More Pretending From Boghossian

So here I am reading Peter Boghossian’s Manual for Creating Atheists, marking pages where he’s built his position on straw-man versions of faith, contradicted himself, and committed a host of other sins against his own chosen profession of philosophy. Actually in spite of that there are some things I like about him, which I’ll write up when I actually review the book. I haven’t finished it, so it would be premature now. But I just ran across a scene that wouldn’t let me go until I said something about it here.

He tells about a conversation with a “nicely groomed” young man he ran into during one of his rare visits to a church. He asked the man to tell him what he would do if he became convinced God told him to kill all the left-handed people in the world. The young man resisted the question wisely, and repeatedly, with his conviction that God wouldn’t do that. Boghossian pressed him: “But what if….” Finally the man accepted the premise of the question: “Yes, if I were convinced God told me to do it, then I would do it.”

Quite manifestly, what he was saying was, “If I were convinced God told me to do it [which I know would never happen[, then [in that impossible situation] I would do it [yet—although I’m humoring you on your question—I know that God wouldn’t say that].”

Then he asks, “What’s your point?” Dr. Boghossian replies, “I don’t really have a point. I’m just trying to figure out the limits of your faith. It seems to me your faith is limitless. You’d do anything you think God wanted you to do, including murder innocents.”

Which is absolutely outrageous.

The contrafactual, hypothetical position he badgered the man into adopting for the sake of argument was outside the limits of the man’s faith throughout the whole conversation. Boghossian wasn’t testing the limits of anything; the man had already established his limits. Instead he set up a pretend thought-game and then acted as if its results represented something real about the man’s beliefs. He acted, in fact, as if by pretending this he had learned something: which is perilously close to “pretending to know things you don’t know,” his (mis)definition of faith.

You’ll find this on pages 89 through 92. There’s more to be said about the book, but that’s enough for now. It’s totally in keeping with the manipulativeness I’ve identified in Boghossian earlier in this series.

P.S. I can’t help pointing out that on page 32 he pronounced his support for “international family planning organizations”—which is to say, abortion providers. So much for his judgmentalism concerning the murder of innocents.

Comments

  1. John Moore

    You say God wouldn’t ask such a thing? What about Abraham sacrificing Isaac (Genesis 22). I think Kierkegaard discussed this in depth with his book “Fear and Trembling.”

  2. SteveK

    Sounds something like this.

    Boghossian: “Suppose you’re a woman, what color dress would you prefer to wear?”

    Me: “Blue”

    Boghossian: “Oh my! You’re a man and you’re telling me that you’d prefer to wear a blue dress? Wow, that certainly is odd. I just learned something new about you.”

  3. Billy Squibs

    I suppose the question that arises is “how do you know that God won’t ask you to kill? After all he asked the Israelites to kill.”

    That’s a valid question, and I don’t feel confident that I could give a very good answer to that. Of course this not to say that such answers don’t exist. Rather, any robust answer will be necessarily complex. And it seems to me that so often these types of questions aren’t asked in good faith (Boghossian gives us a good example) or people are looking for a pat answer.

  4. Victoria

    Regarding Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22:
    There are three to be asked:
    1. What is the ANE context in which this takes place?
    2. What is God’s purpose here ( cf Hebrews 11)?
    3. Is this supposed to be normative for all believers, especially in the light of Christ’s own sacrifice and resurrection?
    – see also Jeremiah 19 ( especially Jeremiah 19:5)

    They have built places here for worship of the god Baal so that they could sacrifice their children as burnt offerings to him in the fire. Such sacrifices are something I never commanded them to make! They are something I never told them to do! Indeed, such a thing never even entered my mind!

    see Exodus 13:13 and Deuteronomy 12:29-31.

    There is also the fact that the angel of the Lord told Abraham to stop and not harm the boy – read the whole narrative (Genesis 22:1-18).

    The same principles can be applied to other passages in the OT as well,
    so it is as Billy Squibs said – the robust answer is necessarily complex.

  5. Keith

    Victoria @4:

    When the Bible says something of which a Christian approves (“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.”, or “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female”, or “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”), we’re told the Bible is written in such a way as to make it as clear as the nose on your face what God meant.

    But when it’s something of which a Christian doesn’t approve (“Women should remain silent in the churches.”, or “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you.”, or “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”, suddenly it’s all about context, subtlety, nuance and the culture, if it’s normative or not, was it a ceremonial or universal moral law, or that reliable standby, “Adamic representation”.

    It’s almost like readers are making the Bible align with some innate or culturally derived sense of morality.

  6. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    No, it’s that Genesis 22 was clearly not normative. It was sui generis, it had a unique purpose in its place. That’s not true of sexual morality in the Bible.

    But that’s a side trip. What are your thoughts on Boghossian’s tactics?

  7. Victoria

    Paul told us (2 Timothy 3:16-17), as did David in Psalm 19, and the writer of Psalm 119 by implication, that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

    It is therefore not a question of our approval or disapproval, likes or dislikes – the Holy Spirit is the Teacher, what He caused to be authored is the textbook, and the events and circumstances it records are part and parcel of God’s plan of redemption unfolding in human history.
    We are obliged by the nature of the material to read literately (that is, grammatical-historical-in-context), humbly (that is, to be teachable), prayerfully (that is, in dependence on the indwelling Holy Spirit) to understand the text, and apply it to our own lives, and be changed by what we learn.

    There is more to understanding God’s Word than just being able to repeat the words.

    The three questions I posed for Genesis 22 are but a subset of all the relevant questions that one might ask of the Biblical text in general. However they are important questions, and doing one’s due diligence (as I described above) goes a long way to answering counterfactuals like those posed ad nauseum by Christianity’s critics.

    Interested readers can refer to this excellent online resource for principles of Biblical interpretation

    https://bible.org/series/you-can-understand-bible-introduction-and-application-contextualtextual-method-biblical-inter

  8. Keith

    Tom @6:

    It was a side-trip, apologies for going OT.

    I’ve been thinking about this article all day, on-and-off.

    This is the only post in this series that struck me as wrong; where I’ve re-read a post several times thinking “Tom can’t have said what I thought he just said.”

    In the Old Testament, God killed infants in the Flood and ordered his followers to kill infants in Amalek.

    It seems to me that for a Christian to think “which I know would never happen”, “in that impossible situation”, and “I know God wouldn’t say that”, would require hubris and historical ignorance.

    And, of course, we don’t have to go to the Old Testament; Christians are burning witches in Africa right now. This witch-burning is linked to the Pentecostal movement: Christians to whom God speaks directly. The only logical conclusion is a group of Christians taking orders from God to burn witches, as we speak.

    Boghossian’s question is a fair one: it’s not a counterfactual or hypothetical position.

  9. Keith

    Billy Squibs @3:

    I disagree any “any robust answer will be necessarily complex”.

    William L. Craig has a robust, simple answer to this particular question:

    For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition. He can give and take life as He chooses.

    Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.

    The problem I see with his answer is not the focus, but the qualification: “If we believe … God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy”. He gets all the way down the road, but hesitates to turn the corner. God bears no responsibility to ensure those who die in infancy are recipients of his grace, as in Calvinism He bears no responsibility for the fate of those He doesn’t select.

    Complex answers are needed when we want a God that conforms to our notions of morality.

    For example, I believe the “theologically correct” answer to the question of slavery is “Slavery is an awful, horrible, terrible thing from a human perspective; the Bible makes it clear slavery doesn’t bother God much, if at all.”

    If you want a God that conforms to your notions of morality, Christianity may not be the religion for you. 🙂

  10. Melissa

    Keith,

    For example, I believe the “theologically correct” answer to the question of slavery is “Slavery is an awful, horrible, terrible thing from a human perspective; the Bible makes it clear slavery doesn’t bother God much, if at all.”

    The Bible does not make it clear that slavery doesn’t bother God much, if at all. I refer you to Neh 5 and Jer 34, and all the many passages that tell the Israelites not to oppress the alien, to remember that they were slaves in Egypt. So you see it is anything but “clear” that slavery doesn’t bother God much.

  11. Victoria

    @Melissa
    Aw, you beat me to it 🙂 I was going to see if Keith had done his due diligence and considered what the prophets had to say about how the nation of Israel (Judah/Israel) failed to obey God’s covenant – specifically Jeremiah 34.

  12. Keith

    Melissa @10:

    I will grant there are verses against the slavery of Israelites, but slavery in general?

    I won’t say there aren’t any, but I don’t know of any — do you?

    Regardless, “oppressing the alien” isn’t exactly abolitionist, and since the Israelites enslaved each other, I don’t even see it’s on-point.

    Leviticus 25:44-46, Exodus 21:2-6, Exodus 21:7-11, Exodus 21:20-21 are definitive in the Old Testament. God unquestionably takes the view that ““You shall not commit adultery” is a more important rule than “You shall not own other people”.

    Jesus said nothing against slavery as an institution, and then there’s Ephesians 6:5 and 1 Timothy 6:1-2, which are at least accepting of slavery.

    Paul has no problem with slavery: in Philemon he returns Onesimus to Philemon with no suggestion he be freed, and in Titus 2 he says “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”

    As Richard Fuller said in 1845: “What God sanctioned in the Old Testament, and permitted in the New, cannot be a sin.”

  13. Keith

    Melissa @10, Victoria @11:

    As far as I can see, Jeremiah 34 is entirely about freeing Hebrew slaves; is there an argument it speaks more generally against slavery as an institution?

  14. Victoria

    @Keith
    You’ll have to infer that from a deep understanding of Biblical principles, a la 2 Timothy 3:16. As far as you can see? Better get your eyes (and heart) checked. It is far deeper than just whether or not they freed their countrymen.

    We’ve had this discussion on slavery before, so I don’t want to go down this rabbit trail of yours any further – if you think that Richard Fuller’s opinion is worth anything at all, then you really don’t understand Christian principles at all.

    Why do you want to know, anyway? Is your purpose in reading the Bible so that the Spirit of God can transform you so that you reflect the character of the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 5 and Micah 6:8, for example)? Do you want to fall more in love with Him so that you look forward to spending eternity with Him and all of us who have been redeemed by Him?. Or are you here to pick at the fact that God worked out His plan of redemption within human history as a progressive act and not all at once, and did so in His sovereign providence?

  15. Victoria

    William Wilberforce, John Wesley and John Newton were able to infer from Christian principles that slavery was not part of God’s intent for humanity, nor should it be sanctioned as part of His redemptive plan – why are you not considering what they had to say, Keith? Why do you quote Fuller, and not the abolitionists? Confirmation bias if ever there was an example.

  16. Keith

    Victoria, @14:

    I did not mean to raise slavery as a topic — I think slavery is the most interesting morality question in the Bible, that’s why I mentioned it when discussing Billy Squibs @ 3. No intent to dig holes, in other words.

    To say Richard Fuller’s opinion is worthless is a stretch: as a founder of the Southern Baptist movement he has theological credentials. It’s easy to critique others from an historical view: what surprises me is how we do so without admitting how our views might be equally flawed.

    As to sovereign providence, we’re on the same page: I agree with you, that was the heart of my post @ 9.

    Why do I want to know? Ah, I’m blushing — let’s just call it mankind’s ceaseless quest for truth.

  17. Keith

    Victoria @15:

    I never intended to say there’s no abolitionist sentiment in the Bible (and I’m pretty sure I didn’t say that).

    Tom quotes R. Hardaman, “The abolitionist movement itself was essentially a movement to reinstate Christian morality in the South. If it were not for Christianity and, with that, Christian morality there would have been no abolitionist movement and slavery would not have ended when it did.”

    I think that’s correct, with the caveat that it was one particular version of Christian morality that was reinstated.

    Are you saying Wilberforce, Wesley and Newton were simply better theologians than Fuller, Witherspoon, Dabney and Thornwell?

    Sure, plant that flag. 🙂

    Oddly enough, Christians have the same track-record as everybody else on hard questions: sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong.

  18. Crude

    To say Richard Fuller’s opinion is worthless is a stretch: as a founder of the Southern Baptist movement he has theological credentials. It’s easy to critique others from an historical view: what surprises me is how we do so without admitting how our views might be equally flawed.

    I don’t really see what his ‘credentials’ have to do with anything – it would be Fuller’s arguments we need to rely on, and it’s entirely possible (more than possible – I think it’s the actual case) for his arguments to be utter crap in spite of his credentials. I think once we take a good look at what was really going on with slavery as it was known then, the ability to find a credible ‘Christian defense’ of it is remarkably unlikely.

    The problem that seems to come up here is that people treat all given potential Christian defenses as somehow having the exact same intellectual and scriptural support, and therefore they’re all equally likely to true, or at least are all equally reasonable in light of the evidence, etc. Pardon me, but that’s a complete load of crap. No, you’re going to have to engage in some of the most objectively complicated exegesis to justify kidnapping a man from his town, throwing chains on him, beating the tar out of him or even crippling him when he rejects his condition (not to mention killing him if he runs away), etc, as ‘compatible with Christianity’.

    Now, you can rebut that quite a number of slaveowners apparently argued that this was a very convincing argument. But you can just as easily say, sorry – this doesn’t past the smell test. Let’s recognize that we’re not talking about some particular, isolated, wholly religious act, as if people were holding slaves and treating them the way they did out of a sense of obligation to God. It was business. In fact, it was a secular institution. I’m amazed that people are able to question the sincerity of an argument that conveniently – with very thin intellectual justification – allows a man to enrich himself normally… but when the subject turns to religion, whoops: no, it’s all quite sincere, they must have really believed that. No conscious bias there, no sir!

    Are you saying Wilberforce, Wesley and Newton were simply better theologians than Fuller, Witherspoon, Dabney and Thornwell?

    Sure, plant that flag.

    Flag planted. It’s a pretty easy on to defend – but hey, I look forward to the argument that kidnapping men, whipping them into service, and killing them if they try to run away is easily made compatible with Christianity.

    As you said – sure, plant that flag. 😉

    Oddly enough, Christians have the same track-record as everybody else on hard questions: sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong.

    Not really – at least, not in the relevant sense. I think Christians actually have a vastly better track record than most when it comes to ‘the hard questions’. In fact, they seem to be the ones who, on the whole, can mostly reliably tell the difference between the hard questions and the easy questions to begin with.

    But more than that – there you go, with a very common move. See, Christian individuals aren’t who you need to argue with here. You need to argue with Christianity itself. (‘Which version?’ you’ll ask. ‘The one being discussed.’ will be the reply.) After all, that’s exactly what’s being challenged here. If Petebog is simply going after individual Christians for their failings, he’s playing a game that Christians themselves are more than happy to play. But if he’s going after Christianity – the arguments, teachings, beliefs, etc (and better yet, in all of their forms, or at least all of their major forms), then the individuals are pretty well irrelevant to the topic. He needs to deal with the teachings, regardless of the success of people adhering to them.

  19. Melissa

    Keith,

    I will just reiterate my previous statement: “The Bible does not make it clear that slavery doesn’t bother God much, if at all. ” My intention was (and is) not to take the comment thread off topic and into slavery but to show that your statement was wrong, which I have done. Clearly you were a little over zealous in your original statement.

    As to your main problem with the OP. If someone believes that God is a God that would never command them to hurt innocents, then that’s what they believe, which makes the question a counter factual one. Pointing to what other people are doing or the ancient Israelites records does not entail that he is wrong in his belief about God.

  20. Crude

    As for Petebog’s question in the OP…

    The funny thing is that Pete’s making it look as if he’s going after ‘faith’. But given the context of the question, Pete has absolutely zero problem with faith, even as he defines it: what he wants is a different kind of faith. Particularly, Pete wants faith in what God would not do, or would not command. Better yet, he wants faith that God does not exist, or that evidence doesn’t show God exists, or… etc. That’s all.

    Nowhere does Pete do much damage to the idea that God’s existence is knowable, or is something that you can conclude by reason. Nowhere does he do much damage to the idea that it can be entirely reasonable to regard such and such Church or teaching as legitimate revelation. Instead he plays a game of, ‘Well, if you think God exists, and if God commanded X, would you do what the surmised omnipotent, omniscient being asks of you? Or would you second guess Him – and for no other reason than an intuition or a sense of worry at the command?’ If you have faith in your ‘feeling’, your intuition, your sense of worry – particularly if it’s pointing in the direction Pete wants it to point – he has no problem with you whatsoever.

    Compare it to a more mundane situation. Say you’re a tribesman in a remote village, with a missionary in town. The missionary is a doctor. You can come to believe the missionary is well-informed, knowledgeable, that he can help people who are sick. You may not understand everything about the missionary, but in principle you can pick this up from a variety of ways.

    One day, a man comes to the missionary complaining about problems in his side. The missionary checks the man out, then rushes him into a building, puts him on a table – and he needs you to help him. In particular, he’s going to do something baffling to you – slice the man open, and chop out a large part of him.

    You are, quite simply, out of your league. You don’t know why he’s doing this, and he’s not explaining. Now, you have the knowledge that this missionary is knowledgeable, that he’s wise, that he’s capable – he’s not God, but he’s an authority. But now the authority is asking you to do as he tells you and help slice a man open. By the way? The missionary has made it clear in the past that slicing people open and chopping them up is most assuredly not okay. And even if he didn’t, you’ve pieced this together on your own.

    For Pete, refusing to take part in this act is not only acceptable – it’s pretty well mandatory. Having faith that the missionary is wrong – despite what you know about the missionary, despite having little more knowledge than ‘this does not sit well with me, and maybe the missionary even said this is wrong before’ – is quite okay. Laudable, even. Does the whole thing make you feel funny? Does it just SEEM wrong? Okay, that’ll do.

    Note that if Pete balks at an example like this and suggests that, no, the man SHOULD assist the missionary, he should NOT second guess the missionary because – based on what he knows so far – doing what the missionary asks is the best option… well, he’s just radically complicated his argument. If he says the man should NOT assist the missionary, then he’s baptizing faith – not the inaccurate faith he ascribes to Christians, but his own definition of faith – on the spot. It turns out, you can just let feelings and intuition overrule evidence if you wish. If he punts and says it can go either way – that both options are in principle reasonable – his case still collapses.

    Now, he can try and salvage his argument. Maybe argue that ‘Well, if the man has zero evidence or reason that compels him God exists and…’ That’s still going to be laden with minefields, because he’ll still be operating with some kind of faith – it just may not be faith running contrary to his reason. Other options seem just as problematic.

    But as it stands? Pete wants you to have faith. Just faith in what he prefers, thank you.

  21. Keith

    Crude, @18:

    A credible Christian defense of slavery is easy to find — many church and religious writings of the American South were pro-slavery. You may not find it credible, but the people of the time certainly did.

    When you say “you’re going to have to engage in some of the most objectively complicated exegesis to justify kidnapping a man from his town”, please consider Deuteronomy 20:10 (“When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you.”). Crude, that’s far from “complicated exegesis”.

    To say slaveholders were driven by secular concerns seems reasonable, but I’ve never argued they were driven by Christian charity. Christian exegesis, both historical and modern is often driven by secular concerns (see prosperity gospel).

    When you say “argue with Christianity itself”, I think that’s what Boghossian is doing. Doesn’t God demand obedience from His followers in all major versions of Christianity? And hasn’t God historically commanded His followers to kill infants? Boghossian is pushing an adherent to consider the logical consequences of his faith in his god.

  22. Keith

    Melissa, @19:

    I’m going to stand by the statement; as I pointed out, adultery made the top 10, but slavery didn’t. Imagine you were writing 10 rules for your kids, and had a choice between clarity on adultery or on slavery. Which would you choose?

    I take your point about the individual’s beliefs — that makes it counterfactual for that individual, and I hadn’t considered that point-of-view. Thank you!

  23. Melissa

    Keith,

    I’m going to stand by the statement; as I pointed out, adultery made the top 10, but slavery didn’t. Imagine you were writing 10 rules for your kids, and had a choice between clarity on adultery or on slavery. Which would you choose?

    You’re going to stand by the statement that it is clear that God is hardly bothered by slavery, if at all? … Right. It’s “clear” if you ignore the parts where it’s not clear.

  24. Keith

    Melissa @23:

    You’re asking for clarity, and the Bible is nothing if not able to equally support incompatible ideas.

    As we both know, there are verses strongly contradicting Jesus’ divinity and the Trinity. Do you believe those concepts to be “clear”?

    In which case, let’s agree they’re only “clear” if you ignore the parts where they’re not clear.

    In a nutshell:

    – Where the OT mentions slavery, it is more neutral or positive than negative. Yes, there is abolitionist sentiment, but in your words, it’s more “clear” on the pro-slavery side than the anti-slavery side. (The books you mentioned: Nehemiah is a first-person narrative, and Nehemiah 5 is primarily about charging interest, slavery isn’t the focus; Jeremiah is a prophetic book, and Jeremiah 34 only speaks of freeing Hebrew slaves. Compare and contrast those with the books of “Instruction” which include detailed rules on how slavery should be practiced.)

    – Jesus says nothing against slavery, the original 12 apostles say nothing against slavery, Paul is at the least neutral and given Titus 2, likely positive toward slavery.

    Are either of those statements untrue?

    It seems to me that if God is bothered by slavery, He’s remarkably silent on the topic.

  25. Victoria

    As we both know, there are verses strongly contradicting Jesus’ divinity and the Trinity. Do you believe those concepts to be “clear”?

    No, Keith, there are sections of Scripture that clearly teach Jesus’ divinity, and there are sections of Scripture that clearly teach His humanity, which is why a core Christian belief is that Jesus of Nazareth is both fully human and fully God.

    Interested Readers can start with https://bible.org/article/god-man and https://bible.org/topics/339/Christology

    No, Keith, there are sections of Scripture that clearly teach that God the Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and that these are distinct persons; there are sections of Scripture that clearly teach that Yahweh is One God, hence Christianity is monotheistic – that is why the early Church was lead to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity in the first place.

    Interested Readers can start with https://bible.org/article/trinity-triunity-god and https://bible.org/topics/390/Trinity

  26. BillT

    Keith,

    Where I believe the problems arise in understanding the Biblical opposition to slavery is in a failure to understand that it follows along a course of progressive revelation. We understand that God, through the Bible, is continuing to reveal His truth to us in a progressive fashion. We understand more today than yesterday and will understand more tomorrow than today. The Bible is the story of God breaking into history. The effect of this is a gradual change in people and in the world. God doesn’t begin with absolute declarations of every rule and every one of His intentions. He works though people (lucky him, huh?), changing and molding them to affect the world around them.

    One on the many, many things that is part of this change is the understanding that slavery isn’t part of His plan. However, He doesn’t do this by snapping His fingers and declaring it so. Getting there requires time and the gradual assimilation of His ethical and moral position. What we finally know now, without question, is that slavery has ended. And we know it has ended though the influence of the ethical and moral underpinnings that Christianity provided. All in good time and all according to His plan.

  27. SteveK

    Getting there requires time and the gradual assimilation of His ethical and moral position…..All in good time and all according to His plan.

    Because he wants our heart too, not just our obedience. Changing hearts takes time.

  28. Melissa

    Keith,

    1. Your original statement was wrong.

    2. The bible was written in a particular time and place and as such reflects the cultural context and concerns of the writers.

    3. Christians believe the bible is a living word not a dead letter and as such sprawls to our current situation critiquing it if we will let it.

    To dum up I will not be pulled into your game of bible interpretation that seeks to flatten the biblical texts.

  29. Crude

    Keith,

    A credible Christian defense of slavery is easy to find — many church and religious writings of the American South were pro-slavery. You may not find it credible, but the people of the time certainly did.

    This isn’t helping your case, Keith. In fact, it’s just making it worse. You’re equating ‘a credible defense’ with ‘people found / claimed to find this defense credible’.

    If you want to play that game, fine. In that case, credible critiques of your own claims exist. Credible critiques of evolutionary theory exist. Credible critiques of atheism exist. And Tom’s critique of Petebog is credible. So you’ve pretty much lost on that front immediately.

    But if you balk and say, no, just because people find an argument credible doesn’t mean that it IS credible – then you have to make and support the argument in question. And we’re quickly going to find whether or not it actually is credible.

    When you say “you’re going to have to engage in some of the most objectively complicated exegesis to justify kidnapping a man from his town”, please consider Deuteronomy 20:10 (“When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you.”). Crude, that’s far from “complicated exegesis”.

    It is the moment you realize A) Deuteronomy 20 is talking about the context of not just war, but war for a nation that – by the time Christ appeared – was nowhere on the scene, and B) the added context of the New Testament, which discussed how to deal with enemies, sinners, and more in quite a lot of detail.

    Remember: your argument here isn’t that slavery was justified in some historical biblical contexts. It’s that Civil War era slavery was easily justified. Deuteronomy 20 gives you basically no support on that front. The New Testament makes the argument impossible without exactly what I claimed – extraordinarily complicated exegesis.

    Why are you balking and changing the subject? Shouldn’t this be an easy argument to make?

    To say slaveholders were driven by secular concerns seems reasonable, but I’ve never argued they were driven by Christian charity. Christian exegesis, both historical and modern is often driven by secular concerns (see prosperity gospel).

    Great – I have zero problem condemning the prosperity gospel as utterly shallow and wrong. Once again, the problem for both you and Petebog is that your position is not and cannot be ‘well this particular esoteric Christian teaching is bad’. It has to be far more total than that.

    When you say “argue with Christianity itself”, I think that’s what Boghossian is doing. Doesn’t God demand obedience from His followers in all major versions of Christianity? And hasn’t God historically commanded His followers to kill infants? Boghossian is pushing an adherent to consider the logical consequences of his faith in his god.

    Actually, as I argued, Petebog is arguing that Christians should just have faith – literally, faith by Pete’s own standards of ‘no evidence or reason behind it’ – in another claim. In fact, Pete is actually arguing that faith should be embraced *in opposition to knowledge*. The only way he can get himself out of that is by sabotaging his whole argument from the get-go.

    Further, it’s not a ‘logical consequence’ for reasons others have already given. It’s entirely possible to believe that God would never command act X, or engage in act Y – and in fact this is tremendously common among Christians. Now, you may believe that their belief that God would never do such things is incorrect – but until you demonstrate that that, or that they’re wrong to believe as much, then you don’t get anywhere near the ‘logical consequences’ Pete wants you to get to.

    Maybe you can make an argument about a God someone does NOT believe in. ‘Say you believed in God, and didn’t believe that God wouldn’t command X. So God commands you to do X. Would you do it?’ Of course, all the bite is out of the argument at that point. But the funny thing is, Pete is *still* in a rotten position, for the reasons I already argued.

    Really, Petebog’s pretty well sunk on these points. He swang, he missed – it happens.

  30. Andrew W

    Further engagement with PB’s question:

    (1) Modern society has several classes of people who kill others with social sanction: police, soldiers, judges (capital punishment). Is it so far fetched that God might at some point in history command the same?

    (2) PB’s question is vexatious and ingenuous, as the hypothesis includes turning an a-moral issue into a moral one. Every instance of sanctioned killing in Scripture, whether by Israel or secular powers, is grounded in morality.

    (3) If we’re really that concerned about mass killing, I suggest that we look first to the abortion industry. It’s blatant hypocrisy to decry God commanding the Israelites to kill the (reportedly) immoral while we’re happy to condone killing of those who “have done neither good nor bad” (ref Rom 9). It’s one thing to have moral qualms about all killing, and quite another to set yourself up as the moral authority (in opposition to God) on who does and doesn’t deserve to live.

    (4) Somewhat off topic: a lot of our moral issues with the Scriptures are because we uncritically accept the modernist / romantic world-view that “human dignity & value” = “autonomy & self-determination”. Start from this viewpoint, and anything that defines a person’s identity or worth by something that they did not themselves choose is a serious moral offence. Historically speaking, this is a novel way of thinking about human value, and a key reason that modern people find it hard to wrap their heads around ancient thought – we define “human” quite differently.

  31. BillB

    I don’t think it’s a necessarily unfair question for PB to ask.

    Leaving aside the OT+NT, didn’t God Himself kill a quarter of a million people in the 2004 tsunami? And isn’t every person on earth by definition a sinner and deserving of death? Isn’t God entitled to take the life of anyone by any means He chooses?

    I grant that it’s highly unlikely that God should to order me to kill. And were He to do so, naturally I would seek (repeated) confirmation. But if it isn’t immoral for God to take life as He sees fit, on what grounds can I be 100% certain that such an order is an impossibility?

  32. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    BillB, if we’re going to go that direction, I suggest you look at my discussion here, in the paragraph beginning, “Let’s be very realistic about this….”

    The reason we can be certain that such an order is impossible is because throughout Scripture it’s clear that God has reserved killing for himself, and for civil authorities for just causes only. See e.g. Romans 12:9-21, Matt. 5:7, Matt. 5:21-26, Matt. 5:38-48, Romans 13:1-5.

  33. BillB

    @Tom

    Was God’s command to Abraham an exception to this rule? I can’t see how Abraham could be considered a “civil authority” when he was traveling outside his home country.

    Of course, in this instance God eventually countermanded the order to kill. But this isn’t relevant if we’re discussing the possibility of God giving an order to kill in the first place.

    If it has happened even once in history, I cannot be 100% certain that it won’t happen again. And in the absence of 100% certainty, it seems to me an honest question to ask what I would do in that circumstance.

  34. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    God’s command to Abraham was exceptional in many ways. Isaac was the child of promise, through whom God had said Abraham would multiply to be a great nation. The command was a test, it clearly says at the beginning of the chapter, and God did not allow him to carry it through to the actual killing of Isaac. Abraham went there with the assurance, as he told Isaac, that God himself would provide the lamb for the sacrifice; the NT (in Hebrews 11) interprets this as meaning possibly that Abraham expected he would receive Isaac back from the dead because of God’s very specific promise, and that figuratively speaking he did.

  35. Andrew W

    I think what makes the question reasonable in PB’s mind is that he views Christianity, and faith, for that matter, as arbitrary.

    So, PB thinks of himself as asking: “If your arbitrary God asked you to perform this arbitrary action …”.

    While anyone with a passing understanding of Christian theology sees the question as: “If your (mostly) coherent God asked you to perform this obviously incoherent action …”. It’s comparable to taking a hospital to task for not having ethical procedures in place to deal with someone growing bone tusks from their shoulders.

  36. BillB

    I find it a bit curious … nobody is arguing that God simply wouldn’t order one person to kill another because that would be an immoral thing to do.

    Is our innate moral sense so flawed that we can’t reliably apply it to God even in these extremely contrived circumstances?

  37. The original Mr. X

    BillB @ 33:

    “I can’t see how Abraham could be considered a “civil authority” when he was traveling outside his home country.”

    TBH I’m not sure modern ideas about “civil authorities” would be very relevant when considering 2nd millennium BC desert nomads. Altho’ it is perhaps worth pointing out that in quite a few societies fathers did have much more power over their families than in the modern West. E.g., in early Roman law the paterfamilias was given the right of life and death over his wives and children (including adult children).

    @ 36:

    “I find it a bit curious … nobody is arguing that God simply wouldn’t order one person to kill another because that would be an immoral thing to do.”

    Well, the idea that killing is always wrong no matter what is actually quite an extreme view (which is why a candidate running for office on a policy of disbanding all the armed forces would be unlikely to get many votes).

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