. He can, as you admit, be MORE moral than the moral realist. His reasoningjust differs. So your attempt to charge incoherency against me and any other atheist fails.
If I’m misunderstanding you and you don’t think it’s incoherent for a person, say me, to not be a moral realist and take an action, then 1. I apologize for misunderstanding you, and 2. you’ve got to stop asking me why I do certain things, if you want to be relevant. I’m telling you why. I do certain things because I prefer to do them.
I said: "Moreover, I'm honestly curious how theism solves anything here. Why does God commanding anything thereby make it moral?"
Steve said: “If you're honestly curious, who have you read on the subject?
I’m actually honestly curious about lots of issues I haven’thad time to research in any depth, from quantum physics to the Nostratic language family to the Thirty Years’ War. Is the question too complicated to answer in a comment thread?
As to what I have read, the Bible for one, but admittedly,not much outside of that. I’ve heard William Lane Craig make the argument: “Moral commands require a commander.” This argument strikes me as very poor, and since I think Craig’s one of the best theistic proponents, I’ve always figured that was the best the theist had. If the theist has a better argument, I want to hear it. Reference a Wikipedia page or a blog post if you don’t feel like laying it out, because honestly, I’ve never heard anything close to a convincing answer.
O Secular Outpost contributors and commenters, you read much of these debates. What is the best argument that suggests God can make something moral by commanding it?
"I take that as an admission the moral nihilist acted more morally. And I take that as a huge admission."
To say that if Christianity is true and atheism is false, even a moral nihilist can do something objectively right is hardly a concession to atheism.
I am a tad busy right now, but let me note that it might shed some light to see what a real nihilist says about these things Check Chapter Six of Alex Rosenberg's The Atheist Guide to Reality. Rosenberg is a an advocate of what he calls "nice nihilism." I think his position is untenable (I devote about half a chapter of my recent book It Started with Copernicus to a critique of Rosenberg). However, it does specifically address some of the issues raised here.
"No, I’m asking people who believe morality is either objective or subjective to judge the shooter. You obviously fall in the former category. I’m in the latter. And people who fall in either one of those categories can judge what the shooter did to be immoral."
So, moral relativists judge it to be *subjectively* immoral. Not *truly* immoral. And by that yardstick. other moral relativists might just as well judge the shooting spree to be subjectively moral.
"You judge it wrong because a biblical God told you that killing was wrong (in some circumstances)."
Well, that's a half-truth. It conflates moral epistemology with moral ontology.
"So the repeated question: 'Why do atheists who aren’t moral realists do X?' is irrelevant. And once I show that that's irrelevant, hopefully we can get back to the topic at hand, and the topic of Parsons's post: God acted really abominably during the whole Canaanite fiasco."
You chronically contradict yourself:
i) Atheists who aren't moral realists surrender the right to say God acted really abominably during the whole Canaanite fiasco.
ii) At best, they could try to argue that, according to Scripture itself, God acted really abominably. But, not surprisingly, they haven't been able to pull that off.
iii) Moreover, as I've pointed out on more than one occasion, if you reject moral realism, then why should you care how Yahweh acted? Why should you care what Christians believe?
iv) Some atheists who claim to be moral realists could attempt to attack Biblical holy war on external grounds. If, however, they take that tactic, the onus is on them to justify their version of moral naturalism. But in that event, they can't begin with an attack on Biblical holy war. Rather, they must begin by defending their value theory.
"Strangely enough, I think Bill Craig would agree with me on this. He has repeatedly said that atheists can act just as morally as theists, or even more so."
Actually, there's nothing unusual about Christian theologians granting that due to natural revelation and common grace, atheists can sometimes do things which are objectively right.
"He would only argue that, on the atheist view, there’s no objective base to that moral behavior."
Yes, that involves the routine distinction between how people act and whether their actions are objectively justifiable.
"But if the behaviors are the same, the issue seems more and more academic."
That only works to the degree that people are inconsistent or oblivious to their presuppositions. If, however, people are consistent or epistemologically self-conscious, that superficial similarity rapidly breaks down.
Moreover, it's funny when atheists like you retreat into anti-intellectualism. Aren't atheists concerned with taking a position to its logical extreme?
"it's unclear how God grounds morality better than anything else."
What literature have you studied on the subject?
"It also applies to me, because I have a subjective standard of comparison. Either way, I take it both of us would deem what the shooter did was wrong, no?"
To deem it to be subjectively wrong is factually indistinguishable from subjectively not wrong or subjectively right.
A huge admission based on what?
"It’s perfectly possible that he acted more morally because of his position."
You keep toying with this Pickwickian definition of morality. If moral nihilism is true, then nothing he does is more moral or less moral.
"Now can we imagine the contrary? That he acted less morally (by your or my estimation)…"
You don't get a vote. You've disenfranchised yourself. You deny the existence of moral facts. Since you don't think there's true or false moral fact in how the shooter behaved, for you to say his action was (subjectively) immoral is an exercise in linguistic deception or self-deception.
"It goes against my subjective preferences…"
Like eating liver? If eating liver goes against your subjective preferences, does that make it *wrong*? Is a shooting spree equivalent to eating liver?
"No, you suggested his own evaluation of his behavior was incoherent."
It would only be incoherent if a moral nihilist deems his action to be good or bad.
"But as I’ve shown, and I think you've admitted, the non-moral realist can take any action he pleases."
I've admitted that a non-moral realist can be irrational.
"He can, as you admit, be MORE moral than the moral realist."
Not by his own yardstick, but by mine.
"So your attempt to charge incoherency against me and any other atheist fails."
To the contrary, you're confused (see above).
"you’ve got to stop asking me why I do certain things,"
No doubt it would be convenient for atheists to be let off their own hook. Don't expect that from me.
"Is the question too complicated to answer in a comment thread?"
Actually, I've been discussing that with Thibodeau. However, his modus operandi is to declare his own position true by definition. That's a convenient intellectual shortcut, but it proves nothing.
"This argument strikes me as very poor, and since I think Craig’s one of the best theistic proponents, I’ve always figured that was the best the theist had."
To begin with, there are varieties of divine command theory. In addition, there's natural law theory. Moreover, these aren't mutually exclusive.
Doesn't the argument that the extermination of the Amalikites was justified because they worshiped the wrong gods implies that the extermination of atheists would be justified because we worship no gods at all?
What does the "defense" that God's order to exterminate the Amalikites doesn't need to be justified (because God is perfectly holy,righteous, and just) imply about Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan? If the waylaid traveler of the parable was lying bruised and bleeding by the side of the road, was that not because the perfectly holy, righteous God allowed such a thing (and indeed, caused it to happen)? If the Good Samaritan assisted the traveler, that would have been for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds, because God allowed it, and indeed, caused it to happen. On the other hand, if the Good Samaritan had not assisted the traveler, would that also not have been for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds? If so, then neither course of action on the part of the Good Samaritan (assisting the traveler, or refusing to assist him) could be said to be morally superior to the other, and Jesus was wrong.