On William Lane Craig’s defense of the Canaanite genocide (Part 4)

Posted on 02/17/13 97 Comments

In this article I continue my critique of William Lane Craig’s “Reasonable Faith” podcast episode “Richard Dawkins and Driving out the Canaanites.” In this fourth installment I will critique Craig’s appeal to Israel’s status as a theocracy. We join the podcast in progress as it approaches the 6 minute mark and Craig states:

“This is not a civil or secular government. This is a government at which Yahweh himself was the head of the government.” “This is a government in which God was the head of the government and thus is as I say highly unusual and highly singular because there is no other human society like that on earth ever since.” (5:54)

At first blush this is a most perplexing claim to be making as a response to the moral objection. Craig is responding to skeptical questions like this: “How could God command the genocide of an entire people?” and “Why should I believe that God commanded the genocide of an entire people?” And what answer does Craig give us? “Because God was the head of the government.”

In order to see how perplexing this response is, consider the following analogy. Fred tells his friends that Santa Claus gave his three year old niece a dead rat for Christmas. The friends are aghast and perplexed. “How could Santa Claus give a child a dead rat for Christmas?” they ask. Fred replies: “Because Santa has direct control over the distribution of all gifts.” This response would, if anything, make the question even more pressing. Given that Santa has direct control over the distribution of all gifts, how could Santa give a child a dead rat for Christmas? Craig’s invocation of theocracy as a response to the moral objector to genocide is no less perplexing: As the head of state, how could God command genocide?

Given that Craig’s appeal to theocracy has no explanatory value at defusing the moral objector’s position, I suspect that his appeal to theocracy has a different force. It seems to me that what Craig is really trying to do here is to defuse the following objection:

(1) If I accept that God commanded genocide in the past I must consider the possibility that God might command genocide in the present.

(2) I do not want to consider the possibility that God might command genocide in the present.

(3) Therefore I should not accept that God commanded genocide in the past.

To be sure, it is one thing to accept ethically justified genocide a long time ago and far, far away. It is another thing (emotionally if not logically) to accept the possibility of genocide in the present. With that in mind, it could be that Craig’s appeal to genocide is seeking to undermine (1) by pointing to what we can call “Craig’s exceptional circumstance for genocide (CECG):

(CECG): morally justifiable (e.g. divinely commanded) genocide is conditional upon the existence of a theocratic nation-state.

Assuming that there are no theocracies now (which, of course, somebody could dispute), we no longer have the exceptional circumstance for genocide. And thus, we need not accept (1).

Unfortunately, CECG is beset with problems. If God can command a morally justifiable genocide, there simply is no reason to think that he is obliged to establish a formal theocratic political structure prior to commanding the genocide. Thus, even if there are no theocracies now, it doesn’t mean that God might not command genocide again. And that means that Craig’s CECG does not defuse (1). (See my essay “Might God call Christians to participate in a future genocide?”)

In conclusion, I have analyzed Craig’s appeal to theocracy as a response to the moral objection to genocide from two angles. On our first pass it appeared to be a non sequitur to the moral objection. In the second pass it appeared to be a failed attempt to prevent the possiblity that accepting genocide in the past might open one to accepting genocide in the present.

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

    One could strengthen Craig’s point here: This theocracy was “highly unusual and highly singular” because of it’s miraculous deliverance from slavery to another nation; its being miraculously sustained for forty years in the wilderness; its being spoken to all members of the nation by the god; its being given a code of ethics that was moral; that the god disciplined the nation when it disobeyed its commands, often wiping out large numbers of its own population; that the neighboring nations that opposed it knew of its miraculous delivery from slavery; that the neighboring nations and the tribes inhabiting the promised land committed obvious immorality in their religious practices; that individuals and groups within the promised land (Rahab and the Gibeonites) obtained mercy and were not included in the genocide, because they recognized and made peace with the god; and that when members of the theocratic nation (Achan) tried to keep treasure of the herem nations, they were treated as the herem nations.

    Yes, I think we could strengthen Craig’s points that there was some justification for the genocide and that this was indeed a very unique historical situation, unlikely to be duplicated.

    • Walter

      How much of the Old Testament history do you want us to jettison…?

      Just the bad parts. You should still be able to salvage a few pages. :)

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

        This language of “jettisoning” is completely fallacious as my critique of Justin Taylor illustrates:

        http://randalrauser.com/2013/02/putting-god-in-the-dock-a-response-to-justin-taylor/

        Unless, of course, Bilbo thinks the patristics and scholastics jettisoned the Old Testament when they insisted that the God described therein was atemporal, impassible and so on.

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

          Wait a minute, Randal. You want to deny that God commanded genocide. In other words, you are rejecting the historicity of any such record that He did so. And you’re doing it based on a Christocentric ethic — Jesus would never command such a thing. Okay, I understand and respect that. I prefer a Christocentric view of Scripture myself. But now, would Jesus have caused the Flood? Or wiped out Sodom and Gomorrah? Or visited the plagues on the Egyptians? Or destroyed thousands of Israelites? Are you singling out the genocide command for special treatment? Or would you reject the record that these other events involving the deaths of large numbers of people were actually acts of God’s judgment?

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

            It’s unclear from this thread as to how many people have read The Swedish Atheist. I’m two thirds of the way through it and it is a gem for anyone interested in apologetics. The chapter entitled “Would a Most Perfect Being Command Genocide?” is the most honest treatment I have ever seen devoted to this issue.

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

              I just read that chapter today, Erroll. I agree with you. The book might be worth buying just for that chapter.

  • Goldstein Squad Member

    Everybody is all pissed off that the Jews fought back and made sure their enemies were eliminated.
    They like it much better when the Jews behaved as they did in World War Two and marched quietly to their deaths…no muss, no fuss.
    But then the allies made sure their enemies were exterminated…if the allies hadn’t their would not have been a Jew left in Europe…and the Jews learned their lesson.
    Now they will fight again.
    Remember the Samson Option.
    Don’t like it? Tough shit.

  • Goldstein Squad Member

    By the way, I hear that the stripped JOHN LOTFUS had sex with is tired of being smeared and will some come out with her story.
    I will be sure to link to it here.

  • Goldstein Squad Member

    Hey, you know all those atheist book sections in Barnes and Noble?
    Well, here in our area someone who obviously had human feces on their hands has been thumbing thru the books.
    Lets hope they are caught soon.

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

    The situation of a being with superhuman powers ruling over humans, punishing them when he so chooses, being pretty much invincible, etc., would of course be unusual if it were to happen.

    But even assuming that the ancient Hebrews were under such rule, the unusual character of the situation does not help Craig’s case, since power is not an indication of moral goodness, and in this case, the being in question shows that he’s not morally good, in the Old Testament story.

    On that note, Yahweh may have shown great power in the OT story, but for that matter, so did the Ori, the Goa’uld or Palpatine in the stories including those characters, and of course they were not good. Given the behavior of Yahweh in the Old Testament story, I would assess that the ancient Hebrews should not have believed that they were living in a theocracy, at least not under any of the usual definitions of ‘God’, which entails moral goodness (and even moral perfection).

    Yahweh did give the ancient Hebrews a legal code, in the story. But regardless of whether some other codes were even worse (and it’s not at all established that the Hebrew code was less immoral overall than all of the others in the surrounding area), it was still a brutally immoral code.

    It’s not that all of its dispositions were immoral. Of course, that is not the case in any code. But it did have a good number of dispositions that were extremely immoral, like:

    1. Women who have sex before marriage and marry a man who doesn’t know it shall be stoned to death (so are women whose ‘tokens of their virginity’ are not to be found even if they did not have sex, though that is just due to brutal ignorance).

    2. Daughters of priests who become prostitutes (the women, not the priests) are to be burned to death.

    3. Men and women who get into a marriage involving a man, a woman and her mother, are to be burned to death.

    4. Women and non-human animals who have sex with each other are to be put to death (in context, plausibly by stoning).

    5. Men who have sex with men are to be put to death (in context, plausibly by stoning).

    That’s in addition to the brutal rules for dealing with other tribes (see Deuteronomy 20). According to those rules, the ancient Hebrew males would attack and plunder the cities of non-neighbors, taking women as part of the plunder (as commanded by Yahweh), whereas the neighboring tribes were to be annihilated, in order to seize their land by force.

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

      Hi Angra,

      I think we need to distinguish between we would think was a good ethical code with what the ancient Hebrews would have thought was a good ethical code. My guess is that they would have approved of most or all of it, and that when they combined this with the concomitant evidence — miraculously freed from slaver and miraculously sustained in the wilderness, voice from the mountaintop, etc. — I think they would have been justified in believing that they were in a theocracy. From what I’m reading, even the command to commit genocide was considered the norm.

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

        Would the ancient Hebrews have approved of the commands given by Yahweh, as described in the Bible?

        Some surely would have, if the commands had been real. Others, perhaps not so much (e.g., those about to be unfairly stoned or burned to death, or about to lose a loved one in that fashion, might not have been so inclined to approve), though there is a good chance that, at least during certain periods, most of them would have approved.

        Even for those who would have approved, many would not have believed that they lived in a theocracy in any of the senses of ‘God’ relevant in present-day philosophy of religion, since (at least for much of the period when Yahweh was supposed to be engaging them) they believed other superhuman entities (like the “deities” of other tribes) to exist as well and to have at least power to be some kind of a challenge to Yahweh (who also wasn’t believed to be omniscient, at least for much of that period and by most of them).
        Also, most of them would not have witness Yahweh’s feats first hand, even going by the biblical account.

        In any case, though, all of the above is beside the point I was trying to make, which is about the morality of the situation, and in particular not about what those ancient Hebrews would have considered morally wrong, morally good, etc., but what would have been morally good, morally wrong, etc., and what they should have considered morally good, morally wrong, etc.

        For that matter, there are plenty of people even today (e.g., in rural areas of Afghanistan or Pakistan, and in a number of other places too) who find the Taliban moral code or similar ones to be morally good (e.g., most of the Taliban themselves). But they shouldn’t.

        Also, there are plenty of people who live in various parts of the world (e.g., in Ghana, Papua New Guinea, etc.) and finds burning people for witchcraft morally good (just google “witch burning”, with or without the quotation marks), plenty of people who consider codes imposing long prison sentences or the death penalty for gay sex to be morally good (e.g., in Uganda, Nigeria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc.), and so on. But they shouldn’t.

        Similarly, other ancient tribes who lived closed to the ancient Hebrews approved of their own codes, and by the way they too believed to have their deities on their side, fighting against Yahweh sometimes, and sometimes beating him.

        Assuming just for the sake of the argument that Yahweh’s commands were real whereas all of the other people mentioned above actually don’t have any commands given by an entity with superhuman powers does not make an impact on what they should have believed about the morality of the codes, just as in the stories I mentioned and in which other superhuman beings give codes (e.g., Ori, Goa’uld), the people who follow them should not believe such entities to be morally good.

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

          Your original statement was that the ancient Hebrews should not have believed that they were living in a theocracy, where the god was morally good. But the god has already demonstrated that he was deeply interested in their own welfare, by miraculously delivering them from slaverry and miraculously sustaining them in the wilderness for forty years. To most people that is a strong sign of moral goodness. Was the moral code delivered to them by the deity good by modern Western standards? I would say that most of it was, with some exceptions, as you point out. But to insist that the ancient Hebrews should have considered it immoral by modern Western standards seems a little unreasonable. I think Randal pointed out recently that Canada still had the death penalty for homosexual acts in the early 19th century, less than 200 years ago. Should people living 3,000 years earlier have known better than the Canadians?

          Were the ancient Hebrews polytheists? Yes! By all means! Give them 40 days without a strong religious leader (Moses) and they were ready to worship another god. The underlying theme of the Old Testament was how to get a polytheistic nation to commit to monotheism. It was a long slow process. The justification for the Canaanite genocide was that it would eradicate the existing polytheism in the land.

          By the way, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, the reason that we no longer burn witches is not because we are morally superior, but that we no longer believe that real witches — people with evil supernatural powers, who use them for evil ends — exist. If we did….

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

            An action or set of actions involving protecting a group of people from slavery may or may not be a sign of moral goodness, depending on a number of features of those actions. In the case of the ancient Hebrews, some of them were delivered from Egypt after a brutal attack on Egyptian civilians, including children.

            Moreover, protecting a group of people – say, group X1 – from other groups while oppressing the very group in question is not generally a sign of moral goodness.

            In any event, the way of assessing the matter is not to look for signs of goodness isolated from the rest of the actions of a person. but to consider the whole body of evidence at one’s disposal, at least to the best one can do so. For the reasons I’ve been explaining, I assess that Yahweh, as portrayed, is
            not morally good, and the Hebrews in question (and who believed he had behaved as depicted in the Old Testament, and assuming that he did) should not have reached that conclusion.

            I’m not saying that Yahweh wasn’t good by modern Western Standards, going by the biblical account. I’m saying that Yahweh wasn’t morally good, going by the biblical account
            of his actions (and not assuming the biblical moral claims, of
            course).

            With regard to your claim about what you call ‘Western Standards’, let’s consider again the cases of people, who live
            in various parts of the world (e.g., in Ghana, Papua New Guinea, etc.) and find burning people for witchcraft morally good, plenty of people who consider codes imposing long prison sentences or the death penalty for gay sex,
            for adultery, etc., to be morally good (e.g., in Uganda, Nigeria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc.), and so on.

            I would say that they shouldn’t believe that, and they should not engage in said actions.

            But to insist that the ancient Hebrews should have considered it immoral by modern Western standards seems a little unreasonable.

            But that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that the ancient Hebrews shouldn’t have considered Yahweh as morally good
            (under the account in question, etc.), not that they should have considered it immoral “by modern Western standards”.

            Yes, granted, I’m using my own sense of right and wrong and reason to make that assessment. But that’s the proper way of making moral assessments (how else would you go about it?).

            I think Randal pointed out recently that Canada still had the death penalty for homosexual acts in the early 19th century, less than 200 years ago. Should people living 3,000 years earlier have known better than the Canadians?

            No, the Canadians who contemplated that law also should have concluded that people who have gay sex did not deserve the death penalty, and that applying such law would have been unjust. Perhaps many did conclude so.

            Were the ancient Hebrews polytheists? Yes! By all means! Give them 40 days without a strong religious leader (Moses) and they were ready to worship another god. The underlying theme of the Old Testament was how to get a polytheistic nation to commit to monotheism. It was a long slow process. The justification for the Canaanite genocide was that it would eradicate the existing polytheism in the land.

            That would not justify committing genocide. Let’s
            try to put the matter into perspective:

            An immensely powerful being who issues commands like stoning women for having sex before marriage and marrying someone who does not know it (never mind that the method to “establish” their “guilt” is woefully inadequate), etc., who engages in all sorts of brutal actions against Egyptian children, etc., also commands genocide in order to eradicate belief in other allegedly immensely powerful beings.

            1. In that context, it seems clear to me that the people to whom the command is given should not assess that the
            superpowerful commanded is morally good, let alone morally perfect. If he’s a moral agent, he’s a morally bad one.

            2. Moreover, they should not believe the agent’s claim that he’s the only such superpowerful being, and that the beings worshiped by the other tribes do not exist, without further evidence.

            If that being is the only one, why does he not simply show his power to the other tribes, so that when the beings they worship are nowhere to respond to the challenge, they
            convert (and just think about the scenario; of course they would convert when threatened by some being like that).

            3. On that note, on the assumption that the other beings do not exist, then it’s even clearer that the method of choice (genocide) is not only immoral, but also utterly unnecessary
            to achieve their goals. Yahweh could just proceed as I described above, and the others would have converted as well (that too would have been immoral, but less so than commanding genocide).

            4. Alternatively (though unnecessarily), Yahweh could have just alter their minds and make them convert. That would have been immoral too, but much less so (saying that that would mess with free will would not be a good objection, given that extermination also surely messes with free will, and given that Yahweh had already messed with the mind of Pharaoh before, etc.).

            By the way, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, the reason that we no longer burn witches is not because we are morally superior, but that we no longer believe that real witches — people with evil supernatural powers, who use them for evil ends — exist. If we did….

            Not sure what ‘supernatural’ means, but in any case, the people who burn witches should not believe that the people they targeted committed the acts they’ve been accused of committed in the first place.

            But moreover, even if someone were justified in believing that someone is a murderous witch, burning them at the stake as a punishment would not be morally acceptable. It would
            be acceptable, in my view, to kill her in that case, but it
            would still not be acceptable to burn her alive, given that far more humane methods would be available.

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

              I think I’ve made an adequate for why the ancient Hebrews were epistemically justified in believing that they were living in a theocracy of a morally good god. I don’t see how your very long reply has weakened that case at all. But knowing you, Angra, you’ll just continue to increase the length of your replies. Have at it, my good man.

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

                I disagree about the justification and the strength of our respective cases, but I see no reason for further arguments at this point.

    • Kerk

      Palpatine did not show much great power! His awesomeness was in his charismatic and cunning character.

    • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

      Do you know of any evidence that suggests those codes functioned like modern statute law and so were intended by there authors to be literally carried out by the courts?

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

        If you’re talking about evidence of the author’s intent I would have to consider reality, and drop the assumption that the code was given to them by a being with superhuman powers, etc. I was going by the story, in which Yahweh gives the command to behave in such-and-such way.
        In context, it’s clear that commands were not meant as an allegory, and were not taken allegorically in the story, either.
        Also, in particular, Craig’s defense actually appeals to the law given in the Old Testament as context (e.g., see Randall’s previous post against Craig’s defense of the Canaanite genocide), with the obvious implication that those were, indeed, commands.

        As a side note, in reality (i.e., not assuming the story anymore), the fact is that the codes were applied and enforced to some extent. It’s true that some punishments were not usually imposed due to procedural matters, at least after some time. That wouldn’t make the codes not immoral, though, but it would perhaps moderate an earlier code. In any case, that’s not the point here.

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

          In context, it’s clear that commands were not meant as an allegory, and were not taken allegorically in the story, either.
          Also, in particular, Craig’s defense actually appeals to the law given in the Old Testament as context (e.g., see Randall’s previous post against Craig’s defense of the Canaanite genocide), with the obvious implication that those were, indeed, commands.

          That’s a false dichotomous it assumes that either something is allegory or its statute law which is intended to be enforced literally. The second point is a comment about what Craig thinks which is not what I asked.

          Let me put it more clearly, on what basis do you assume that the author(s) of scripture use those passages you cite to perform the speech act of commanding people to stone women to death? Is that the speech act the text mediates?

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

            That’s a false dichotomous it assumes that either something is allegory or its statute law which is intended to be enforced literally.

            A statement like ‘Obama is a human’ is neither allegorically nor a law. But that’s not the point. I don’t need to
            rule out all categories of utterances. Usually, Christians who aren’t comfortable with a literal interpretation of claims of the OT, say that those are allegories. I pointed out that these were commands, not allegories.

            In any case, the intention of the human authors was almost certainly to be applied, since:

            1. Those look like commands, in the context of a legal code. Normally, those are meant to be applied.

            2. There is no good evidence that they were not a normal case.

            3. They were in fact applied at first, even if as time went by, some of the commands were in practice abandoned (maybe many people realized how bad they were, maybe some
            other reasons).

            The second point is a comment about what Craig thinks which is not what I asked.

            True, what you asked was irrelevant to my comment about Craig’s case. Nevertheless, my comment is relevant to my case.

            Let me put it more clearly, on what basis do you assume that the author(s) of scripture use those passages you cite to perform the speech act of commanding people to stone women to death? Is that the speech act the text mediates?

            Craig and others with similar position believe that those were commands. I’m criticizing their defense of the genocide.

            That the Old Testament law was meant to be applied is also the interpretation accepted by the vast majority of people who believe in the existence of Yahweh and who know about the law in question, in my experience. So, in criticizing their position, I may use that too.

            All that aside, their interpretation of the text seems correct. While of course I don’t believe that the author wasn’t Yahweh, I’d say that the most likely interpretation that the author was saying that Yahweh was giving those commands,
            since in the story:

            1. Yahweh says so.

            2. Yahweh says so in a context of giving a number of other commands.

            3. There is no indication in the text that any of the commands was an exception, or that any of them was not meant to be followed.

            4. The other characters interpret the commands as, well, commands.

            Do you have any good reasons to suspect that the proper interpretation of the biblical text is that the commands I mentioned were not meant to be followed?

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

              Usually, Christians who aren’t comfortable with a literal interpretation of claims of the OT, say that those are allegories. I pointed out that these were commands, not allegories.

              Nonsense, there are lots of literary categories other than allegory and literal. Poem, hymn, hyperbole, metaphor, proto history myth and so on.

              1. Those look like commands, in the context of a legal code. Normally, those are meant to be applied.

              2. There is no good evidence that they were not a normal case.

              3. They were in fact applied at first, even if as time went by, some of the commands were in practice abandoned (maybe many people realized how bad they were, maybe some
              other reasons).

              1 and 2 are assume , law codes are meant to be applied thats true of modern statute law, but to assume this universally is dubious.

              Regarding 3, I’ll simply note that the evidence is that the code of Hammurabi never in fact functioned as statute law and court records of the time suggest this as is the case with many of the other codes of the period.

              But here you are simply engaging in an argument from silence I have no evidence for not P therefore P

              Craig and others with similar position believe that those were commands. I’m criticizing their defense of the genocide.

              Craig does not defend Genocide, he argues that what was commanded was not Genocide. I am sure repeating scandalous sounding stuff is fun but its not accurate.

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

                Nonsense, there are lots of literary categories other than allegory and literal. Poem, hymn, hyperbole, metaphor, proto history myth and so on.

                In those cases that are obviously not literal, like poems, maybe. But those aren’t used to reject claims based on a literal interpretation, so there was no point in including them.

                It’s not usual to find a reply like ‘proto history myth’, ‘hyperbole’, though.

                1 and 2 are assume , law codes are meant to be applied thats true of modern statute law, but to assume this universally is dubious.

                I said normally, and well, that normally seems to be the case, so I would disagree with that.

                As for point 2., again, I’ve not seen any good evidence, but please present the evidence if you like.

                Regarding 3, I’ll simply note that the evidence is that the code of Hammurabi never in fact functioned as statute law and court records of the time suggest this as is the case with many of the other codes of the period.

                That does not address 3, which was about the application of Mosaic Law.

                But here you are simply engaging in an argument from silence I have no evidence for not P therefore P

                No, it’s more like if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and I see no evidence that it’s not a duck, then very probably it’s a duck.

                Craig does not defend Genocide, he argues that what was commanded was not Genocide. I am sure repeating scandalous sounding stuff is fun but its not accurate.

                While the word ‘genocide’ has more than one usage, some of the actions portrayed in the Bible as commanded by Yahweh and defended by Craig qualify under common usages.

                But that’s also not my point here, so whatever the actions are called, then my point here remains. I’m criticizing Craig’s defense of the morally evil behavior in which Yahweh and his
                followers engaged in, as described (in non-moral terms) by the biblical text. Craig and others with a similar position believe that those were commands.

                By the way, and just for the record since you insist on this matter, I don’t think the actions portrayed in the Old Testament are the worst that Craig defends. Not even close. Craig defends infinite torture in Hell (yes, of course, he denies that it’s torture, but the description fits the term), which I reckon would be infinitely worse than all actual instances of
                genocide put together.

                If someone denies it’s torture, then they’re misusing the words. But no matter, however it’s called, it’s far worse than genocide, actual or invented.

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

                  Angra, actually Craig doesnt defend hell as a place of eternal torture, he has made this quite clear in various places, why but in addition your welcome to show me where the bible can be plausible said to teach that people are tortured forever. The only passage that remotely suggests that is a highly apocalyptic passage in Revelation, and the context and symbolism used makes reading it as literally referring to torture quite dubious.

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

                    Craig denied that what he calls “Hell” is a place of eternal
                    torture, as I already pointed out in my previous post above.

                    However, some of his beliefs about Hell make the description ‘eternal torture’ adequate.

                    Briefly, Yahweh (going by some of Craig’s beliefs) created humans and created the rule that humans who meet certain conditions go to Hell eternally, as a punishment. And he also created humans and Hell so that being in Hell involves horrendous, neverending suffering.

                    As for your claim about eternal torture, if there is eternal Hell with horrendous suffering, and Yahweh made the rules in question, etc., that would count.

                    In any case, whether the New Testament actually implies eternal Hell is a matter I wasn’t taking a stance on. I was talking about Craig’s position, in particular given your insistence on the issue of genocide, which suggested that I was trying to use the word ‘genocide’ as a means of somehow make Craig look worse, whereas that is not at all the case.

                    On one hand, I’m perfectly comfortable condemning Craig’s defenses of some of the actions of Yahweh, and assessing that what he defends is a lot worse than would be infinitely worse than all actual instances of genocide put together.

                    On the other hand, I don’t even think that genocide is (metaphysically) necessarily immoral.

  • AdamHazzard

    Must we pretend to take seriously the risible idea that the ancient Israelites were literally ruled by Yahweh? (Like other risible ideas in the OT — the flood,wrestling with angelic entities, the creation story, the parting of the Red Sea, et alia — surely this one is best entered in the “not to be taken literally” column.)

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

      But if they weren’t literally ruled by Yahweh, then were they literally commanded by Yahweh to commit genocide?

      • AdamHazzard

        In the historical rather than the literary sense? Of course not.

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

          Okay, then our criticism of the Canaanite genocide is of a fictional command from Yahweh to commit genocide.

          • AdamHazzard

            Well, yeah. Another example of a morally abhorrent but entirely fictional OT genocide would be the flood story. There’s nothing unusual about scrutinizing the moral content of a literary text without committing to its literal truth.

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

              True, but that creates space between the fictional Yahweh and the real Yahweh, if indeed there is such a being.

              • AdamHazzard

                I would just second Angra’s observation that we commonly assess the morality of characters and events in stories and legends without having to accept the storyteller’s moral claims.

                As an example, Thomas Dixon Jr.s 1905 pro-Ku-Klux-Klan novel The Clansman claims moral correctness for its racist characters. A reader can certainly pass judgment on the actions and motivations of the characters despite the author’s approval of them. Moreover, we can pass a moral judgment on the author precisely because of his explicit approval of these fictional actions.

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

                  We can pass a moral judgment on the author because there were already wide-spread anti-racist mores in existence at the time of the novel. By all means, he should have known better.

                  Overall, were the authors of the OT lowering, maintaining, or raising moral standards in comparison with the other nations of their times?

                  • AdamHazzard

                    That’s an interesting and worthwhile question, Bilbo, but we can only arrive at a useful answer if we don’t presuppose that a supernatural god is among those authors.

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

                      I agree that presupposing that God is the final editor of the OT makes it more difficult to be objective, but not insurmountable. But since you don’t have that presupposition, you wouldn’t have that difficulty.

                      Thomas Dixon, Jr., should have known better. I assume the characters in the story did things that were immoral by our standards. But they might be exhibiting a higher morality compared to those around them. For example, suppose the standard procedure was to first torture a black man and then lynch him. But the protagonists in the novel insist that it is wrong to torture anyone, and that they should just lynch him.

                      This might be helpful when judging the stories of the OT.

                    • AdamHazzard

                      The point is that the characters in Dixon’s novels not only “did things that were immoral by our standards,” but that those very deplorable actions were represented as moral in character, effective in action, and desirable in their result. So yes, the characters are represented as exhibiting a higher morality than those around them. But the representation is not merely fictional but false — false in its morality, false in the way it depicts human nature, false in its representation of race relations, false both strategically and tactically, and deplorable in the ends it seeks to achieve both within the limits of literature and in terms of the book’s influence on politics and culture. (Dixon bears some responsibility for prolonging and justifying Jim Crow laws in America, for instance. The book was a best-seller, and Dixon used his influence to attempt to stifle the advance of civil rights for African-Americans. He was a particular thorn in the side for Booker T. Washington.)

                      Analogously, the flood is represented in Genesis as necessary, historically factual, and morally justifiable. But we know that destroying the entire human race apart from a single family would be none of those things. On many levels, the story is simply false.

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

                      Thanks for the info on Dixon’s novels. Okay, it doesn’t look like he was even trying to raise the ethical bar for racist actions, so I think we can safely condemn everything about him and his novels.

                      It’s no longer clear to me that the flood story is completely fictional. Some scientists are claiming that a comet hit the Indian Ocean about 5,000 years ago (google Burckle crater), causing 600 foot tsunamis, which would have wiped out large portions of human populations. But their hypothesis hasn’t been proven, yet. And even so, unless there were multiple comets (or pieces of the same comet) in several oceans, it wouldn’t have meant complete annihilation of the human race.

                      So let’s assume that the flood story is completely fictional and is just the re-working of previous ancient Near Eastern flood myths. Is the story moral or immoral? The story basically says that human beings are not what God intended them to be. The idea is that they are basically violent from a very early age and that wiping them out would be the best thing to do. But because of one man’s faithfulness and morality, the human raced is saved from complete annihilation, even though we find out afterwards that Noah and his sons will just continue in the usual human tradition.

                      So part of the moral of the story is that human nature isn’t very nice. And that’s a view that many of us think is pretty realistic. The other part of the moral is that God sees something in us worth saving and not giving up on. And I think most of us would agree with that, also.

                      What seems objectionable is that a morally good god is portrayed as killing off almost the entire human population, including innocent children, as well as most land-dwelling animals. And to us moderns that’s an obvious problem. But was it to the ancients? I wouldn’t know.

                    • AdamHazzard

                      Just to clarify, I’m not saying that everything in the OT is as odious as the works of Thomas Dixon — I’m just pointing out that we routinely pass judgment on the moral quality of myths, legends, folk tales and works of literary fiction, for good or ill.

                      Nor does it necessarily trivialize such works to point out that they’re not literally true. Two literary works that inspired the fight against slavery and the resistance to slavery were Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the OT story of Moses leading his people out of Egypt. Neither are literally true, but both had an important liberating influence.

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

                      I understand what you’re saying, Adam, but I’m not sure you get my point. God wiping out almost all of humanity is odious to us, but what was the point of view of the original audience?

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

                      I’ll add this to what I wrote below: If it turns out that observing every seventh day as a day of rest was an invention of the OT authors, then as a blue-collar liberal, I have to give the OT really high marks for that alone. In fact, I suspect that God’s ultimate goal is that we have three day weekends. First the Jews gave us Saturday off, then the Christians gave us Sunday, and don’t the Muslims take Friday off?

                  • AdamHazzard

                    I would add, we would still pass judgment on Thomas Dixon’s novel even if there had not been “wide-spread anti-racist mores in existence at the time.” The question isn’t just the book’s moral standing in comparison with the books of its day; the question extends to its moral standing in the light of what we know now.

                    Moreover, it seems as if you’re asking whether the compilers of the OT were any worse than their neighbors. Perhaps not, and perhaps that’s a slightly exculpatory fact regarding their own knowledge and motives — but it doesn’t make the stories themselves any less intrinsically repugnant.

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

              Except when you do you have to take the literature as it is, not as you think it would have been if it was historical, so for example if the flood story states that all people were incorrigibly wicked except for one family, then you can’t say God wiped out innocent people by pointing out in the real world children are innocent for example. Or if the text states the Canaanites were killed because they were all wicked you can’t turn around and point out in the real world that’s unlikely.

              • Walter

                How wicked can very small children be, Matt?

                • R0c1

                  I think you have misunderstood his argument. He’s saying that it’s incorrect to cherry pick the text for bad stuff and say the story is bad. If the story limits God’s killing to people who were wicked – and it does – then we have to evaluate the moral content of the story while considering that fact.

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

                    Right so a text which contains a story (possibly in fact a myth) about a God who kills all the wicked and preserves the innocent, is not obviously a story of a moral monster.

                    To argue that if the myth were history a key claim of the story (that everyone killed was guilty) is false, then modify the story so that falsehood is not there and then pronounce the changed story as horrific does not provide any basis for the claim that the original story is horrific.

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

                      That depends on the case.

                      For example, if someone tells me a story in which a being tortures people for fun, and the story also says that such being is morally perfect, one may well say that if the being in question actually had tortured people for fun, he wouldn’t have been morally perfect.

                      In other words, one needn’t assume the moral claims made in the story when one is assuming non-moral descriptions.

                      If a story said (for instance) that human toddlers deserved to die and for that reason character X killed them, one may well assess that if character X killed them, that would not have been an act of justice, as it’s not possible for (normal human) toddlers to deserve to die.

                      But for instance, if we see a story according to which there is some entity, say Yahweh, who:

                      a. Commands the following:

                      1. Women who have sex before marriage and marry a man who doesn’t know it shall be stoned to death (so are women whose ‘tokens of their virginity’ are not to be found even if they did not have sex, though that is just due to brutal ignorance).

                      2. Daughters of priests who become prostitutes (the women, not the priests) are to be burned to death.

                      3. Men and women who get into a marriage involving a man, a woman and her mother, are to be burned to death.

                      4. Women and non-human animals who have sex with each other are to be put to death (in context, plausibly by stoning).

                      5. Men who have sex with men are to be put to death (in context, plausibly by stoning).

                      b. Claims or implies that following the commands above are acts of justice, since the people to which they are applied deserve such fate.

                      Then one may use one’s sense of right and wrong to assess that the entity in question, Yahweh, is not morally good, given his commands, and/or that those who received his commands should not have followed them absent sufficient threat from Yahweh (and in that case, they shouldn’t have followed the commands willingly, or considering them good), etc.

                      There is no error in the previous assessments, and saying that the story is not horrific just because the story itself claims that all those people deserve such punishments for those actions would not be a good objection.

                      In general, one need not assume the moral claims in a story in order to assess the morality of the characters/actions in the story.

                    • Walter

                      In general, one need not assume the moral claims in a story in order to assess the morality of the characters/actions in the story.

                      Exactly.

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

                      Just to add two more cents:

                      There is a difference between cases in which a moral assessment (or an epistemic assessment) is given as a
                      description of some people’s character and no description in non-moral (or epistemic) terms that might be in conflict with it is given, and cases in which one assess that there is such description.

                      For instance, if story S says that just man named ‘Bob’ kills some people because he knows they deserve to die, and the story says nothing else about his targets, there would be no good reason to say that if Bob were real, his actions would be
                      unjust because his targets do not deserve to die.

                      In that story, why the targets deserve to die is left open, but the claim that his targets deserve to die is part of the description of his targets given in the story and nothing
                      more, since there is no moral judgment passed on any behavior, character traits, etc. Moreover, there is nothing else in the description that suggests a conflict with the claim that they deserve to die. The same goes for the statement that Bob knows that they deserve to die.

                      On the other hand, if a story says that Bob is a just man who kills some people because he knows that they deserve to die for adultery, consensual gay sex, or engaging in prostitution while being the daughter of a priest, then the story gives a description of behavior in non-moral terms, and then passes
                      moral judgment on the behavior in question.

                      Since I see conflict between the description in non-moral terms and the moral claims, I would say that in that scenario (i.e., going by that description in non-moral terms), Bob’s actions aren’t just at all, and that Bob is not a just man (or alternatively, I would say that Bob wouldn’t be a good man if
                      he were real, etc.; how to put that is a matter of style).

                      Also, if there is no claim about why Bob’s targets allegedly deserve to die, but part of their description is in conflict with the claim that they deserve to die, one may reasonable object to that as well. For instance, if Bob is said to kill human toddlers because he knows that they deserve to die, one
                      can reply that that would be unjust, since human toddlers cannot deserve to die.

                      What if the story in question also says that the toddlers in question have adult level of intelligence and telekinetic powers that they use to torture people to death for fun?

                      In that case, the story would seem to be misusing the expression ‘human toddlers’, since those entities might look like human toddlers, but wouldn’t be so. In any case, there would be no moral objection to raise in that case, either.

                      Other cases in which one can reasonable raise an objection would be, say, if Bob’s targets are said to deserve to die because they tortured people to death for fun, and Bob justly killed them, because he knew they were guilty because one
                      random stranger told him. In that case, there is no disagreement with the judgment that they deserved to die (not from me), but on the other hand, I would reject the claim that Bob knew it, or that he acted justly.

                      The Old Testament is a case in which there is plenty of room for disagreement, since in most cases either the reasons for which people allegedly are stoned, burned, or otherwise killed are stated, or some of the traits of those people (like being human infants) are also given; there are also descriptions of those following the commands and what they knew, etc., and so on.

                  • Walter

                    I am asking how small children can be considered wicked, even within the bounds of a fictional story. I believe that this is called an internal critique.

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

                      How can it be hundreds of years into the future in a land called Panem where america no longer exists and children fight in the hunger games? How can there by a wizard school at a place called Hogwarts. How can a teenage girl have a vampire as a boyfriend? even within the bounds of a fictional story? Once you accept something is a fictional story and not intended to be an literally accurate account of history then the kinds of issues you raise are simply not sensible

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

                      You’re mistaken. Raising issues like that is perfectly sensible.
                      There is a difference between cases in which a story merely makes statements that do not happen in real life as part of the description of the scenario in which it takes place, and when it makes bad moral or epistemic assessments of what they describe.

                      If a story claims that a vampire does X o Y, it’s not sensible to raise questions like that.

                      But if the story says that the vampire in question is morally just and tortures people for fun, then it’s perfectly sensible to raise the issue that torturing people for fun is not morally just, or to ask ‘how can it be that torturing people for fun is morally just?’ and criticize any reply.

                      Again, accepting a description of a scenario in non-moral terms for the sake of the argument, or even non-contentious moral statements does not make it not sensible to raise issues when one assesses that a false moral claim was made.

                      If a story claims that human toddlers deserved to be hacked to pieces, it’s perfectly sensible to raise the issue that it’s a false moral claim, and ask . Human toddlers are not the kind of being who can deserve to be hacked to pieces.

                      And if someone claimed that the toddlers in question had the intelligence of adults and used their telekinetic powers to torture people to death for fun (for instance), then that would seem to be a misuse of the expression ‘human toddlers’, but regardless, in that case, there is no moral issue to be raised.

                      Yet, if there is nothing in the story suggesting that those weren’t actually children, or were some sort of monsters, etc., so the question is very pertinent.

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

                      If a story claims that a vampire does X o Y,
                      it’s not sensible to raise questions like that.But if the story says that the vampire in question is morally just and tortures people for fun, then it’s perfectly sensible to raise the issue that torturing people for fun is not morally just, or to ask ‘how can it be that torturing people for fun is morally just?’
                      and criticize any reply.

                      I am unaware where in the flood story God tortures people for
                      fun, in the flood story he kills all the wicked and preserves the
                      innocent. (Moreover there is in fact a background of Mesopotamian flood stories in the background being satirised. )

                      Again, accepting a description of a scenario in non-moral terms for the sake of the argument, or even non-contentious moral statements does not make it not sensible to raise issues when one assesses that a false moral claim was made.

                      But my argument was that the story does accept a description in for the sake of argument, it assumes that all people on the earth are gravely wicked accept for Noah and his family, the moral claim is that God kills the wicked and preserves the innocent, it concludes with the conclusion that God
                      decides to tolerate humanity despite their wickedness

                      If a story claims that human toddlers deserved to be hacked to pieces, it’s perfectly sensible to raise the issue that it’s a false moral claim, and ask . Human toddlers are not the kind of being who can deserve to be hacked to pieces.

                      But if a story does not state what you just said, but instead refers to wicked people being justly killed its perfectly sensible to suggest this moral claim is not obviously absurd.

                      And if someone claimed that the toddlers in
                      question had the intelligence of adults and used their telekinetic powers to torture people to death for fun (for instance), then that would seem to be a misuse of the expression ‘human toddlers’, but regardless, in that case, there is no moral issue to be raised.

                      Right, and if the story said that all the people killed were really evil then there is no moral issue of killing the innocent to be raised is there?

                      Yet, if there is nothing in the story suggesting that those weren’t actually children, or were some sort of monsters, etc., so the question is very pertinent.

                      Actually the story says nothing explicitly say any thing about children, it refers to all humanity and states explicitly that they were all wicked, so the question is not pertinent.

                      Skeptics write into the story claims that there were innocent children killed, this claim is not in the reference of the story at all. The story says all the people were killed and in the story it has just stated all the people were wicked, so what the story affirms is the claim that God killed all the wicked people.

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

                      I am unaware where in the flood story God tortures people for fun, in the flood story he kills all the wicked and preserves the innocent. (Moreover there is in fact a background of Mesopotamian flood stories in the background being satirised. )

                      You’re missing the point here. Obviously, Yahweh does not torture people for fun in the story. But that’s also not my point. What I’m pointing out is that while in some cases it would not be sensible to raise questions about how something possible, make points contradicting some of the statements in the story (like a vampire does X or Y), in other cases it is perfectly sensible to ask questions/make such points, etc.
                      I make that point in order to reply to your general claim against raising moral issues in fictional stories (and, by the way, in many cases one needn’t assume it’s fiction, either; one may just assess the hypothetical scenario without taking a stance in the context of the criticism on the question of whether the story is real).

                      In particular, it makes perfect sense sometimes to accept some of the statements describing the actions of certain characters in non-moral terms, and then come up with an objection to the moral statements also made in that story.

                      In this case, if a story claims that Yahweh kills all people who deserved to be killed but no innocents, but he kills toddlers, then it makes perfect sense to (for instance) ask how a toddler can deserve to be killed, or even say it can’t (not supertoddlers, but just toddlers), which is a perfectly reasonable moral assessment to make.

                      Again, accepting a description of a scenario in non-moral terms for the sake of the argument, or even non-contentious moral statements does not make it not sensible to raise issues when one assesses that a false moral claim was made.

                      But my argument was that the story does accept a description in for the sake of argument, it assumes that all people on the earth are gravely wicked accept for Noah and his family, the moral claim is that God kills the wicked and preserves the innocent, it concludes with the conclusion that God decides to tolerate humanity despite their wickedness

                      I understand your argument, but you seem to be missing mine.
                      Here, part of the description of the scenario is that all people on Earth deserve to die. That is definitely a moral statement, and a contentious one at that. That’s because “all people on Earth” includes toddlers, so the claim in particular entails that it’s possible that toddlers (not supertoddlers with adult-like minds, but just human toddlers) deserve to die. That is a moral contention that one may sensibly take issue with (not the only one in the story, though).

                      But if a story does not state what you just said, but instead refers to wicked people being justly killed its perfectly sensible to suggest this moral claim is not obviously absurd.

                      You mean, if a story just says that, say, Batman is just and kills wicked people because they deserve to die, and he knows that they deserve to die?
                      Sure, but there are such cases.
                      But on the other hand, there are cases in which the story may provides other elements (explicit or implicit) that allow one to reckon that the people that are called ‘wicked’ are not so and/or that they do not deserve to die, and/or that even if they do, Batman does not know it.
                      Whether or not a certain account is one in which there are moral objections that one can sensibly raise is a matter to be determined based on the account, not one that can be ruled out beforehand because the account is fictional (though as I mentioned, in many cases, one needn’t assume it’s fictional; one may leave that open; still, the assumption wouldn’t hurt in this case, either, at least when it comes to assessments involving children).

                      For instance, you said earlier:

                      Except when you do you have to take the literature as it is, not as you think it would have been if it was historical, so for example if the flood story states that all people were incorrigibly wicked except for one family, then you can’t say God wiped out innocent people by pointing out in the real world children are innocent for example.

                      But one may point out that in any scenario young human children (not entities that look like them, but entities with their actual mental makeup) do not deserve to die. That’s a reasonable reply.
                      One needn’t (and shouldn’t) make counterpossible first-order ethical assumptions when assessing the moral character of people or actions in a hypothetical scenario; that would defeat the purposes of making a moral assessment, but it is sensible to make moral assessments in many hypothetical situations.

                      Or if the text states the Canaanites were killed because they were all wicked you can’t turn around and point out in the real world that’s unlikely.

                      One may point out that in any world, that’s not possible if it includes Canaanite children, and those were (in the story) children, not some other entities that do not look like children.

                      When Walter raised the point: “I am asking how small children can be considered wicked, even within the bounds of a fictional story. I believe that this is called an internal critique.”, you replied

                      How can it be hundreds of years into the future in a land called Panem where america no longer exists and children fight in the hunger games? How can there by a wizard school at a place called Hogwarts. How can a teenage girl have a vampire as a boyfriend? even within the bounds of a fictional story? Once you accept something is a fictional story and not intended to be an literally accurate account of history then the kinds of issues you raise are simply not sensible

                      What I’ve been explaining is that sometimes it is sensible to ask such questions, and Walter’s question is one of those if a story makes the impossible claim or implication that some small children are wicked.

                      Right, and if the story said that all the people killed were really evil then there is no moral issue of killing the innocent to be raised is there?

                      That depends on whether the story provides other (implicit or explicit) descriptive elements that would allow a reader to reckon that some of those people are actually not evil at all. Implications that some of those people were human toddlers (again, no supertoddlers, etc.) would be one such element, since in that case the story is implying that human toddlers can be really evil. But they can’t.

                      Actually the story says nothing explicitly say any thing about children, it refers to all humanity and states explicitly that they were all wicked, so the question is not pertinent.

                      The point needn’t be explicit. It’s plausibly implicit in the context of the story (readers can assess the matter for themselves) that some of the people being killed were, in fact, young children, since they talk about ‘all of humanity’ and make no mention of the exceptional situation of there not being children. The writers clearly did not mean to exclude them.
                      Still, when the issue is raised, someone (say, Bob) might insist that they don’t interpret the story like that, but they interpret that there were no young children. That would remove that moral issue from a critique of Bob’s beliefs about the morality of the characters in the story. On the other hand, it might be argued that Bob is not interpreting the story in a reasonable fashion. That’s not a moral objection, but it’s still an objection.
                      Leaving that aside, Bob would have a lot more trouble if he also claims that the story is real, because he would have avoided the moral objection at the cost of claiming that there were no young children, which would make the account look even more ludicrous than it already is in the eyes of many others.
                      On the other hand, the person raising the issue needn’t concern herself with whether or not the story is said to be real.
                      There are, of course, other ways of raising objections here. For instance, instead of saying that the killer is unjust, someone might say that going by the description in non-moral terms, one may reckon that either the killer is killing innocents, or there are no young children anywhere on Earth in the story (also, one may raise issues of killing non-human animals, etc).

                      Skeptics write into the story claims that there were innocent children killed, this claim is not in the reference of the story at all. The story says all the people were killed and in the story it has just stated all the people were wicked, so what the story affirms is the claim that God killed all the wicked people.

                      1. It’s plausibly implicit in context that the whole of humanity did not exclude children. There is also a case to be made about non-human animals. But in any case, that would be a matter of debating interpretations; it would still not be proper to reject the claim on a basis that it’s fictional and so other rules apply (though in this context and for the purposes of critique the person making the claim that innocent people were killed needn’t take a stance on whether the story is real).

                      2. Your claim about ‘skeptics’ would be an overgeneralization even if your interpretation of the text were correct. There are skeptics who don’t use the Flood as part of their argumentation. In fact, I usually don’t use it because I think that there are cases that leave much less room for ‘creative’ interpretations.
                      While I disagree with your interpretation of the Flood account, I’m a lot more interested in arguing against the general objection you’re raising (see above), rather than on making a Flood-based argument. For that matter, if a YEC claimed that there were no young children on Earth at that time, I would not bother objecting.

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

                      On the issue of making Flood-based arguments, upon further consideration of the Flood story, and also considering the New Testament, I’ve come to realize that I can make a reasonably strong argument based on it, placing potential creative interpretations in a difficult position.

                    • Walter

                      I am a little slow, but I think that I am catching on. In the entirely fictional world of the Hebrew scriptures children can be considered wicked due to the sins of their parents and/or distant ancestors, and the tribal deity can order humans to kill each other in cruel and sadistic ways while still being considered supremely benevolent because the rules of morality within the story are far different than they are here in the real world.

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

                      You may be many things but you’re not slow.

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

                      Actually I was talking about how factual claims can be different in a fictional story. In this case the factual claim is that all people except one person on earth are wicked. Nowhere does the flood story say anything about children being wicked because they inherited there parents sin.

                      The point is that in the fictional world of the flood story, God kills all the guilty people and preserves the life of the innocent. Thats a picture of a just God. The claim he kills innocent people is not in the story, its the result of assuming that factual claims about what children are like in the real world and drawing the inference that if God killed everyone in the fictional world he must have killed children who exist in the actual world.

                    • Walter

                      Matt, I am happy to believe that both the flood story and the conquest narratives are complete works of fiction (I believe that this Randal’s position). Where the problem lies is when Christian believers tell us that these stories are at least partially true, then they proceed to defend Yahweh’s actions within the narrative as being good.

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

                  Walter you just missed the point of what I said, read it again. If AdamHazzard is reading it as fictional and not historical that question does not apply. In a fictional world all people can be guilty of sin, its only when we assume the fictional world maps the real historical world that that becomes an issue. But Adamhazzard says he is not doing that.

  • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

    Again Craig does not make the argument you mention, he does mention the theocracy with regards to the mosaic law and makes the point that modern pluralistic nations are not parties to the kind of theocratic vassal treaty which he thinks provide rationale for all those laws, but nowhere does he offer an argument like 1 2 and 3 in fact Craig has repeatedly explicitly denied that the command was to genocide an entire people he is clear he thinks it was to drive them out and to only kill those who stayed, which while killing is not genocide. So to keep claiming Craig is giving reasons for genocide is simply false.

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

      “Craig has repeatedly explicitly denied that the command was to genocide an entire people he is clear he thinks it was to drive them out and to only kill those who stayed, which while killing is not genocide.”

      That is genocide. Go back and read the UN definition adopted in 1948.

      • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

        No it’s not read the case law which applies the convention, specifically prosecuted vs Kupreskic which found that the killing of Muslims in Bosnian villages did not fall under the crime of Genocide if it was done to drive the people from the land as opposed to exterminate the group physically, also Jorgic v Germany also found that this was the position of the case law.

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

          Matt, I take it you recognize that Prosecutor v. Kupreški? represents a dissenting position from the standard legal definition of genocide since 1948. For you to cite a minority dissenting opinion and suggest that it represents a mainstream view of how the concept “genocide” is to be applied in case law strikes me as disingenuous.

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

            Actually my understanding is that it’s not a minority dissenting view, jorgic in facts stated it was majority view.

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

              I’ll write an article about this since it is a really important topic.

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

                Sure, ill just add that the case I was reading today Prosecution vs Omar Ahmad al basher the majority appeared to draw the same conclusion.

              • R0c1

                The definition of a word is important so that we can better communicate, but it doesn’t really matter on the question of Biblical morality. Let’s suppose 1 Sam 15 is not genocide, it’s “FooBar”. Okay, then I think “FooBar” is morally abhorrent.

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

                  Seconded.

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

                    I disagree, the claim that an act is Genocide has considerable more rhetorical sting and considerable more conatations associated with it than the claim it was an killing which you think is unjustified. The claim “Craig supports Genocide” is very different from “Craig thinks there are rare cases where killing non combatants is justified” and I suspect the reason people use the former is precisely because of the rhetorical advantage it gives.

                    Moreover remember Randal’s argument relies on an absolute moral claim: Its never morally acceptable to commit Genocide. That claim is plausible when its used of Genocide, its not so obvious when its used of killing the innocent.

                    Finally, to say this does not matter is a bit like saying that if a man has commited assault, its legitimate to run around claiming he is a murderer. After all both acts are illegal so it makes no difference. I suspect a judge in a defamation case would think differently.

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

                      “I suspect the reason people use the former is precisely because of the rhetorical advantage it gives.”

                      This is an observation that applies equally well in reverse. You adopt a particular narrow definition of genocide so that Craig’s views won’t be tarred with that ignominious brush.

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

                      No in previous writings I assumed the definition that critics like Wes Moriston and Ed Curley worked with. That’s normal procedure in a dialogue take the terms as your opponent defines the, and respond. Then some people began criticising me quoting the 1948 definition, it struck me the definition being used was flawed and so I began to examine the case law to see if my objections had been met. When I did I found the courts in fact did not define Genocide that way. So I pionted it out.

                      I don’t think you should make accusations of Genocide or serious offences lightly even if I do think the views of someone I disagree with is mistaken.

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

                      I disagree, the claim that an act is Genocide has considerable more rhetorical sting and considerable more conatations associated with it than the claim it was an killing which you think is unjustified. The claim “Craig supports Genocide” is very different from “Craig thinks there are rare cases where killing non combatants is justified” and I suspect the reason people use the former is precisely because of the rhetorical advantage it gives.

                      You say you disagree, implying that what you’re saying above is in conflict with what I said. Maybe you misunderstood. What I seconded is that the morality of Yahweh’s actions and of the actions of those following his commands does not depend on how the word ‘genocide’ is defined.

                      Incidentally, the claim I would make is not “Craig thinks there are rare cases where killing non combatants is justified”, but “Craig defends the morally abhorrent massacres described in the Bible as commanded by Yahweh”.

                      One need not use the word ‘genocide’ in order to use strong language when one reckons it’s warranted, though I wouldn’t have a problem using it when it fits.

                      Moreover remember Randal’s argument relies on an absolute moral claim: Its never morally acceptable to commit Genocide. That claim is plausible when its used of Genocide, its not so obvious when its used of killing the innocent.

                      As I explained in my replies to Randall, I do not find the claim that genocide is always immoral to be intuitively plausible, after considering a number of unrealistic but plausibly metaphysically possible hypothetical scenarios.

                      Moreover, a case against biblical genocide need not rely on a
                      generalization like that. Why would a generalization be any stronger than a moral assessment of the specific case?
                      After all, a generalization is usually proposed after considering individual cases in which it seems to hold, and then tested against individual cases, in which one uses one’s sense of right and wrong in order to assess the matter.

                      Finally, to say this does not matter is a bit like saying that if a man has commited assault, its legitimate to run around claiming he is a murderer. After all both acts are illegal so it makes no difference. I suspect a judge in a defamation case would think differently.

                      No, that is not remotely analogous.

                      How we define a word is irrelevant to the matter of whether the action of an agent (in the real world or in a hypothetical scenario) is immoral, and how immoral
                      it is.

                      What you’re talking about here is about the legality of lying about what illegal action someone committed, and apparently suggesting an analogy with the morality of claiming that they behaved in a way that they did not (e.g., like claiming that Craig did X, if he did not).

                      But that’s not what I’m talking about. Of course, lying about what people did is often immoral, etc. But here I was talking about the fact that the morality of the actions of Yahweh and those who followed them (in the story), which is independent of definitions of words.

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

                      You say you disagree, implying that what you’re saying above is in conflict with what I said. Maybe you misunderstood. What I seconded is that the morality of
                      Yahweh’s actions and of the actions of those following his commands does not depend on how the word ‘genocide’ is defined.

                      But the topic Randal and I were discussing, wether Craig defends Genocide, does depend on how Genocide is defined.

                      Incidentally, the claim I would make is not “Craig thinks there are rare cases where killing non combatants is justified”, but “Craig defends the morally abhorrent massacres described in the Bible as commanded by Yahweh”.

                      Actually all that does is describe Craig’s position with
                      question begging rhetoric.

                      One need not use the word ‘genocide’ in order to use strong language when one reckons it’s warranted, though I wouldn’t have a problem using it when it fits.

                      I myself oppose describing a moral or theological stance you disagree with as “Genocide” when (a) its not and (b) doing so tends to use rhetoric in a manner that perjorative labels your opponent to prejudice there case.

                      Moreover, a case against biblical genocide need not rely on a generalization like that. Why would a generalization be any stronger than amoral assessment of the specific case?

                      That argument again assumes its a case of “biblical Genocide” the question at issue. But If the premise in the argument is, that this particular case is immoral then the argument will beg the question, moreover moral argumentation about one case almost invariably is defended by appealing to a broader principle which applies to the case.

                      After all, a generalization is usually proposed after considering individual cases in which it seems to hold, and then tested against individual cases, in which one uses one’s sense of right and wrong in order to assess the matter.

                      Its not clear to me that ethics does proceed “inductively” like this, I am inclined to think we know many cases are wrong on the basis of rules rather than always getting the rules from a generalisation of cases.

                      What you’re talking about here is about the legality of lying about what illegal action someone committed, and apparently suggesting an analogy with the morality of claiming that they behaved in a way that they did not (e.g., like claiming that Craig did X, if he did not).

                      Exactly, like say misleadingly saying Craig supports a certain illegal action ( genocide) when he does not.

                      But that’s not what I’m talking about. Of course,
                      lying about what people did is often immoral, etc. But here I was talking about the fact that the morality of the actions of Yahweh and those who followed them (in the story), which is independent of definitions of

                      Actually, Randal and I were talking about whether
                      Craig’s defends Genocide, and he doesn’t, he does not believe the texts describe Genocide, though he grants they may involve killing non combatants, the soundness of a moral argument can depend on how words are defined, there is
                      a fallacy known as the fallacy of equivocation which turns on this fact.

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

                      But the topic Randal and I were discussing, wether Craig defends Genocide, does depend on how Genocide is defined.

                      That was one of the issues you were talking about. But that’s not what I was talking about. Randall said that the matter was very important, and both Walter and R0c1 replied basically saying that the actions described in the text would be immoral regardless of the definition of genocide; in particular, R0c1 replied that “The definition of a word is important so that we can better communicate, but it doesn’t really matter on the question of Biblical morality. Let’s suppose 1 Sam 15 is not genocide, it’s “FooBar”. Okay, then I think “FooBar” is morally abhorrent.”, and I agreed with that.
                      Then, you said you disagreed with me, but imisunderstood, since you weren’t really saying that the morality of those actions depended on the definition of genocide.

                      Actually all that does is describe Craig’s position with question begging rhetoric.

                      There is no question-begging in using one’s sense of right and wrong to make a moral assessment. There is no question to be begged. Granted, you may disagree with my assessment, and then we have a moral disagreement, and readers would make their own assessments.

                      I myself oppose describing a moral or theological stance you disagree with as “Genocide” when (a) its not and (b) doing so tends to use rhetoric in a manner that perjorative labels your opponent to prejudice there case.

                      I myself oppose describing a behavior (hypothetical or real) as ‘genocide’ when it’s not. But that’s beside my point.

                      That argument again assumes its a case of “biblical Genocide” the question at issue. But If the premise in the argument is, that this particular case is immoral then the argument will beg the question, moreover moral argumentation about one case almost invariably is defended by appealing to a broader principle which applies to the case.

                      No, that does not assume that it’s a case of biblical genocide, but it’s a claim that if such a case is to be made (of course, you might object by claiming it’s not genocide), one need not make the generation in question (though quite frankly, there are some cases that seem to fit the definition quite well).
                      The issue of moral argumentation in common cases raises an interesting question. While I don’t know that’s almost invariably the case (intuitive appeals are also very common), it is very common indeed. But I would argue it’s generally if not always weaker, upon reflection, than considering the particular case; precisely particular cases are used as counterexamples to generalizations, and generalizations tend to be established by induction from particular cases.

                      Its not clear to me that ethics does proceed “inductively” like this, I am inclined to think we know many cases are wrong on the basis of rules rather than always getting the rules from a generalisation of cases.

                      There is a difference in knowing that something is wrong on the basis of rules and knowing what the rules are, consciously. Moreover, explicit generalizations, even if correct, needn’t reflect the actual rules we apply.
                      So, in particular, I would say that we know many (maybe all) such cases on the basis or intuitive rules (however we acquire them; that’s another matter, but they become intuitive), but induction procedures are used in order to come up with explicit formulations of general principles, which may or may not be correct, and even when they are, may not track the actual procedure used intuitively.
                      We see this pattern when, say, a philosopher proposes a moral theory or a principle involving one or more generalizations, and then other philosophers come up with exceptions in order to debunk it.
                      The proposed generalizations are in many cases based on induction (though not always, I guess; someone might try alleged revelation or something); in particular, the person proposing the theory has tried but failed to falsify it intuitively.
                      The debunking almost invariably rely on trying to come up with specific cases in which our intuitions (there might be some disagreement sometimes) yield a result different from that presented by the theory. An example of that can be seen precisely in the case of genocide.
                      If you have another method (other than induction) to come up with explicit formulations of general principles, I would like to know what it is.
                      But in the particular case of genocide, the way to look at the matter would be to consider specific instances of genocide (hypothetical or real) and try to come up with exceptions.

                      Actually, Randal and I were talking about whether Craig’s defends Genocide, and he doesn’t, he does not believe the texts describe Genocide, though he grants they may involve killing non combatants, the soundness of a moral argument can depend on how words are defined, there is a fallacy known as the fallacy of equivocation which turns on this fact.

                      1. As I explained above in this post, in this part of the exchange you were objecting to my point, and I’m pointing out that the objection misses what I was saying. I wasn’t objecting (or defending) your position in your debate with Randall on the meaning of the word.
                      2. The fact that Craig does not believe that the word ‘genocide’ is an accurate description of what the texts describe does not entail that Craig does not defend genocide.
                      It’s a case similar to my assessment that Craig defends infinite torture in Hell, even though I do know (and say) that he does not believe that the word ‘torture’ properly describes what he describes by ‘Hell’. I say he’s wrong about that, but he’s still defending infinite torture, even if he mistakenly believes that what he is defending wouldn’t be properly called ‘torture’.
                      By the way, I’m not misrepresenting Craig by making that assessment. I’m saying he’s mistaken, and still defending infinite torture in Hell.
                      For that matter (as an analogy), if someone defended marital rape and refused to call it ‘rape’, they would still defending a form of rape.
                      3. I do know what the fallacy of equivocation is, but I don’t know where you claim is being committed. I would like to ask for more details on that (in any case, I am not committing it).

                    • AgeOfReasonXXI

                      “…. I suspect the reason people use the former is precisely because of the rhetorical advantage it gives.”

                      Matt, instead of ‘suspecting’, it helps to actually listen to what people are saying– the reason that even Christians appear to have no problem with saying that Craig defends genocide is precisely because… well, Craig defends genocide!

                      And how many times it has to be pointed out to you (including by Rauser) that whether Craig thinks he defends genocide or not, by trying to sugar-coat it in terms of ‘driving out’ (which makes Craig even more despicable), is irrelevant.

                      Do yourself a favor and read Rauser’s six posts again. I’m sure it’s not that difficult to to see the problem with your stubborn refusal to accept that in fact (that is, in REALITY, regardless of what he thinks), this spin doctor does defend g….(do I have to type it again?)

              • Walter

                The actions of the ancient Hebrews would still be morally atrocious, regardless of the 21st century western definition of genocide.

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

                  Indeed.

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

                  that assault my neighbour commited is still morally atrocious regardless of how modern people define murder. So I’ll go around the net telling people my neighbour is a serial murderer.

                  • Walter

                    Whether it was technically mass homicide rather than genocide makes little difference to me. Wrangle over the current legal definitions all you want.

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

            In a recent dafur case, the court stated that Prosecuter v Kristic found the same conclusion.

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

            Just for the record, here is what a net search over a 24 hour period found:

            47. Amongst scholars, the majority have
            taken the view that ethnic cleansing, in the way in which it was carried out by the Serb forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to expel Muslims and Croats from their homes, did not constitute genocide (see, amongst many others, William A.Schabas, Genocide in International Law: the crime of crimes, Cambridge 2000,
            pp. 199 et seq.).[ Germany v Jorge s 47]”

            “The term ‘ethnic cleansing’ has frequently been employed to
            refer to the events in Bosnia and Herzegovina which are the subject of this case … General Assembly resolution 47/121 referred in its Preamble to ‘the abhorrent policy of ‘ethnic cleansing’, which is a form of genocide’, as being carried on in Bosnia and Herzegovina. … It [i.e. ethnic cleansing] can only be a form of genocide within the meaning of the Convention, if it corresponds to or falls within one of the categories of acts prohibited by Article II of the Convention. Neither the intent, as a matter of policy, to render an area “ethnically homogeneous”, nor the operations that may be carried out to implement such policy, can as such be designated as genocide: the intent that characterizes genocide is “to destroy, in whole or in part” a particular group, and deportation or displacement of the members of a group, even if effected by force, is not necessarily equivalent to destruction of that group, nor is such destruction an automatic consequence of the displacement. This is not to say that acts described as ‘ethnic cleansing’ may never constitute genocide, if they are such as to be characterized as, for example, ‘deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part’,contrary to Article II, paragraph (c), of the Convention, provided such action is carried out with the necessary specific intent (dolus specialis), that is to say with a view to the destruction of the group, as distinct from its removal from the region. As the ICTY has observed, while ‘there are obvious similarities between a genocidal policy and the policy commonly known as ‘ethnic cleansing” (Krstic?, IT-98-33-T,Trial Chamber Judgment, 2 August 2001, para. 562), yet ‘[a] clear distinction must be drawn between physical destruction and mere dissolution of a group. The expulsion of a group or part of a group does not in itself suffice for genocide. …” Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro

            “519. It does not suffice to deport a group or a part of a
            group. A clear distinction must be drawn between physical destruction and mere dissolution of a group. The expulsion of a group or part of a group does not in itself suffice for genocide .1097 As Kreß has stated, “[t]his is true even if the expulsion can be characterised as a tendency to the dissolution of the group, taking the form of its fragmentation or assimilation. This is because the dissolution of the group is not to be equated with physical destruction”.1098 In this context the Chamber recalls that a proposal by Syria
            in the Sixth Committee to include “[i]mposing measures intended to oblige members of a group to abandon their homes in order to escape the threat of subsequent ill-treatment” as a separate sub-paragraph of Article II of the
            Convention against Genocide was rejected by twenty-nine votes to five, with eight abstentions.1099 [prosecution v Stakic, para 519]

            “VI. LEGAL FINDINGS

            A. General

            749. In the course of this trial, the Trial Chamber has had
            to assess the involvement, if any, of the six accused and their potential culpability within a tragic episode of the armed conflict that raged in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1994. On 16 April 1993, in a matter of few hours, some 116 inhabitants, including women and children, of Ahmi}i, a small village in central Bosnia, were killed and about 24 were wounded; 169 houses and two mosques were destroyed. The victims were Muslim civilians. The Trial Chamber is satisfied, on the evidence before it in this case, that this was not a combat operation. Rather, it was a well-planned and well-organised killing of civilian members of an ethnic group, the Muslims, by the military of another ethnic group, the Croats. The primary purpose of the massacre was to expel the Muslims from the village, by killing many of them, by burning their houses and their livestock, and by illegally detaining and deporting the survivors to another area.The ultimate goal of these acts was to spread terror among the population so as to deter the members of that particular ethnic group from ever returning to their homes …

            751…In the crime of genocide the criminal intent is to
            destroy the group or its members; in the crime of persecution the criminal intent is instead to forcibly discriminate against a group or members thereofby grossly and systematically violating their fundamental human rights. In the present case, according to the Prosecution – and this is a point on which the Trial Chamber agrees – the killing of Muslim civilians was primarily aimed at expelling the group from the village, not at destroying the Muslim group as such. This is therefore a case of persecution, not of genocide” is Prosecutor v. Kupreskic et
            al. para 749, 751

            So much for it being dissenting opinions ?

    • R0c1

      “only kill those who stayed”

      Does this interpretation apply to 1 Sam. 15 too?

      • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

        I dont know how Craig interprets 1 Sam 15, but the obvious point is that in 1 Sam 30, the Amalekites still exist, they raid Davids city, he pursues them defeats them in battle and several hundred flee. So the text of Samuel, follows 1 Sam 15 up with accounts which suggest that the Amalekites were not literally wiped out. Moreover, some commentators have pointed out obvious hyperbole in the text of 1 Samuel 15 such as the size of the army and battle field for example.

        The point is that a face value reading is not obviously correct.

        • R0c1

          Agreed.

          The disturbing part of 1 Sam 15 is not the historicity which I doubt, it’s the reason given for trying to kill people:

          This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt…

          This war was not to drive people out and make room for other people – it’s was to enact revenge on folks who attacked Moses. The problem is, those people were probably dead. Here we have a passage claiming that God wanted to kill non-combatants because of sins that happened 300-400 years ago. I’m not sure why God would think this is a good idea, but that’s what the text is saying about Him. Do you agree?

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

            I am not convinced your interpretation is correct. First, my interlinear does not use the phrase “Amalekites” it uses the singular “Amalek”, refering to the nation, not the individual members of the nation. Nations can be held accountable for actions which occured generations ago when its citizens died. In NZ where I live for example the government is required to make compensation to various maori tribal groups whose land was confiscated by the government 150 years ago, and for breachs of a treat that was signed 170 years ago.

            Second, Amalek had been involved in several additional agressive wars against Isreal during the 300-440 year period you mention.

            Second, as I pointed out in some of my writings, the writer moves between the historical crimes of the nation Amalek and the fact that the current leadership is still prosecuting such crimes, so for example when Samuel rephrases his command latter in the passage he refers to the “present” wickedness of the people and also Agag is put to death specifically for crimes of killing innocents he himself commited.

            Finally I was not suggesting the text was fictional, I was suggesting those who authorised it were not intending to affirm it as literally true in all its details rather the story is highly Hyperbolic, which I understand was not an uncommon way of recounting history in that culture.

            • R0c1

              “Nations can be held accountable for actions which occured generations ago when its citizens died.”

              This should not extend to the death penalty. (Imagine learning that your friends have been killed to compensate for an evil they did not do.)

              “Amalek had been involved in several additional agressive wars against Isreal during the 300-440 year period you mention.”

              Okay, I was just going off the justification that’s given in the immediate text. That might be too simplistic a reading.

              “…Samuel rephrases his command latter in the passage he refers to the “present” wickedness of the people”

              This is where the question of children come into mind. They were not wicked, yet they were singled out in the passage to be killed.

              “the story is highly Hyperbolic”

              I also think it’s hyperbolic, but I think Wolterstorff exaggerated this claim in his talk at the My Ways Conference. If you follow his interpretation, we would have some differences there.

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

                Roc1, I agree that the death penalty could not be imposed on a citizen of a nation, for a crime commited by there ancestor. But the claim that a nation could not legitimately face war for an offence it committed centuries earlier and did not turn from is not implausible. Consider again NZ, if the state refused to compensate maori iwi for land they illegally confiscated in the 1840′s and refused to stop occupying this land, and continued to confiscate more, the suggestion that Iwi might consider armed rebellion to get justice is not absurd to me.

                As to the hyperbole, once you grant hyperbole the moral question is not about Genocide, the Genocidal language is war rhetoric it reduces to the issue of whether its ever acceptable to kill non combatants in war. I agree this is a moral problem but its a different moral problem. Many secular ethicists today argue that the principle of non combatant immunity is not absolute and can be overidden in certain situations, and I think in this new context a divine command theory response like Craig’s has a lot more promise. I pointed a lot of this out in the paper I gave at the conference Randall mentions..

  • Pingback: Djesus Uncrossed vs. Christ Crucified #progGOD

  • Hubert Frost

    Hi Angra, I fully agree with you that many OT laws were barbaric and morally wrong. This does not mean, however, that most folks at that time were completely wicked, they lacked moral knowledge and got both morality and God wrong. Nevertheless we cannot ignore passages where there was clear moral improvements.

    For us, it is quite normal that a preacher has women following him, but at Jesus time it was a true revolution.

    Some biblical texts are actually even completely compatible with our western ideas of justice and love. You’re reading the Hebrew Bible in a biased way, focusing on all negative stuff and forgetting the beautiful one. This is the same bias which drove many German theologians during the third Reich.

    When I read a religious text (it might be Greek or Nordic mythology, the Vedas) I try to be as fair and objective as possible and understand the laws in their historical context.

    I don’t believe the Bible fell from the sky but was written by ordinary people like Randal, C.S. Lewis, Ellen White who reported their experiences with God.
    They got things right, but due to the bad influence of the local culture they also got other things wrong.

    The basis of my theology is that God is love (which is central in the new testament) and that He is the most perfect being who can possibly exist.

    That’s my criterion for making the difference between true and false believes in the Bible.

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

      Hi, Hubert,

      I’m not saying that most folks at that time were completely wicked. It’s a situation similar to people today who, say, support the Taliban and their laws, or other immoral laws I mentioned.

      In those cases, people are morally motivated in the sense that they’re motivated to do what they believe is right. But their actions in some cases are very wrong (e.g., the Taliban themselves), and in other, better cases, the people who support that kind of law may be doing so thoughtlessly, and reject its actual application in particular cases.

      Even in the worst cases (i.e., those who really apply those laws, or indeed support their actual application), they were wicked, but not completely so, and not to the extent of, say, a psychopathic serial killer who doesn’t care about morality.

      Rather, those people do good things in much of their lives, where they’re not following those false and brutal moral beliefs, but correct moral beliefs about daily matters that they have acquired intuitively, or from the parts of their religious morality that isn’t wrong.

      Also, I’m not reading the Hebrew Bible in a biased way. I know that some of the commands are good. But I mention the very evil ones because that’s enough for a successful objection. Those commands are enough to show that, overall, that was a very immoral law, since a law with a number of good commands and a number of atrociously evil ones is, overall, pretty bad.

      Regarding your criterion, that seems to be a biased reading, since you’re effectively taking the good stuff and rejecting the bad stuff, instead of taking a look at the overall picture. I don’t know what you mean by “God is love”, but looking at the OT, an ancient Hebrew should not have believed that Yahweh (not God) was morally good. I would say that the same applies to someone looking at the whole Bible today (in any of its common versions), but that’s another argument.

      • Hubert Frost

        Well look at Voltaire. In my homeland he’s still widely regarded as an enlightener and a great man. However some of his writings also contains terrible stuff, like his views on Jews. When French secularist accept and honoured the good things while condemning the bad things, are they guilty of a “biased reading”?

        By the way, the same thing could be said about the French revolution and most philosophers responsible for the enlightenment. Despite what you were taught during your childhood, life is not only black and white but oftentimes also grey so every human being has to “pick and choose”.

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

          Well look at Voltaire. In my homeland he’s still widely regarded as an enlightener and a great man. However some of his writings also contains terrible stuff, like his views on Jews. When French secularist accept and honoured the good things while condemning the bad things, are they guilty of a “biased reading”?

          Of course not. What would be a biased reading would be to make an assessment of Voltaire’s character based only on the good things, while failing to accept the bad things as written by Voltaire.
          There are two different meanings of ‘accept’ at play. I’m not suggesting anyone should accept the bad stuff in the Bible in the sense of agreeing with it. On the contrary, I’m arguing that people ought to reject it.

          By the way, the same thing could be said about the French revolution and most philosophers responsible for the enlightenment. Despite what you were taught during your childhood, life is not only black and white but oftentimes also grey so every human being has to “pick and choose”.

          You don’t know what I was taught during my childhood, but that aside, that would not be “picking and choosing” in the sense of rejecting some of the evidence.
          Yes, the philosophers in question also said bad things, though they didn’t do things as bad as those ascribed to Yahweh in the Bible.
          But what would be a biased reading would be to assess the moral character of those philosophers based only on the good stuff, and conclude that any bad actions (including writings) were not their doing.

          • Hubert Frost

            If it can be shown the philosopher really said those things and his modern followers ignore the evidence, then of course it would be completely biased. But what if the same folks have very strong grounds he is a virtuous man and also that the morally problematic passages could likely be added by later editors? I think they would not be biased to maintain that the philosopher was really a virtuous man.

            If he exists, God is by definition the most perfect being who exists and can possibly exist. If it’s the case then we can know that all religious folks saying or writing immoral things about his character are getting him wrong.

            While reading C.S Lewis I don’t ignore his dark side, like his low view of women, but I find that in many respects he had a very enlightened faith largely superior to that of modern evangelicals tainted by Calvinism and a commitment to inerrancy. Am I biased if I now approvingly quote the good stuff he wrote?

            And if that’s the case, does that mean that in order to approve of an author he has to be flawless?

            According to this logic, philosophy and history books should lose all the citations of various authors.

            Since you are a rational person I guess you don’t hold such a view, do you?

            “Yes, the philosophers in question also said bad things, though they
            didn’t do things as bad as those ascribed to Yahweh in the Bible. ”

            There are several problems with this statement. Once again you are overgeneralizing: as Thom Stark pointed out in his book “the human faces of God” the Bible has different, contradictory voices and is an argument with itself.
            The bad things some authors attributed to God are implicitly criticized by other ones. So Ezechiel’s point that the children should never be punished for the sin of their parents cannot be reconciled with the various genocides allegedly ordered by God in other books.

            I regard the Bible as the writings of ancient people reporting their experience with the divine and continually evolving morally and spiritually. I believe that the fixation of the Canon was a mistake and that this process went on from the early church fathers to C.S Lewis and N.T. Wright.

            And of course there always were and are many people who intentionally propagated a distorted view of God to fulfil their own selfish agenda or simply enjoy their hatred.

            I know my view has several problems but I firmly believe it is a lot more plausible than the traditional evangelical belief that all “Scriptures” are inerrant.

            So, quoting morally repugnant passages of the old or new testaments has the same effect that quoting morally repugnant sentences from Luther, Calvin or for that matter Wesley.

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

              If it can be shown the philosopher really said those things and his modern followers ignore the evidence, then of course it would be completely biased. But what if the same folks have very strong grounds he is a virtuous man and also that the morally problematic passages could likely be added by later editors? I think they would not be biased to maintain that the philosopher was really a virtuous man.

              Sure.

              If he exists, God is by definition the most perfect being who exists and can possibly exist. If it’s the case then we can know that all religious folks saying or writing immoral things about his character are getting him wrong.

              Yes, that’s one of the definitions of ‘God’.
              But ‘Yahweh’ does not mean the same as ‘God’. Yahweh is the name of the biblical creator. If he exists and behaves as in the biblical description of his actions (not assuming the moral claims, of course), he’s not morally good.

              While reading C.S Lewis I don’t ignore his dark side, like his low view of women, but I find that in many respects he had a very enlightened faith largely superior to that of modern evangelicals tainted by Calvinism and a commitment to inerrancy. Am I biased if I now approvingly quote the good stuff he wrote?

              I probably disagree about the merits of some (much) the stuff that you find good (at least, if you’re counting a number of arguments for theism). I don’t know enough about what stuff you’re talking about or why you approve of it to make an assessment.

              And if that’s the case, does that mean that in order to approve of an author he has to be flawless?

              Surely not, though you shouldn’t approve of the parts that are mistaken, at least as far as you should know that he’s mistaken.

              According to this logic, philosophy and history books should lose all the citations of various authors.

              That does not seem to follow. Not approving of them does not imply not citing the good parts, or even the bad ones for the purposes of critique.

              Since you are a rational person I guess you don’t hold such a view, do you?

              Of course not. There is nothing in my posts suggestion that I would hold such a view.

              “Yes, the philosophers in question also said bad things, though they
              didn’t do things as bad as those ascribed to Yahweh in the Bible. ”

              There are several problems with this statement. Once again you are overgeneralizing: as Thom Stark pointed out in his book “the human faces of God” the Bible has different, contradictory voices and is an argument with itself.

              Since I didn’t overgeneralized before, I couldn’t overgeneralize again even if I were overgeneralizing now, which I’m not. But my statement is not problematic. The Bible ascribes to Yahweh really bad things (of course, the Bible does not say they’re bad), some of which I’ve been pointing out in this thread.

              The bad things some authors attributed to God are implicitly criticized by other ones. So Ezechiel’s point that the children should never be punished for the sin of their parents cannot be reconciled with the various genocides allegedly ordered by God in other books.

              1. What particular passage are you talking about?
              2. I do agree that different parts of the Bible are sometimes not possible to reconcile. But I’m assuming the non-moral description of the events, not the moral assessments. So, the case you present can be reconciled.
              Possible ways are:
              a. Someone made a moral claim, and Yahweh believed otherwise.
              b. Yahweh changed his minds.
              c. The reason for killing those children was not punishment.

              So, quoting morally repugnant passages of the old or new testaments has the same effect that quoting morally repugnant sentences from Luther, Calvin or for that matter Wesley.

              No, that’s a confusion. Quoting those passages is a manner of establishing the moral character of Yahweh, assuming the description in the story (minus the moral claims, of course).
              Since many Christians assume that description, that works.
              But if you reject those passages and yet still believe that Yahweh exists and is morally good, you so far haven’t given any good reasons to think so. A definition of ‘God’ does not work, since you’ve not given any good reasons to suspect that Yahweh is God.
              By the way, if you’re going to say ‘Jesus’, or something like that, I don’t agree with that assessment (biblical passages seem to support that Jesus believed the OT law was given by Yahweh, even considered some bad passages good, etc.), but a full discussion of that would probably be OT here; you can find some of my points in replies to other posts, as well as in a moral case against Christianity I posted once in my blog (I would write it somewhat differently now if I had time, but in my assessment the case is strong enough as it is),

              • Hubert Frost


                1. What particular passage are you talking about?
                2. I do agree
                that different parts of the Bible are sometimes not possible to
                reconcile. But I’m assuming the non-moral description of the events, not
                the moral assessments. So, the case you present can be reconciled.
                Possible ways are:
                a. Someone made a moral claim, and Yahweh believed otherwise.
                b. Yahweh changed his minds.
                c. The reason for killing those children was not punishment.”

                With all due respect, you’re looking like an evangelical apologist (Copan, Craig etc.) who engages in possible but utterly implausible harmonization.

                c) does not work because for the biblical authors of Joshua, the slaughter of the Canaanites was Herem, a sacrifice of a sinful population to a deity. Moreover, what can be the reason to kill small babies other than to devote them to destruction because they belong to a wicked people?

                b) is something no conservative Christians would argue for.

                It is clearly stated that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

                The Torah is contradictory in this regard, you will find passages that affirm it and passages that deny it.

                But according to the theology of Ezekiel, God was morally trustworthy and could not lie or change his mind. This is what the best inferences lead to.

                According to my definition of God, it is impossible that God changes his mind morally.

                a) I fully agree with a) and it ironically clearly states that MORAL passages cannot be reconciled.

                The situation is kind of ironic. I’m the Christian, you’re the Atheist and I am arguing that many moral claims about God in the Bible cannot be reconciled whereas you’re arguing there is absolutely no contradiction.

                In that sense you are like modern evangelicals: they argue that there is no moral contradiction at all and that God is perfectly good (and by doing that they completely distort the meaning of many terror texts you are well aware of) and you are arguing that God is a moral monster (and by doing that, you are distorting the meaning of many other passages where God is portrayed as good even according to our modern standard.

                The assertion that many different authors with different backgrounds and worldviews would have the same beliefs about God’s moral nature is an EXTRAORDINARY claim and according to your own standards you ought to provide me with extraordinary evidence.

                Until now I haven’t seen that yet.

                I understand that rhetorically speaking, it is far more efficient to describe God as completely evil in the whole Bible than recognizing there are many different voices about his moral nature.

                But by doing so you are giving up rationality and are engaging in the same kind of apologetic than Paul Copan or Bill Craig.

                Concerning Jesus, many critical scholars are unsure he really said that everything in the Torah is right because it is extremely close to the needs of Matthew’s audience.

                But let us assume he really stated the passage you are referring to.

                He could not have meant that everything in the Torah is good because he clearly taught and did things which contradict many commands. For instance he opposed the divorce law, the stoning of an adultery woman, taught to love ones foe and so on and so forth.

                It is the clear consensus of critical scholars, Christians and non-Christians alike, that this contradicts many statements of the old testament.

                If you want to challenge that conclusion, you have to bring up extremely strong arguments.

                But I think our discussion might be meaningless because we are starting from very different presuppositions.

                I believe that the Bible is a collection of texts from various authors who interpreted their experience with God in exactly the same way many Christians do in the twenty-first century.

                You are assuming that the Biblical texts constantly portrayed an evil superhuman being called Yahweh and are acting as if everything reported about him were right.

                “of course, the Bible does not say they’re bad”

                Well sometimes it does, in one prophetic book it is said that God gave the people wicked laws to fulfil their needs.

                I repeat what I wrote:

                “If it can be shown the philosopher really said those things and his
                modern followers ignore the evidence, then of course it would be
                completely biased. But what if the same folks have very strong grounds
                he is a virtuous man and also that the morally problematic passages
                could likely be added by later editors? I think they would not be biased
                to maintain that the philosopher was really a virtuous man.”

                According to my presuppositions God is morally perfect (otherwise he would not be God but a lesser being), therefore if I find morally problematic stuff that different religious folks (inside and outside the canonical Bible) have said about him, this does not mean he does not exist or is a moral monster but that those people got him wrong.

                So for me to find bad things in Deuteronomy is not more problematic to find bad stuff in the writings of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and so on and so forth.

                This post is now getting old, but if you wish we could pursue the discussion through emails, mine is

                Hubert_frost@yahoo.fr, we could also discuss other topics, this could be enriching for both of us.

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

                  With all due respect, you’re looking like an evangelical apologist (Copan, Craig etc.) who engages in possible but utterly implausible harmonization.

                  No, that may be the way it looks to you. I’m just replying to the claim that those particular passages are not compatible, explaining why the claim is not true. My reply has nothing to do with that of an apologist. Of course, unlike the apologist, I think that the interpretation in question is utterly implausible if we’re talking about what may have actually happened. But for that matter, I don’t think that any other interpretation suggesting that Yahweh exists and is behind the biblical story is anything but utterly implausible.

                  c) does not work because for the biblical authors of Joshua, the slaughter of the Canaanites was Herem, a sacrifice of a sinful population to a deity. Moreover, what can be the reason to kill small babies other than to devote them to destruction because they belong to a wicked people?

                  I meant it wasn’t to punish the children. I thought it was clear in context, but if not, that’s what I meant.
                  It seems to me that a potential interpretation is that the goal was to punish the parents by (among other things) killing the children, not to punish the children for what their parents did.

                  b) is something n o conservative Christians would argue for.

                  Sure, but how is that a problem?
                  First, you incorrectly accuse me of looking like an evangelical apologist, and now you seem to accuse me of using an argument that they would not use?
                  Anyway, that they would not say that does not mean that that is not compatible with the text (unless of course someone says that since parts of the text contradict each other, then nothing is compatible with the text; but that’s not what we’re talking about).

                  It is clearly stated that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

                  1. Where?
                  2. It’s stated that they’re 3 different persons. Why can’t Yahweh change his mind?

                  But according to the theology of Ezekiel, God was morally trustworthy and could not lie or change his mind. This is what the best inferences lead to.

                  No, that’s not a best inference. I’m not assuming of course that their moral claims are true.

                  According to my definition of God, it is impossible that God changes his mind morally.

                  But if Yahweh existed, you can’t make him God by definition. And if we’re talking about the entity described in the story (but not the moral claims), I would assess that he’s not morally good.

                  a) I fully agree with a) and it ironically clearly states that MORAL passages cannot be reconciled.

                  No, I meant someone made a claim that children shouldn’t be punished for the actions of their parents, and Yahweh disagreed.

                  The situation is kind of ironic. I’m the Christian, you’re the Atheist and I am arguing that many moral claims about God in the Bible cannot be reconciled whereas you’re arguing there is absolutely no contradiction.

                  No, I’m not arguing that. I’m saying that the particular claims you mention are not irreconcilable.
                  But in any case, I’m not assuming the moral claims in the Bible, but the description in non-moral terms, so whatever contradictions between moral claims exist, they don’t affect my points.

                  In that sense you are like modern evangelicals: they argue that there is no moral contradiction at all and that God is perfectly g ood (and by doing that they completely distort the meaning of many terror texts you are well aware of) and you are arguing that God is a moral monster (and by doing that, you are distorting the meaning of many other passages where God is portrayed as good even according to our modern standard.

                  No, I’m not doing that. Rather, you continue to misrepresent what I said. And yes, sometimes Yahweh’s actions are portrayed as good. But that’s no contradiction. A brutal dictator (say, Al-Assad) may sometimes behave in a good way towards his children (for instance), etc.

                  The assertion that many different authors with different backgrounds and worldviews would have the same beliefs about God’s moral nature is an EXTRAORDINARY claim and according to your own standards you ought to provide me with extraordinary evidence.

                  But I’m not making that claim. That’s a claim that you attribute to me falsely, probably because of a biased reading of my posts.
                  Again, I’m not assuming the moral claims in the Bible, but the description in non-moral terms, so whatever contradictions between moral claims exist, they don’t affect my points.

                  He could not have meant that everything in the Torah is good because he clearly taught and did things which contradict many commands. For instance he opposed the divorce law, the stoning of an adultery woman, taught to love ones foe and so on and so forth.

                  That is a non-sequitur.
                  A cult leader, apocalyptic preacher, etc., may well teach something and then change his mind, or contradict himself on occasion.
                  A contradiction in Jesus’ position does not entail a contradiction in the story describing Jesus.

                  This post is now getting old, but if you wish we could pursue the discussion through emails, mine is

                  Thank you, but I’m afraid I’ll have to pass on that one, for a number of reasons, especially:

                  1. These discussions are getting too long to be manageable (e.g., Matt is engaging me too; I’m also discussing at the Prosblogion on Grim Reapers and uncaused beginnings, etc.).
                  2. In my experience (based on my exchanges with many other people on the internet, and on our particular exchange above), an email exchange would almost certainly not result in any success, either (in this context, I’m replying because I’m defending my posts in a public setting, but that would not be the case in a private exchange).

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

    I am not interested in your straw man alalogies,. Exegete some scripture and see if the narrative makes sense.