On William Lane Craig’s defense of the Canaanite genocide (Part 2)

Posted on 02/09/13 81 Comments

In my first installment in this series I argued that conservative Christian apologists like William Lane Craig and Paul Copan are at their weakest when they argue that God commanded putative moral atrocities like genocide. And I noted that the interlocutor for my critical discussion would be William Lane Craig’s defense of the Canaanite genocide in a recent Reasonable Faith podcast. Just to be clear on the terms of discussion, Craig aims in this podcast to remove defeaters to the claim that God commanded the Canaanite genocide as recorded in various biblical texts. I will argue that Craig has failed to remove those defeaters.

While I was initially intending to jump right into the critique in this second installment, upon further reflection I concluded it important to take some time to articulate just what those defeaters are exactly. Rather than reinvent the wheel I’ll begin by quoting from the seven step argument that forms the backbone of my 2009 essay “Let Nothing that Breathes Remain Alive.” (You can read the entire essay in the “Academic Articles” section of my website.) So here’s the argument:

(1) God is the most perfect being there could be.

(2) Yahweh is God.

(3) Yahweh ordered people to commit genocide.

(4) Genocide is always a moral atrocity.

(5) A perfect being would not order people to commit a moral atrocity.

(6) Therefore, a perfect being would not order people to commit genocide (4,5).

(7) Therefore, Yahweh did not order people to commit genocide (1,2,6).

Note that the argument is not questioning (1) and (2). Rather, it questions (3) and (4). It does so based on assumptions of moral perception or what Christians might refer to as a subset of the deliverances of general revelation. Elsewhere I have also supplemented this appeal with arguments internal to the biblical text itself by focusing on the life of Jesus as the controlling hermeneutical principle for understanding scripture and the nature of God. (See, for example, my essay “Would Jesus stone a misbehaving child?”) But here I’ll focus on the arguments from moral perception.

Defining Genocide

Let’s focus on (4). We begin with a definition of genocide. This is important because too often one finds some Christian apologists attempting to claim that the prescriptions outlined in a passage like Deuteronomy 20:10-20 and the events summarized in passages like Joshua 6-11 and 1 Samuel 15 do not constitute genocide. On the contrary, these are eminently clear instances of genocide. The term “genocide” derives from two terms — Greek: genos (race, kind) and Latin: cida (killer) — and thus denotes the intentional killing of a particular race or kind of people.

Intentionality is important here. Let’s say that the last thousand members of a particular race are gathered in an airport hanger when the hanger is mistakenly blown up by one of Barack Obama’s drone strikes. The bombing event would have wiped out an entire race of people but it would not thereby constitute a genocide of the people because there was no intention to eliminate this entire race. By contrast, intentional killing of several dozen of that same group because they are ethnically identified with that group would constitute acts of genocide.

The idea of classifying acts of intentional killing of individuals because of their racial or ethnic identity traces to Raphael Lemkin, a survivor of the Holocaust. Lemkin rightly recognized that the acts of the Nazis in the Final Solution were not mass killings simpliciter and he labored to find a conceptual distinction to explain the unique horror of these crimes. Thus we have the genesis of the concept of genocide which finally gained legal recognition at the United Nations in 1948 with the adoption of “The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”. This document defined genocide as “acts committed with intention to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”. It then went on to identify five conditions under which this definition would apply. We need concern ourselves with only the first and most obvious instance, viz. “Killing members of the group.”

By this definition, there are several mass killings in the Old Testament which would qualify as genocides. For example, Deuteronomy 20:16-17 describes God as declaring: “in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.” According to this direction, members of these six ethnical, religious and cultural groups should all be killed. In 1 Samuel 15 a similar directive is given outlining the mass killing of all individuals identified as Amalekites.

Now obviously given that the term genocide is a post-WWII conceptual distinction, there is a certain anachronism in applying it to events prior to that period. Nonetheless, nobody has a problem describing the Final Solution as a genocidal act based upon the currently accepted definition of genocide. Neither should one have a problem describing the biblically recorded killing directives referenced above as genocidal directives based upon the same United Nations definition.

Condemning genocide

Now how should we think ethically about genocide as defined above, viz. the intentional killing of an entire racical, ethnical or cultural group of individuals from infants to the elderly simply based on their identity with that group? The response is captured in the title of Barbara Coloroso’s book on the subject: Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide (Penguin, 2007). Virtually everyone recognizes acts of genocide as acts of extraordinary evil. Even the socially despised Holocaust denier concedes the evil of genocide in his offensive and tortured historical reconstructions of the Final Solution as not really a genocide after all.

The fact is that we have excellent grounds to believe based upon moral reflection on accounts of genocide that such actions constitute moral atrocities. Whether it be Rwanda in 1994 or Germany in 1944 the moral offense is the same. And so we likewise have strong prima facie grounds to believe that genocides committed in the Ancient Near East would also constitute moral atrocities. If we are persuaded categorically and a priori that God could not have approved of the Rwanda genocide or the Nazi genocide because the type action genocide is a moral atrocity and these are tokens of that type, we have prima facie grounds to believe God would not have approved of ANE token examples of the type.

In closing, let me hammer the point home by returning to the analogy with rape that I developed at length in a series of articles last summer. (See, for example, my articles “Rape, moral perception, and biblicism” and “What God could and couldn’t do.”)

Imagine that Mr. X is arrested for raping a person. He defends the action by claiming that he raped the person because Yahweh commanded him to rape the person. You recognize that Yahweh can command some very extraordinary actions. But you do not seriously consider Mr. X’s claim that rape could be one of those actions. Your reason for this may derive in part from biblical considerations. But the deeper tap root for judging Mr. X’s claim is surely drawn straight from the faculty of moral perception. Simply by reflecting on the very concept of rape one can see that it is a moral atrocity and thus deserving of unqualified moral and legal censure. One way to see the role of moral perception in your reasoning about the case is found in the fact that the average person’s rejection of Mr. X’s claim far exceeds their ability to reproduce biblical texts and to exegete those texts in support of that moral response. In other words, the moral condemnation is immediate and unqualified, but the biblical support for it would be subsequent to this immediate and unqualified moral judgment. And so it follows that the biblical support cannot be the primary source of the moral judgment. (To put it more simply, the primary source for our moral condemnation of rape is general revelation through moral perception rather than special revelation.)

Although it is unlikely that we would bother to articulate our reasoning in the following way, certainly I would expect any Christian to be satisfied with the following argument as a formal moral basis for rejecting Mr. X’s claim:

(1) God is the most perfect being there could be.

(2) Yahweh is God.

(3′) Mr. X claims that Yahweh ordered him to rape a person.

(4′) Rape is always a moral atrocity.

(5) A perfect being would not order people to commit a moral atrocity.

(6′) Therefore, a perfect being would not order people to rape (4′,5).

(7′) Therefore, Yahweh did not order Mr. X to rape (1,2,6′).

This presents the defender of ANE genocides with a problem. Is it plausible based on moral perception (perception which is properly understood from a Christian perspective to be a deliverance of general revelation) to conclude that (4′) is correct but (4) is false? To say the least, this seems implausible. And as such, it would place an enormous burden on an apologist for particular ANE genocides to argue how (4′) could be true but (4) false.

Of course, one could argue that (4′) is not true. (This would be equivalent to conceding that there are feasible possible worlds — even if the actual world is not among them — where God does command rape and rape is thereby morally obligatory and/or praiseworthy.) But I’ve met very few apologists willing to bite that bullet. This leaves many in a difficult ethical dilemma in which they agree with the deliverances of moral perception that (4′) is true and yet deny that (4) is true even though the moral perceptual condemnation of genocide is every bit as strong as the moral perceptual condemnation of rape.

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  • AdamHazzard

    Perhaps the first two undemonstrated premises are needlessly complicating the discussion. If we delete presuppositions about the alleged perfection of a god and the identification of that god with Yahweh, we get this:

    1) Yahweh is described as ordering people to commit a moral atrocity.
    2) A perfect being would not order people to commit a moral atrocity.
    3) Therefore, Yahweh as described is not a perfect being.

    The fact that your presuppositions preclude such a straightforward interpretation suggests that they may be causing more logical problems than they resolve.

    • Walter

      Ditto. No longer equating Yahweh with God appears to solve the conundrum quite nicely for a deist like myself, but it puts the believer in Jesus in an awkward position: Who was Jesus’ Father if not Yahweh? The only option left for believers in Christ would be some kind of neo-Marcionism.

      • Kerk

        How bout we deny the entire OT, accept that Jesus’s knowledge was fallible yet keep the belief that his resurrection indeed took place, which would itself be enough to establish a strong link between him and the god he professed. Otherwise he would be just another false profit, and God wouldn’t bother resurrecting him.

        I don’t know if you can call it Christianity though.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          For a Christian to take that position would be tantamount to amputating your nose when you get a head cold.

          • Kerk

            I don’t see what the big deal is. After all, the core of Christianity is Jesus’s two main commandments. Everything else is built upon them. Add to this the belief that he was the son of God, or at least that he was chosen by God, and I think you can safely call yourself a Christian. Why would you need the OT for that?

            • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

              You mean the two commandments he cited from the Old testament? Didnt you just say we should deny the entire OT.

        • Walter

          Kerk,

          What you are describing is what I call neo-Marcionism. Marcion sought to divorce Christianity from the Hebrew scriptures by denying that Yahweh was Jesus’ Father, claiming instead that the Jews worshiped was a lesser deity who wasn’t fully good, nor truly God.

          • Walter

            Cont.

            Hypothetically, if I were to become convinced that the resurrection did indeed happen, I would probably follow a trajectory similar to what Kerk has described. I would likely hold to a unitarian christology and would continue to deny that the biblical texts possess any unique status. Belief that Jesus was raised does not equal absolute confidence in the authority of Paul to dictate the terms of salvation or morality.

            • Kerk

              Right, as I’ve said on multiple occasions, it is well known that Jesus wrongly believed in Moses’s account of creating. So there can be no talk of his or Paul’s infallibility.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Not much changes with your restructuring of the propositions. All one would need to do is proceed with:

      4) Therefore, if Yahweh is the most perfect being then Yahweh did not order people to commit a moral atrocity.

      6) Yahweh is the most perfect being.

      7) Therefore, Yahweh did not order people to commit a moral atrocity.

      8) Genocide is a moral atrocity.

      9) Therefore, Yahweh did not order people to commit genocide.

      But this is a more unwieldy statement of the argument, so I’ll stick with my original formulation.

      Perhaps what you’re really wondering is why accept 6).

      The answer is blushingly obvious: because as a Christian 6) is my starting point. A non-Christian would have a different starting point. The argument thus demonstrates that the genocide texts combined with our moral perception provide not a defeater to Christian belief that Yahweh is the most perfect being but rather to the conclusion that Yahweh did, in fact, command genocide.

      Christians who are troubled by this conclusion likely haven’t reflected adequately on all the other examples of Christians rereading prima facie straightforward descriptions of God’s action in history based on philosophical intuitions including rereadings of God as atemporal and impassible.

      • AdamHazzard

        Your 4) doesn’t necessarily follow, however. It’s subsumed by the more inclusive conclusion that:

        4) Therefore, if Yahweh is the most perfect being, the description of him ordering a moral atrocity is untrue.

        Moreover:

        5) Therefore, the source of the description is unreliable.

        6) All descriptions of Yahweh are derived from the same source.

        7) Therefore, all descriptions of Yahweh are unreliable.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Actually, both the 4) I provide in this restructured argument and the 4) you provide follow. However, your 5) is rather bizarre. While you don’t define what you mean by “source” I assume based on 6) that you mean “the Bible”. But if that’s what you mean then your 6) is false as my entire argument which draws in part on general revelation makes clear.

          • AdamHazzard

            By “source” I meant the Old Testament. I’m treating the entire OT as a single source, since in most cases we can’t know whether attributions of authorship are correct or to what degree the text has been altered (added to, elided from, or simply changed) by later authors.

            My 5) is simply the observation that if our moral intuition can detect a falsehood in some passages, and logical consistency and our knowledge of history preclude a literal interpretation of other passages, then there may be passages which are neither morally objectionable nor logically inconsistent that are nevertheless simply untrue. (Since allowing the existence of some obvious and egregious errors means admitting the possibility of other, less obvious errors.)

            Thus, if the OT is both an unreliable source of knowledge about Yahweh and our only original source of knowledge about Yahweh — then we have no reliable description of Yahweh.

            What constitutes “general revelation,” and its reliability, is another question altogether.

  • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

    I guess I would challenge

    “(5) A perfect being would not order people to commit a moral atrocity.”

    It seems at least logically possible that a moral atrocity could lead to a greater good than would be possible otherwise. I think the underlying problem is how would one be epistemically justified in believing that they had been ordered to commit a moral atrocity by a perfect being.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      We need more than a mere logical possiblity to deny (5). We also need it to be a moral possibility (and thus a feasibility).

      Keep in mind that your position entails biting that bullet that God could command rape while rape is a moral atrocity. Most Christians will not be happy with the suggestion that God could command rape.

      Moreover, the underlying premise of your position is to embrace an act utilitarian ethic. But again, few Christians would want to accept such an ethical view.

      • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

        I’m not sure I understand the difference between a logical possibility and a moral possibility.

        True, we would not be happy with the suggestion that God could command rape. But then, we aren’t (or shouldn’t be) happy with God commanding genocide.

        If understand an act utilitarian ethic, it’s the idea that the means justify the ends. I don’t think it’s right for human beings to try to justify their actions that way, because we certainly don’t know what the actual ends will be. But God would know the ends and whether the means justify it.

      • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

        Actually, you don’t need act utilitarianism to get the result Bilbo suggests, two level utilitarianism, rule utilitarianism and threshold deontology and Rossian deontology can get similar results.

        Moreover, your claim that “few” Christians would accept such an ethical view seems to ignore a very important theory widely held by Christians in the 17th-19th centuries, this was the proto rule utilitarian divine command theories of Berkeley, Locke, Paley, Gay, and others, on this view God does act as an act utilitarian of sorts and his commands correspond to rule utilitarian rules. I think this view would allow someone to argue that God could on occasion issue exemptions to deontological rules against killing for quasi act utilitarian reasons.

    • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

      As long as perfection involves enough power to rule the world effortlessly plus moral perfection, I don’t it’s possible that a perfect being would order people to commit a moral atrocity (but then, I also think the problem of evil succeeds).

      In any case (and even tautologically), even if a person is epistemically justified in believing that a morally perfect being commanded them to commit a moral atrocity, that person should not commit the moral atrocity in question (because it’s immoral, by the meaning of ‘moral atrocity’).

      • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

        So even if a person is epistemically justified in believing that a morally perfect, omniscient, and omnipotent being (who knows what the ultimate ends of the atrocity will be and can “fix” any of the evil that is a by-product of the atrocity) has ordered her to commit an atrocity, you don’t think she should do it, because it is immoral. Do you think your opinion is obviously correct, or do you think reasonable people could disagree with it?

        • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

          Unless this is a case of miscommunication regarding the meaning of ‘moral atrocity’ (which I understand to be an extremely immoral behavior), I see no room for reasonable disagreement after reflection, since what I stated seems to be similar to ‘If X is a bachelor, then it is not the case that X is married’.

          Perhaps, you’ve understood ‘moral atrocity’ to mean something like ‘bring about a very bad result’ (but not implying that the action is morally bad/wrong/immoral), which perhaps might be justified in some cases in order to prevent something worse. I do not think that that’s what Randall meant by ‘moral atrocity’. But you could ask for clarification if you like.

          • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

            Okay, but we seem to be involved in a contradiction:

            1) A morally perfect being would not command us to commit an immoral act.
            2) The Canaanite genocide was an immoral act.
            3) We are epistemically justified in believing that a morally perfect being commanded us to commit the Canaanite genocide.
            4) Therefore we are epistemically justified in believing that a morally perfect being commanded us to commit an immoral act.
            5) Therefore we are epistemically justified in believing that (1) is false.

            Either we give up the notion that God is morally perfect; or that we could be epistemically justified in believing that he commanded the genocide; or in believing that genocide is always immoral. I don’t like the third alternative, but if we accept that God is morally perfect and that we can be justified in believing that he commanded genocide, then I’m willing to at least entertain the thought that there might be some condition under which genocide was not immoral.

            But I understand why people would choose to believe that God did not command the genocide (either because he doesn’t exist, as you believe, or because the Bible is not always historically accurate, as Randal — and I — believe).

            • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

              Either we give up the notion that God is morally perfect; or that we could be epistemically justified in believing that he commanded the genocide; or in believing that genocide is always immoral.

              Hmm…I’m not sure how you reach a contradiction. The proposition that a morally perfect being could command us to do X and we ought not to do X seems to be non-contradictory.

              However, if we assume that the morally perfect being in question rules the world effortlessly, that seems impossible to me (then again, assuming that a morally perfect being rules the world effortlessly is in my view a false assumption, and further would force me to abandon clear moral intuitions anyway).

              In any event, the situation would be problematic.

              That said, I don’t know that genocide is always immoral. But I would say it is immoral in the context in which it’s committed in the Bible.

              All that aside, ‘God is morally perfect’ seems to be a tautology, by usual definitions of God. What’s not a tautology is ‘Yahweh is morally perfect’ or ‘Yahweh is God’.

  • Herro

    Randal: The problem is that your concoted definition of genocide is based on dubious sources like international law and conventions, while Craig’s definition is based on the need to define the word in a way that excludes the biblical narratives (e.g. it wasn’t genocide because the hebrew soldiers weren’t commanded to follow Canaanites that had managed to escape the ‘holy land’).

    I hope you will address this glaring flaw in your argument in later installments.

    • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

      Interesting, you think sarcastically suggesting that international law is not dubious and the bible is is an argument. It’s actually begging the question and also shows the propensity for skeptics to be very selective skeptics. The UN tells me so has never been a very powerful argument as far as I see, and telling us to take the UN on faith from t skeptics is really kinda funny.

    • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

      Also Herro the case law on genocide actually sides with Craig on this, several cases before European courts have found that if you attack a group with intent to drive them out and destroy them as a social group but don’t intent to destroy them all biologically then the act is not genocide under international law. But hey I am sure sarcasm is better than facts.

  • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

    Your brand of Christianity is willing to bite the inerrancy bullet to resolve these challenging issues. Obviously since I’m an atheist I think this leaves you in a tough spot in terms of identifying what is and isn’t the word of your god, but it’s better than the position that Craig and others put themselves in being genocide apologists.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “Your brand of Christianity is willing to bite the inerrancy bullet….”

      That depends on how one defines the term “inerrancy”. I accept a meticulous providential account of the Bible’s formation in accord with Bill Craig’s middle knowledge account and Nicholas Wolterstorff’s appropriation account. It follows that every passage in the Bible is there to serve a purpose. However, that doesn’t mean the purpose of every putative historical narrative is, from the sensus plenior (or fuller divinely intended meaning) to convey accurately all events therein described.

      • Walter

        I accept a meticulous providential account of the Bible’s formation in accord with Bill Craig’s middle knowledge account and Nicholas Wolterstorff’s appropriation account.

        If we accept meticulous providence, does this not entail that every single book ever written has been done so with God’s oversight — including every sacred text that has ever been adopted by other world religions?

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Everything depends on how you’re using the word “oversight”. If you mean that meticulous providence entails that God superintends the writing of every human word then yes, that’s trivially true. If you’re meaning to say it entails that God appropriates every human word as his word then this is obviously false.

          • Walter

            Meticulous Providence would entail God superintending the writing of the Quran, Book of Mormon, Dianetics and even The God Delusion. Makes one wonder what divine purpose these literary creations were meant to serve in the divine scheme.

            If you’re meaning to say it entails that God appropriates every human word as his word then this is obviously false.

            What is not obviously true to me is the belief that he has appropriated *any* human literature as a vehicle for revelation.

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              “What is not obviously true …”

              Do you mean not self-evidently true? Of course that is obviously the case.

              Or are you simply saying that you as a deist don’t accept any divine revelation? Because that is to be expected given that you’re a deist.

              • Walter

                Assuming that I don’t accept the claims of Christianity in a properly basic way, what reason can you give to convince me that God has appropriated your sacred texts as a means of revelation, as opposed to, let’s say, the Tao Te Ching for instance? If there is nothing within the text itself that demonstrates its uniquely divine status, then your beliefs about God’s intentions concerning the Christian canon or any other body of literature are nothing more than theological speculation.

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  I’d start with the person of Jesus, his teaching and in particular the evidence for his resurrection.

                  • R0c1

                    I’ve seen this basic dialog on your blog a few times, yet I don’t remember any time that you have presented evidence for the resurrection. You say the resurrection is special evidence of the Bible being special (which is important because you deny things like the historicity of Genesis as evidence for the truth of other parts of the Bible).

                    Do you think resurrection apologetics is better left to other apologists, or have I missed your writing about it?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jesse-Toler/100000087450373 Jesse Toler

            In other words, when the narrative makes the reader choke, what we have are human words that need to be allegorized; but, when the writings push us into prayer and ppenance only then is the texts God’s word?

      • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

        I think I see two or three problems. First that seems unfalsifiable. Second, how do you know if you’re interpreting passages properly? Revelation?

        Third is the same as what Walter brings up, what’s your method to convince anyone that your holy book is the word of god? It seems you have an answer there, though I’d obviously disagree but that’s a whole separate/long argument I don’t think we want to have here. Just curious, is that your only bit of evidence to believe the bible, or are there others?

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Your first point begs the question: what sort of principle of falsification are you assuming and why do you hold it?

          As for your second point: one determines the proper interpretation of a passage by reading the entire text carefully and interpreting the passage in light of the whole.

          Third, I start with arguments for God’s existence. Then move to arguments for Jesus as the revelation of God. Once we get there we have good reason to consider scripture as a written revelation of God.

          My forthcoming book “God or Godless” with John Loftus lays out a case as does my book “The Swedish Atheist…”

          • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

            The first issue opens up another long discussion. The short version is that falsification is necessary to be able to tell the difference between two or more positions. Without that, we can have two positions on the same topic that are mutually contradictory and no way of deciding between the two.

            Second, how can one read the entire text and determine which parts are to be considered valid to interpret other passages? For instance with slavery, how can we know if Jesus command to love one another as we love ourselves rules out the idea that god can’t command genocide? Why can’t the genocide rule out that God doesn’t mean to always love one another as we love ourselves?

            Basically, if two people take this approach and come up with two different conclusions, how can we know which one is right?

            Third, well that boils down to the validity/soundness of the actual arguments. What if we can show that the arguments for gods existence are inconclusive at best and don’t establish his existence? Same thing for the arguments for Jesus’s ressurection.

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              CA, scientific theories tend to be abandoned not because they are falsified but rather because they become explanatorily vacuous. Consider, for example, the way the Ptolemaic theory was gradually abandoned. The same would apply to an appropriation theory of biblical inspiration such as I’ve proposed. It is not the kind of proposal that is falsified. Rather, it is one which would be abandoned because it no longer succeeded in providing an adequate explanation of that which it was being invoked to explain.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jesse-Toler/100000087450373 Jesse Toler

        I am sensing that you gloss over the narrative with pious allegory?

      • Bob

        ” I accept a meticulous providential account of the Bible’s formation in
        accord with Bill Craig’s middle knowledge account and Nicholas
        Wolterstorff’s appropriation account.”

        Do you practice Cafeteria Christianity?

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          No, because “Cafeteria Christianity” entails an arbitrary selection of positions chosen merely to suit one’s tastes. The positions I’ve adopted are the result of careful theological,philosophical and biblical reflection informed by history and personal circumstance.

          • Bob

            “No, because “Cafeteria Christianity” entails an arbitrary selection of positions chosen merely to suit one’s tastes.”

            I did not intend to use the term ad hominem, and I would extract the term, “arbitrary”, from your definition of “Cafeteria Christianity”. Further, I believe you once offered the following quote: “Fourth, nobody interprets scripture apart from their own intuitions of divinity and morality (and it is naive to think otherwise).”

            “The positions I’ve adopted are the result of careful theological, philosophical and biblical reflection informed by history and personal circumstance.”

            Your rejection of “eternal conscious torment” is not deemed to be an “orthodox” position held by some others. That fact that you put keen effort into formulating your conclusions may not exclude you from being viewed as a “Cafeteria Christian” by others who hold a different view. Then again, perhaps you feel you have better understanding of scripture than Early Church Fathers on that score.

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              “Then again, perhaps you feel you have better understanding of scripture than Early Church Fathers on that score.”

              It depends which early church fathers you’re referring to.

              • bob

                “It depends which early church fathers you’re referring to.”

                I am confident you have considered the viewpoints of many of your predecessors. Your “overwhelmingly strong intuitions” compel you to reject ETC. That ultimately has no bearing on whether or not ETC is a reality. Perhaps you believe you are fully justified in your view… even if it may be wrong.

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  Certainly one may hold a justified false belief. But you’re mistaken to think the reason for objecting ECT is rooted only in moral intuitions. It is also rooted in the nature of heaven, the nature of God, and an exegesis of the relevant passages. To take just one example, the standard translations of Matthew 25:41, 46 refer to “eternal punishment”. But the Greek word aionios (from which we get the English word “eon”) means an indeterminate period of time. Consequently, this passage is compatible both with annihilation and universal restoration. And of course there are other biblical passages that seem to support each of those positions.

                  • bob

                    “Certainly one may hold a justified false belief. But you’re mistaken to think the reason for objecting ECT is rooted only in moral intuitions.”

                    I am familiar with the article you posted on this subject (posted by you on 09/09/11) and the reasons you cited re. why you reject ETC. I read the article soon after you posted it. My point is that a number of Early Church Fathers gave the same subject some degree of contemplation yet drew a markedly different conclusion. Dilemma.

  • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

    Randal, I’ve just come across Matt Flannagan’s ideas on the genocide of the Canaanites, and wonder if you’ve read him and what you think:

    http://www.mandm.org.nz/2011/01/god-and-the-genocide-of-the-canaanites-i-wolterstorff’s-argument-for-the-hagiographic-hyperbolic-interpretation.html

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      I was on the same panel as Matt when he presented his views at EPS (Evangelical Philsoophical Society). The short answer is that I’m very sympathetic with many aspects of Matt’s work and appreciative for it but I don’t think it is adequate to deal with all the problems it would have to address.

      • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

        For the record I never claimed by arguments about hyperbole addressed all the issues nor did I claim it did, in fact on the panel Randall mentioned I explicitly stated it didn’t, and I there and in other writings have supplemented it with other arguments.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

    Playing devil’s advocate here, I think there might be occasions when a genocidal act would be the best thing to do:

    1 From a Christian perspective, suppose adult members of ethnic group X all preach a false religion which is so seductive that many of their hearers will believe it. Then utterly destroying group X might reduce the numbers going to Hell and increase the numbers going to Heaven (including, presumably, the innocent children of group X)

    2 From a secular perspective, suppose adult members of group X believe it is their duty to destroy all of humanity, or even a much larger ethnic group, and have acquired the means to do so (biological weapons, maybe). From talking to captured members of X you believe there is no prospect of disarming or dissuading all of them, but you can quickly destroy them.

    At first I thought there would be no equivalent cases for rape. But then I thought, suppose God (being omniscient) knows that for A to rape B is the only way to ensure the birth of a child who will grow up to be a great leader or scientist and save many lives or souls?

    Of course it would be hideously dangerous for humans, with all their powers of self-deception, to act on such scenarios.

    • Walter

      I would think that an omnipotent God could kill all the Canaanites himself, without having to enlist humans to do the wet work.

      • http://www.facebook.com/erroll.treslan Erroll Treslan

        Walter, stop posing questions that give apologists headaches. :)

      • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

        Because the question is not what A loving and just God would do, it’s about what a loving and just God could or would command human beings to do. The question of wether a loving and just God would permit killing in self defence for example is not answered by stating God could take the aggressor out, that may be true, but we are asking wether if the other human being killed in self defence God would permit or endorse a rule that allowed him to.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      David, you’re “Devil’s advocate” scenario assumes the same thing as Bilbo, namely an act utilitarian account of ethics. Such an ethical position is horrifying, for it in principle allows any act for putative greater goods that could flow from it. There comes a point where one has to say: if ethical theory x provides a theoretical justification of acts like rape and genocide, then we ought to reject theory x, not theoretically accept acts of rape and genocide.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

        Applying your comment to my scenario #2, you seem to be saying that it is wrong to destroy an entire ethnic group X even to save the lives of the rest of humanity or of a much larger group. Does that conclusion depend at all on the population size of X? Or on the culpability of group X – who, in my scenario, are planning a larger genocide.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          David, you seem to be presenting a “Saw ethic” (“Saw” the 2004 horror film) according to which any action could be justified if it would end up saving more people. Is that really your view?

          • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

            That would be the case of scenario #1, but scenario #2 does not look like that. It’s not just saving a greater number of people, but rather, saving a greater number of people by killing the people who intend to murder them all, and who cannot otherwise be stopped.

            I suppose that you might challenge whether that would count as ‘genocide’ under the definition, but it’s not ‘saw ethics’.

          • FroKid

            Randal – two questions:

            1) Do you believe that killing a human being is always a sin (or morally wrong) in every context?

            2) Do you believe that it is morally permissible to abort/kill an infant if its mother’s life is in considerable danger?

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              1) No.

              2) Yes, perhaps under the principle of double effect.

              • FroKid04

                Thanks. While I agree with you that there are some actions (like rape) that are never morally permissible in any context, it does not seem that God’s commands to annihilate the Canaanites (or others) includes actions of this sort. The acts that God commands (killing people, even killing infants) are acts that are morally permissible within certain contexts, as you have admitted. So I think your rape analogy only has so much mileage, and it is reasonable to defend the possibility that God’s injunction to annihilate the Canaanites could be a context in which such extreme acts are morally permissible. I don’t completely know how the annihilation constitutes such a context, but calling the annihilation “indefensible” is definitely an overstatement.

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  I never admitted that it is permissible to target non-combatants in war time, especially infants. Nor did I concede that it is permissible to engage in the devotional human sacrifice of infants which is what the Israelites were doing (according to the narrative that describes herem killings).

                  Why do you think it is worse to engage in rape than in hacking apart an infant? Why don’t you think they are equally heinous?

                  • FroKid04

                    “Why do you think it is worse to engage in rape than in hacking apart an infant?” It seems that you and I agree. There are contexts in which killing an infant is morally permissible, and there is no context in which rape is morally permissible. That is (at least one reason) why they are not equally heinous.

                    How the annihilation commanded by God constitutes a context in which killing infants is morally permissible, I do not yet know. I am still assembling data.

                    Here is one bit of info to consider: The concept of retribution in the Bible is that of “returning the sinner’s own sin upon the sinner’s own head.” Punishment is ultimately seen as something the guilty party does to themselves, by their own sin, even if the punishment is administered by another party. So a question worth exploring is, “How did the Canaanites bring this annihilation on themselves? Did they annihilate other nations (possibly the righteous nation ruled by Melchizedek at one point)? Did Canaan engage in infant slaughter?” It is clear in Exodus 4:22, for example, that God’s killing of the firstborn of Egypt is retribution for Egypt’s persecution of Israel, who is God’s firstborn, and this persecution included the slaughter of Israel’s infants. The blame for the slaughter of Egypt’s firstborn, therefore, was on Egypt themselves. It is reasonable to also think that the blame for the slaughter of Canaan’s infants was on Canaan, not on Israel. Canaan slaughtered her own infants, and Canaan annihilated themselves off the face of the earth. That is what retribution means.

                  • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

                    This does not seem to me to be the issue, the question is not wether killing the innocent is as heinous as rape, it’s wether the scope of the duty is as absolute as the duty to not rape.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

            In my scenario there is a forced choice either to kill a group of people, or to do nothing and let them kill a much larger group of people. I think doing nothing is at least problematic, and arguably wrong. I don’t think that generalizes to cases with more options, and where the people in question are innocent. I don’t know the movie.

  • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

    Randall,

    I agree that a morally good ruler of the world would never order genocide, but I think your argument would be strengthened if, instead of premise (4), you used the more modest premise that the acts of genocide described in the Bible are moral atrocities (or would be so if committed, if you like), where ‘acts’
    include the state of mind of the perpetrators.

    The reason is that, if one starts proposing hypothetical scenarios involving entities with superhuman powers, (4) does not look convincing (not to many of us, anyway), since there may well be counterexamples.

    The potential counterexamples do not need to assume some form of utilitarianism or any other particular theory, but rather, appeal to one’s sense of right and wrong.

    If you want a more general premise (but in my assessment, that weakens the argument), perhaps one that is more modest and less vulnerable than (4) – though I’m not saying is true, either – would be something like:

    (4′) Genocide is a moral atrocity except, perhaps, if all of the following conditions are met:

    a. The person committing genocide does so as a means of saving the people he’s committing genocide against from a fate that is much worse than being the victims of genocide.

    b. The person committing genocide believes, and should believe given the evidence available to him, that his act of genocide will save the victims of his act of genocide from a fate that is much worse than being the victims of an act of genocide.

    That would avoid a number of potential objections, though there are other potential objections that may cause problems.

    Side note: as examples of a fate that is much worse, etc., one can come up (for instance) with scenarios involving arbitrarily long periods of horrendous torture followed by death, infinite and horrendous torture, etc. I can come up with some of those if you like.
    Note that in those cases the victims aren’t being used as a means to an end (like saving other people); rather, the genocide is committed in order to save them from a much worse fate.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      There are certainly different ways to skin a cat (what a horrid metaphor that is!).

      In my past writing on the topic I’ve argued with premises specified to the biblical genocides in particular. If an audience finds that a more effective means to arrive at the destination I’m all for it, so long as we arrive at the same destination.

      • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

        But maybe there are good ways and less good ways to skin a cat? For instance, maybe just waving your hand and saying ‘bored now’ is a bad way.

        Just kidding, but seriously, I’d say premise (4) is a lot more ambitious than needed to make your case, and subject to counterexamples by the moral intuitions of many people, myself included (i.e., as I see it, it seems to be false).

    • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

      That line of argument actually runs straight into Craig’s argument that Canaanite children go to heaven, not endorsing Craig’s argument, just showing it addresses the issues you raise.

      • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

        I disagree that the issue I raised runs into Craig’s argument, since the issue I raised is that in some cases, it seems genocide would be justified, but that in no way suggests that genocide in this particular case is or would be justified, regardless of what in the end happens to the Canaanite children.

        The question of the morality of committing genocide does not depend on what the actual fate of the Canaanite children is, but on the minds of the perpetrators, including but not limited to their beliefs about that.

        In a case like the ones I described (e.g., the exceptional cases I considered and in which genocide might be justified), the people committing genocide should not consider the command of the person making the threat of something far worse than genocide on innocent people to be morally acceptable, whereas the Hebrew soldiers considered Yahweh’s command to be morally acceptable, which would be
        unacceptable (it’s just a powerful being commanding all sort of
        suffering and death on the innocent).

        Also, purely for example, the Hebrew soldiers committing genocide were not trying to save the Canaanite children from a monster who would torture them for eternity in Hell, since they did not consider Yahweh to be a monster, and also since they did not believe that Hell existed in the first place (Hell is not an ancient Hebrew belief. So, the context clearly show that those soldiers were not attempting to save their victims from a fate much worse than being the victims of genocide.

        • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

          The question of the morality of committing genocide does not depend on what the actual fate of the Canaanite children is, but on the minds of the perpetrators, including but not limited to their beliefs about that.

          Then I disagree, I suspect your actually conflating the question of whether an act is justified and whether the person performing the act is culpable or blameworthy for performing it. Suppose a person has good reasons for thinking there is a greater good that justifies killing but in fact there is no such good to anyone. Then it seems to me the thing to say is
          that the act is not in fact justified but the person non culpably believes it is and hence is not blameworthy for doing it. The question of wether an act is wrong is a question of the objective properties of the act.

          Moreover if you do think that what matters is the mind of the perpetrators I think your criteria B : that The person committing genocide believes, and should believe given the evidence available to him, that his act of genocide will save the victims of his act of genocide from a fate that is much worse than being the victims of an act of genocide. is false.

          Assume for the sake of argument that there is some greater good to the victim of the killing which justifies the killing, makes it that the killing benefits them and does not harm them. However the person doing the killing does not know that it will lead to a greater good for the person killed, but he does on the available evidence believes and has good reason for thinking the act is morally justified.

          It seems to me that if he is justified in doing the killing, he does not need a further belief specifiying exactly what the justification consists in, provided he has good reasons for thinking that the killing is justified and these reasons outweigh any reasons he has to the contrary, then he would be justified in doing the act.

          You yourself suggest this is the case, you note they believed God was not a moral monster and he had commanded them to perform the action. The fact a perfectly good person had commanded an act would be sufficient reason for thinking an act is justified.

          (BTW, you also take issue with the idea of hell and God monster who would torture them for eternity in Hell. But Craig does not actually hold this literalistic conception of hell and more importantly his argument does not depend on it. It depends only on the claim that people who die in infancy obtain eternal life. An anhilationist for example who believed that the wicked are annihilated would still be able to argue that children are better of with eternal life than not existing. Moreover, if the person did hold to a literalistic conception of hell, they would also hold to the belief that this was a just punishment for sin and so it would not given what they believe be monstrous. They could simply claim that God was saving the person from going on to do monstrous things which would lead to him justly being condemned in a horrible way. Simply reading your own caricatures into other peoples positions never really proves anything.)

          • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

            The word ‘conflating’ seems to suggest I missed something in my analysis. That’s not what’s happening. Rather, I’m disagreeing with your take on moral justification.

            For instance, let’s say that Smith steals Jones’ wallet because he wants the money. What Smith does not know is that some extraterrestrials had planted a locating beacon in Jones’ wallet, and were going to abduct him and subject him to
            horrendous experiments, and then kill him. Smith takes the money, and tosses the wallet, so that the aliens fail to locate Jones.

            Clearly, Smith’s action benefited Jones, but it was nevertheless immoral.

            In fact, I would say that if agent A does X immorally, then A is not morally justified in doing X, and if agent A does X, and A is not morally justified in doing X, then A does X immorally, so rather than a conflation, I assess that those conditions are equivalent.

            In the case you propose, I would say that the act is morally justified if he had sufficiently good reasons for believing in such greater good, regardless of whether or not there was actually such greater good.

            But there is no need to settle the matter here, since in any case, the question is whether the behavior of the Hebrews who engaged in genocide was immoral, and it clearly was so (not clearly to Craig and many other apologists, of course,
            but clearly to Randall, and to me).

            So, I can just make the same point without talking about justification, as follows:

            I would say that I disagree that the issue I raised runs into Craig’s argument, since the issue I raised is that in some cases, it seems genocide would not be immoral, but that in no way suggests that genocide in the particular case of the Canaanites was not immoral, regardless of what in the end happens to the Canaanite children.

            Granted, Craig might claim that there was some other reason why the genocide was not immoral, and of course I would disagree since, upon assessing the matter using my moral
            sense, their actions were obviously immoral, but in any event, my point would remain that the question of whether the
            Canaanite children ended up in heaven is irrelevant to the question of whether the behavior of those who killed them was immoral
            .

            Regarding criterion b, I mentioned that the Hebrew soldiers committing genocide were not trying to save the Canaanite children as an example, and to illustrate the point that someone defending Craig’s argument wouldn’t be able to use something like (4′) in my post to his advantage.

            However, I said that something that (4′) would avoid
            a number of potential objections to Randall’s argument, thus strengthening it, but I also said that there are other potential objections that may cause problems. In fact, I actually said
            that including the premise (4′) in my variant actually weakens the argument with respect to the more modest premise that holds that the specific acts of genocide described in the Bible are moral atrocities (where ‘acts’ include the state of mind of the perpetrators), so I wasn’t trying to run an argument based on any general principle. I would rather just reckon that those genocidal actions are immoral (a much more modest claim that claiming that all acts of genocide are immoral).

            You yourself suggest this is the case, you note they believed God was not a moral monster and he had commanded them to perform the action. The fact a perfectly good person had commanded an act would be sufficient reason for thinking an act is justified.

            No, that’s not what I’m suggesting.

            For that matter, someone might suggest that Al-Qaeda members are not behaving immorally if they blow up a bus full of children because they believe that a morally perfect being commands them to do so, that those who burn witches at the
            stake are not behaving immorally because they believe that a morally perfect being commands them to do so, etc.

            Actually, they should drop their belief that a morally perfect being commands them to engage in those actions.

            Regarding Hell, actually Craig’s view is literal, in the sense that it’s not an allegory. In other words, the everlasting torment is real. Whether it’s by means of fire or some other means does not change my assessment that it’s evil, so my
            assessment applies to Craig’s view whatever the details are. However, my point in the context of this thread does not depend at al on the issue of Hell. For that matter, I would make my points about the Canaanites if Craig were an annihilationist.

            Simply reading your own caricatures into other peoples positions never really proves anything

            I’m afraid you’re the one misreading my posts.

  • Pingback: On William Lane Craig’s defense of the Canaanite genocide (Part 3)

  • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

    Randall

    (1) God is the most perfect being there could be.

    (2) Yahweh is God.

    (3) Yahweh ordered people to commit genocide.

    (4) Genocide is always a moral atrocity.

    (5) A perfect being would not order people to commit a moral atrocity.

    (6) Therefore, a perfect being would not order people to commit genocide (4,5).

    (7) Therefore, Yahweh did not order people to commit genocide (1,2,6).

    First, as you define Genocide it seems to be (4) is clearly false you define it as “acts committed with intention to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”.If that is what you mean by Genocide then its false that Genocide is always a moral atrocity. Suppose one locates an Al Quadea training camp, and hits it with an airstrike, that would be the intentional killing of a part of a religious group. Similarly soldiers defending Poland against the invasion of Germany would be genocide, because they are intending to destroy Germans, or at least soldiers respresenting and acting as agents for the German nation, and these soldiers are part of the German nation. Similarly a surgical strike on the Taliban head quarters designed to destroy the leaders and disperse the group so it no longer exists would be an intentional attempt to destroy a religious group and some members of a religious group.

    Imagine that Mr. X is arrested for raping a person. He defends the action by claiming that he raped the person because Yahweh commanded him to rape the person. You recognize that Yahweh can command some very extraordinary actions. But you do not seriously consider Mr. X’s claim that rape could be one of those actions. Your reason for this may derive in part from biblical considerations. But the deeper tap root for judging Mr. X’s claim is surely drawn straight from the faculty of moral perception. Simply by reflecting on the very concept of rape one can see that it is a moral atrocity and thus deserving of unqualified moral and legal censure. One way to see the role of moral perception in your reasoning about the case is found in the fact that the average person’s rejection of Mr. X’s claim far exceeds their ability to reproduce biblical texts and to exegete those texts in support of that moral response. In other words, the moral condemnation is immediate and unqualified, but the biblical support for it would be subsequent to this immediate and unqualified moral judgment. And so it follows that the biblical support cannot be the primary source of the moral judgment. (To put it more simply, the primary source for our moral condemnation of rape is general revelation through moral perception rather than special revelation.)

    Actually I think you misdiagnose the situation here, the reason you or I reject Mr X’s claim, is that, on the epistemic base you and I have, the moral claim, it is wrong for X to rape his victim has a higher epistemic status than the claim X was commanded by God to commit rape. If the opposite were the case, the evidence was such that the claim that God (defined as a morally perfect, omniscient, being rational being) commanded rape was far stronger than the claim rape was wrong. It would be irrational to claim that rape was wrong in this situation. Because you would have more evidence to support the claim that the rape could be knowingly and rationally supported by a morally perfect fully informed person than you would that rape was wrong.

    This fact I think undercuts your analogy. In the case of rape we have no biblical evidence in favour of the claim Mr X was commanded to rape, and we have strong moral intuitions that rape at is absolutely wrong to rape, and its hard to think of inutively plausible cases where one could justifiably rape.

    With the “Genocide” ( again as you define the term) case however things are different, if Craig is interpreting the texts correctly, his epistemic base provides him lots of biblical evidence for the claim that God commanded Joshua to kill the Canaanites. And most people do not have strong moral intuitions that killing is “absolutely morally wrong. while its plausible to say killing is prima facie wrong, the claim that its absolutely wrong to kill innocent people with no exceptions at all, is actually a fairly controversial claim in contemporary ethical theory, which few moral theories today support.

    So the evidential situation is quite different in the two cases. The innerantist is not in the same evidential situation with regard to Mr X’s rape as he is to Joshua’s killing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jesse-Toler/100000087450373 Jesse Toler

    Wouldn’t the Israelite wars in Canaan be more comparable to the First Jewish War or maybe the bar-Kochba revolt c. 130ad?

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Not at all. Those two wars were revolts against an oppressive, occupying power.

  • Jack

    Your first mistake may be in equating “God”, the Maker of all things and who dwells in realms never before seen by any man or spirit, possibly even angels, with YAweh, the Hebrew version of God who is more like a supercharged archangel or something and who possess all these negative human traits of wrath, anger, jealousy, vindictiveness, murderous intent, etc. and whose character has been distorted over the centuries as the myths and legends grew.

  • http://www.evilbible.com/ Flanders’ Porn Stache

    (1) God is the most perfect being there could be.

    (2) Yahweh is God.

    (3) Yahweh ordered people to commit genocide.

    (4) Genocide is always a moral atrocity.

    (5) A perfect being would not order people to commit a moral atrocity.

    (6) Therefore, Yahweh is not God..

    (7) Therefore, we have some things to reconsider..