Thinking Christian

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Atheistic Challenges and Actual Human Beings

Posted on Nov 28, 2012 by Tom Gilson

My friend Eric Chabot speaks of “dealing with the little ‘Richards’” (Dawkins-like atheists) on his Ohio State Ratio Christi blog. It’s good stuff, and his blog is a great one to follow.

I have a different answer than his for this, though:

#1: “The God of the Old Testament is an egostatistical, monstrous, genocidal god that should never be worshiped! He kills people and approves of rape and slavery. How in God’s name could anyone serve a god like this?”

A statement like that reveals more about the speaker than it does about Christians or our beliefs. Look at what it assumes:

1. The speaker really understands who God is according to the Old Testament, and either…
2a: He or she understands this much better than Christians, who don’t realize how evil God is portrayed to be there, or
2b. Christians actually do understand how evil God is in the Old Testament, and we worship him anyway, or
2c. Christians are so psychologically twisted, we can study and study and study and still never see the reality of how bad God is in the OT.

Option 2a is really quite unlikely, isn’t it? We study the Old Testament. We ransack it. We have entire departments of colleges and seminaries devoted to understanding it. I’ve read through the entire Old Testament (OT) many times. I know what’s in there. I really don’t think most atheists have a better understanding of the OT God than I have. The same would be true for a large proportion of believers: we know what it says there. It’s just unlikely on the face of it that we’re worshiping God as ignorantly as 2a would demand.

So that brings us to 2b: we’ve understood the Old Testament, we see who its god is, and as this atheist says, this god is really quite evil. And we just love worshiping that kind of god. We’re absolute moral idiots, in other words.

Now, if 2a was unlikely on the face of it, 2b is even more so. So the assumption so far must be that Christians are blithering idiots, either biblically or morally or both.

What then about 2c? Well, before we go there, it would help if atheists making this accusation would tell us what they mean, rather than making us play a guessing game about their assumptions. If this were a real dialogue I would just ask: do you think I’m the kind of academic idiot who can’t read what he says he believes in, the kind of moral idiot who loves worshiping a manifestly evil god, or the kind of pathologically twisted mental case who can’t see reality?

Whichever assumption(s) may lie behind an accusation like this one, they all reveal a sadly blinkered view of humanity. They could only come from a person who never actually knew a living breathing believer in Christ; or perhaps from someone who could only view Christians through distorting lenses, much the same as racists do when they have trouble seeing persons of other colors for who they are.

After all, what’s the real difference between the obviously offensive statement, “Those colored people all look alike to me” and “Everyone who worships the OT God has to be a total moron—compared to me at least”? The errors are similar: not seeing fellow humans as fellow humans, and congratulating oneself for it.

Let’s treat one another as human beings, okay? I think we can all agree it’s the right thing to do with each other, and besides, we might just learn something we didn’t know before. The atheist who removes his blinkers might just discover we’re not idiots. He or she might even learn that there’s more to the OT God than meets Richard Dawkins’ eye.

Do I think then that blinkered atheism indicates atheistic idiocy? No—not unless it is a studied and carefully held opinion, as in the case of Richard Dawkins and some others like him. In his case I think an objective case can be made for him being a fool in these respects, for he really ought to know better. I think most other atheists are probably reading the wrong sources, paying attention to a skewed sample of reality, and drawing conclusions that make sense to them based on that kind of information. And I’m quite sure they need spiritual enlightenment—just as every Christian has also needed it.

(Note to Christians: we too need to be careful not to rush to treat non-believers as less than human. Richard Dawkins is wrong on these sorts of things, yet he is still human. The same goes for all whom God created in his image.

The line of disagreement must remain on the side of love. I’m not always sure where that line is. It certainly includes standing for the truth. I tend to think the dividing falls between satire, which can often be appropriate, and mockery, which never is. But I’m still working that out in my mind and in my practice, and I doubt I’ll ever get it exactly right. As I said, we’re all in this together.)

101 Responses to “ Atheistic Challenges and Actual Human Beings ”

  1. Fleegman says:

    Tom,

    Christian: God is good.
    Atheist: What about all that bad stuff that he does directly, or is done in his name?
    Christian: That question says more about you than it does about my beliefs.
    Atheist: …?
    Christian: Look, we’ve studied this for centuries, and we’ve concluded that although the stuff you’re talking about looks really bad on the surface, it is actually good.

    While you may have pored over the Old Testament, do you really think the majority of self-identifying Christians have? Do you think the majority of them are even aware of the bears-chewing-kids part?

    And for those who have studied the Old Testament, it comes down to the same thing we’ve gone over and over again. You have a presupposition as to what you want God to be, and you rationalise what’s in the book to fit that idea. How else could one possibly convince themselves that genocide is a moral act? Or that God doesn’t lie, etc.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    I see you’re going with 2c, then. That’s helpful to know.

    Back later.

  3. Fleegman says:

    Don’t you think there’s a 2d? As in, some Christians actually aren’t aware of these things in the Bible?

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    It’s not about “some Christians.”

    This is a challenge from a subset of the atheistic community, posed toward the Christian community, represented in both cases by their thinking leadership. If there are some people in either community who haven’t thought about these things, then so what?

    Is there any way besides rationalization to understand the “genocide” passages? Well again, it’s not as if we haven’t thought about it.

    You can call that series a long extended rationalization, and you probably will. I think it’s rational, not rationalizing. I take an extended look at genocide as a crime, asking what it is that makes it horrible. (A purely emotional response would be “Genocide just is horrible!!!!” But a thinking response says, “what is it about genocide that’s bad?”)

    My list of factors there is long, it is thorough, and yes, it is filled with horrible things.

    Then I ask whether the many specific horrors associated with genocide apply to the circumstances in the OT.

    So far, so good, right? No rationalizing yet!

    Then I take a detour in that series to review a book or two explaining some very crucial cultural context–still not ducking the ethical horror factors, but showing for instance that it’s very likely there was considerable literary hyperbole going on in the descriptions of slaughter there.

    And then I continue examining the horror factors and asking whether they can justly be applied to those circumstances.

    How psychologically twisted is that?

  5. Crude says:

    These ‘the average Christian hasn’t thought about this, I bet!’ lines always come out, and my response is always the same.

    Would it be intellectually honest for a creationist to knowingly attack what amounts to a strawman version of evolutionary theory, pretending that their objections were either unheard by or unanswered by actual educated biologists?

    No, I don’t think it would be honest. Nor is it honest to pretend that these arguments about the OT are unanswered or novel, knowing that replies do exist.

  6. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Fleegman:

    While you may have pored over the Old Testament, do you really think the majority of self-identifying Christians have? Do you think the majority of them are even aware of the bears-chewing-kids part?

    If you tackle a position you tackle it at its strongest, not what the average man on the street knows.

  7. Fleegman says:

    Tom, from your posts on genocide in the Bible:

    A believer in the Bible must be prepared to say how God could be free of blame for ordering thousands to die.

    This admission tells me basically everything I need to know, and it’s, once again, what I’ve been saying all along. You assume God to be free of blame from the start. Then you go about rationalising it (You correctly predicted my response)

    You quote Paul Copan

    The language of “every man, woman, child, and beast” [and beast?] was very likely hyperbolic (exaggerated);

    The cities for which God commanded complete destruction were likely military garrisons with few civilians in them;[I don't recall this being mentioned in the Bible]

    At least one of those garrison cities, Jericho, appears from archaeological research to have had a population of only a hundred persons or so.

    Emphasis mine.

    You quote that like it reduces the blame that can be levelled at God. Why try to reduce the size of the event? when you’re ultimately concluding that God is blameless anyway?

    Are you and Paul saying that the 32,000 Midianite virgins taken by the Israelites actually numbered a lot less than that because of rampant hyperbole? It does sort of specifically say that number. I don’t know what proportion of the Midianites were virgin girls, but I’d imagine it’s not the majority. So we’re looking at well over 100,000 in total, surely.

    You go on to say:

    There is the possibility that what he called on Israel to do was nothing at all like genocide; that it was standard warfare instead.

    “Every man woman child” is not standard warfare.

    Given that God is good, which is knowledge available through other avenues, the question is whether these OT acts contradict that goodness. If we can show that the apparent contradictions can be resolved, then we can rationally continue to accept that God is good.

    Why are you’re making your conclusions via “other avenues” fit this case, and not using this case as another avenue? This is precisely what I’m talking about when I say you rationalise things to fit your pre-conceived notion that the god of the Bible is good.

    Ultimately, your explanation come down to: God is God, He can do what He wants, and who are we to judge Him? Oh, and they deserved it.

    Couldn’t you have just said that, rather than send me off to read a series of five posts?

    Also, I have a hard time believing that you added this to the list as one of the “bad things” about genocide:

    That leaves one final difficult issue on our list of what makes genocide so awful:

    Rends the conscience of the perpetrator

    You know, if you asked someone on the street what they thought was so bad about genocide, I don’t think anyone would say “because the perpetrators are so badly affected by it.”

    Seriously? That’s one of the things that makes genocide so awful? I can understand why you include it, though. I mean, those poor poor Israelites.

    William Lane Craig considers this to be the hardest issue of them all.

    I’m sure he does. I was as incredulous when I first heard him make this argument, as I am that you included it in your list.

    You know, the whole “I was just following orders, and I feel really really bad about it” defence doesn’t work. If bashing in the skull of a newborn child seems wrong, it’s probably because it is wrong. I’m sorry Tom, but I’m not going to feel sorry for the soldiers doing the skull bashing.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    Fleegman,

    You simply do not know the difference between an assumption being relied upon circularly and a proposition being defended; and that’s the whole story if your last comment.

  9. Fleegman says:

    The reason you make the proposal: “God is good despite ordering genocide” is because you assume God is good.

    Here’s another proposition: “The God of the Bible is evil because he orders genocide.”

    The defense of which requires a lot less jumping through hoops.

  10. Tom Gilson says:

    Well, duh.

    I make that proposal because I see reason to believe that God is good. But that belief is challenged by apparent problems in the OT, so I test to see whether the proposal stands up in light of those apparent problems. If it does, then I find I can continue to defend the proposal in spite of the apparent problems; and of course that defense has to address those apparent problems.

    This is perfectly ordinary in rational argument (the capital letters are propositions or sets of propositions):

    Suppose that P.
    P is challenged by R.
    S explains why R does not disprove P.
    S is the defense of P in the face of R.

    If the initial reasons to suppose that P were sound and valid, then there continues to be good reason to suppose that P. Nothing wrong with that.

    The defense of your proposal is easy, yes. It requires very little thinking. It requires no knowledge of the culture of the time. It calls for no deep knowledge of terms like “justice,” “God,” or “evil.” Agreement with your proposal is available as a reflex reaction based on the emotional impact of the label “genocide.”

    I suppose you consider those things to speak in favor of your proposal.

    (P.S. this is a rewrite of a comment I posted and then inadvertently deleted just now.)

  11. BillT says:

    A couple of weeks ago I posted this on a similar topic:

    The problem for Christianity is the same problem that many have who hold traditional religious, social and political beliefs. Those that oppose those beliefs are willing to lie about those they oppose, they are very good at lying and they control the media that disseminates those lies. Thus the tactics of the New Atheists…. Rationality is of no consequence and quite purposefully so. They are not interested in logically convincing anyone. They know that smearing one’s opponent is easier and more effective.

    As thus we have the “little Richards” who are eager, like the big Richard, to display their essentially nonexistent knowledge of the OT. Their role as useful idiots is a time tested tactic that counts on constant repetition to make lies sound like the truth. But it doesn’t stop there because the lies they tell aren’t just little white ones. The lies they tell are best described as the opposite of the truth. These lies are not just slander and libel but a form of blood libel that smears and accuses every Christian, Jew and Moslem on earth. Look at the one here in question. We worship a God that “kills people and approves of rape and slavery”. It’s a despicable libelous distortion of our faith. And, not surprisingly, it follows big Richard’s stated objective not to argue against religion but to ridicule it.

    As to your and Mr. Chabot’s response Tom, it’s not only inadequate it actually supports the accusation. Here you are, giving us the 2a, 2b, 2c answer while Mr. Chabot links us to articles on hermeneutics. Lots of commendable logic, reason and evidence. Meanwhile the little and big Richards haven’t presented an argument with any logic, reason or evidence. They are out there laughing up their sleeve at you jumping through the hoops they’ve set out for you. Your attempt to logically and responsibly answer a non logical and irresponsible question simply validates it. Case in point, you are currently engaged in a debate with Fleegman that says to anyone watching “they have a valid point here that I should respond to”.

    They have no valid point. The idea that we worship a God that kills people and approves of rape and slavery is a despicable lie. The only appropriate response is to call it just that. No logic for the illogical, no reason for the unreasonable. Heck, Tom, you contributed to and edited an entire book that makes this point. The only appropriate response to the people to would use such tactics is to call them out for what they are. These are people without basic moral bearings. They will and have used every tactic, lie and distortion to slander people of faith and will continue to do so. Responding reasonably only validates those lies.

  12. Fleegman says:

    …so I test to see whether the proposal stands up in light of those apparent problems.

    Tom, you don’t test anything. What you mean by this is that you look for a way to interpret the stories in a way that fits your pressumptions about God’s nature. And this is precisely why these things have been studied for centuries. It’s because it’s extremely difficult to make them fit.

    At what point would you stop and say: “Well, it looks like either the Bible is wrong, or my understanding of God is wrong?”

    Isn’t your approach actually more like: “Well, I know God is good, so I must not be understanding something correctly.”

    In fact, your response to me just then is evidence of this. I think genocide says something bad about God’s character, and you imply that my understanding is lacking. I suppose my understanding would only be satisfactory if I came to the same conclusion you did.

    And there’s the rub. If something doesn’t look good for God, you think it’s been interpreted incorrectly.

    How can you not see this? Once more: you (Christians) interpret the Bible based on your pre-conceived notions of what you want it to say.

    On a side note: Since you mentioned it in that series of posts, what relevance does the nature of the Canaanites have to all this? Is genocide OK, if they were really really “bad” people?

  13. Tom Gilson says:

    Fleegman,

    You’re incorrigible. You totally ignored the substantive parts of my last answer. Have you no respect for yourself?

    BillT:

    I agree based on the context; but here’s what I’m trying to do with my response: I’m trying to get these atheists to look at themselves and see what’s inside. Maybe I didn’t explain it clearly enough.

  14. Tom Gilson says:

    BTW, I’m not going to re-argue the “genocide” question here. You can read, I think, Fleegman. You have the links to look through. It’s not a knee-jerk reflex emotional answer I’m providing, it’s one that’s informed by real information and guided by actual reflection on that information, which means it takes up some considerable space and doesn’t belong in this context.

    Are you willing to be informed by real information? Are you willing to reflect on it? Or do you want to just keep saying “genocide” and counting on some Pavlovian disgust response to guide you into all truth?

  15. Josh says:

    It appears that Fleegman has exemplified, rather well what I thought one of the takeaway points was. The only “objective” reading and reasoning of anything Biblical can only be done by Atheists. Or so they believe.

    I chuckled at “Once more: you (Christians) interpret the Bible based on your pre-conceived notions of what you want it to say.” I’m becoming convinced that if one decides to take up the mantle of agnosticism/atheism, it’s a requirement that your sense of irony gets checked at the door.

  16. BillT says:

    Tom,

    You ask these questions of Fleegman.

    You totally ignored the substantive parts of my last answer. Have you no respect for yourself?

    Are you willing to be informed by real information? Are you willing to reflect on it? Or do you want to just keep saying “genocide” and counting on some Pavlovian disgust response to guide you into all truth?

    But does “he” (any and all of the atheists who have come here not necessarily Fleegman personally) even have the capacity to understand the context of such questions. From an atheistic perspective there, of course, really is no truth. There is only will to power. “He” is not interested in anything but making his stand on his “truth” as there is no point to any of this but winning. Everything else is just an aside.

    Your position is, as usual, completely decent and commendable.

  17. Ray Ingles says:

    Christians are so psychologically twisted, we can study and study and study and still never see the reality of how bad God is in the OT.

    Ah, but what if atheists think Christians are human?

    Have you ever seen a parent defend their child even when the kid behaves badly? Have you ever heard of a wife saying, “Yes, my husband hits me, but it’s because he really loves me”? Have you seen people back up one of their friends even when they’re in the wrong? Have you ever seen an administration protect a child molester and downplay their crimes?

    I suppose you’re right. All these people are, in fact, “psychologically twisted”. But to what degree in each case? Is there not a very human impulse to protect one’s own beliefs – about other people, about reality? “In the choice between changing one’s mind and proving there’s no need to do so, most people get busy on the proof.” – John Kenneth Galbraith

    You seem to think that athiests, in claiming that Christians fail to fully appreciate the evils portrayed in the OT, are accusing Christians of being “absolute moral idiots”. What if, instead, we’re accusing them of a common human failing?

  18. Ray Ingles says:

    From an atheistic perspective there, of course, really is no truth. There is only will to power.

    Now that’s treating atheists like fellow human beings! No demonizing there! Thanks for illustrating how it’s done. :-)

  19. BillT says:

    Ray,

    In the context of being accused of worshiping a God that “kills people and approves of rape and slavery”, I think my position very human.

  20. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray,

    What if, instead, we’re accusing them of a common human failing?

    Option 2c. Thank you for repeating it.

  21. Ray Ingles says:

    What if both charges – “you worship a God that kills people and approves of rape and slavery” and “From an atheistic perspective there, of course, really is no truth. There is only will to power” are both wrong?

  22. Tom Gilson says:

    BillT’s “will to power” comment applies perhaps not to all atheists, but certainly to many. Probably (in my opinion) it applies or logically should apply to all atheists who try to carry their presuppositions all the way through to their logical conclusions. We’ve had these discussions in the past, and I don’t think they need repeating here. It’s a meta-ethical matter having to do with moral decision-making in the absence of objective moral values and duties.

  23. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray @#22: what are you getting at?

  24. Ray Ingles says:

    Thanks for completely ignoring what I wrote and slanting the presentation in a patently unfair manner, Tom.

    I expressly and directly challenged how you presented 2c. There’s room between accusing someone of self-delusion, and ‘absolute moral idiocy’. But you immediately characterized everything I said as the latter.

  25. Tom Gilson says:

    The ISP just put the server through a reboot. Apologies for the brief interruption there.

  26. SteveK says:

    Fleegman is putting God under the rule of some cosmic moral law and concluding that God is immoral. It’s the only way Fleegman’s argument can even begin to succeed, but unfortunately Christianity doesn’t teach this.

    So who’s the one looking for a way to interpret scripture in a way that fits their presumptions about God’s nature? Fleegman is, and the sad part is that he cannot see that he’s doing this. But…perhaps I’m wrong.

    Can Fleegman provide us with a scripture reference, or a teaching from the early church or from pre-Christianity (OT Judaism) that points to – or even hints at – God being subject to, or judged by, some external moral law? That would be a nice place to start.

  27. Tom Gilson says:

    No, Ray, I did not ignore what you wrote. You had described a position I set forth essentially in 2c, and then said,

    You seem to think that athiests, in claiming that Christians fail to fully appreciate the evils portrayed in the OT, are accusing Christians of being “absolute moral idiots”. What if, instead, we’re accusing them of a common human failing?

    I don’t think that at all. Look at 2b and 2c. 2b is the atheist who accuses Christians of being absolute moral idiots. 2c is the atheist who thinks Christians fail to fully appreciate the evils in the OT, through a common human failing. I didn’t say they were the same. You’re the one, my friend, who got things mixed up there.

  28. Ray Ingles says:

    Ah, you’re right. I should have just said ‘moral idiocy’ (how you portrayed 2c) instead of ‘absolute moral idiocy’ (2b).

    Or, perhaps, “pathologically twisted mental case”. Is that how you interpreted what I wrote?

  29. BillT says:

    Ray,

    Please don’t conflate what Tom and I are saying. It is the stated New Atheist position that we “worship a God that kills people and approves of rape and slavery”. This has been repeated many many times and is not some Christian interpretation of the NA position. I responded in post #11. My position on atheist’s “will to power” is the logical inference of an atheistic worldview.

  30. Ray Ingles says:

    BillT –

    It is the stated New Atheist position that we “worship a God that kills people and approves of rape and slavery”.

    “The” position? Atheism, even “New Atheism”, isn’t that unified. Let me ask you – is Calvinism or Arminianism “the” Christian position?

    My position on atheist’s “will to power” is the logical inference of an atheistic worldview.

    One possible atheistic worldview, I suppose. There are others.

  31. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray,

    It’s a matter of degree. There is a continuum progressing from “common human failing” to “pathologically twisted mental case.” Now, given the accusation at hand, that Christians worship “an egostatistical, monstrous, genocidal god” who “kills people and approves of rape and slavery,” where would that fit on the continuum?

  32. Fleegman says:

    SteveK,

    Fleegman is putting God under the rule of some cosmic moral law and concluding that God is immoral.

    Can Fleegman provide us with a scripture reference, or a teaching from the early church or from pre-Christianity (OT Judaism) that points to – or even hints at – God being subject to, or judged by, some external moral law? That would be a nice place to start.

    If there is such a thing as objective morality, there is either an external moral law to which even God must answer, or it is defined by God. Either way, genocide (sorry for using that “scare word” Tom. I’m not going to stop using it because it makes you uncomfortable) is not on the list.

    I’m not saying that God should be judged by the same rules, I’m saying that He performed an immoral act. Whether or not you judge Him for that is up to you. If it helps you to sleep at night, by all means, feel free to say He’s not guilty, and that it was an act of love.

  33. Tom Gilson says:

    No need to apologize to me, Fleegman. The “scare word” tactic only works on people who are interested in taking shortcuts around informed reflection, like you, in this case. It doesn’t bother me that you’re doing it, as much as it should bother you that you are. I’d be embarrassed by this point if I were you.

  34. BillT says:

    Ray,

    That we “worship a God that kills people and approves of rape and slavery” was the starting point of this discussion (remember the little Richards) and has been used by the NA so often as to represent a reasonably unifed position.

    As far as “other” atheistic positions on the will to power question I have seen lots and lots and not one that held up intellectually.

    “Mere” Christianity can be described without either Calvinism or Arminianism.

  35. G. Rodrigues says:

    The charges brought against God for His alleged malfeasances in the OT always struck me as profoundly bizarre as the atheist is saying that a fictional book tells a story about a non-existent being ordering fictional characters to do some deeds that allegedly violate some sort of non-existent absolute moral law.

    The atheist may protest and say that he is trying a reductio against the Christian position. Ok, but to defend the reductio, the atheist must grant a list of assumptions a mile long and then argue that those assumptions do entail the conclusion he desires — e.g. that God is evil or the Bible is wrong. In doing that, he *must* confront the best scholarship and theology of a 2000 year-old tradition. Apparently, one does not have to. All that is needed is to say:

    And there’s the rub. If something doesn’t look good for God, you think it’s been interpreted incorrectly.

    Quite apart from the specific issue involved, there is at least one thing that is completely wrong with this: the Accuser is doing exactly the *same* that he accuses his opponents of: if something does look bad, there is no other possible reasonable interpretation other than that it *is* bad. How much scholarship and evidence does it take to bring forth for him to conclude that his interpretation is wrong? Apparently the Accuser is blissfully free from such prejudices; it must be one of those Christian-only viruses.

    This is just a general point; please, do continue. I have no interest in wading in the dispute; gnutoid talking points are boring and frankly, I am not in the mood to argue over them.

    note: Just to preempt some possible misunderstandings, I am not stereotyping the Accuser, e.g. of being a gnutoid; just that his points are typical gnutoid talking points. Neither am I saying that the Accuser or the specific charge is beneath response, simply that I personally, do not have the patience to address it.

    Edit: could not let this pass up:

    If there is such a thing as objective morality, there is either an external moral law to which even God must answer, or it is defined by God.

    Wrong.

    Move along, nothing to see here.

  36. BillT says:

    G. Rodrigues,

    Brilliant and why I think the correct response is something like “Liar, liar, pants on fire”.

  37. Tom Gilson says:

    If I say “Euthyphro” often enough, does that make it true?

  38. Tom Gilson says:

    I think it’s worth dwelling for a moment on the kind of dishonesty that’s going on here. Fleegman said,

    sorry for using that “scare word” Tom. I’m not going to stop using it because it makes you uncomfortable

    So what was it I wrote that indicated I was experiencing feelings of discomfort? Was it here where I pointed out that the tactic has an emotional purchase on those who would accept it, but no real rational purchase?

    The defense of your proposal is easy, yes. It requires very little thinking. It requires no knowledge of the culture of the time. It calls for no deep knowledge of terms like “justice,” “God,” or “evil.” Agreement with your proposal is available as a reflex reaction based on the emotional impact of the label “genocide.”

    I didn’t indicate any emotional reaction to it there, I merely commented on how it might have an emotional pull on some people who allowed it to do that to them.

    So I don’t think it was there. Maybe here:

    Are you willing to be informed by real information? Are you willing to reflect on it? Or do you want to just keep saying “genocide” and counting on some Pavlovian disgust response to guide you into all truth?

    There’s some discomfort here, I’ll admit. It bothered me that someone like Fleegman would continue to try to pull a Pavlovian trick instead of actually thinking. But it wasn’t the accusation of genocide per se that produced that discomfort, it was that Fleegman was continuing to try to turn the conversation away from rationality and toward reflex emotion.

    I’ll admit that bothered me, since I really do prefer to have rational discussions here as opposed to bell ringing-dog salivating lab experiments. But I wasn’t calling him to “stop using it because it [made me] uncomfortable.” I was calling him to stop using it because it was unthinking, irrational, unproductive to reaching sound conclusions, and otherwise unfitting for people who are trying to think about things together.

    So Fleegman, tell us: did you totally misunderstand me (I can’t imagine how–it wasn’t complicated!) or did you misrepresent me intentionally? I can’t think of a third option. If this isn’t evidence of intellectual dishonesty right here in front of our noses, pray tell what is it?

  39. SteveK says:

    @ Fleegman #33,

    I see you’ve chosen to ignore what I asked of you. Instead, you’ve chosen to double down on your “argument” that is totally disconnected from the reality of Christianity or its historical roots.

    On what basis do Christian’s have it wrong? I’m genuinely asking but so far you haven’t given us anything of substance. All I see is a clear demonstration that you interpret scripture in a way that fits your presumptions about God’s nature. It’s unfortunate and ironic.

  40. Andrew W says:

    The trouble with “moral” arguments against God is that they are philosophically broken.

    If God does not exist (or exists but no resemblance to the one described in the scriptures), then it’s silly trying to prove that he doesn’t exist because he is immoral. One could point out that the moral intuition of the authors is different to our own, but that only leads to asking “how do we decide what is moral?”, which has already begged the original question.

    If God does exist as portrayed, and is in some sense all-powerful, then pointing out moral differences simply shows that our moral intuition is wrong. Which is to be expected, since the Judeo-Christian scriptures consistently teach this. In fact, a lack of conflict between our own moral intuitions and the scriptures is a far more compelling case against Christian teaching.

    Summary: you can’t use morality as a proof about God (for or against) without already having begged the question in some manner.

  41. d says:

    I can appreciate that Tom is interested in taking aim at the poor anti-christian arguments that tend to animate the pop atheist movement, the likes of Jerry Coyne, Dawkins, etc – there is value in that. Tom’s analysis on many of the bottom barrel atheist positions has indeed helped me, to some degree, to refine my own beliefs.

    But it rings a little hollow when commenters like G. Rodrigues offer advice to the contrarian commenters (to paraphrase), “If you’re going to attack an argument, attack its strongest form”. Why is it only the contrarian non-Christian commenters only have to meet that standard?

    Why not make every effort to elevate the bad atheist objections, and all of their derivatives, to their strongest form, and then explain why those powerful arguments still shouldn’t convince? Where’s the actual evidence that Tom et al are as thoughtful, reflective and rational about the deep issues as they claim, without that?

  42. Tom Gilson says:

    That’s a fair question. Whom or which argument did you have in mind?

  43. G. Rodrigues says:

    @d:

    But it rings a little hollow when commenters like G. Rodrigues offer advice to the contrarian commenters (to paraphrase), “If you’re going to attack an argument, attack its strongest form”. Why is it only the contrarian non-Christian commenters only have to meet that standard?

    Whoever said that only the contrarian non-Christian commenters have to meet that standard?

    Apologetics argumentation in a public blog like this one can take two general forms: we defend our own arguments from objections, in which case we are in our right to point out, if that is indeed the case, that the objections are straw-man caricatures, or we attack the arguments of the opposition in which case, we indeed must tackle them at their strongest. As far as the latter, I can only follow the lead of our gracious host, in other words, I am not going to barge in and propose “hey let’s discuss this argument X I have found in Y”, I just go with the flow.

    And since I have beaten you to a pulp argument-wise over and over, what standard are you thinking of exactly? You are free to reject my characterization, to which the only thing I will say is that the debates are a matter of public record and people can make their own judgment.

    I once asked you for references to what you thought were good atheist apologetics. The references you gave were Richard Carrier, an incompetent gnutoid hack with delusions of grandeur, and Michael Martin, a philosopher. As for the latter, besides (some) flaws in his argumentation, the more significant fact to me was that he *hardly* touches, much less scathes the classical theist case. Mackie is better in this regard; and then again it is the same atheist Mackie that argued, persuasively in my judgment, that an atheist cannot be a moral realist. So, what standard are you thinking of exactly?

    Here is a test. Alvin Plantinga has some online notes sketching about a dozen arguments or so for theism; granted, not all have the same probative force. Decent arguments for atheism? It seems to me that the general consensus is that the argument from evil is the best one (correct me if I am wrong). But even if the argument were successful it would only prove that the conjunction of omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence is contradictory. A theist could simply bite the bullet and deny one of the attributes, so from a strictly logical point of view, the strongest atheist argument is not strong enough to even disprove the existence of a supernatural being — granted, if it the argument were successful, I would stop being a Christian, but I am just pointing out the logical limitations of what is generally taken to be the strongest argument for atheism. So, what standard are you thinking of exactly?

    note: this is derailing OT, so I do not which to venture much beyond what I said, except responding to your little dig.

  44. Crude says:

    Decent arguments for atheism?

    One of the differences between the two sides is that theists are typically more than willing to give positive arguments for their view, and to call said views such.

    Modern atheists – the Cult of Gnu – are absolutely, positively allergic to having their views cast as ‘making a claim’ or ‘advancing an argument’. You see this even with Dawkins himself, and most follow suit. The number who are willing to present their view as a view which has arguments, or worse, which requires arguments to arrive at, is very, very small.

    I’ve said in the past: the joy of being a skeptic is precisely the skeptical part. Being on the offensive, attacking other people’s arguments and beliefs. Advancing an argument of your own is far less fun, because it automatically puts you on the defensive. It’s rather like the Gnu penchant for insult – plenty are willing to call names, insult, degrade, etc. But if you so much as mock PZ Myers a little, and a good number of the same people shatter on the spot and complain about being mean and unfair.

    I’ll tie this in with Tom’s OP: yes, I agree that humans should be treated as humans. But sometimes, with some humans, that means cutting off discourse with them. I think any atheist at this point should be asked if they disavow Dawkins’ call to change the minds of people by humiliating them, using hurtful barbs, and making them the butt of contempt. If they refuse, they’re not ready for conversation. They are people who need to be spoken at, not with.

  45. d says:

    Crude,

    Your whole train of thought reminds me of this cartoon:

    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8341bf68b53ef0134811f647a970c-popup

  46. d says:

    Tom,

    On this particular topic (OT atrocities) I didn’t have anything specific in mind. Frankly, I’ve read more from the Christian perspective on the matter and comparatively few non-christian perspectives.

  47. Crude says:

    Your whole train of thought reminds me of this cartoon:

    As much as it would pain you to admit it, d, the Cult of Gnu deserves exactly the treatment I’m spelling out for them, and there’s a reason why I specify the cult as opposed to atheists generally. Plenty of atheists can be conversed with. Plenty are deserving of respectful communication.

    Myers? Dawkins? Their wannabe underlings? Not at all. Which is why even other atheists shun them.

  48. Longstreet says:

    Do you think the majority of them are even aware of the bears-chewing-kids part?

    Apparently Fleeg subscribes to 2a AND 2c. Cuz his spin on 2 Kings chapter 2 is the only one, doncha know.

    sorry for using that “scare word” Tom. I’m not going to stop using it because it makes you uncomfortable

    Oh noes, Mistah Fleegman! Please, for the love of Dawkins, PLEASE don’t use that bad bad word no more!!!

    Sheesh.

    Where’s the actual evidence that Tom et al are as thoughtful, reflective and rational about the deep issues as they claim, without that?

    There’s this excellent blog that I like to read, you should check it out. It’s called Thinking Christian…

  49. Tom Gilson says:

    d,

    What does the cross represent in that cartoon? Religion? Religious beliefs? Do you realize what’s going on here?

    A charge has been made that the OT God is awful. I answered that charge in terms of three different views of human beings. Some people have taken exception to what I wrote. Ray Ingles’ 2c-related argument is actually rather interesting to me, and I’m awaiting his answer to my question in #31. That’s not bashing.

    I was hard on Fleegman, in contrast to that. Why? Religious reasons? No. Because Fleegman has kept on refusing to think, relying on a single-word ringing bell to induce a response instead. My objections to his approach had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with intellectual honesty.

    So again I ask you, in what sense does that cartoon represent this conversation? Where is anyone here doing any religious beating-up?

  50. Ray Ingles says:

    BillT –

    That we “worship a God that kills people and approves of rape and slavery” was the starting point of this discussion (remember the little Richards)

    One which I specifically drew several distinctions about.

    and has been used by the NA so often as to represent a reasonably unifed position.

    You would have me judge all Christians, and deduce their unified positions, by what I read in comment boxes?

    “Mere” Christianity can be described without either Calvinism or Arminianism.

    Which was precisely my point. Why can you not apply that logic to atheism, even “New” atheism?

  51. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    There is a continuum progressing from “common human failing” to “pathologically twisted mental case.” Now, given the accusation at hand, that Christians worship “an egostatistical, monstrous, genocidal god” who “kills people and approves of rape and slavery,” where would that fit on the continuum?

    Depends on the individual. Some confront it directly. Others are like the friends who minimize or dismiss signs of, say, alcoholism in a buddy – e.g. a person who claims the Biblical accounts are literarily exaggerated. (I gotta say, me personally, the one that really struck me was Deuteronomy 25:11-12.)

    Someone who seriously grapples with the issues and comes to the conclusion that yes, God could justly order warriors to kill babies… that strikes me as sadly like the child who comes to think, “Daddy burns me ’cause I’m bad”.

    All of this is very human. I don’t think the people who protected Jerry Sandusky were pathologically insane. (That’s rather a lot of insanity to account for.) They just minimized and rationalized and avoided full confrontation with his – and their – actions, to protect their view of themselves and their friend.

    Though only very rarely do you run into someone with a pathology so severe that they think God not only was justified then, but is justified now, to command genocide.

  52. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Someone who seriously grapples with the issues and comes to the conclusion that yes, God could justly order warriors to kill babies… that strikes me as sadly like the child who comes to think, “Daddy burns me ’cause I’m bad”.

    So someone *who seriously grapples with the issues* (your words, not mine) and yet comes to a conclusion that you dislike must be suffering from some version of the Stockholm syndrome.

    Discussion’s over; no further comments necessary.

  53. BillT says:

    Ray,

    “Why can you not apply that logic to atheism…”

    That we “worship a God that kills people and approves of rape and slavery” was the subject of the OP. I was addressing it. I find it a reprehensible lie and representative of the great majority of New Atheist arguments. If you’d like to change the subject and give us an argument that you see as logical, please do so. I’m sure we’d be glad to comment.

  54. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues –

    So someone *who seriously grapples with the issues* (your words, not mine) and yet comes to a conclusion that you dislike must be suffering from some version of the Stockholm syndrome.

    I said that’s how it comes across to me. I didn’t say that’s how it “must be”. I’m willing to admit I could be wrong, but I haven’t seen a case I found convincing yet.

    I mean, under that logic, the people who collaborated with the Nazis had the right general idea – “genocide including children and infants can be justified by orders from the proper authority”. It’s just, they picked the wrong authority to submit to. They bet on the wrong horse, that’s all.

    I suspect most people – including you and Tom – disagree with that, but I haven’t seen a clear articulation as to why.

  55. Ray Ingles says:

    BillT –

    I find it a reprehensible lie

    I can see where you’re coming from, I guess.

    and representative of the great majority of New Atheist arguments.

    This specific point is what I’ve been talking to you about, though. From my experience, there’s a broader range than that.

  56. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    I suspect most people – including you and Tom – disagree with that, but I haven’t seen a clear articulation as to why.

    Whether you have seen such a defense that convinces you or not is irrelevant to the point I was making, and I suspect (to pick up your delightful expression) that you know it and are just feigning ignorance. Your clear implication was that someone, even someone that has seriously grappled with the issues (once again, your words, not mine), cannot come to the conclusion you dislike by rational means, but rather as a psychological defense mechanism.

    Once one denies the possibility of rational defense on the part of the opponent and plays the genetic fallacy card, discussion’s over.

    By the way, I am a classical theist of an AT persuasion. You have been at Feser’s blog, so you should know by now that not all polemics work against all brands of Christians and in particular, that most gnutoid talking points are simply non-starters. So your “logic” does not work. I doubt it works at *all* (the comparison of the Fuhrer with an omnipotent and omniscient being, creator and giver of *all* life and the very ontological ground of the moral laws, is hardly tenable and is a difference in kind not just in degree, and *that* does make a difference), but I will let others chime in if inclined to do so.

    But this last paragraph is irrelevant with regards to the (minor) point I was making.

  57. Tom Gilson says:

    Hi, Ray,

    I’ve been out all day and haven’t had time to catch up with the comments on this thread, but here’s a formatting thing you might want to be aware of.

    If you put a blockquote tag on the same line as preceding text it comes out in a smaller font, at least on my browser, Safari for Mac (user preferences can override this but hey what can you do), like this:

    This is how it looks if there’s no line space before the blockquote

    But…

    This is how it looks if you include the line space before the blockquote

    That’s a flaw in this blog’s theme that would require someone smarter than me to fix it. That someone is my son, who might be able to work on it later today.

    In the meantime I’ve gone into your comments and added those line breaks. No other edits or changes, obviously.

  58. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray,

    Have you read my series on God and “genocide”? It was linked above, but not clearly labeled as such.

  59. BillT says:

    Ray,

    And I you. Yes, there are certainly people who are looking at those places in the Bible that describe wars and their associated killing and are thoughtfully exploring the implications theologically and morally. However, that’s not, in any way, what’s out there in the popular culture.

  60. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues – Let’s look at Tom Gilson’s words: “I think an objective case can be made for [Dawkins] being a fool in these respects, for he really ought to know better.”

    Dawkins’ conclusion doesn’t match Tom’s, and he doesn’t find Dawkins’ arguments convincing, so…

    Saying, “I can’t imagine any other alternative than a psychological defense” isn’t quite the same thing as saying, “It must be a psychological defense.” Tom “thinks an objective case can be made”, the same way I do though in another direction.

    comparison of the Fuhrer with an omnipotent and omniscient being, creator and giver of *all* life and the very ontological ground of the moral laws, is hardly tenable and is a difference in kind not just in degree, and *that* does make a difference

    It makes some difference. In that case, humans can’t be the proper authority, only “the very ontological ground of the moral laws” is the proper authority. The principle still holds, though: ‘genocide including children and infants can be justified by orders from the proper authority’.

    In what way is that presentation unfair? The Nazi collaborators were indeed very wrong, but about authority, not the principle itself.

  61. Bryan says:

    It seems that by the logic of concluding “God is good according to other avenues,” (presumably the Resurrection, etc) and trying to reconcile that belief with his acts in the OT, one could just as arbitrarily conclude God is bad according to his acts in the OT and then try to reconcile the Resurrection with his badness. Just a thought.

  62. BillT says:

    Ray,

    Have you taken the time to read Tom’s series on God and genocide. Your argument seems based on your belief that God committed said act. It’s not that cut and dried.

    And Bryan. The idea that “God is good” is anything but arbitrary.

  63. Bryan says:

    I think it is arbitrary if you hold that idea in the face of powerful disconfirming evidence. If one thinks that God is good according to some parts of the Bible then she’s going to rationalize other parts of it. But some “little Richard” (haha, I like that) come could along and conclude that God is a moral monster and have to grapple with the parts of the Bible where God is portrayed as morally upright.

    Personally, with many bibical critics, I think God in the Bible (and the Bible itself) has both good and bad parts. I think this makes the most sense from a scientific, historical critical perspective, where the Bible is seen a purely human endeavor, with a multiplicity of views therein.

  64. Tom Gilson says:

    What do they teach in schools these days?

    God’s goodness is as far from arbitrary as it could possibly be. My gracious, look up the definition in the dictionary! I’m not saying that the definition makes God’s goodness true, but it does make God’s badness a contradiction in terms.

    You might need a halfway decent philosophically informed dictionary that’s aware that perfection is essential to the concept “God,” and that badness and perfection are contradictory terms.

    Bryan, I don’t know if this is directed more at you or at the educational system that let you get to whatever point you are in it, whether a long-ago graduate or whether still in school. To think that anyone could even straightfacedly suggest that goodness was an arbitrary label attached to God just boggles the mind.

  65. Tom Gilson says:

    And for Pete’s sake, God doesn’t have parts!

    (Where have we gone wrong?)

  66. BillT says:

    Bryan,

    If the Bible is “a purely human endeavor” then it isn’t worth the paper it’s written on and certainly not worth bothering to have an opinion on. So, why then do you?

  67. Bryan says:

    Tom,

    I’m not talking definitional apologetics and I’m not talking about the philosopher’s god. I’m talking about God as portrayed in the Bible. And that’s where things get murky.

    BillT,

    Nothing could be further from the truth. A lot can be learned from the Bible, not to mention the affect it’s had on literature and Western history. It’s one of the most important books on the planet.

  68. Tom Gilson says:

    Bryan,

    How do you separate all those things out?

  69. Bryan says:

    Well, with our heads stuck in the lofty clouds of philosophy, we can affirm God’s benevolence. We can, with Anselm, affirm that God is a “being than which no greater can be conceived.” God is perfection. But when we get down to the nitty gritty of the Bible, we see a predominately patriarchal text, and within a tribal war deity commanding humans to stone other humans for various trivial “crimes” like homosexuality. And that’s just for starters.

    If you want to argue that God is good, you have to get down and dirty in the Bible. In some places, God is good. In others, he’s a barbarian. And that’s because the Bible is a very human book. It’s a product of its time and place.

  70. Andrew W says:

    I think we’re still getting carts before horses.

    Definition: “God” – “supremely powerful* supernatural being who created all we can observe and to whom it matters what humans think and do”

    Auxiliary definition: “supremely powerful” – able to do whatever he/she/it desires without challenge.

    If God exists -> he gets to make the rules -> calling him immoral is nonsense, since there’s no external standard of reference to hold him to

    If God doesn’t exist -> there’s no external standard of reference so a fictional God can’t breach it

    A more interesting line of argument is to attack the inspiration / reliability of the scriptures on the grounds that they are morally incoherent. But notice that this only works if you are comparing the writings against themselves. In order to claim that they are morally abhorrent (not just inconsistent) you need an external moral standard, and have just smuggled (your version of) God back in via the back door.

    tldr: to claim the God portrayed in the OT is “morally abhorrent” / “evil” only works if you have an absolute moral reference to back it up (at which point the OT God is fictional anyway). Otherwise, all you are saying is that you want to be your own moral authority.

  71. BillT says:

    “A lot can be learned from the Bible, not to mention the affect it’s had on literature and Western history. It’s one of the most important books on the planet.”

    Byran makes the same mistake here as many atheists do in debates about morality. He is sneaking in the importance that the Bible has because it’s true and believing it would still have that importance if it weren’t. It wouldn’t. If it even existed, it would be like a poor man’s version of “The Illiad” or some other ancient myth. Interesting maybe but without even the narrative flow if a mythical tale, a second rate work. For example, how interesting are Zoroastrian writings or even tales of the Greek or Roman gods? Interesting on a minor level but nothing like the Bible is today.

  72. G. Rodrigues says:

    @BillT:

    It wouldn’t. If it even existed, it would be like a poor man’s version of “The Illiad” or some other ancient myth. Interesting maybe but without even the narrative flow if a mythical tale, a second rate work.

    Although I agree with your major point (assuming I am reading you right), I have to disagree on this one. The Bible is the major literary work in the western tradition bar none; Only Shakespeare has had something like the Bible’s influence.

    Obviously enough, much or even most of that influence is not purely literary, but plays itself out in other spheres, but the Bible is definitely not a “poor man’s Illiad”. If you are interested in literary criticism, I suggest reading the first chapter of Auerbach’s magisterial “Mimesis”. I do not like Auerbach very much (and to stick to german critics, much prefer the genius of his “opponent”, Curtius), but that chapter is particularly illuminating.

  73. Ray Ingles says:

    Andrew W –

    Auxiliary definition: “supremely powerful” – able to do whatever he/she/it desires without challenge.

    Except logical contradictions, right? God couldn’t make 2+2=fish, correct?

    If God exists -> he gets to make the rules

    The ultimate case of “might makes right”?

    If God doesn’t exist -> there’s no external standard of reference so a fictional God can’t breach it

    Could someone coherently believe mathematical laws like 2+2=4 could exist even if God didn’t?

    BillT -

    He is sneaking in the importance that the Bible has because it’s true and believing it would still have that importance if it weren’t. It wouldn’t.

    Several hundred million people find the Koran to be more compelling than the Bible. Does that make it true? Can anyone afford to ignore its existence today, whether or not it’s true?

    Tom Gilson -

    God’s goodness is as far from arbitrary as it could possibly be.

    I’ve started looking through your series on “God and Genocide”, and this actually does strike me as a problem. As you say there, “God is not like us and we cannot treat this issue as if he were.”

    Imagine a powerful and hyperintelligent alien were to come down to Earth and start eating human babies. When we protest, it says, “I know this looks bad to you, but I know things you don’t. Actually this is the best thing in the universe to do, but the explanation is far too complicated for your tiny brains. You’ll just have to trust me.”

    Once you posit something beyond all human comprehension, it’s like dividing by zero. you can prove anything after that point.

    So, I have to ask – do you address question B2 anywhere?

  74. BillT says:

    G. Rodrigues,

    Maybe I exaggerate a bit but the truth that “The Bible is the major literary work in the western tradition bar none…” is tied inextricably to it’s validity.

    Ray,

    The Koran is a great example for the point I made. The Koran doesn’t remotely compare to the Bible as a literary work, has not had near the influence of the Bible worldwide and overall doesn’t even have the influence of a great number of other literary, historical and philosophical works. Thanks for brining it up as a comparison.

  75. Tom Gilson says:

    I’ll have to agree that there’s a problem with your statement of God’s goodness, Andrew. God’s goodness is not in any way a result of his power. His power is good and his goodness is powerful, but the power is by no means the cause or source of his goodness.

  76. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, this hyperintelligent alien would not, could not, be analogous to God, who created us and who is the final arbiter of justice both on earth and beyond the grave. Not only that, but you’ve set up a false analogy. It’s not that God’s actions can be justified because of what we know, it’s that there are things we do know about God, ways in which he differs from humans, that have to be taken into account. That’s what I do in that series.

  77. Tom Gilson says:

    Do I address that question B2 you referred to? Why do you ask? The point of this discussion is to answer an objection that God cannot be good. It is not necessary to prove God is good, for purposes of answering that objection.

    God’s goodness is demonstrated in Christ (Romans 5:6-8) above all.

  78. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson -

    It is not necessary to prove God is good, for purposes of answering that objection.

    No. Unless I’m badly misunderstanding things, though, it is necessary to support the statement, “God’s goodness is as far from arbitrary as it could possibly be.”

    this hyperintelligent alien would not, could not, be analogous to God, who created us and who is the final arbiter of justice both on earth and beyond the grave.

    The “created us” bit isn’t really relevant. Imagine if the ‘genetic engineers from the stars’ types were actualy onto something (as opposed to on something) and aliens really did engineer and plant us on Earth. Would that give them an unlimited proprietary interest in us? (Besides, what does the principle “the creator of something owns it” rest on?)

    It’s the “final arbiter of justice both on earth and beyond the grave” bit that’s key. I have to admit that I don’t really find the classic resolutions of the Euthyphro dilemma convincing (or, in many cases, coherent).

  79. Ray Ingles says:

    BillT -

    The Koran doesn’t remotely compare to the Bible as a literary work

    Like I said, a few hundred million Mulsims disagree with you on that point, and find it steeping their culture at least as deeply as the Bible has steeped ours. Why are they wrong and you right?

  80. BillT says:

    “The Koran doesn’t remotely compare to the Bible as a literary work” is a true statement that I doubt an Islamic cleric would deny. That a large number of people are inflenced by it does not change the truth of the above statement or really even address it or any of my other assertions. Anyone with any knowledge of it knows it’s not the Koran that is “steeping their culture” but those with the power to impose it on them.

  81. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Could someone coherently believe mathematical laws like 2+2=4 could exist even if God didn’t?

    Given the classical conception of God, no, one cannot coherently maintain that. In order to coherently maintain that, one would have to subscribe to an extreme form of Platonism, one which not only zaps out of existence metaphysical naturalism but one that Plato himself would not subscribe to (for reasons I will not spell out), and maintain in particular that such abstract objects are beings with real, extra-mental existence. But given that God, being existence itself, is the source of all existence, such objects, even *if* they have real, extra-mental existence, their existence must derive from God. Technically, they would be necessary objects, but their necessity is a derived one.

    Imagine a powerful and hyperintelligent alien were to come down to Earth and start eating human babies. When we protest, it says, “I know this looks bad to you, but I know things you don’t. Actually this is the best thing in the universe to do, but the explanation is far too complicated for your tiny brains. You’ll just have to trust me.”

    God is not a “powerful and hyperintelligent alien”. God’s difference in not one of degree but of kind, because God is not even *a* being among beings but rather Being-ness itself, that in which essence and existence are indistinct and the ultimate source of all being — and by this I mean that He is not just the Creator but that he *conserves in being* in the here and now the whole of the created order. It is literally meaningless and incoherent to say that God should or ought to do this or that, or that God is bound by a moral law standing above and beyond him, or that He has duties or obligations of any sort, since God is not a member of a moral community but rather The One who ensures the conditions for the existence of such a moral community in the first place. To put it in other words, He is not *under* a moral law, because He *is* the moral law. You can of course deny that such a being exists, what you cannot coherently maintain is that such a being is somehow deficient or vicious.

    And I can already guess the follow-up objection: “Gotcha! then He can just boss us around and order us to commit genocide and it becomes meaningless to say that God is just, loving, etc.” No, He “cannot”, or more properly said He does not, “boss us around”, because God’s divine commandments are according to Reason, His nature itself, and our *created* natures, so He will not order something that is objectively bad for us given that we are what we are and what is objectively good for us. The fact that a commandment comes from God affects its *binding force*, not its content. Contrary to the Fuhrer or a powerful, hyperintelligent alien, literally everything that exists, exists because He freely willed it, so it is meaningless to say that it is morally wrong of Him to order this or that, to do this or that.

    As Aquinas famously says, an argument from authority is the weakest when the authority in question is a human one. But it is still an argument (otherwise, quoting specialists in some field of knowledge would be inadmissible). But it is the strongest of arguments when the authority is divine. If one does accept that the commandment comes from an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being, what quarrel can there be? For the reasons adumbrated above, this is *NOT* a divine version of “might makes it right” (*).

    About God’s attributes, if one means the statement in a univocal and equal sense as predicated of us human beings, yes it would be correct. But there is an analogous sense in which that is true, that is, there is something in God analogous to what there is in us (**) that we call good, loving, just, merciful, etc. To spell this out in more precision I would have to explain some key ideas like the convertibility of the transcendentals, evil as a privation, the principle of proportionate causality, etc. Suffice to say that it follows as a matter of logical necessity that God is indeed Good, Loving, Just, Merciful, etc. in the analogous senses I adumbrated. Nothing arbitrary in here.

    You can try to mount an argument; it could even be successful against what Brian Davies terms “theistic personalism” — I doubt this very much, but I am not going to bother defending this particular claim — but it will simply fall flat against the classical AT conception of God. If you are trying a reductio, it will fail for the reasons I gave. If you are not trying a reductio, then you do not have a leg to stand on to justify your qualifications of “wrong”, “good”, “evil”, etc.

    This post is already way too long, so I will stop here. The inquiry, while legitimate, also arises from ignorance, and blog comboxes are not the best, or even a good place to dispel that.

    (*) I should add that I am approaching the issue from the purely philosophical side of what God’s nature is, but there are other angles one could proceed, say as Paul Copan does in his “Is God a moral monster?”

    (**) Actually, strictly speaking, it is the other way around. Because we are made in His image, it is we that have something analogous of what is in God, a finite and imperfect imitation of that which in God is infinite (in the sense of un-bounded or un-fettered) and with no admixture of imperfection. But since our knowledge proceeds from what is most manifest and known (namely, us and the physical universe around us) to that which is less manifest and known (namely, God), this is the way we must speak.

    @Tom Gilson:

    My internet access is flaky, so if by any chance this post is a repost, please, just delete the first one(s).

  82. Ray Ingles says:

    BillT -

    “The Koran doesn’t remotely compare to the Bible as a literary work” is a true statement that I doubt an Islamic cleric would deny.

    Muslims – and the Koran itself – claim that the Koran is such a literary masterpiece that no human can match it, much less exceed it.

  83. Ray Ingles says:

    BillT –

    “The Koran doesn’t remotely compare to the Bible as a literary work” is a true statement that I doubt an Islamic
    cleric would deny.

    Muslims – and the Koran itself – claim that the Koran is such a literary masterpiece that no human can match it, much less exceed it. (I tried to link to an example, but the comment disappeared; possibly a spam trap?)

  84. BillT says:

    The Koran has absolutely no influence outside its own sphere. The Bible is acknowledged and has had major influence across hundreds of different cultural milieus, both religious and non-religious, hundreds of languages and literary forms from historical, to novels, to drama, to poetry. The Koran can claim none of that past its own self aggrandizement. Come on Ray, this isn’t even close.

  85. Andrew W says:

    His power is good and his goodness is powerful, but the power is by no means the cause or source of his goodness.

    It depends on what you mean. I’m not claiming his goodness is derived from his power. But I am claiming his moral authority is derived from being the creator and master.

    Unless you want to argue that God is subject to some moral authority external to him, then God has absolute moral authority – what he says is good is good, and what he says is evil is evil. Now, the scriptures teach that what God commands matches his character. But even if it his laws were capricious and arbitrary, we would have no recourse, as there is no-one else to take up our cause and no existence beyond what God gives.

    That said, given that God asserts that he is good, he is creator, and he has made us for good, then we would expect our moral intuitions to in some sense conform to God’s behaviour. And it is important to examine conflicts between what we think of as “good” and what God does. But such conflicts should cause us to question our intuitions, or perhaps the veracity of the record, not God’s existence.

    —–

    But if you take the position that the scriptures are “human myth” – a human examination of philosophy and morality within a narrative – then there is a legitimate argument* that the authors were evil. But in order to make this argument, you must assert:
    (1) the account is not “divine” in any authoritative manner
    (2) your moral intuition is objectively superior to theirs

    Using morality as a proof against God begs assertion 1. And most moderns expect us to grant them assertion 2 without challenge.

    * “legitimate argument” = “needs answer / not fundamentally broken”, as distinct from “correct / convincing”

  86. Andrew W says:

    The Koran has absolutely no influence outside its own sphere. …

    And yet this doesn’t really counter Ray’s argument. It could be that our entire frame of reference is wrong and theirs is right. “If they’d just think about it a bit they’d see how deluded they are” (not your words, but perhaps your implication) seems to fall foul of the very arrogance Tom is critiquing at the start of this thread.

    Or have I misunderstood your line of argument?

  87. SteveK says:

    G. Rodrigues
    I loved this…

    But it is the strongest of arguments when the authority is divine. If one does accept that the commandment comes from an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being, what quarrel can there be?

  88. What is interesting about some non-believers in Christ or God , is that if they were asked if they believed in some sort of dark force such as black magic , the anti-christ or the devil some actually do… Christians are taught to Love everyone as we Love ourselves and it occasionally seems like the true Christians are disliked by non believers because of the Christan that acts like the atheist or non -believer and shows hate for others.

  89. BillT says:

    Andrew,

    We were taking about the Bible and the influence its had in world history. Ray brought up the Koran as a comparison and l pointed out that comparison did and does make my point better than his. That is true regardless of who is “right”. Now, it’s true that l believe that is tied to the Bible’s validity but its literary importance and the influence it has had is true in any case.

  90. Ray Ingles says:

    BillT -

    We were taking about the Bible and the influence its had in world history.

    Not exactly. What you claimed was that if the Bible weren’t true, “it would be like a poor man’s version of “The Illiad” or some other ancient myth.”

    But you think that the Koran isn’t true, and yet it’s had a massive cultural influence in a worldwide sense, too. Not as large as the Bible, true – but it’s also several centuries younger.

    Muslims point to the rapid spread of the Koran and Islam as proof of its divine origin – how could one man make up something so compelling it revolutionized an area the size of a continent in his own lifetime? And the influence on language is impressive in a different way; the Bible gets translated, but Muslims actually learn Arabic to be able to appreciate the Koran. Not just professors and preachers, but ‘lay’ Muslims.

    Now, I agree with you that Islam is false. But I’m willing to grant that even false ideas and mythical works can be influential regardless of their factual truth.

  91. Tom Gilson says:

    Russell, thanks for the comment, and I agree, one of the chief problems in all the world (literally, no exaggeration) is Christians not living out the love of Christ. I am haunted by Romans 2:19-24.

  92. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues -

    In order to coherently maintain that, one would have to subscribe to an extreme form of Platonism, one which not only zaps out of existence metaphysical naturalism but one that Plato himself would not subscribe to (for reasons I will not spell out), and maintain in particular that such abstract objects are beings with real, extra-mental existence.

    Not exactly. I rather think philosophers should get their hands dirty in a lot of different fields if for no other reason than to expand the range of metaphors they have available.

    What if abstract objects aren’t “objects” so much as locations in a vast multidimensional phase space? (Note that this conception doesn’t suffer from the ‘third man’ problem.)

    If traits that objects can have are dimensions (some quantized, some continuous; some with limited ranges, others infinite) then it would help explain how a fire truck can instantiate so many different ‘abstracts’ at once – redness, truckness, wheeled-ness, heaviness, etc. It occupies a location in a phase space where those traits intersect.

    It also helps account for how individual real things can differ so radically yet still be said to instantiate ‘the same abstract concept’. “Fire truck” wouldn’t be a discrete point in phase space, it would be a region of phase space with room for lots of individual variants. The ‘ideal fire truck’ would be something like the ‘center of gravity’ of the ‘fire truck zone’.

    This doesn’t pose as much of a problem for naturalism as you claim. Whatever sense such things as, say, the Mandelbrot Set ‘exist’, it’s clearly a different way that natural things do. And it’s a way that has no causal power.

    But given that God, being existence itself

    And this, I still don’t get, despite plodding through TLS. I don’t see how anything can ‘be’ ‘existence itself’, anymore than anything can ‘be’ ‘redness itself’.

    He is not just the Creator but that he *conserves in being* in the here and now the whole of the created order

    Don’t have TLS in front of me, but Feser states something along the lines of, ‘people depend on molecules, and molecules depend on atoms, and atoms depend on particles, and particles depend on quarks, but how far down can this go? Not all that far.’ Aquinas was willing to grant an infinite regress per accidens but not a causal one.

    But I don’t see where Aquinas or Feser argue for that. They seem to take it for granted, obvious. But it’s not obvious to me. Reality has frequently turned out to be weirder than we imagined.

    If one does accept that the commandment comes from an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being, what quarrel can there be?

    One issue is that given omnipotence and omniscience, omnibenevolence can’t be established as a practical matter. How do you tell the difference between a trickster much, much smarter than you with an agenda you can’t see (yet, if ever) – and a genuinely friendly something much, much smarter than you?

    God’s often described as a shepherd. I’m sure the sheep in a herd look on their shepherd as a benevolent protector who will fight off wolves… until the knife comes down on feast day. How can the sheep know the difference?

  93. Fleegman says:

    Tom

    Apologies for the late response. I’ve been away in a remote cottage for the weekend, and had no access to the Internet. It was a shocking, yet rather pleasant experience.

    So, you said:

    You’re incorrigible. You totally ignored the substantive parts of my last answer. Have you no respect for yourself?

    I did not ignore your answer. Please read what I actually wrote.

    You later said:

    So Fleegman, tell us: did you totally misunderstand me (I can’t imagine how–it wasn’t complicated!) or did you misrepresent me intentionally? I can’t think of a third option. If this isn’t evidence of intellectual dishonesty right here in front of our noses, pray tell what is it?

    because I implied using the word “genocide” made you uncomfortable. I understood what you were saying, as you spell out here:

    I was calling him to stop using it because it was unthinking, irrational, unproductive to reaching sound conclusions, and otherwise unfitting for people who are trying to think about things together

    The problem is that I don’t agree with you. I have read your posts on the subject, and I just don’t think they’re in the least bit convincing. In other words, I still think it is clearly describing genocide. So maybe I should have used the word “annoyed” rather than “uncomfortable.”

    Are you saying you don’t want me using the word “genocide” because you think it’s up for debate as to whether or not is was genocide? Would you rather I referred to it as “that thing that I think was really bad, but you think actually wasn’t?”

    I was hard on Fleegman, in contrast to that. Why? Religious reasons? No. Because Fleegman has kept on refusing to think, relying on a single-word ringing bell to induce a response instead. My objections to his approach had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with intellectual honesty.

    I am not “refusing to think.” Is it so hard for you to believe that anyone who’s read your posts on the subject of biblical genocide (or not) could remain entirely unconvinced by it?

    I guess one reason not to use “that word” is because you seem to focus on “that word” rather than anything I actually say. I certainly was not “relying on a single-word ringing bell” to make my points, yet you are most certainly using that bell as an excuse to ignore everything else I said.

    To those who say that atheists point to this stuff and say “look, you believe in a immoral evil god,” you’re missing the point, as far as I’m concerned. It’s more “the things the Bible says about God are inconsistent, and even contradictory. You rationalise these things away, because if you didn’t, you might have to face the fact that what you believe might not actually make sense.”

  94. Tom Gilson says:

    Fleegman, what do you think was the substance of what I wrote, and where did you respond to it?

    Whether you use “uncomfortable” or “annoyed,” you are missing the point. The problem with your repeating the word “genocide” in the manner you have done here has nothing to do with my emotions, and everything to do with your resorting to a Pavlov’s bell instead of real thinking.

    Now I understand that you disagree with my interpretation of the “genocides” in the Bible. That doesn’t make my reaction an emotional one (“uncomfortable” or “annoyed”). The way you could have discerned what kind of response that was inducing in me would have been to read what I wrote. I did not use words like cringe, weep, run away, retreat, abhor, etc. I used words like “wrong.”

    So you think that I am wrong to consider you wrong. Shall I tell you that you are therefore annoyed or uncomfortable, and that that’s the reason you want me to cease pressing my position? But how would I come to that conclusion, when you haven’t said so, but only that you think I’m wrong?

    Your objection to my series on the genocide question seems to focus down to your incredulity regarding this:

    Ultimately, your explanation come down to: God is God, He can do what He wants, and who are we to judge Him? Oh, and they deserved it.

    Couldn’t you have just said that, rather than send me off to read a series of five posts?

    Of course the reason I couldn’t have done that is because a complex question like this doesn’t reduce to a bumper sticker like that; and even if it did, every word in it would need explaining in order to communicate the intended meaning. If I had simply put it as you suggested here, you would have laughed it off.

    The fact that you just laughed it off even in spite of my having explained it and supported it tells more about you than it does about me. Oh, I know you had more to say about that series, but it was mostly questions and misconceptions, all of it wrapped around your false conception of what it means to defend a proposition, as I explained in #10, and which you actually did ignore.

  95. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    What if abstract objects aren’t “objects” so much as locations in a vast multidimensional phase space?

    When you have an actual argument instead of “what if” I will deal with it. And you do realize this is all inconsequential and irrelevant to what I said, don’t you’? I added an “if” there for a reason (I am not a Platonist, but a moderate realist of a Thomist persuasion).

    Anyway, a couple of points.

    1. If you are trying to defend anti-realist conceptions of universals, by identifying say the universal red with the class of all red things or with the scattered location of all red things or any other number of anti-realist strategies, they all suffer from serious, seemingly unsurmountable problems. The anti-realist conception in best shape is trope theory, but since its ontology commits you to the paraphernalia of set theory, and sets conceived *as* abstract objects, this will not help you (besides having its own share of serious difficulties).

    2. If instead you want to follow David Armstrong and be a realist but at the same time deny the axiom of localization (basically, deny the existence of abstract objects), I suggest you read J. P. Moreland, “Universals”, chapter 3 for a critique of his views. As they say, been there, read that, discarded it.

    Anyway, this is besides the point I was making, so as far as I am concerned this issue dies here.

    Note that this conception doesn’t suffer from the ‘third man’ problem.

    Really? And what is this “vast multidimensional phase space” if not an abstract object? So where is the “vast multidimensional phase space” located in the vast multidimensional phase space?

    I don’t see how anything can ‘be’ ‘existence itself’, anymore than anything can ‘be’ ‘redness itself’.

    Follows from the Third Way, that in God essence and existence are indistinct. This is what being existence itself means.

    But I don’t see where Aquinas or Feser argue for that.

    Argue that the creative act of God is not just the toppling of a domino in the distant past, but rather the conjoining of an essence with an act of existence in the *here and now* (as it relates to its effect, not to the act itself, which is outside and above time and space)? You must have not payed attention.

    How do you tell the difference between a trickster much, much smarter than you with an agenda you can’t see (yet, if ever) – and a genuinely friendly something much, much smarter than you?

    God is *not* “a genuinely friendly something much, much smarter” than me. Anyway, this is an epistemological question irrelevant to the ontological one. How one would answer your skeptical challenge is a separate issue, analogous to the question of how do I know I am not talking to an ignorant liar and deceiver on the other side of the computer screen whose purpose is to waste my time.

    I also find it highly ironical when people deploy this skeptical argument and then in the very next breath go on to provide their *own* moral prescriptions for what we should do, they themselves being fallible, ignorant, of little power and definitely with an agenda of their own. In other words, if you really do take this argument seriously, maybe you should refrain from commenting on moral questions?

  96. Melissa says:

    Fleegman,

    The problem is that I don’t agree with you. I have read your posts on the subject, and I just don’t think they’re in the least bit convincing. In other words, I still think it is clearly describing genocide.

    Since you continue to read the bible as if it was written by Fleegman in ancient fancy dress that’s hardly surprising.

  97. BillT says:

    “Muslims point to the rapid spread of the Koran and Islam as proof of its divine origin”

    Except, of course, that the spread of Islam both now and historically has been the result, almost exclusively, of two factors. Birth rate and coersion. Also, I’ve discussed a number of topics concerning the influence of the Bible not just the one you noted. And the reality remains that the Bible is orders of magnitude more influential than the Koran which despite it’s following is less inflential than the sayings of Confucious.

  98. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues – I know you said “this issue dies here” but then you immediately asked followup questions. Kind of like interpreting the Koran, I’m gonna assume the questions abrogate the declaration.

    And what is this “vast multidimensional phase space” if not an abstract object?

    When did I say it wasn’t? I just said that abstractions, whatever they are, exist in an ontologically different way that natural things.

    Of course, in this conception there’s only one abstract ‘object’ needed; and is a space an ‘object’ anyway?

    So where is the “vast multidimensional phase space” located in the vast multidimensional phase space?

    The question is ill-posed and self-contradictory.

    Argue that the creative act of God is… the conjoining of an essence with an act of existence in the *here and now*…

    Speaking of “not paying attention”… :-)

    The “that” they don’t argue for is ‘a per se infinite regress is impossible’. They do argue that God maintains things in being, of course, but their argument rests critically on that premise.

    That premise is not obvious to me. Do they argue for that premise on any grounds but intuition?

    Anyway, this is an epistemological question irrelevant to the ontological one.

    If the ontological arguements rest on questionable premises, then we have to look to epistemology, no?

    go on to provide their *own* moral prescriptions for what we should do, they themselves being fallible, ignorant, of little power and definitely with an agenda of their own.

    Ah, but did I claim to be humanly incomprehensible? As I said before, “Once you posit something beyond all human comprehension, it’s like dividing by zero. [Y]ou can prove anything after that point.”

    Positing unknowns that we can explore and investigate is different from postulating unknowables – which, by definition, we can’t ever be sure of.

  99. Ed Yang says:

    First time reader who stumbled across this blog at a timely juncture.

    @Tom Gilson, thank you for the creation of this blog and addressing these topics. I’m faced with increasingly harsh attacks on Facebook from atheists and agnostics on just these types of questions. Considering I skipped Philosophy class in university and am just smart enough to know I’m not very smart, I’m learning an immense amount here. God bless.

    @Ray Ingles and Fleegman, thank you for taking the time to engage in this debate. If you were apathetic rather than passionate about this topic, that would be the worse sin. Instead, I remember than even the Apostle Paul was once Saul, a brilliant mind bent on eradicating Christians. Yet he went on to become one of the earliest most eloquent defenders of Christ. Perhaps, God willing, that is in your future? ;)

    @G. Rodrigues, I’ve cut and pasted many of your replies into a Word document simply because I could never summarize my positions as eloquently as you can. Do you have a blog of your own? Thank you for your input as well.

  100. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you for the encouraging word, Ed!

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