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67 thoughts on “Answering Moral Objections to the Old Testament”

  1. Carlos says:

    Many things I find laughable and dangerous about Williams’ comments. Only in the first 5 minutes I find this laughable: the comparison of God ordering murder and genocide of innocent children, to a responsible parent telling children to leave the park. This is not God “spanking” his/her flock to sort of have a firm and authoritative way of teaching them. This is God ordering murder, genocide, and the slaughter of children that didn’t even have the time to sin (one has to assume that some of the Amalekite women that order commanded to kill in Samuel 15:3 were pregnant). This is irreconcilable. The comparison is either dishonest or ignorant of logic.

    Christianity has a very tough task: continue condoning the Old Testament and Mosaic Law as something that can be maintained as any sort of foundation of moral code. If it doesn’t, then the whole divinity of the bible is out the window, and this book being the “word of God”, then the whole religion is out the window. If it does, as it still tries on the 21st century, they are obligated to reconcile the irreconcilable. They are either being incompetent, or dishonest.

    Thanks for reading

    1. steve hays says:

      Carlos,

      You’re making a string of tendentious assertions without any supporting arguments.

      For someone who touts logic, you need to distinguish between killing and murder. They are not morally equivalent. Although murder is killing, not all killing is murder. Don’t presume to be so judgmental if you’re unable to draw rudimentary ethical distinctions.

      You also need to learn how to think for yourself instead of regurgitating the talking-points of atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. The OT doesn’t command “genocide.” The Canaanites aren’t targeted for ethnic reasons, but ethical reasons.

      In addition, there’s no command to systematically eradicate the Canaanite people-group. Rather, they are allowed to live in peace outside the borders of Israel so long as they allow Israel to live in peace.

  2. Carlos says:

    I can’t believe what I’m hearing from minute 9:00 on … is Mr Williams actually saying that Christians live in a world with different physical laws as the rest of the world, laws that non-believers don’t understand?

    Even if Mr Williams maybe said this nonsense by mistake, what comes next is appalling. Under Divine Command theory, the suffering and murder of Isaac is justified by God’s desire to test Abraham’s faith. So petty. So unnecessary. What greater good justifies the killing of another human being? Outside of religion, in ANY OTHER CONTEXT, this would be considered not only immoral but evil, it would simply not be allowed. There’s a reason why today Christianity (thankfully) lives under the social rules of secular states, which don’t allow it. I cannot make myself and my moral code subject to such horrific worldview.

    This type of argument has been tried and tried and tried through the centuries. Human kind as come to know way too much about itself and the cosmos to be subject to this type of macabre worldview.

    Thanks for reading

    1. steve hays says:

      Carlos,

      Have you even read Gen 22 for yourself? Isaac wasn’t “murdered.” He wasn’t even killed. It was a counterfactual command. Moreover, what makes you think he “suffered”? You’re not getting that from the text.

      “What greater good justifies the killing of another human being? Outside of religion, in ANY OTHER CONTEXT, this would be considered not only immoral but evil, it would simply not be allowed. There’s a reason why today Christianity (thankfully) lives under the social rules of secular states, which don’t allow it.”

      Secular ideologies often justify killing for the common good. Where have you been?

      “I cannot make myself and my moral code subject to such horrific worldview.”

      And what’s the basis for your moral code? How to you warrant objective moral norms?

  3. MarkO says:

    Carlos, you write:
    “What greater good justifies the killing of another human being?”

    That is the exact reasoning used by the High Priest to justify the killing (murder) of Jesus (see John 11:50). Yet, God used the Sanhedrin’s moral choice, so called, for a greater moral consequence.

    Many of the criticisms the atheist has against the Scripture are a result of his not accepting the fact that God is working out His divine Plan of Redemption (a very righteous thing to do), yet within the confines of an polluted humanity and in an evil world. So very much of the evil in our world is due to man abusing other men. One might that after thousands of years we humans would bring a halt to our killing and violating one another, but continue on with no end in sight. God should just go ahead and be done with us, but alas His mercy prevails.

    1. Carlos says:

      Thanks for replying Mark.

      I think the point is that even with the premise of all humanity being born with the stigma of a sin, calling murder and genocide something righteous and merciful can only make sense within the confines of religion. In today’s world, this is just unacceptable and is rejected by even religious people !

      I submit to you that we don’t have to accept the very premise you are suggesting to live our lives: a bipolar, self-centered God who uses unnecessary killing, suffering, and human degradation (see treatment on women in both the OT and the NT) as a method of teaching humankind about good and evil, as part of a “Plan of Redemption”. According to this worldview, you would have to grab your weapon of choice and kill me right now because of my apostasy. According to this worldview, 5 billion people on this earth are going to suffer an eternity of conscious torture burning in hell only because they happened to be born in a country or culture where Christianity is not predominant. This God is either very incompetent or very evil.

      In fact, religion is so sectarian that Christians don’t accept this worldview from the god of Islam, who also calls his/her followers to kill the infidel in his/her book. And does so in the same manner of the Old Testament: trying to rid the world of entire towns and civilizations. However Christianity accepts it when it comes from the Old Testament. How do you explain the contradiction? I think I know the answer: Christianity is better than Islam, say Christians … the dreadful answer that has caused so many wars and unnecessary suffering through the centuries.

      Christianity gives humankind an ultimatum based on a foundation of fear. It’s not based on conviction, or shared values. It’s because you are born a sinner and if you don’t reconcile the irreconcilable you are going to hell (according to the nice New Covenant you are going to hell … according to Mosaic Law, the one defended in the videos of this thread, you are to be stoned to death). Such a distorted and dangerous worldview !

      Thanks for reading

      1. J. Clark says:

        “In today’s world..” Please tell us how enlightened “today’s” world is.
        Nietzsche, help rid us of our duality.
        This ought to be good.

        1. Carlos says:

          Thanks for replying J. Clark.

          I really don’t claim to be Nietzsche, far from it. I’m just a layman, plain and simple. I think you can tell by the way I write.

          I am also not claiming that this world is enlightened. Far from it. This world is cruel, unfair, and evil.

          Nice try on both accounts, though. Ridicule is usually an effective strategy, kudos.

          But the fact that this world is cruel, unfair, and evil, doesn’t mean that we need to accept a cruel, unfair, and often times evil solution to the problem. The solution to evil, in the worldview of the Christian God, on both the old and new testament, is … more cruelty, unfairness, and evil. Let’s slaughter the “sinners” (Old Testament), or send them to an eternity of conscious torture and suffering while burning in hell ((New Testament). So much for love thy neighbor.

          Genocide is still a reality in the 21st century, and it’s man made. But through the ages a good part of the world has learned that it’s not really conducive to the well being of human kind. We don’t need a God to tell us that. We continue to fight against it.

          But condoning murder and genocide in the bible is just contradictory to our well being. I wouldn’t mind if it wasn’t so powerful and dangerous: when advertised from the pulpit, it has been the cause of so many dark chapters of history (crusades, inquisition, suicide bombings, honor killings, religious cleansing, etc etc etc etc etc etc etc). Unnecessary killing leads to … more killing. We have enough of that, don’t need religion to augment it (again, see crusades, inquisition, suicide bombings, etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc).

          That’s my humble opinion. Go ahead, Thomas Aquinas, reply if you want. But if you do, try something a bit more substantive this time.

          Thanks for reading.

      2. steve hays says:

        Carlos:

        

”…calling murder and genocide something righteous and merciful can only make sense within the confines of religion. In today’s world, this is just unacceptable and is rejected by even religious people !”

        *You’re* the one who’s calling it “murder” and “genocide.” You impute your own interpretation to the opposing side, then generate a specious contradiction. You need to cultivate the critical detachment to distinguish your own notions from the position to presume to critique.

        “God who uses unnecessary killing…”

        Begs the question.

        “…and human degradation (see treatment on women in both the OT and the NT).”

        Begs the question.

        “In fact, religion is so sectarian that Christians don’t accept this worldview from the god of Islam, who also calls his/her followers to kill the infidel in his/her book. And does so in the same manner of the Old Testament: trying to rid the world of entire towns and civilizations. However Christianity accepts it when it comes from the Old Testament. How do you explain the contradiction?”

        There’s an elementary difference between true religion and false religion.

        1. Carlos says:

          Thanks for replying Steve. Just a couple of comments:

          “*You’re* the one who’s calling it “murder” and “genocide.” You impute your own interpretation to the opposing side, then generate a specious contradiction.”

          Murder is murder, let’s call it what it is. You can justify it in several ways, many of which may let you sleep at night. The Old Testament seems to justify it for non-believers (Chronicles 15:12-13), but also for unborn children of sinners (Samuel 12:11-18 , Kings 14, and many many others), an entire town because of a few sinner troublemakers in said town (Deuteronomy 13:13-19), women who wouldn’t be virgin when they marry (Deuteronomy 22:20-21 ), and thousands of other unnecessary reasons.

          The killing is not uncommon. Please are killed seemingly every other paragraph of the OT. It looks like the Christian God only knows one way of teaching the flock, in the OT.

          “There’s an elementary difference between true religion and false religion”

          If you are saying that your religion is better than theirs, you are reliving the cause of even more murder through the ages. We’d need another few hundred lines to discuss that one, but it’s off topic really. Suffice it to say I just don’t see the difference between the atrocities Mr Williams tries to justify in his lectures to those in the Quran. Yes, the big difference is the watered-down version of morals in the New Covenant, but again if you look at the essence it’s more of the same: non-believers (non-believers in the Christian God, that is) won’t be killed, but they will be spend an eternity in hell.

          Same essence, different method.

  4. ericwilliammattingly says:

    It seems incongruent that he argues God’s moral calculus (especially given that God can see the future) is partially justified by the end of child sacrifice, and yet the killing of children was part of the herem.

    Also, I’m not so sure that we can bracket matters of historicity entirely away from the Book of Joshua. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t seek for integrity within the text (he makes a good point there), but why must we presuppose the grand coherence of Christian tradition? That would be like assuming Shakespeare’s Henry V must have some necessary thematic and logical connection to a theoretical contemporary play on the same subject. Or, worse, a modern historical novel. Likewise, we know that– just for instance– Deutoronomy was a later addition to the pentateuch and could very well be acting as a revisionist attempt to explain away the distasteful nature of the Israelite’s purges. Even if you personally are willing to dispense with scholarly consensus and maintain that Moses wrote Genesis, etc. you cannot deny that my acceptance of said consensus will change the way I read the text. Here’s an unbridgeable hermeneutical difference: theological tradition asserts that the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, acts as the unfolding of one grand narrative concerning the person of Jesus (or, if Jewish, the establishment and punishment of Israel). For most modern secularists (if they have any knowledge about these matters at all), the Bible represesents an anthology of texts with sometimes overlapping and sometimes contradictory concerns. There is no grand thread running through it except for the one provided by the editorial work of later academies and councils– and that’s not even perfect (look at the history of “Ecclesiastes” and the wrangling that led to its canonization).

    Finally, even assuming that the Israelite purge of Canaan was less horrific than would have otherwise been the case given a different tribe or Empire, it still doesn’t follow that a mitigated evil is not evil. One might refrain from killing one’s neighbor for many years, holding off for the possibility that they might change their ways, and even if they do not we still recoil in horror when you go and kill them.

    In the end all such apologias boil down, in one way or another, to “God, as revealed in scripture, is trustworthy. He has power over his created beings and so can kill them at will. If we only had a clear vision of these matters we would see them as right and good.” I personally see no reason whatsoever to believe any of those statements. Not from the text of the Bible, and not from our common human life.

    1. steve hays says:

      ericwilliammattingly:

      


”Likewise, we know that– just for instance– Deutoronomy was a later addition to the pentateuch…”

      No, we don’t “know” that. That’s just your assertion.

      “…and could very well be acting as a revisionist attempt to explain away the distasteful nature of the Israelite’s purges.”

      How do you square that with Deut 20?

      “Even if you personally are willing to dispense with scholarly consensus…”

      There is no scholarly consensus to that effect. Your claim suffers from blatant selection bias.

      “…and maintain that Moses wrote Genesis, etc. you cannot deny that my acceptance of said consensus will change the way I read the text.”

      Meaning an atheist reads the text differently than a Jewish or Christian believer. And the sky is blue.

      “There is no grand thread running through it except for the one provided by the editorial work of later academies and councils– and that’s not even perfect (look at the history of ‘Ecclesiastes’ and the wrangling that led to its canonization).”

      That’s all ex post facto. It takes the canon for granted.

      “it still doesn’t follow that a mitigated evil is not evil.”

      Likewise, it doesn’t follow that an asserted evil is really evil. You assume what you need to prove.

      “I personally see no reason whatsoever to believe any of those statements.”

      You offer no reasons.

      1. ericwilliammattingly says:

        Steve,

        I’m remembering what I was taught (at a conservative Christian college no less). From my understanding, there were stages of textual manipulation by Priestly and a later Deuteronomical redactors, the latter of which operated to implement and solidify a whole raft of religious reform during the Babylonian Exile. Do you think the last two hundred years of scholarly work on source criticism is moot and so easily voided by your theological convictions? You ask me to give up the idea that these texts were written and manipulated by human beings (a practice that happens everywhere texts are written) and instead believe that they were conjured whole cloth out of the mind of God and never touched again. But why should I? Why believe that when I don’t believe miraculous things that have been attributed to, say, Alexander the Great? I understand that you have your personal reasons to believe it, but why should anyone else?

        “There is no scholarly consensus to that effect. Your claim suffers from blatant selection bias.”

        By that logic there is no scholarly consensus that the earth revolves around the sun since I can point to a few fringe “astronomers” who dispute it. Your presupposition here draws dangerously close to epistemological subjectivism.

        “That’s all ex post facto. It takes the canon for granted.”

        But it doesn’t, really. The very idea of a scriptural canon is a relatively late period– an artifact of the exile, when the Jews were afraid of losing their culture. Heck, the thing wasn’t even a finished product until early in the Common Era (again, I point you to the controversies surrounding Koheleth which weren’t resolved until the 90s A.D.). Canonicity is a complex subject, far more interesting than your two-dimensional caricature of it.

        “How do you square that with Deut 20?”

        God said to. We were just following orders. It can’t be laid at our feet!

        Vale!

        1. steve hays says:

          ericwilliammattingly:

          

”I’m remembering what I was taught (at a conservative Christian college no less). From my understanding, there were stages of textual manipulation by Priestly and a later Deuteronomical redactors, the latter of which operated to implement and solidify a whole raft of religious reform during the Babylonian Exile. Do you think the last two hundred years of scholarly work on source criticism is moot and so easily voided by your theological convictions?”

          i) That’s a loaded question. You built your own tendentious assumption into the question: “Do you think…so easily voided by your theological conviction.” You act as if source criticism is a value-free exercise. Needless to say, source critics have their own philosophical assumptions and objectives.

          ii) Source critics moot each other by contradicting each other’s hypothetical reconstructions.

          iii) You’re disregarding scholarly work to the contrary.

          “You ask me to give up the idea that these texts were written and manipulated by human beings (a practice that happens everywhere texts are written) and instead believe that they were conjured whole cloth out of the mind of God and never touched again. But why should I?”

          I didn’t ask you to do anything. I simply challenged your gratuitous, fact-free assertion.

          You also equivocate over the nature of editorial activity. Editorial activity doesn’t imply manipulation according to a theological agenda. Rather, it can involve updating a text, or collating texts.

          “Why believe that when I don’t believe miraculous things that have been attributed to, say, Alexander the Great? I understand that you have your personal reasons to believe it, but why should anyone else?”

          Why do you believe anything attributed to Alexander the Great? Why do you believe he even existed? Clearly you accept and sift testimonial evidence to some degree.

          Why do you believe ordinary things that have been attributed to some people, but not believe every ordinary attribution?

          Or do you automatically draw the line with miraculous attributions? If so, why?

          BTW, you seem to be insinuating that Christians automatically deny extrabiblical miracles. If so, where did you come up with that?

          “By that logic there is no scholarly consensus that the earth revolves around the sun since I can point to a few fringe “astronomers” who dispute it. Your presupposition here draws dangerously close to epistemological subjectivism.”

          Ironically, your appeal to alleged consensus draws dangerously close to epistemological subjectivism. You’re making collective belief its own justification. I believe it because you believe it and you believe it because I believe it.

          Is consensus your best argument for heliocentrism? The real question at issue is the basis for a “scholarly consensus.” Collective belief is not self-validating. Do you think there’s no underlying evidence for heliocentrism? Is it just a matter of which position garners the most votes?

          “But it doesn’t, really. The very idea of a scriptural canon is a relatively late period– an artifact of the exile, when the Jews were afraid of losing their culture. Heck, the thing wasn’t even a finished product until early in the Common Era (again, I point you to the controversies surrounding Koheleth which weren’t resolved until the 90s A.D.). Canonicity is a complex subject, far more interesting than your two-dimensional caricature of it.”

          i) Ironically, you’re the one who’s guilty of a 2D caricature. Why assume canonization is a late, one-stage process? Why not view canonization as a multistage process that tracks the chronology of composition? Earlier books are canonized earlier.

          ii) The Council of Jamnia reflects the disruption of Judaism due to the disastrous war with Rome–which proves my point. This is ex post facto.

          “God said to. We were just following orders. It can’t be laid at our feet!”

          What makes you think the writer is distancing himself from the legislation? What makes you think the writer is motivated by plausible deniability?

          1. ericwilliammattingly says:

            Steve,

            Admittedly, I do think that the first options to consider in all cases of belief is the naturalistic ones. But so do you in everything but your religious life. As tired as it is, the old saying about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence rings true to me.

            Rather than let this get bogged down into academic minutiae upon which I am not qualified to pronounce (if you are, then good for you!), I’ll just state my general way of looking at these things. Take Herodotus. He says some pretty extravagant things in the course of his Histories. Now, because of this, I do not discount everything the man ever wrote. Rather, like anybody else, I discount the things that are patently untrue or that make no sense. I do the same thing with the Hebrew bible and the New Testament. I don’t reject the existence of King David, but I am skeptical that the Ephod gave him a direct line to the will of God.

            But why do I discount the miracles? I don’t hate them or anything. They add color and poetry to the text and I appreciate that. But, I’ve never seen a miracle. No purported miracle withstands rational scrutiny (I am open to contradiction here). All of my knowledge about the world (admittedly sparse) leads me to doubt the existence of miracles. Therefore, why should I accept them in texts (when I’m supposed to read them as historical artifacts)? Simply put, assuming the worst about human nature and its capacity for violence just makes more sense to me.

            And I think I’ve got to end it here. I rather like discussing these matters with you, but I doubt that Justin’s blog is the proper place. I’m not one to do this, but if you would like to carry this on over email or facebook PM I’d be quite interested. I appreciate your zeal, though I feel it is misplaced. If you’re interested, respond and I’ll send an email address.

            Vale!

            1. steve hays says:

              ericwilliammattingly:

              

”Steve, Admittedly, I do think that the first options to consider in all cases of belief is the naturalistic ones. But so do you in everything but your religious life”

              i) No, my first option is to opt for the best explanation, not the “naturalistic” explanation.

              ii) Your appeal to “naturalistic” explanation is equivocal. That could denote a natural cause. But Christian theism is not opposed to natural causation. Christianity has a doctrine of ordinary providence.

              Or that could denote “naturalism,” viz. the universe as a closed system. If the latter, then that is not my first option. That’s not even my last option. That’s not a live option, period.

              “As tired as it is, the old saying about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence rings true to me.”

              That’s wholly ambiguous in terms of what constitutes an extraordinary claim, what constitutes extraordinary evidence, and why the former entails the latter. So you need to define your terms and present a connecting argument.

              In what sense are miracles “extraordinary” in a theistic universe?

              Your position amounts to a universal negative. Every reported miracle is a false claim. But to say every observer who ever reported a miracle is mistaken or untrustworthy is, itself, an extraordinary claim. Your universal negative is an extraordinary claim. So where’s your extraordinary evidence to show that every witness to a miracle, throughout human history, was mistaken or untrustworthy?

              “Rather, like anybody else, I discount the things that are patently untrue or that make no sense. I do the same thing with the Hebrew bible and the New Testament.”

              That begs the question of whether OT and NT miracles are “patently untrue” or nonsensical.

              “But, I’ve never seen a miracle.”

              You’ve never seen the 18th century. Maybe that’s something historians just made up.

              “No purported miracle withstands rational scrutiny (I am open to contradiction here).”

              Who have you read? How do you define “rational scrutiny”?

              “All of my knowledge about the world (admittedly sparse) leads me to doubt the existence of miracles. Therefore, why should I accept them in texts (when I’m supposed to read them as historical artifacts)?”

              Your provincial autobiographical impressions don’t amount to an argument against miracles.

  5. AJG says:

    The most reprehensible thing about the OT genocides is that god has the Hebrews do his dirty work of killing women and babies for him. If a group of people tried to kill innocents on behalf of their god (wait a second…. some people today do still do that!!), we would rightly denounce them as savage zealots. Of course, Wilson says that it’s obvious that it was really, really god telling the Hebrews to kill for him because … well, it says that god told them himself in the bible! As if that is supposed to convince anyone of anything. A two thousand-year old text claims that god spoke aloud to a chosen group of desert nomads and ordered them to slaughter another race of supposedly wicked people, and we are supposed to take this as some sort of self-evident justification for god’s righteousness? Laughable.

    1. AJG says:

      Sorry, I meant Williams, not Wilson. Apologies to all the Wilsons out there. :)

    2. steve hays says:

      Calling it “reprehensible” is not an argument.

      “If a group of people tried to kill innocents on behalf of their god (wait a second…. some people today do still do that!!), we would rightly denounce them as savage zealots.”

      Actually, if you paid attention, you’d notice that infanticide is becoming fashionable in contemporary bioethics. You really need to keep tabs on what your own side is saying.

      1. ericwilliammattingly says:

        Steve,

        So infanticide is ok when the Israelites practice it, but evil when Peter Singer advocates it (not ever having actually done it, presumably)? I think you’re a smart guy but can’t you see how self-serving that was?

        1. steve hays says:

          Eric,

          I’m responding to AJG on his own grounds. That doesn’t require me to agree. Don’t you understand that basic distinction?

      2. AJG says:

        I don’t have a side. Just because I am materialist does not mean I advocate the killing of children.

        So I say again, commanding the killing killing of innocent children is wrong and a god who would command it is an evil tyrant worthy of contempt not worship.

        1. steve hays says:

          AJG:

          

”I don’t have a side. Just because I am materialist…”

          That’s your side.

          “…does not mean I advocate the killing of children.”

          Why not?

          
”So I say again, commanding the killing killing of innocent children is wrong and a god who would command it is an evil tyrant worthy of contempt not worship.”

          You seem to think Christians should bow down to your verbal expressions of disapproval. But you haven’t given us any reason to take your moralizing seriously.

  6. AJG says:

    Exodus 21:20-21 refutes Williams’ entire second lecture:

    “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.”

    You can argue about the definition of the word “slave” until you’re blue in the face, but a god that issues the command above is pure evil.

    1. Carlos says:

      I couldn’t agree more. The problem is (and I suspect this is what’s going to happen with Christians replying to your post) that for every atrocious passage of the bible there’s another one that calls for love thy neighbor. It is in that contradiction that Christians find themselves, trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.

      So if they consider your post worthy or replying, they will probably say that Jesus and the New Testament “fulfilled” Mosaic Law, it was a reset: Christians are no longer constrained by Mosaic Law, it seems. But the essence of the new testament is the same. It’s just that it no longer commands to kill anyone (although it still does, in some passages, maybe it was a typo), it “just” commands that “sinners” will spend eternity burning in hell. If I were to choose, I kinda prefer the swift death of OT, and not an eternity of suffering. Make no mistake, the New Testament is as distorted a worldview as the Old Testament. It’s just not as graphic.

      Christian fundamentalists are blind to the notion that this book was written by 1st and 2nd century bronze age men. 100% of the people living in this world today are in a better position to analyze the world and define a moral code, with everything we have come to know about ourselves and society and the cosmos. In spite of that, a good percentage of the world continues to guide their moral values based on 1st century thinking. It’s time to have a 21st century conversation about human values and well being.

      Thanks for reading.

      1. steve hays says:

        Carlos:

        

”Christian fundamentalists are blind to the notion that this book was written by 1st and 2nd century bronze age men. 100% of the people living in this world today are in a better position to analyze the world and define a moral code, with everything we have come to know about ourselves and society and the cosmos. In spite of that, a good percentage of the world continues to guide their moral values based on 1st century thinking. It’s time to have a 21st century conversation about human values and well being.”

        You’re parroting terms you don’t even understand. Something you evidently picked up from a village atheist book or website, which you blindly repeat because it sounds rhetorically impressive. There is no first or second century Bronze Age.

        1. Carlos says:

          Thanks for replying Steve. But I’m sure you can be more substantive than that ! So your objection is really a technicality? I am a layman, plain and simple. But the essence of what I’m saying is that Christianity tries to justify a moral code in the Old Testament that is not conducive to the well being of human kind, written a few thousand years ago. And in doing so, Christianity justifies murder, genocide, and other atrocities. There, I got rid of the technicality (my mistake). Do you have anything substantive to say?

          Thanks for reading.

          1. steve hays says:

            Since you don’t offer a substantive argument for your claims, it’s hardly incumbent on me to disprove an argument you never made.

    2. steve hays says:

      AJG

      “You can argue about the definition of the word “slave” until you’re blue in the face, but a god that issues the command above is pure evil.”

      You’re long on adjectives, but short on reason. You need to learn how to make a rational case for your claims.

      For instance, according to the standard secular paradigm, a human being is just a temporary, fortuitous organization of matter. So on your own assumptions, why is it “pure evil” to reorganize that packet of particles by terminating the biological unit?

  7. Carlos says:

    I tried going through the whole 2 videos, but now understand that it’s not worth it. I don’t know how many sane people can go beyond minute 21:30 of the first video : Mr Williams claims that God knows the future and therefore can change the foundation of morality based on that future. His exact words: “knowing the future can sometimes change what is morally OK”. This, in relation to killing innocent children. God killed the children because, according to this “scholar”, he knew that because the Canaanites would sacrifice the children anyway, he justifies his killing them because he would “prevent their future suffering”. Tragic and dangerous worldview.

    Also, a very dishonest game of logic, desperately trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. It tells me a lot about the two “scholars”, Mr Williams in the video, and Mr. Justin Taylor, who posted the videos. Very dangerous individuals, if you ask me.

    This sort of moral relativism embedded in the Divine Command theory is not only contradictory with the otherwise objective nature of the bible as a moral code that most Christians hold. But it has caused so much unnecessary suffering in this world, I don’t know how it can be intellectually justified.

    Thanks for reading

    1. steve hays says:

      Carlos:

      

”I tried going through the whole 2 videos, but now understand that it’s not worth it. I don’t know how many sane people can go beyond minute 21:30 of the first video : Mr Williams claims that God knows the future and therefore can change the foundation of morality based on that future. His exact words: ‘knowing the future can sometimes change what is morally OK’…This sort of moral relativism embedded in the Divine Command theory is not only contradictory with the otherwise objective nature of the bible as a moral code that most Christians hold.”

      There’s nothing inherently relativistic about saying a knowledge of alternate outcomes has a moral bearing on what course of action should be chosen. To take different outcomes into account when opting for a particular course of action is basic part of moral deliberation. You need to drop your reactionary, knee-jerk attitude and actually think through the issues.

  8. Daryl Little says:

    We,, count me among the dangerous. I thought the videos were brilliant, and, even when I was a child by the grace of God, it never occurred to me that He could do wrong.

    And Mr. Williams demonstrated that brilliantly.

    I don’t expect an unbeliever to accept what was taught here, but truth is truth no matter who believes it.

  9. marko says:

    Carlos you write:
    “Genocide is still a reality in the 21st century, and it’s man made.”

    That is not merely an OT problem. It is an ever present problem. At some point you have to stop blaming religion for these atrocities. Man needs to look in the mirror. Man is his own worst enemy. Man is killing and abusing his own.

    Carlos, in all your many words you still offer no effective solution. Even without God or religion man is still a wretch to his own species. You have no solution otherwise it would have worked by now.

  10. Peter Williams says:

    Carlos,
    I regret that I don’t have the time required to engage properly in your comments, which I regard as partly misunderstanding my lectures.

    However, I’d like to pick up on one thing. You described my view as a ‘dangerous worldview’. What’s the danger? Can you explain to me how the fact that I disagree with you about the morality of a situation (or alleged situation) in the past which neither of us believes can recur, makes me more dangerous?

    Peter

    1. Carlos says:

      Hello Peter. I believe you are dangerous because when you try to justify genocide and murder under the veil of Divine Command theory then genocide and murder become justified. When advertised from the pulpit these notions become very dangerous, suddenly genocide and murder are “morally OK” when commanded by god. Horrific episodes have happened in history and continue to happen because of things like divine command theory, biblical inerrancy, biblical infallibility, etc. The danger is that they may happen again when the next crazy individual in a position of power takes it literally.

      When you claim that your divine book justifies the killing of non-believers, you are threatening 5 billion people in this planet who don’t believe in your deity. The problem gets worse when many of those 5 billion also claim that *their* book justifies the same. Can you see the danger here?

      Dangerous and unfair, given that a lot of those non-believers, by no fault of their own, simply happened to be born in places where Christianity is not predominant.

      I see no difference between the atrocities of be Old Testament and those in the Quran, commanding Muslims to kill the infidel. None. Just like I don’t see a difference between the treatment of women in Islam and the nonsense that Peter and Paul write in the New Testament about women.

      You say that these things cannot recur. That is a surprising assertion , given the religious motives of crazy people in positions of power in Darfour, Bosnia, Syria, and so many others.

      Thanks for reading

  11. AJG says:

    However, I’d like to pick up on one thing. You described my view as a ‘dangerous worldview’. What’s the danger?

    I suspect it’s your willingness to impale yourself on the second horn of the Euthyphro dilemma in order to convince panicky Christians that their god isn’t really the bloodthirsty tyrant portrayed in the OT.

  12. Peter Williams says:

    Carlos,
    I think you’re ignoring the main point of my argument which is the uniqueness of the (alleged) situation. You do not believe that miracles are taking place in Darfour, Bosnia, or Syria, or that God is appearing in a pillar of cloud there, or that he is parting water there.

    So those situations are not parallel to the _story_ of the Bible. An atheist cannot claim they are parallel without positing the existence of God (and therefore ceasing to be an atheist) but a theist theoretically could (though I don’t).

    So I think that you continue to miss my main point. You are reading the biblical narrative as if God isn’t real. However, in the _story_ he is real. You have no more right to remove God from your reading of the story than to remove any character from a fictional narrative.

  13. Peter Williams says:

    If you were listening carefully you would have seen how I dealt with Euthyphro.

    Divine law is not above God, nor arbitrarily defined by God, but an expression of God’s character (the tertium quid which Plato did not consider). This was the point I made when I explained that there were constraints on what God can command.

    1. ericwilliammattingly says:

      Professor Williams,

      First I’d like to say that I enjoyed your talk quite a bit. I really appreciate your emphasis on viewing the text from a “literary” (I hope that’s not too contentious) perspective, that is, one which respects its integrity and doesn’t reduce it to a mere list of historical facts and assertions. With that I am in utter and complete agreement.

      I would say that your placing Joshua (and Samuel for that matter) within the entire sweep of Christian theology doesn’t really respect the integrity of the text, however. Most obviously, these works were created by Jews (Judaism didn’t exist until much later, of course, but you get my idea) and at best they serve their historical and literary purposes. To me that’s problematic.

      Also, I find your circumventing of the Euthyphro dilemma unconvincing. It doesn’t even really resolve the dilemma. I hope I don’t trivialize the argument but here’s how I read it (with apologies to Plato): “Socrates:is X wrong because the gods will it or do they will it because X is wrong? Euthyphro: Neither. God wills it out of his character (or his nature) which is Good. Socrates: Then is God’s character or nature good because he wills it, or does his character conform to it because it is good?” The dilemma itself is just pushed away, not answered.

      But that aside, I apreciated your talk. Best of luck to you!

      1. steve hays says:

        ericwilliammattingly 

”I would say that your placing Joshua (and Samuel for that matter) within the entire sweep of Christian theology doesn’t really respect the integrity of the text, however. Most obviously, these works were created by Jews (Judaism didn’t exist until much later, of course, but you get my idea) and at best they serve their historical and literary purposes. To me that’s problematic.”

        Except for Luke (who may not be a real exception if he was a God-fearer or proselyte), the NT writers were also Jews. So you’ve erected a false dichotomy.

        “‘Then is God’s character or nature good because he wills it, or does his character conform to it because it is good?’ The dilemma itself is just pushed away, not answered.”

        1. ericwilliammattingly says:

          Hi Steve,

          They may have been ethnically and culturally Jewish but they were also committed Christians who (in the Gospel of John, for instance) seem to go to a lot of effort to distinguish themselves from their origins. Obviously, they believed that the Hebrew Bible was subsumed under the new covenant. But equally obviously, observant Jews disputed that and still do. Just assuming that the former were right doesn’t achieve anything beyond reinforcing doctrine– important for believers but irrelevant to answering the challenges of anyone else.

          1. steve hays says:

            ericwilliammattingly:

            

”Hi Steve, They may have been ethnically and culturally Jewish…”

            Not just that. They were religious Jews.

            “but they were also committed Christians…”

            They were Messianic Jews. Followers of Jeshua.

            “…who (in the Gospel of John, for instance) seem to go to a lot of effort to distinguish themselves from their origins.”

            No, they distinguish themselves from opponents of Jesus.

            “Obviously, they believed that the Hebrew Bible was subsumed under the new covenant. But equally obviously, observant Jews disputed that and still do.”

            Which makes it an intramural Jewish dispute.

            “Just assuming that the former were right doesn’t achieve anything beyond reinforcing doctrine– important for believers but irrelevant to answering the challenges of anyone else.”

            If you’re going to attack OT ethics as an outsider, then you need to justify your own moral standards.

    2. AJG says:

      Saying that goodness is just part of God’s character does not resolve or even adequately address Euthyphro;it just moves the goalposts. Face it, the dilemma isn’t resolvable. You can either pick a horn to live with or you can just ignore the whole dilemma. Most Christians do the latter.

      1. steve hays says:

        You have a habit of substituting adjectives and assertions for reasons and arguments. You indulge in moral and intellectual posturing, but there’s nothing to back up your swagger.

  14. Bryan Hodge says:

    Brilliant lectures, Peter.

    Carlos, I’m assuming that if a father were to protect his children by killing a threat, whether human or otherwise, you would take issue with him for that?

    1. ericwilliammattingly says:

      Bryan, I’m assuming that if my father told me to go into your house, kill you, your wife, and your children, and move in then you would not take issue with that?

      1. Bryan Hodge says:

        Actually, Eric, if my family was plotting to kill you and your family, and the only way to prevent that was to kill me and mine first, then you would have more of an analogy. The problem with your ethic trajectory is that if fails to take into account what Peter had said in his opening remarks, i.e., you have to take the story within its own context and world, not within yours.

        In that context, the Egyptians are murdering the Israelites, so God kills a massive amount of them and sets His people free from that. But that means they have to leave and go somewhere to survive. The Amalekites try to kill them along the way. So they are commanded to destroy the Amalekites. But they will die in the desert and need to get back to their land. Yet, they will all be murdered in that land, as evidenced by even the two scouts who make it into Jericho, as well as the kings who see their great numbers and pull together to kill all of them (men, women, children, etc.). So what it is this act of God that commands His children to destroy the people who will murder them and their children? This is not even to mention that these people are under the judgment of God for their atrocities that stretch on for centuries and that God, the One who gives and takes way everyone’s life, is the One who primary does the killing.

        Now, that’s the story. So if you’re going to contend with killing as self defense and human preservation, then you can make your points with God. But then don’t kill a murderer who tries to kill you and your family because you crossed by his house. Do the loving thing, in your world, and let your family be destroyed instead.

        But I contend that you cannot make a solid argument against what God does here by taking the narrative into account. The only way for you to attack it is to replace the narrative with your own in order to turn self defense and execution for crimes into murder.

    2. Carlos says:

      Yes, I would take issue with him if he killed the source of the threat, and his wife, and his children, born and unborn, and his cattle, and his asses and donkeys, and an entire town, and his entire ethnicity.

      I would further take issue with this father if he orders murder for reasons that we know now, in the 21st century, have no merit. We know too much about sociology, science, biology, psychiatry and education to be killing disobedient children, as your God commands in Deuteronomy 21:18–21. How do you justify that in the 21st century? I think it’s intellectually and morally unjustifiable.

      But I mostly take issue with the followers of such doctrines, who in the 21st century, after all we’ve learned about human kind, the cosmos, and ourselves, continue to try to reconcile the irreconcilable. I wouldn’t mind if it wasn’t so powerful and dangerous: people in positions of power, who can affect our lives, share these beliefs. Sometimes they cause war and death, sometimes they prevent our progress. But they affect all of us, specially in this country.

      Thanks for reading

      1. Bryan Hodge says:

        So if your father was a US President and there was a nuclear warhead pointed at your house and hometown, where you only had minutes to respond, you would take issue of your father killing that threat by sending his own warhead that would kill the men, women, children, cattle, etc. of your enemy?

        Again, you have to take into account the story within its context. In the ANE context of vendetta, the children of your enemy are a threat to the lives of your children. If you don’t wipe them out, you are wiping out your children through them. You have to choose in that culture. That’s why, since the language is likely hyperbolic, when the Israelites do leave the children and other Canaanites alive, constant war ensues and the Israelite children die for generations to come. You don’t live in that context, so you don’t have to worry about it.

        But in the case of God, this isn’t even a hypothetical. God knows that His people will be murdered, both spiritually (which is viewed as even worse in the narrative)and physically. He,therefore, takes care of the threat.

        Now, you may still object, but I know many people who have said to me that they would not have a problem with God telling them to kill Hitler or Ted Bundy as a baby, knowing what they would do in the future. You may still be opposed to that thinking, but the fact that there are many believers and unbelievers who would have less of a problem with that scenario shows that there is more than one way to be morally outraged by killing, and sometimes that expresses itself by killing a killer, regardless of his age.

        1. Carlos says:

          Thanks Bryan. So much to say about your arguments:

          1. The context you suggest , where the president has just a few minutes to launch an atomic bomb or else his kids would be killed by his enemies, is not comparable with a God that had the whole lifetime of the Canaanite children to try to reform them. These kids, let alone their cattle, donkeys, and asses, were not an imminent threat to the israelites. But even if you argue that God knew that these kids were going to be evil, so he knew they would become a threat, doesn’t justify it. Please read the next couple of points.

          2. This notion of murdering someone as a preemptive strike to prevent them murdering me in the future assumes that someone is either evil or not, and once they are they will be forever. It demonstrates such ignorance of everything we’ve come to know about genetics, learning, sociology, education, and so much more. Would I have killed Hitler or Bundy when they were babies? Only if I was so narrow-minded to think that Hitler was evil to the point of killing millions of jews by just nature. Evil may be a genetic trait, but it’s not the only thing that defines behavior. Maybe under the right circumstances Hitler could have been a Ghandi or a Mandela. Killing him while leaving untouched the context in which his life developed could prove to be useless. Perhaps we kill him, and another Hitler sprouts because the societal causes for his evil are still there. The point is that human nature, society, and this world are a lot more complex than what this ignorant God assumes it to be.
          Now of course, the Christian argument is that God *knew* that Hitler and Bundy would eventually become murderers. If that’s the case, why not just fix their surroundings when they were little? Why not prevent the contextual stuff during their lifetimes that augmented their inherent evil? To teach us a lesson? Maybe, but in doing so this God let millions suffer and die, even though he knew. This god is either extremely
          incompetent, or extremely evil. Neither should be acceptable.

          3. The other notion is that of homogeneity. Murdering a whole civilization or ethnicity demonstrates such ignorance of societies, psychology, the diverse nature of human beings, and so many other evidence-backed knowledge we have today ! This notion that 100% of an ethnicity of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions, are “sinners”, is, again, such a distorted view of reality. It demonstrates a narrow-minded world with 2 extremes: us and them, black and white, friends and enemies. Given what we know of society and human nature, saying that 100% of people in a civilization, and their cattle, and asses, and donkeys, are evil, one could safely argue that this is a figment of this god’s imagination. Just like when people lumps a whole group of individuals into a category to describe something as rich and heterogeneous as human nature (From God saying that all Canaanites, including all children, cattle, asses and donkeys were “sinners”, to from Hitler saying that all Jews had to be killed, to lesser and less murderous scenarios like Mitt Romney saying that 50% of this country are just a bunch of lazies).

          4. The notion of preemptive killing is algo pretty ignorant of what we know about societal solutions to bad behavior. God didn’t seem to be too affected by slavery, in fact he condoned it all throughout the bible. Why not make them slaves and prevent their suffering, in the hopes of repentance or reformation? Why not incarcerate them? Why not try to send the Israelis to convince them, reform them, or perhaps teach them about their God?

          Even if you assume that God gave the Canaanites ample time to repent and they didn’t, he gave no chance to the poor kids that died. For all his might and knowledge of the future, he was, again, dangerously ignorant of all that can be done to reform someone, from the perspective of sociology, psychology, etc etc etc.

          In this 21st century, even Christians don’t try to kill all
          homosexuals. They try to apply the concept of reformation to them, and try to make them repent. How do you do that while reconciling a God that doesn’t seem to believe in the concept? Very contradictory.

          Of course, the answer always is that Jesus came a few thousand years later with a message of love, and his Old Covenant superseded Mosaic Law. Somewhat true, because at least one of his teachings, supported by “pro-life” folks, is that you shouldn’t even abort a fetus that resulted from rape or incest, because it’s not the fetus’ fault that the father raped the mother. Isn’t this contradictory to what God did to the children of Canaanites? Not only infants, buy one would have to assume that some of the Canaanite women were probably pregnant, don’t you think? This God is the ultimate abortionist, then. Why would a pro-life individual condone what he did in the OT?

          But the problem with the New Covenant story is that again, this God made millions suffer through millions of years until he finally decided to send his son to the rescue. He is either extremely incompetent, or extremely evil. And by the way, incomplete in his saving us from Mosaic law: he left slavery unexplained while condoning it, he relegated women to a second-class-citizen status, and after creating homosexuals to his image he decides to continue stoning them to death. All of this is in Jesus’ New Covenant. Some moral code.

          Thanks for reading, sorry for the long post.

          1. Bryan Hodge says:

            You’ve failed to answer what I asked you and instead are moving the goalpost. I’m fine with discussing why God did not “reform” the Canaanites, as my theology views God’s use of evil men who He does not “reform” for purposes of reforming/saving His people.

            But then you’re argument is quite convoluted. Your argument depends upon certain presuppositions that most people do not accept when placed into certain contexts. These are: (1) That it is always wrong to strike preemptively; (2) that it is always wrong to execute rather than reform murderers; (3) that it is always wrong to kill children in an act of self defense or defending your children; (4) it is always wrong to wipe out entire tribes of people, even if those people are murders who are going to kill all of your people if you let them remain alive.

            That’s why I gave you the scenario above. My analogy was not between how much time God had to consider how to deal with the wicked who wanted to kill His children, but whether a preemptive strike that kills the threat to your children is always wrong when it will also kill women, children, cattle, etc., and, I can just add, that these men, women, children make up the last remaining members of a tribal group or coalition. If your presumptions are true, then any US President in that situation should let the men, women, children, cattle, etc. of his own country be slaughtered instead of do the atrocious thing that would be to defend them.

            Of course, I could just change the scenario to a more analogous idea to that of the Israelite situation and say this,

            What if the nuclear weapon aimed at your community will wipe out men, women, children, cattle, etc. on either side? By sending over the missle, you participate in what your assumptions would judge as abominable. By not sending it over, you also participate in it. What would you do, given your assumptions that it is always wrong to do such a thing?

            Or do you now want to say that all that you see in the biblical account is perfectly justifiable. It’s just that you have a problem with God not finding another way to do things, where everyone can be saved in the end? Because that is quite a different objection with different assumptions.

            1. Carlos says:

              Well I never stated the extreme positions that you are attributing to my post. But I think the bigger distraction here is that you are trying to frame the discussion within an extreme corner case. The bigger issue here is that the God of the Old Testament, the one being justified here by mr Williams in the video and most people here in their comments, systematically and throughout the whole Old Testament commands the use of murder to not only punish thousands of Canaanite infants and children for their “future sins”, but also to punish disobedient children (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), non-virgin brides (Deuteronomy 22:13-21), and kids who call an elder bald (2 kings 23:24) , among so many other dreadful examples. Very few civilized people today condone these moral precepts. Do you ? Would you follow such precepts in those instances today?

              And yet this is the 21st century and we’re still having this conversation. It’s tragic

              So let’s not lose sight of the essence here: this is not only a case of the slaughter of entire ethnicities. We’re talking about the systematic use of murder for situations as petty and unnecessary as those listed.

              1. Bryan Hodge says:

                In other words, you can’t make your argument anymore in light of the contextual understanding of the narrative so you’re going to move on to other theological issues and ethical objections that have little to do with the internal framework of the narrative itself.

                Asserting a number of interpretations about individual laws that you clearly don’t understand and then asking whether I condone your version of those laws, as though your interpretation of their atrocious moral stance should be read into them and then rejected without dispute, is stacking the deck a bit, don’t you think?

                I fully condone the laws in their context. They’re just and good and seek to save numerous lives from death. That you can sit in a lazyboy in the twenty-first century and pick at them because they do not reflect a scenario in life that you will never encounter in that ancient context is what is truly tragic.

                “We’re talking about the systematic use of murder for situations as petty and unnecessary as those listed.”

                I’m absolutely against using murder for any reason, petty or otherwise. The issue is whether we determine the severity of acts by your subjective, finite, and culturally-bound (i.e., ethnocentric) standards, or by God’s objective, transcendent, infinite, and universally aware standards. You haven’t given us a better measuring stick than God, so I have no reason to accept your morals over His, especially since yours in that ancient context (and occasionally within our own) would get everyone killed. If cultural suicide is your idea of good, then you can consider me at one mind with my “evil” God who saves the lives of worthy recipients.

            2. Carlos says:

              No, what I am doing is having this conversation in the light in which Mr Williams does it in his videos: not cornered in one single analogy but in the overarching theme of the Old Testament: the systematic use of murder as a learning tool (to “teach” the flock what’s good and what’s evil), as a way to punish those who don’t agree, and as a foundation of fear of God’s moral code. That’s what’s we are discussing here.

              You say that you are “absolutely against using murder for any reason, petty or otherwise”. And that “The issue is whether we determine the severity of acts by your subjective, finite, and culturally-bound (i.e., ethnocentric) standards, or by God’s objective, transcendent, infinite, and universally aware standards.”

              Well I’m not writing these things to try and impose my standards as objective moral norms. I’m just saying that only because we don’t have such standards written in tablet format 2000 years ago doesn’t mean we have to accept a poor moral code only on the circular premises of divine command theory and on bad evidence. Specially given what we have learned through the centuries: Noone kills non-virgin brides or rebellious children anymore, without being called crazy, sick, or tyrant. We’ve come to learn way too much to justify it on the premises of the “wisdom” of a God.

              Because the context you talk about then when you “fully condone the laws in their context” is the premise of Divine Command theory. I believe we don’t see eye to eye because I am not willing to accept a suspect moral code on the basis of a circular declaration of a good god. God’s nature is good because he is God. The bible is the word of God, and we know because the bible says so.

  15. marko says:

    Ericwillmatt

    I am assuming that your father is not God.

    1. AJG says:

      You assume your God, if he exists, is good. Why assume that? Perhaps he has lied to you. Perhaps Satan is actually good and Yahweh is evil. At least Satan told Eve the truth in Eden. God was just interested in keeping man in the dark about good and evil.

      There is no justification for believing that your God is good other than you have been conditioned to believe it. Anyone with a functioning moral compass can look at the OT stories and see that God is anything but good and loving.

      1. marko says:

        AJG, I assume that you are not Eric. I also assume that your position is invalid because you keep critiquing the nature of something that doesn’t exist.

        If you say {} is nothing, then you cannot argue that {} is bad or good.

  16. Peter Williams says:

    Eric,
    I’m happy for this approach to be regarded as literary. Obviously historical judgments about what texts should be read together will inform their interpretation. My point is that, with the 66 book Christian canon, or even with the Jewish Masoretic canon, or there are enough resources in these books to create a significant number of distinctions from the modern parallels.

    On Euthyphro, there is a vast literature which I haven’t read. I think the dilemma is harder the less you think of God as a person, and the more you think of him as an abstract. With persons there is a very close relationship between them and their characteristics, attributes, and preferences.

    1. ericwilliammattingly says:

      Peter,

      I see your point. Frankly, it’s always going to be a hard sell, though. Any sort of massacre is going to strike lots of people as, well, evil. But that’s actually quite a different discussion.

      Re: Euthyphro, I guess the opposite is the case for me. Take an extremely abstract notion of God (like Spinoza’s) and it’s much easier for me to see it as somehow absolute and yet indifferent to the suffering that goes one within its provenance. Adding personality to an absolute being makes such things a great deal harder for me to accept.

      Vale

      1. Bryan Hodge says:

        The dilemma stems from the idea that what God says is arbitrary, or that it is a declaration of something outside of God, rather than an expression of His existing nature. In other words, something is good because it expresses God’s will that is bound to His nature. Something is evil when it distorts His nature and His will that is bound to it. So there is no good if God does not exist, and there is no good by God merely declaring it. It’s good because it is an expression of God’s nature.

        The dilemma also stems from a false definition of the term “good.” Good, in the Bible, refers to that which is beneficial and loving toward worthy recipients. Hence, it is God’s nature to give what is beneficial and loving to worthy recipients. Not giving what is beneficial and loving to unworthy recipients is not required of God for Him to be good.

        This is where God’s mercy through Christ comes in. Only God Himself is a worthy recipient of God’s beneficial love, and only Jesus, as the God-man, who lived a perfect life, is a worthy recipient of that beneficial love. As such, God has mercy upon men when He places them into Christ and identifies them with Him, so that they too can be deemed worthy recipients, not based upon their own righteousness and worthiness, but upon His. But those who remain outside of Him are not worthy recipients of God’s beneficial love, and so the fact that He destroys them has nothing to do with His “goodness.” The fact that He loves and has mercy on ANY of them displays His great mercy, as He did not have to do so in order to remain “good.”

  17. steve hays says:

    Carlos 

”Murder is murder…”

    An abstract tautology that does nothing to establish a specific claim.

    “…let’s call it what it is.”

    Calling murder murder is not the issue. The issue is when you assert, without benefit of argument, that divine commands to execute Canaanites are equivalent to murder. Do you think all killing is murder? If so, where’s your argument? If not, then you can’t cite examples of killing as ipso facto murderous. That requires a supporting argument.

    “You can justify it in several ways, many of which may let you sleep at night.”

    I don’t justify “murder.” But there is such a thing as justifiable homicide.

    “If you are saying that your religion is better than theirs…”

    In the sense that truer is better. Christianity is true, Islam is false.

    “Suffice it to say I just don’t see the difference between the atrocities Mr Williams tries to justify in his lectures to those in the Quran.”

    The fact that you don’t “see” it is not an argument. I’m waiting for you to present an actual argument for your position.

    1. Carlos says:

      I stopped paying attention to this thread and come back to read Steve Hays reply. In it I see what many Christian apologists try to do: explain the moral argument for the “goodness” of a given God through logic. That logic, however, is tautological in and off itself: “God is good because … he is God”. Or “God is good because it says so in the bible”, and when asked “how can you trust the bible” the answer invariably is “because it’s the word of God, and … god is good !”. Talk about tautology. The errors in logic and terminology my postings are, yes, a result of my lack of training in theology and philosophy. But what you and other people commenting here are trying to do is convince the rest of the world, through convoluted logic, that the moral prescriptions found in the bible can be explained because God is God, and therefore he is infallible and the ultimate source of morality. That is, in your words, an abstract tautology that does nothing to establish a specific claim.

      In addition, you tend to assume that if God exists, he is the framework for a moral code. If he doesn’t there’s no framework. Who said that this binary? Most Christian apologetics try to use that logic to say “you atheists don’t even have a framework for a moral code”. But who said that there’s only 2 options ! here’s another couple of options:

      1. One option is that God does exist, but his framework a for moral code is wrong. This one is possible in my mind … after all, the Christian God basically says that it’s justified to kill children because they are disobedient in Deuteronomy 21:18-21, or kill non-virgin brides on their wedding night in Deuteronomy 22:13-21. Or that slavery is a fact of life (way too many references to this in the bible to list them here), or that women are second class citizens (this is the position of such stalwarts of christianity as Peter and Paul). Think about it ! These are the positions that you are trying to defend ! And your justification is that God is good because he is God !!!

      This worldview has been since rejected by most civilizations in this world. I’d like to hear anyone explain under which context these dreadful prescriptions are conducive to the well being of humankind. In fact, I would dare to say that neither you nor anyone in this post approves of these positions today in this 21st century. If you do, then I don’t know what you are talking about. And I’m pretty sure you don’t know either.

      2. Another option: many Gods exist (and according to the number of religions in the world with opposing worldviews this is also possible), and you have to choose which god suits your expectation of a moral code. My problem with this one is that historically every deity has a book, and those books were written back when we thought that one person having each eye of a different color was witchcraft. Or that the earth was the center of the universe. And those books tend to say “we own the truth, and the rest of the religions are “false religions””. Even beyond that: “all those people (5 billion in the case of the world population that does not believe in the Christian God) are going to eternal suffering in hell. An unnaceptable worldview.
      (side note: I’d love to have that argument with you Steve Hays, when you say “Christianity is true, Islam is false.”. Laughable statement, given the premises and nature of both religions … and at the same such a bigoted and narrow-minded thing to say, dangerous to the extreme of causing so many wars , pain and suffering in this world … Be careful what you wish for, remember that you are also an atheist relative to other religions, and most of them also wish your death or eternal suffering in their book. Point is, I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

      2. Another option is that God does not exist, and human beings ARE able to find a moral code outside of God. I think we’ve been doing that for the past few million years. It’s been slow, but again very few people in this world would condone slavery today. The God of the bible not only does condone it, but uses slavery as examples in his parables ! Think about it, that is the position you are trying to defend.

      Most christian apologetics will say “if God is not your moral code, then you don’t have one because there’s none”). Well not having a moral code written in tablets or a book does not mean we have to follow the bad ones (like Christianity or Islam) ! Just because a task is difficult and takes millions of years doesn’t mean we have to be subject to an atrocious worldview ! I believe we do not get our morality from religion. We (humankind, not indidivuals) decide what is good by recourse to moral intuitions that are (at some level) hard-wired in us and that have been refined by thousands of years of thinking about the causes and possibilities of human happiness.

      We have made considerable moral progress over the years, and we didn’t make this progress by reading the Bible or the Koran more closely. Both books condone the practice of slavery — and yet every civilized human being now recognizes that slavery is an abomination. Whatever is good in scripture — like the golden rule — can be valued for its ethical wisdom without our believing that it was handed down to us by the creator of the universe.

      Thanks and apologies for the long post

      1. steve hays says:

        Carlos

        “I stopped paying attention to this thread and come back to read Steve Hays reply…That logic, however, is tautological in and off itself: ‘God is good because … he is God’. Or ‘God is good because it says so in the bible’, and when asked ‘how can you trust the bible’ the answer invariably is “because it’s the word of God, and … god is good !”. Talk about tautology.”

        Notice that Carlos isn’t quoting me. He can’t attribute these formulations to anything I actually said. So he’s not, in fact, responding to my argument.

        Carols is a dutiful little foot-soldier in the cause of atheism who memorizes the prepared answers which his superiors spoon-feed him. He whips out these prepared answers even when they are unresponsive to what his opponent actually said. That’s a telltale sign of an atheist who can’t think for himself.

        “But what you and other people commenting here are trying to do is convince the rest of the world…”

        Carlos and his little coterie of atheists hardly represent the “rest of the world.”

        Moreover, I haven’t attempted to convince Carlos of anything. Since he’s shown himself to be unreasonable, reasoning with him would be futile. What I’ve done, rather, is to refute his tendentious assertions.

        “…through convoluted logic, that the moral prescriptions found in the bible can be explained because God is God, and therefore he is infallible and the ultimate source of morality. That is, in your words, an abstract tautology that does nothing to establish a specific claim.”

        One again, I haven’t attempted on this thread to make a positive case for God as the foundation of morality. Rather, I’ve contented myself with refuting the facile objections of some nullifidian commenters.

        “Most Christian apologetics try to use that logic to say “you atheists don’t even have a framework for a moral code”. But who said that there’s only 2 options.”

        It’s not just Christian apologist who say that. Many atheists admit that atheism entails moral relativism or moral nihilism, viz., Richard Joyce, Joel Marks, Michael Ruse, Alex Rosenberg, Quentin Smith, J. L. Mackie, Massimo Pigliucci, Keith Burgess-Jackson, Paul Pardi and Steven Pinker.

        Once again, Carlos hasn’t even kept up with what his own side is saying.

        “This one is possible in my mind … after all, the Christian God basically says that it’s justified to kill children because they are disobedient in Deuteronomy 21:18-21.”

        Not “children,” but young adults (i.e. delinquent teens).

        “or kill non-virgin brides on their wedding night in Deuteronomy 22:13-21″

        Adultery was punishable by death for both sexes.

        “Or that slavery is a fact of life (way too many references to this in the bible to list them here)”

        i) The OT law doesn’t set forth an ideal, but establishes minimal standards of conduct.

        ii) “Slavery” is not all of a piece. Take indentured service.

        iii) Rev 18 condemns the Roman slave trade.

        iv) From a naturalistic evolutionary standpoint, what’s wrong with human animals enslaving members of their own species? In the animal kingdom, alpha males subjugate beta males, while beta males subjugate omega males. Dominance hierarchies are common in the animal kingdom. Why should human animals be any different?

        “or that women are second class citizens (this is the position of such stalwarts of christianity as Peter and Paul).”

        Carlos hasn’t shown how Scripture treats women as “second class citizens” (whatever that means).

        Moreover, from a naturalistic evolutionary standpoint, women are just breeding animals. From a naturalistic evolutionary standpoint, postmenopausal women have outlived their biological utility. It’s atheism that degrades women.

        “Think about it ! These are the positions that you are trying to defend ! And your justification is that God is good because he is God !!!”

        Notice that Carlos is assuming what he needs to prove. He’s rendering value judgments before he’s laid a foundation for secular ethics.

        “This worldview has been since rejected by most civilizations in this world.”

        A circular, sociological appeal that has no logical force.

        “I’d like to hear anyone explain under which context these dreadful prescriptions are conducive to the well being of humankind.”

        Why should an atheist care about the wellbeing of humanity?

        “In fact, I would dare to say that neither you nor anyone in this post approves of these positions today in this 21st century.”

        Of course, the circumstances in which we find ourselves in the 21C are often quite different from the circumstances of ancient Near Easterners. So the comparison is equivocal.

        “My problem with this one is that historically every deity has a book.”

        That’s monumentally ignorant. Most religions aren’t bookish.

        “Or that the earth was the center of the universe.”

        What religion is he attributing that to?

        “Even beyond that: “all those people (5 billion in the case of the world population that does not believe in the Christian God) are going to eternal suffering in hell. An unnaceptable worldview.”

        To say it’s unacceptable is not an argument. Where’s the argument?

        “I’d love to have that argument with you Steve Hays, when you say ‘Christianity is true, Islam is false.’. Laughable statement, given the premises and nature of both religions”

        Islam is premised on Christianity and Judaism. Muhammad piggybacks on Christianity and Judaism. You can find that right in the Koran. So that leaves him open to falsification by is own yardstick.

        “and at the same such a bigoted and narrow-minded thing to say, dangerous to the extreme of causing so many wars, pain and suffering in this world”

        Since Carlos considers both Islam and Christianity to be false, he’s guilty of self-incrimination as a dangerous, narrow-minded bigot.

        “Be careful what you wish for, remember that you are also an atheist relative to other religions, and most of them also wish your death or eternal suffering in their book.”

        Not to mention the body-count racked up by secular regimes.

        “Point is, I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

        A perfect illustration of how Carlos can’t think for himself. He’s just an actor reciting a speech someone else wrote for him (Stephen Roberts).

        By parity of argument, I’m a solipcist. I just believe in one less mind than you do.

        “Another option is that God does not exist, and human beings ARE able to find a moral code outside of God. I think we’ve been doing that for the past few
        million years. It’s been slow, but again very few people in this world would condone slavery today.”

        Once again, Carlos hasn’t moved an inch in showing how atheism can ground objective moral norms.

        “We (humankind, not indidivuals) decide what is good by recourse to moral intuitions that are (at some level) hard-wired in us and that have been refined by thousands of years of thinking about the causes and possibilities of human happiness.”

        Hardwired by the mindless, amoral process of naturalistic evolution. Needless to say, a mindless, amoral process yields a mindless, amoral product.

        1. Carlos says:

          Thanks for the list of Atheist thinkers, I didn’t know any of them except for Pinker.

          I did not know about the concept of solipsism either, thanks.

          Otherwise, it’s interesting to see how prolific you are in mocking my obvious knowledge gaps, but how sparse and surprisingly candid you are in defending specific atrocities of the bible: when I quote the passages that call for stoning to death rebellious children, you say:

          “Not “children,” but young adults (i.e. delinquent teens).”

          Oh OK. THEN it’s OK to stone them to death, because they are delinquent. Got it. The only way this is conducive to the well being of human kind is under divine command theory. I really hope noone here is following these precepts when educating their own children.

          Or this one, when I quote the passages that call for murdering non-virgin brides:

          “Adultery was punishable by death for both sexes.”

          Oh OK. That’s all I needed to understand it. Now I know why it’s OK to murder someone who is not a virgin on their wedding night. If it’s true for both sexes, why single out women? Plus we are not talking about adultery here, we’re talking about people who have never been married but happen to have had experienced sex before marriage. How many writing comments here would have been murdered by now? Thankfully , again, we don’t use these precepts anymore in the West.

          Steve says “From a naturalistic evolutionary standpoint, what’s wrong with human animals enslaving members of their own species? In the animal kingdom, alpha males subjugate beta males, while beta males subjugate omega males. Dominance hierarchies are common in the animal kingdom. Why should human animals be any different?”

          This statement shows a profound misunderstanding of natural selection and how human beings, in addition to having a superior cognitive capacity, have evolved through millions of years to understand morals and not behave like animals. Similar ignorance and superficial analysis is shown in this other statement: “Moreover, from a naturalistic evolutionary standpoint, women are just breeding animals. From a naturalistic evolutionary standpoint, postmenopausal women have outlived their biological utility. It’s atheism that degrades women.”

          And then this: “Carlos hasn’t shown how Scripture treats women as “second class citizens” (whatever that means).”

          Well I didn’t think anyone was going to have time within the next few weeks to read through all this, but here it goes (a lot of these are in the old testament, but I start with the New Testament … the supposed New Covenant, the latest version of the “goodness” of god, the immaculate perfection of “objective” moral responsibilities):

          1 Corinthians 11:2-16
          1 Corinthians 14:34-35
          Collosians 3:18
          Matthew 5:31-32
          Ephesians 5:22-24
          1 Timothy 2:11-15
          Exodus 21:7-11
          Exodus 22:16-17
          Deuteronomy 22:13-21
          Deuteronomy 22:28-29
          Deuteronomy 24:1-4
          Deuteronomy 25:11-12
          Deuteronomy 25:5-6
          Leviticus 12:1-5
          Exodus 20:17
          Exodus 23:17
          Genesis 3:16
          Genesis 19:8

          This is just a sample. There are hundreds, hundreds more.

          Finally: “Once again, Carlos hasn’t moved an inch in showing how atheism can ground objective moral norms.”

          This shows a profound misunderstanding of the word atheism. Atheism is not a movement or philosophy. An atheist is simply someone who read your holy book and thought it was nonsense, or at least poor morals.

          I’m not writing these things to try and show how “atheism” can ground objective moral norms. That very statement does not make sense if we understand meaning of the word. I’m just saying that only because we don’t have such norms written in tablet format 2000 years ago doesn’t mean we have to accept a poor moral code only on the circular premises of divine command theory and on bad evidence.

  18. steve hays says:

    Dr. Williams,

    Thanks for this. And thanks to Justin for posting it.

    Sooner or later, directly or indirectly, God ends every human life. Sometimes by “natural causes” (e.g. disease, miscarriage, old age), sometimes by accident (e.g. a fatal head-on collision), sometimes by disease (e.g. cancer), sometimes by violence (warfare, murder).

    Death by natural causes isn’t necessarily preferable to death by the sword. You can die a quick death by violence, or you can die a painful, lingering death by natural causes. For some reason, critics get hung up on how people die. But in a fallen world, death is inevitable one way or another.

    So God’s command to execute the Canaanites doesn’t create a special issue, over and above human mortality generally. Ultimately, it’s what happens to you after you die that matters. That’s for keeps.

    Unbelievers attack the divine command to execute the Canaanites, but atheism has no principled basis for human rights. Atheism can’t ground objective moral norms. And even if it could, atheism has such a reductionistic view of human beings that there’s nothing sacrosanct about human life from a secular standpoint. Nothing to make us “special,” compared to any other organism. Or extinct species.

    According to atheism, humans are essentially expendable, disposable, replaceable. We’re just carriers for our genes. Atheists wax indigent over OT ethics, but fall oddly silent when it comes to the amoral and dehumanizing implications of naturalistic evolution.

    1. Carlos says:

      Sure, similarly if I fathered two daughters I can murder them whenever I want if I look into the future with my magic ball and see that one of them is going to become a prostitute. She’s going to die anyways, so why not STONE THEM TO DEATH right now and prevent their future sin? Why not ! What’s more, let me not give them a chance to actually know this, I’ll just stone them to death now, with all the suffering that this may cause, without letting them try to redeem themselves from their future sin. I gave them life after all, didn’t I? And you know all those things humankind has learned through centuries of thinking and acting toward its own well-being (love, nurturing, a good education, a healthy social context, etc etc etc) don’t really work, do they?

      The only distinction between that statement (which no civilized person in this world would actually live up to without being sent to jail or called crazy) and what is said in this post is the dreadful divine command theory. “Wait a second, but you’re not god, and whatever god commands is good”. A tautological declaration: God is good because he is God. The bible is the word of the Christian God, and we must take at face value to be good. And how do we know about this God? Because it’s written in the bible. Circular at its core.

      There’s a reason parents (and I would dare to include parent who have written posts in this thread) don’t follow the atrocious precepts of the Old Testament anymore: secular societies have been able to keep religion at bay in the West. Look at islamic societies where there is no separation of church and state, and see a mirror of Christianity a thousand years ago … Christianity was doing the same as Islam back them, except for the planes. The only difference between Christianity and Islam in the validity of their moral precepts is this chronological gap. Islamic societies are still living in a 10th century world.

      Worst of all, Christians actually criticize Islam for all the atrocities they commit … when they are based on the same concept ! Divine Command is what tells them that treating woman like cattle is morally justified. Or that killing the infidel is morally justified. Or that flying planes into buildings is morally justified. They just happen to follow “the wrong” God, but the essence is the same: Divine Command. What is the Christian God (who represents just 30% of human population in this world) is just wrong? What if it’s Buddha who we need to follow? Or Thor? Or Zeus?

      The only way otherwise sane, smart, educated, good-hearted people can state these atrocities without being called crazy or evil is within the context of the dreadful Divine Command theory. Sure, non-believers have committed atrocities as well. The difference is that the world has been quick to call them tyrants and have mostly gotten rid of them. It is only within the context of Christianity that we have a set of videos like the ones shown in this post, and tragically continue to try and reconcile the irreconcilable.

      Steve, your comments on “Atheism” demonstrate a profound ignorance of even the meaning of the word. An atheist is not part of a movement with a set and universal ideology or worldview. An atheist is simply a person who read your holy book and thought it was nonsense in the worst case, or simply not a valid source of a moral code, given its essence, in the best case (my case). Even if we consider the existence of a deity behind it (in other words, there is the possibility that this God exists but is wrong about morals). People who don’t believe in a God continue to try and find answers to the difficult questions that haunt humankind. We find life to be sacrosanct after millions of years learning about our well being. Not having those answers written in a stone tablet 2000 years ago doesn’t mean we have to choose an evil, unfair, unjust, cruel worldview based on a foundation of fear. It probably means that we just have to keep looking.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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