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44 Responses to “ God and Genocide: Clarifying the Question ”

  1. I had intended to dive straight into dealing with the bullet list items from my first post in this series, but I realized before long that leaving the question undefined was going to cause some serious confusion. I hope to get to those specifics within the next day or so.

  2. Tom:

    Although I didn’t know the specifics, I kinda guessed you were going in this direction. This is the lesser reason for not commenting specifically on the first post of this series. The greater reason was for exposing David Ellis’ and Faithless’ errors. Their trying to dodge addressing their own errors—mainly by dubbing any criticism of their position as “irrelevant”—was my point: atheism is ultimately a big dodge. But enough of that…

    The approach you take now I might dub—perhaps unfairly—“minimalist.” I believe you’ve just accomplished what you’ve set out to do: the imposition of external demands upon God (especially by those burdened with a priori personal, subjective, emotional, etc. commitments) is a non-starter.

    My guess is these guys will nonetheless try to play the same game of “irrelevancy” or they will appeal to alleged “objective standards” by which arguments may be analyzed and discussed. For the latter, of course the “objective standards” are only objective in their eyes… but we know that because that’s what we’ve see all too often here: set up the playing field in their favor.

    Your approach reflects to some extent Plantinga’s “properly basic knowledge” approach… and this is where I would not so much criticize what you’ve done, but show its limitation. Don’t get me wrong: stopping these guy’s ability to impose their own external criteria is great. But, now what? IF (big if) these guys actually scratch their heads and honestly admit you are correct… AND then IF (big if) they think through the implication, they might actually begin to sense there are more things than are dreamt of in their disordered philosophizing.

    I could spend time on the exceeding importance of these guys understanding the importance of correctly using univocal and analogous language when discussions concern God—something I introduced in comments on the previous post of this series. And, this leads to my last point regarding your summary position…

    You note,

    Assuming that God is good, and assuming that goodness itself is adequately and accurately defined by the Bible.

    The problem with this (again, not to decry its minimalist character that does stop these guys) is that it characterizes God as one existent among many with the “property” or “characteristics” called “goodness.” Ultimately, that’s wrong… which is why analogous language is needed to bring one to the understanding that one of the names of God is “Goodenss” or “The Good.” In other words, the correct formulation is not God is good, but rather God is Goodness Itself. And this name of God flows from the much more important point that God is not some existent among many: He is Existence Itself. Once this is understood, you see just how futile the loyal opposition’s position is: they try to employ their own minimalist, reductionist, “play by my rules because I say so” approach because it inherently and a priori reduces God to a bite-sized sample they can attack… a blatant straw man of what God truly IS.

    So, from the perspective of logic and philosophy the Bible does not present an “adequate and accurate” definition of “goodness.” Why? Because that’s not what the Bible sets out to do in the first place. The Bible doesn’t do this because what it far, far more importantly does is introduce us (through many books) to God who is Goodness Itself. If the discussion is reduced to a minimalist approach that considers “goodness” as opposed to Goodness Itself, we will more than likely never come to any agreement… except to show what you, in my opinion, have set out to accomplish, i.e., that the loyal opposition approach is wrong. But, again, one is still left with… “Okay, so what? What IS the truth… err, Truth? Who is God?” That is the point where faith as trust becomes exceedingly important.

  3. You essentially said that even though God commited genocide, it is justified because he is good. Why does this not present a contradiction to you? Wouldn’t it be justified to use gednocide to protect your group, in that case, seeing as you are, after all, his “chosen people”? What if an opposing group also finds justification to use genocide against your group for their well being? And at this point I asume you’ll use the arguement that “our way is right, so no, their use of genocide is wrong”. Well, then what about the use of genocide by the Nazis? They believed completely that what they were doing was right in the eyes of God, same as you. Does this make it right?

  4. John—I met your brother Lee once when I was working in the music business. He was managing a friend of mine, a singer/songwriter/guitarist who I traveled with and ran sound for. But in view of a very sad and tragic plane crash, I doubt Lee was actually your brother. John (the singer) was still alive then, and I miss him and his music.

    Anyway, your conclusion (in your first sentence) doesn’t follow from what I wrote. I’m saying that the conclusion I ended with is one to be tested. Now, I do think it is true that because God is wholly good and holy, then anything he does is right. But I would consider it facile and sophomoric to leave it there without putting that belief to the test, and seeing if it held up.

    From there your conclusions go very very far afield and astray, because there was nothing normative in the commands to kill off certain nations. It was never expressed as a principle to be followed for anything other than the specific circumstance. The Bible is filled with normative statements, as you probably know, so when God says to do something and does not make it normative, that stands out.

    I specifically reject the thought that mass killing could ever be right, even in the OT examples, because someone “believes that what they were doing was right in the eyes of God.” It is not believing that makes it right. It can only be right if God actually commands it. (And my argument in favor of that statement is still yet to come.)


  5. I specifically reject the thought that mass killing could ever be right, even in the OT examples, because someone “believes that what they were doing was right in the eyes of God.”

    Agreed. But if one acknowledges that God has ordered it in the past it does somewhat take the wind out of any moral objections one might make to contemporary claims that God is ordering a mass extermination. I think maybe that was the point he was getting at–even if he didn’t state it as clearly as he might.


    It is not believing that makes it right. It can only be right if God actually commands it.

    I presume (and hope!) you are simply taking it as understood that God would only command it for a morally sound reason.

  6. Just a little clarification of life and death vis a vis the Christian worldview…

    All life is created and sustained by God, it cannot exist indepenent of God, it is contingent.

    By eating the fruit Adam and Eve forfeited their lives and tainted all their descendants with the same moral culpability, like a gentic disease passed from parent to child. We owe God a death.

    Death is not the end of life. There is life after death, and that life is the physical resurrection of a redeemed person in a physical body in a redeemed world.

    We each will be judged by God at the resurrection. Other than submission to the Christ I know of no way to assure salvation, but we are told that (some of?) the Jews (who do not recognize the Christ) will be saved.

    The Canaanites who were killed by the Hebrews at the command of God will one day appear before Him. It is entirely possible, but not something I would bet money on, that they will have the opportunity to worship God or reject God, as will we all. Perhaps the younger ones are saved from the utter depravity of their parents, a depravity they would have attained had they lived, and so they will not reject God when facing judgement.

    The resurrected life, in a new and immortal body, contrary to popular misconception, will not be a life of sitting on clouds and playing harps, but a life of creative and fulfilling work. We will be set to “tend the garden” once more, but we will no longer be the broken and sinful persons we are today. We will, somehow, be restored and we will also, somehow, be free to pursue our interests to the glory of God.

    Free will without sin. How? It’s a mystery, but with God all things are possible.

  7. Hi Tom

    First paragraph deleted by siteowner

    So what you are saying is that D is a testable statement and the assumptions that are part of this statement will be tested. Whilst not being aware of how this is meant to be tested yet let us examine D in some more detail:

    P1. God is good.
    P2. Goodness is adequately and accurately defined by the Bible.
    P3. God ordered certain nations to be killed.
    P4. Such orders were consistent with his character as generally revealed in the Scriptures
    P5. If anyone can satisfactorily answer the issues listed in the previous post, then they are free of guilt.
    C1. God has satisfactorily answered those listed issues.
    C2. God is free of guilt in commanding genocide

    We agree in P3 that is not in dispute or under test (i.e. it was not a myth).

    I presume you are going to show C1 in your next post.

    I will explore this more after I get feedback from you, and no-one else, that this is either a fair representation of your argument to be tested or we can discuss what needs to be corrected.

  8. Tom

    I am not going to respond to H’s empty rhetoric and distractions but note that his bearing false witness, prejudice and bigotry does not reflect well on you, by allowing such immoral behaviour – which should be condemned for the evil that it is. This is so on a blog with a supposed moral stance and especially in these threads which is partly about how such reasoing as H uses has been used to justify genocide through the ages and how it is not justified. That is based, of course, on my presumption that you are not invoking similar arguments in God’s defence and there is nothing you have indicated so far that you will.

  9. I agree with faithlessgod. Faithlessgod, I suggest you do what I do: skip over Holo’s comments and only go back and read what you have to if others refer to it.

  10. Paul,

    I really can’t understand why faithlessgod said, “I am learning that it is a waste of time conversing with your troll-like minion, so will from now only address you, as you do not bring up irrelevancies and distractions but remain on point.” I don’t see any troll-like behavior preceding that at all; not on this thread, certainly. The closest thing to is it the phrase “disordered philosophizing.” I’m willing to call that within the bounds of civil behavior. I’ve put up with worse directed toward me.

    Now, after fg said that, Holopupenko wrote a comment that I have deleted for the reasons stated there. It certainly did not raise the tone of discussion, Holo.

  11. Thank you Tom. My point was in reference to the previous thread as well. Anyway lets not dwell on that. Awaiting your reply to my first comment in this thread.

  12. Hi Tom:

    Yes, you’re correct…

    But then I guess we should understand that employing terms “troll-like minion” as a personal attack is permitted, and hence certainly does adds to the level of the discussion, doesn’t it? And, we should also take away from this that it really is okay for Paul (and OS) to spout moral relativism while whining in absolutist terms about alleged moral “wrongs” (and then we’re told we “don’t understand moral relativism”). Also, none of us (including the atheist trolls [to employ fg’s term]) should feel in the least way slighted as rational beings when Paul’s repugnant reductionism concludes “it’s all just neuron’s anyway,” should we? Finally, I guess we can safely conclude that David’s sloganeering and fg’s evasiveness and terming criticisms of his errors as “irrelevant” while hiding behind “does not reflect well upon you” is intellectually inspiring and clearly raises the tenor of these discussions.

    That’s the kind of double-standard I’m seeing here, anyway. Maybe I’m wrong, but if one cannot, without being termed “intolerant” or “bigoted,” strongly criticize and expose the disordered ideas and fallacies animating atheism, or expose homosexuality for the depraved and dangerous sin it is, or defend personhood (a term not accessible to the operational definitions of the MESs) from conception, or explain that the ultimate source of the true, the good, and the beautiful cannot itself be spoken of in the same terms that we employ with contignent beings without being drummed out of discussions as “off topic” or “irrelevant,” then why are we all here?

  13. For the record, I agree that “troll-like minion” was out of bounds. I stand corrected and apologize for not deleting it right away. (What was I thinking?!) No more of that, okay?

    Still, when Paul and others espouse moral relativism but try to practice moral absolutism (I haven’t noticed Paul “whining”), I see that as a contradiction to be pointed out, not as a violation of standards of civility. The same goes for neuronal reductionism, which to my mind is logically unsustainable and philosophically ridiculous, but it’s error, not an insult. The response that fits is to show that it’s wrong, in any of the very many ways that can be done, but not to treat it as a personal assault or attack.

    I don’t think at all highly of sloganeering, and I have not accepted it—I have called David Ellis on it repeatedly, and when it went over the line I gave notice on some of it and deleted some of it. Most of the time, though, it was (to my mind) shoddy argumentation, but again not ad hominem.

    I certainly approve of strongly criticizing and exposing disordered ideas and fallacies associated with atheism, and all the rest of what you said in your last paragraph, Holopupenko.

    I think three things are happening to you at the same time, and two of them seem almost contradictory:

    1. You are arguing at a high level, depending on your knowledge of Thomistic and Catholic ideas and categories, and expecting others here to know them. Sometimes you present things as if everyone ought naturally to agree with them. I’m thinking for example of your statements of the four causes (material, formal, efficient, final); but I could find others. I think that it is when you use these things as a basis for argumentation that others think you are going off-topic or being irrelevant.

    2. The issue of relativism won’t go away. I don’t think it ought to go away; it’s always relevant to bring up, when relativists try to impose a moral structure on you, me, God, or the Bible. The relativists themselves may be thinking, “Hey, I didn’t think that was the topic, why does it keep coming up?”

    3. And as I already indicated, when you make these kinds of statements, it can come across as though you are responding to a personal attack or insult, rather than simply (if repeatedly) pointing out an error. Or sometimes it seems like you come charging out at the discussion with spears pointed. This is where the contradiction comes in that I referred to: You definitely argue (1) at a high level intellectually, and yet sometimes, in a very different sense, (3) at what comes across as a low level.

    I hope I’m not guilty of a double standard. I’ve been accused of it by both sides now, so I can take some comfort in that (if that’s any comfort). I haven’t felt at all keenly about David Ellis’s sloganeering, but I haven’t booted him from the blog, I’ve just called him on it. I’m not comfortable with Holopupenko’s approach all the time, but again I’m trying to work with him on it.

    If I’m committing a double standard here, though, then so be it: I’m just doing what I can.

    Some people have been banned in the past, but except for some really aggressive or offensive exceptions, I’ve tried to work with all of them before banning them—because I would rather keep the discussion as wide open as possible.

    I’d really prefer we would all quit accusing each other, wouldn’t you? (That’s a plural you, directed at everyone.) I’m having a hard enough time keeping up with the real discussion, given the way my schedule is these days, let alone being a referee.

  14. I keep being accused of “sloganeering”.

    Could one of the individuals making the accusation define what you mean by this and give examples of me doing it?

    I’ve mostly tried to avoid bickering but it seems to me that a couple of people here are employing accusation as a substitute for substantive criticism or, at least, as a way of poisoning opinion against individuals who have argued strongly against their views. Since the subject keeps being brought up (despite my going to great lengths to explain my views and my reasons for holding them) it should be backed up with actual evidence.

  15. Back to the discussion:

    david ellis said (comment 5),

    Agreed. But if one acknowledges that God has ordered it in the past it does somewhat take the wind out of any moral objections one might make to contemporary claims that God is ordering a mass extermination. I think maybe that was the point he was getting at–even if he didn’t state it as clearly as he might.

    The OT examples were sui generis, not normative, regardless. There is no longer a people of God in the sense of a nation or tribe called out by God to inhabit a territory. The NT makes it clear that those days are over. So anyone who wants to take the OT example as justification for genocide today is abusing Scripture very, very badly. There is no justification for any action in “God has ordered it in the past.” If one wants to appeal to God for justification, one must appeal to what God is saying now, not what God said to a unique group of people in a unique setting in a time long past.

  16. If you’re going to make repeated accusations rather than simply addressing the things people say then it seems only fair that the person’s accused have the right to respond.

    But I’ll be brief:

    Your accusation of sloganeering are without substance and I invite any to see for themselves by following those links you’ve given and scroll up from your accusation to see me, in fact, explaining my views and responding to criticisms of those views at great length.

    That’s all I have to say about the matter. You are free to go on, ironically, using the term “sloganeering” as a slogan if you like.


  17. The OT examples were sui generis, not normative, regardless. There is no longer a people of God in the sense of a nation or tribe called out by God to inhabit a territory. The NT makes it clear that those days are over. So anyone who wants to take the OT example as justification for genocide today is abusing Scripture very, very badly.

    That wasn’t quite what I was saying. People of another religion are not likely to use YOUR scriptures as a justification for THEIR genocides.

    But they can point out that you and your religion have accepted the basic concept that God can be justified in ordering the mass extermination of whole people’s and, in fact, that you believe he HAS done so.

    And this, if nothing else, makes arguments against genocides today more of an uphill battle than they are for those of other religions or ideologies (a deist, for example, doesn’t have to contend with having the persons arguing for a contemporary divinely sanctioned genocide pointing out that he believes God has sanctioned it before).

    And I must ask, since you haven’t addressed the question yet, whether you think God is done with ordering genocide or might he do it again in the future? Might he, for example, want the enemies of Israel nuked into oblivion at some point in the future? Do you consider things like this a serious possibility?

    If not, why not?

    And if so, then surely this DOES, as I put it, “take the wind out of the sails”, at least in part, of any argument a christian might make against particular genocides?


    There is no longer a people of God in the sense of a nation or tribe called out by God to inhabit a territory.

    Perhaps, but might God not have other reasons for wanting a whole people destroyed? For their great wickedness, as just one possibility, as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah.

    Many would say we have many contemporary cities as wicked as ever Sodom dreamed of being.


    If one wants to appeal to God for justification, one must appeal to what God is saying now, not what God said to a unique group of people in a unique setting in a time long past.

    Yes, they must appeal to what he’s saying now. But religious believers, including yourself (correct me if I’m wrong as to your views), think that God communicates his Will to us, in some sense, still—at least to those who are listening.

    And if you believe he HAS done it in the past, what is there to keep others from arguing that he’s doing so now?

    Certainly you can claim, and argue, that he ISN’T ordering or condoning it at present. But if the basic idea of divinely justified genocide has been accepted, as you seem to be preparing to argue, its not nearly as great a leap to thinking God might condone it in our own time or in the future as it would be for someone whose religion, or belief system, rejects genocide as an abomination without exception.

  18. @david ellis:

    People of another religion are not likely to use YOUR scriptures as a justification for THEIR genocides.

    And I’m not likely to use their scriptures for any decisions I make. Does that make them responsible for the decisions I make? Certainly not. Nor is Christianity responsible if someone decides not to use Christian texts to guide their decisions. But that wasn’t what you were suggesting, of course; you went on to say,

    But they can point out that you and your religion have accepted the basic concept that God can be justified in ordering the mass extermination of whole people’s and, in fact, that you believe he HAS done so.

    And a very similar principle applies: I could also misinterpret their religious texts to support a decision I might make. Does that make them responsible? Similarly, if they misinterpret Christianity to support a decision they make, Christianity is not responsible. (But I note that further down that you’re not sure it would be a misinterpretation. We’ll get to that in a moment.)

    (a deist, for example, doesn’t have to contend with having the persons arguing for a contemporary divinely sanctioned genocide pointing out that he believes God has sanctioned it before).

    And an atheist doesn’t have to contend with the fact that Christ said to love your enemies. So he might say something like, “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” (Feel free to Google that.) The point of course is that (1) if someone does argue for a divinely sanctioned genocide today, they are simply wrong (see below), and (2) your argument can easily be turned back against you, as I have done here, so I would suggest you rethink it.

    Perhaps you can give some strong argument for why the situation described in the Bible is truly unique and an utterly exceptional circumstance—and God would not order any genocides again.

    Okay. See the Copan article I’ve just posted for the strong argument on why the situation is unique, and the Sermon on the Mount for the rest of it. (I urge you to go to the primary source on both of those.) See also Romans 12 and Romans 13 on how we are to treat each other.

    Might he, for example, want the enemies of Israel nuked into oblivion at some point in the future? Do you consider things like this a serious possibility?

    No. See both above and below for my reasons. But clearly there is a time coming when God will bring history to an end, Christ will return, and just as every individual now meets God one-at-a-time at the point of death, everyone living then will meet him at once, and face judgment. It’s not the same thing at all, but it relates. See some of Dave’s recent comments for more on that. Note that this is how the Biblical view would treat your question about cities as wicked as Sodom and Gomorrah. Their time will come. Everybody’s time will come.

    And if you believe he HAS done it in the past, what is there to keep others from arguing that he’s doing so now?

    The rest of the Bible. See my recent comments to Tony here.

  19. Tom:

    Partially off-topic, partially not:

    With respect to Paul’s neronal reductionism, it is insulting (demeaning) to all human beings at a very deep level: he basically claims we humans cannot reason because reason (for him) is “all neuron’s anyway” because he equivocates the physical operation of neurons to explain immaterial thought. (To tease those who want a definition of “rational”: for humans thought neurons may be necessary, but they aren’t sufficient to the capacity for reasoning.) The contradiction is blatant: Paul employs disordered reasoningto convince us we really don’t reason. To demean the nature of human beings as the rational animals we are by reducing us exclusively to physical processes IS insulting (and certainly unsupportable).

    Yes, perhaps we should not jettison calls in support of moral (and epistemological) relativism: these instances provide us with lots of easy opportunities to expose the contradictions of these ideas… and the hypocrisy of those who don’t practice what they preach.

    I don’t expect anyone to know—let alone argue or agree with—a “Thomistic level.” (I don’t need the competition! 😉 ) But, what is a fair expectation from the perspective of intellectual integrity and honesty is not to have such points (which expose ignorance) willy-nilly relegated to “it’s off topic” or “irrelevant.” The analogous vs. univocal language point is only one example… delivery notwithstanding. Another is the point you raised wrt relativism: “Hey, I didn’t think that was the topic, why does it keep coming up?”

    These “things” come up because they are inextricably tied to the immediate question at hand (genocide as “ordered” by God): one must properly understand human nature to make assertions about genocide or blame God. If we are nothing but neurons, then what possible substantive meaning could genocide have? In fact, genocide makes a whole heck of a lot of sense to the strong if naturalism rules the day. If personhood is reduced to mere scientific operational definitions, then what possible substantive criticism can be made against abortion as genocide… or homosexuality and pedophilia? If God is not understood as completely other (albeit with insights gained through philosophical inquiry and theological reflection), then what possible moral claim can be made against Him? What does it mean in the first place to make an external moral claim against God when (crudely put) there is nothing “external” to him (I’m not speaking in the physical sense)? We are because [fill in the blank with whatever reason] that can be demonstrated true to explain our contingent existence. Nothing like that pertains to God: He IS… full stop.

    That’s why David’s repetitive passing of moral judgments against God just doesn’t work (echoing your “external” argument): why does he continue to employ language appropriate to contigent beings in trying to understand the Necessary Being? If it’s out of ignorance, we can readily deal with that. But if it’s intentionally animated a priori by “there is no God so [implied] all terms that describe the real world must be univocal,” then discussions will grind to a halt.


  20. And an atheist doesn’t have to contend with the fact that Christ said to love your enemies. So he might say something like, “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” (Feel free to Google that.) The point of course is that (1) if someone does argue for a divinely sanctioned genocide today, they are simply wrong (see below), and (2) your argument can easily be turned back against you, as I have done here, so I would suggest you rethink it.

    It would only effectively turn my argument back against me if I actually endorsed as right Stalin’s mass murder—which, of course, I don’t. I’m not even of Stalin’s ideology.

    Stalin was a communist. I’m a humanist.

    Nor, even for communists or marxists, is Stalin authoritative. He was simply one communist leader—one who committed atrocities other communists (and the rest of us noncommunists) are free to completely disapprove of.

    There are, in fact, no mass murders which I endorse. It’s impossible, therefore, for you to “turn my argument back against me”. I consider genocide an abomination. Period. There is no way to use the same sort of argument (a “you and your ideology or religion endorsed genocide X, and that diminishes the force of your objections to other genocides” argument) against me since there is, in fact, no situation in which I’ve endorsed it.


  21. With respect to Paul’s neronal reductionism, it is insulting (demeaning) to all human beings at a very deep level: he basically claims we humans cannot reason because reason (for him) is “all neuron’s anyway” because he equivocates the physical operation of neurons to explain immaterial thought. (To tease those who want a definition of “rational”: for humans thought neurons may be necessary, but they aren’t sufficient to the capacity for reasoning.) The contradiction is blatant: Paul employs disordered reasoningto convince us we really don’t reason.

    Paul, does Holo’s description of your views accurately reflect your position?

    I might have missed it over the course of many long discussions but I don’t recall you making the claims he attributes to you.

  22. Paul made the assertion “it’s all neuron’s, anyway” about two years ago when “explaining” love, and then “expanded” upon it. I’ve never let him live that down… primarily because Paul is prone to such repugnant reductionist assertions with little or no backup. Paul’s MO is to make such assertions, then to ask (with a hint of condescension) “well, why not?” and then to flee the scene with “I’m too busy,” or “I’ve got to run” (which he does a lot with Charlie). Gentlemen, engage your search engines.

    “Stalin was a communist. I’m a humanist… There are, in fact, no mass murders which I endorse.” Well, except for abortion… because an operational definition based on an immediately functioning brain suffices to define personhood… doesn’t it?

  23. David, I’m not sure how to answer your question. It doesn’t matter anyway because I’m not going to get into this now. But I will say that I am the best source on what my views are.

    Good luck,

    Paul

  24. Tom:

    This particular sub-thread does run the risk of straying off topic. Nonetheless, Paul is being evasive. For completeness sake would you (or Charlie) mind searching for that particular discussion… and let Paul’s own words speak for themselves as “best source”? Thanks.

  25. david ellis, you wrote.

    It would only effectively turn my argument back against me if I actually endorsed as right Stalin’s mass murder—which, of course, I don’t. I’m not even of Stalin’s ideology.

    But your argument, David (oh, why must I have to point this out?) was about some generic person taking a position based on a certain view of the Bible. I can most certainly turn that argument back on you (okay, to be precise, I turn the argument back on itself) by referring to a different generic person taking a position based on a certain view of the Bible.

    My point was that your argument proves nothing because it can be used against a contrary position so effectively and easily. You had said that “a deist doesn’t have to contend with such-and-so, and I said that an atheist doesn’t have to contend with Christ’s command to love your enemies. Let me now point that straight at you: You do not have to contend with Christ’s “love your enemies.”

    Now, will you say that the deist’s position opposing genocide is supported or somehow made more secure by not having a religious tradition that includes mass killings? That’s exactly what you said. Now, whose position against genocide—the Christian’s or the atheist’s (including humanist atheists, obviously)—is made more secure by its tradition not having to contend with Jesus teaching love for enemies?

  26. Does Holo’s description accurately reflect Paul’s position? Paul has not drawn the conclusions to his own starting assumptions that Holo attributes to him—but he should have. That’s precisely where those assumptions lead.

  27. Tom, there is an important difference between saying that someone holds position A, and saying that someone’s claims necessarily and logically lead to position A. The former puts words in the other’s mouth, while the latter is accurate, if not to say respectful, especially when it may be a point of contention whether those claims necessarily lead to position A.


  28. “Stalin was a communist. I’m a humanist… There are, in fact, no mass murders which I endorse.” Well, except for abortion… because an operational definition based on an immediately functioning brain suffices to define personhood… doesn’t it?

    My definition of personhood was this:


    I define a human person in such a way that the essence of human personhood lies in having a human mind (and don’t think that the sleeping mind is any problem here—the sleeping mind is simply unconscious. Not nonexistent).

    This is an substantive definition of personhood—not an operational one. Personhood consists of having a mind—it is not defined by me as having a functioning brain—THAT would be an operational definition of personhood.

    Likewise you have an essentialist definition of personhood consisting (if I recall correctly) of being “ensouled”.

    It is as incorrect to accuse me of defining personhood operationally as it would be for me to accuse you of defining personhood operationally because you determine that ensoulment has occurred based on the observable fact that a human egg and sperm cell have joined and begun development (the observation is relevent to knowing personhood, in both cases, is present; the observation is not, in either case, the definition itself).

    So neither of us are defining personhood operationally (not that there is something terribly wrong with operational definitions in the right context—I just, like you, don’t think they are that useful in defining personhood).


  29. But your argument, David (oh, why must I have to point this out?) was about some generic person taking a position based on a certain view of the Bible. I can most certainly turn that argument back on you (okay, to be precise, I turn the argument back on itself) by referring to a different generic person taking a position based on a certain view of the Bible.

    My position is, stated in its barest form, that a person endorsing and claiming that God endorsed past genocides weakens the effect and credibility (or, at the very least, perceived credibility) of criticisms they might make of present genocides.

    Those who don’t endorse any past genocide nor claim that God endorsed them do not suffer from this credibility problem in regard to their criticisms of present genocides.

    What you said above isn’t even responsive to this.


    You had said that “a deist doesn’t have to contend with such-and-so, and I said that an atheist doesn’t have to contend with Christ’s command to love your enemies. Let me now point that straight at you: You do not have to contend with Christ’s “love your enemies.”

    Now, will you say that the deist’s position opposing genocide is supported or somehow made more secure by not having a religious tradition that includes mass killings? That’s exactly what you said. Now, whose position against genocide—the Christian’s or the atheist’s (including humanist atheists, obviously)—is made more secure by its tradition not having to contend with Jesus teaching love for enemies?

    First, and most importantly, no infant or child is my enemy. Not even the children of a soldier against which I might have fought had I ever had to go to war.

    Second, it is as illegitimate to hold my position on the treatment of enemies weakened by its not being based on the words of Jesus as it would be for you to be criticized for your views on their treatment not being based on the words of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. What matters is what my actual views on the treatment of enemies are.

    I may not get my ideas about how I should treat my enemies from Jesus nor consider him authoritative on the subject of values in general but I certainly do, in my variety of humanism, have an ideology which contends that we should be concerned about and care for all living beings capable of suffering. That includes my enemies.

    My ideology holds genocide to be an abomination. Period.

    Yours holds that some genocides in the past have been justified.

    So, yes, I’m happy to have my position on any subject relevent to the issue of genocide compared, side by side, to yours and christians holding your views on this issue.

    And, in addition, I would point out that atheism is not my ideology. It simply refers to my not subscribing to a particular belief (theism). It makes no more sense to treat my being an atheist as my ideology than it does to treat your being a non-Muslim as yours.

    What I AM is a humanist.

  30. David:

    Your operational definition is intimately tied to your description of what constitutes a brain (as opposed to mind)… which, by the way, points to question-begging in not distinguishing the brain (which you’ve used on previous occassions) from the mind (which you used just above). Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you (maybe it was fg) ask me whether I thought a zygote was a rational being?

    Think about it this way: a Robin (bird) 4-day old zygote has no wings… but it IS a flying creature by its very nature. That’s a very important point, by the way: a biophysicist will explain to you HOW it is that a bird flies–because of it’s hollow bones, aerodynamic shape, and the lift-generating capacity of its wings. A philosopher of nature will tell you a bird files because it is a flying creature by its nature. You may not think the latter is very useful… and I’d agree with you from the purely MES perspective. But, in terms of the essence of WHAT a flying bird is, it says it all. BOTH are correct, and what’s very important, BOTH complement each other: the MESs help us to understand the HOW of the WHAT we’re considering; philosophy helps us to understand that the HOW, while useful, cannot exceeds its bounds to say crazy things–including the destruction of the whatness of a being. That’s why a purely scientific explanation for personhood is so farcical… and so dangerous. Science doesn’t deal with formal causality (whatness) and final causality (for whatness), it deals with a limited range of material (what is it made of?) and efficient causality (how does it do that?).

    Here’s the deal: If you view the mind as being fully describable in terms of material components and physical phenomena, then you assume a reductionist position that can only rely on operational definitions. If you contend the mind is an “emergent property” of the physical system (akin to spinning in a wheel–a wikedly false analogy I’ll not get into here), then you still haven’t gotten away from the reductionism of ontological monism, i.e., that there is only one kind of existent.

    If, on the other hand, you view the mind as something “more” (I’m admittedly being sloppy with my language to keep it non-technical) than the material components and associated physical phenomena (distantly analogous to a house being “more” than a collection of bricks, boards, mortar, and nails AND more than a naming convention), then you have a lot of explaining to do… primarily to yourself. Why? Because you’re admitting to an immaterial existent… for which the Principle of Sufficient Reason must still apply: you’ve got to explain (you must account for) the existence of an immaterial mind. But once you go down that road… well, I’ll leave that to you.

    The rational aspect of human nature is inherently, deeply, crucially, undeniably tied to that human no matter development or injury or state of consciousness. BUT, you can’t employ mere MES terms to capture that. Personhood is NOT a term that is subject to MES terms… but neither is the scientific method, is it? (You DO science per the scientific method, you don’t DO the scientific method per science.) That should give you plenty of food for thought.

    There’s more to criticize–or at least nip at the heels of–in your definition, but I’m not going to… I’ll just mention them: what are “essence,” what does it mean to “have” a mind, and (trust me, this is no trite word games) what exactly do you mean by “nonexistent”? Finally, let me try Boethius’ (admittedly broad) definition on you to try to understand how that doesn’t fit your views: a person is an individual substance of a rational nature.

  31. Paul:

    You really are evasive. I lived in the former Soviet Union for 13 years where evasiveness there was an art form… primarily for survival’s sake, but also used by the powers-that-were to maintain control. You’d give the latter a run for their money. (Your approach is like Jacob’s deconstructionism… but from another angle.)

    For the sake of intellectual integrity, then, why don’t you come clean? Assert your original claim (“it’s [love is] all neurons, anyway”) and then tell us what you mean. If memory serves, Charlie has tried to chase you on many occasions regarding similar evasiveness.

    I realize you won’t answer… but don’t take us for fools: it’s not because your assertion is off topic or “I have to run”… It’s because you refuse to do so.

  32. David,

    My ideology holds genocide to be an abomination. Period.

    Yours holds that some genocides in the past have been justified.

    Your selectivity is unbecoming to you. It is as if you were saying your ideology and mine have no content to them whatever except for their views on genocide. And it is also as if having this alleged genocide in Christianity’s background made it normative, which is a severe and I think intellectually perverse distortion of the facts.

    You attempt to distance yourself from atheism and from some atheists’ actions—actions in the last hundred years, I would point out. But humanism as expressed in the First and Second Manifestos is explicitly atheistic. You may be justified in so distancing yourself; I’m not sure, but I won’t contest it for now. But if so, then you are completely unjustified not to accept Christians’ distancing ourselves from certain conclusions that uneducated persons may incorrectly draw from a poorly understood, non-normative, culturally alien, foreign experience that happened 3,000 years ago.


  33. Your selectivity is unbecoming to you. It is as if you were saying your ideology and mine have no content to them whatever except for their views on genocide.

    Not at all. As should have been quite clear from my comments. We specifically discussed an issue other than genocide that was relevent to the issue under discussion—our respective views on how enemies should be regarded. In addition I said “I’m happy to have my position on any subject relevent to the issue of genocide compared, side by side, to yours and christians holding your views on this issue.” Which I would have thought you would understand is an acknowledgment that other issues might be brought up that are relevant than our specific views on genocide.


    You attempt to distance yourself from atheism and from some atheists’ actions—actions in the last hundred years, I would point out. But humanism as expressed in the First and Second Manifestos is explicitly atheistic.

    Yes, humanists are, by definition (at least the one I’m using), not theists (are atheists) just as christians, by definition, aren’t muslims (are non-muslims).

    The fact that both humanists and communists aren’t theists is no more an essential connection between them than that both humanist and christians being non-muslims is an essential connection between you and I.

    And now, turning to Holo’s comments:


    Here’s the deal: If you view the mind as being fully describable in terms of material components and physical phenomena, then you assume a reductionist position that can only rely on operational definitions.

    As I’ve stated previously, I am not a materialist.


    f you contend the mind is an “emergent property” of the physical system (akin to spinning in a wheel–a wikedly false analogy I’ll not get into here), then you still haven’t gotten away from the reductionism of ontological monism, i.e., that there is only one kind of existent.

    I don’t make that claim either. The simple truth is that I don’t claim to know the underlying metaphysical basis of mind. I don’t see any way to verify or falsify any of the various positions philosophers have defended on that issue. It may be settled at some time in the future…or maybe it never will. But at this point it seems to me to be an open question.


    If, on the other hand, you view the mind as something “more” (I’m admittedly being sloppy with my language to keep it non-technical) than the material components and associated physical phenomena (distantly analogous to a house being “more” than a collection of bricks, boards, mortar, and nails AND more than a naming convention), then you have a lot of explaining to do… primarily to yourself. Why? Because you’re admitting to an immaterial existent.

    That might be a problem if I was, as you seem to be assuming, a materialist.

    But I’m not. The idea of immaterial existents isn’t a problem for me—except in the sense that I don’t know any way they could be confirmed. But I’m perfectly comfortable with admitting that there are things I don’t know.

    Here’s another example:


    I’d agree with you from the purely MES perspective.

    I don’t know what you mean by “MES”. What is that short for?


    what does it mean to “have” a mind, and (trust me, this is no trite word games)

    I thought you might have a problem with that phrasing. And, yes, I think it would be more accurate to say that a person IS a mind rather than HAS a mind.


    Finally, let me try Boethius’ (admittedly broad) definition on you to try to understand how that doesn’t fit your views: a person is an individual substance of a rational nature.

    You brought that up before. While Boethius may be the first to explicitly define “personhood” he was hardly the last philosopher to do so. He defined it according to a set of background beliefs which I don’t share. Discussion of personhood is not limited to his definition nor only in the context of his background beliefs. And, admittedly, I am not well read in the works of Boethius or other medieval christian philosophers. Its not a period in the philosophical literature I’ve ever had much interest in.

    However, this discussion is straying from the topic of genocide back to the subject of abortion and personhood.

    I see little reason to rehash that discussion and, since no one is arguing that those killed in Israel’s destruction of whole nations aren’t persons, it’s off topic. I prefer to stick to the discussion at hand.

  34. David:

    Okay, fair enough. I’m not going to pursue much of what was raised. Also, I am publicly apologizing to you for forgetting what you DID mention earlier–that you are not a materialist. I find that fascinating… but I hope you don’t share in the silly pseudo-“spirituality” antheism of naturalism.org.

  35. I have no problem with the idea of “spirituality” in a purely psychological sense (one that doesn’t involve belief in contact with some sort of “higher reality”). Meditation and other forms of “centering” seem useful and practical as an aid to psychological well-being.

    However, its not really my thing—though I should probably give it a try; it might be good for my blood pressure—which tends to run high in my family. As to the term “spirituality”I’m not much inclined to use it as a way of to describing such things. The connotations are misleading.

  36. Dave Ellis

    “My position is, stated in its barest form, that a person endorsing and claiming that God endorsed past genocides weakens the effect and credibility (or, at the very least, perceived credibility) of criticisms they might make of present genocides.

    Those who don’t endorse any past genocide nor claim that God endorsed them do not suffer from this credibility problem in regard to their criticisms of present genocides.”

    Could not agree more.

    Now the fact that you are being involuntarily labelled by others as you have been here are acts of prejudice and bigotry, which are well recognised as being the first steps on the path to genocide. If anyone is genuinely averse to genocide one has to to be averse to promoting prejudice and bigotry. If “love the enemy” gives them permission to make prejudiced and bigoted comments, even if they have no intention of it leading to genocide, that makes a mockery of their defence that they have “love thy enemy” and you don’t.

    The best antidote to future genocide is condemning prejudice and bigotry and making it unacceptable anywhere in the world.

  37. I’m being involuntarily labelled by others here as a person who involuntarily labels others. I did no such thing—see the end of this comment on the same topic. I object to being labelled a prejudiced bigot, and I object to the bigotry of anyone who would do that, and to the path toward genocide they have just begun to walk on.

    Actually, more than that I really object to the attitude I myself have just expressed in the first and last sentences in that paragraph (though I still stand by the middle one). Very quick to judge, very quick to find fault, very quick to label. I hope that having it reflected back to you here has demonstrated how absurd and unproductive it is.

    This kind of thing has been going on too many days here. Let’s stop it, for Pete’s sake, or I’m going to shut down all the comments.

  38.