When God kills the Innocent

A Christian reader named Paul writes to me from New Zealand with the following common question.  With permission, I am posting his question and my answer on my blog.

St. Paul writes:

A few months ago I discovered your blog via the Biologos website. It has been a real encouragement for me to read your articles and I can honestly say that I enjoyed everything that I've read.

Anyway, a Church friend and I have been meeting up every few weeks to have discussions about tricky issues in Christianity and something that has come up (and was always bound to...) is the depictions of God in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God is often depicted as acting violently and sometimes in ways that can seem barbaric. For example, God gives instructions for the Israelites to kill people. Likewise, an atheist friend of mine was shocked when I referred to God as "just" because he had just read about the exodus and the plagues.

The issue for me is not that God doesn't have a right to judge/ punish guilty people (for example the Canaanites), but the fact that innocent people are also involved in some of these situations. For example children and babies. In some verses they seem to be explicitly mentioned (i.e. 1 Samuel 15:3). I realise this is only a single example, but there are one or two other examples that are quite easy to find.

The most common response of Christians seems to be that God created all of us and therefore He can do whatever He wants. I agree that God is sovereign, but these actions seem inconsistent with the nature of God revealed clearly in Jesus.

I have some ideas about what to make of it all, but I thought that I would ask you what you make of these sorts of verses? I realise that you must be very busy (and you don't know me!) so please don't feel obligated to reply! However, if you have the time and the inclination I would really appreciate it.

My reply was as follows (some slight editing):

This is a tricky problem in theology, isn't it!  But it isn't just an Old Testament vs. New Testament thing.  The following verses are all God speaking in the Old Testament:

  1. "I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Ex. 20:5-6)
    .
  2. "My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out." [including the children, as other parts of Scripture make clear] (Ex. 23:23)
    .
  3. "Fathers are not to be put to death for their children or children for their fathers; each person will be put to death for his own sin.  Do not deny justice to a foreigner or fatherless child, and do not take a widow's garment as security.  Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. Therefore I am commanding you to do this." (Deut. 24:16-18)
    .
  4. "Yet you ask, 'Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?' Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The one who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them." (Ezekiel 18:19-20)

The tension lies within the pages of Hebrew Scripture itself.  We have to understand in what sense all of these Scriptures can be true.

Let me start by demolishing the idea that "God created all of us and therefore He can do whatever He wants."  If this were true, there would be no meaning in saying that God is just and righteous in how he treats us.  It wouldn't allow us to predict anything whatsoever about what he would do.  Yet St. Abraham—our father in faith—pleads for Sodom and Gommorah by asking: "Far be it from you to do such a thing--to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25).  God does not respond by saying "Whatever I do is just by definition".  Rather, he grants Abraham's requests, and goes beyond them to ensure that, in this case, the innocent are not punished alongside the guilty.  The fact that God is just implies that there are some things which he won't do, because they are unfair.

On the other hand, God IS the ruler of the universe.  This gives him authority to make decisions which ordinary human beings are not allowed to make.  Just like an earthly Governor or Judge has authority to do some things which ordinary citizens don't have the right to do, God has the authority to do anything, i.e. any type of act.  For example, everything belongs to God, so when he takes things from us it is not stealing, but doing what he likes with his own property.  Similarly, if God kills people it is not murder.

(This does not, I think contradict the point of the previous paragraph.  The scope of authority is different from how one uses that authority.  God has the authority to do anything, precisely because, since he is perfectly good, he never abuses this authority, but only does what is just and right.)

Note that, as the ruler of the universe God actually kills everyone.  All people are mortal, some of them die young, and God is responsible for this state of affairs.  Sometimes he does it miraculously in order to make a special point, but more often it he causes it to happen naturally.  Before I ask whether I can trust a God who killed the Caananite children, I first need to ask whether I can trust a God who will kill ME.  As Christians, we trust that God is using death as a tool in order to turn us into the people he wants us to become.  Partly, we trust him because he came to Earth and died for us, so he isn't asking us to suffer anything which he hasn't gone through himself.

God's motivations for killing people are not the same as that of a human murderer.  Most of the time, people kill other people out of hatred, because they want something bad to happen to them, or because they don't care about them.  But God swears to us that this is not why he does it. "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live" (Ezekiel 33:11)

Also God is unchangable.  If you or I killed somebody, we would become more violent and hateful people who would be more likely to kill someone else.  Whereas God's character, being eternal, cannot be corrupted.  Paradoxically, this means that a perfectly good being is more likely than a good human to do bad things in order to produce good consequences.

And God is omniscient, so he knows when a group of people have become so wicked that it would be bad for them, and for their children, and for the rest of the world, if they remain alive to keep sinning.  For example, the Canaanites sacrificed their children as part of their religion, and if God hadn't put an end to them, we might still be doing that today.  It may seem ironic that God also ordered that their innocent children be killed, but remember that they would not have remained innocent if they had been able to come to maturity.  Instead they went to Heaven, which might not have been possible if they had been corrupted by the religion of their parents.

This brings us back to the group justice vs. individual justice question.  Ultimately, I believe God is committed to bring justice and vindication to every innocent person, including those who were victims of bad circumstances.  On the other hand, God has also set up the world in such a way that our good or bad actions can have an effect on other people: if we sin against others, they are harmed, and can be tempted either to hate or to imitate us.  This is especially true in the case of our parents, who bring us into being and choose what enviornment we will come to maturity in.  Because of this strong moral influence, it is inevitable that to some extent our moral and cultural condition is inherited from others.  Alcoholic parents often have alcoholic children.  We may resist this influence and become different people than our parents, but there is a correlation which cannot be entirely removed.

As a result, in his role as Judge of the Earth, Guardian of Human Culture and Supervisor of the Gene Pool, God must necessarily engage in some amount of group justice as well as individual justice, because that is the nature of how humans propagate ourselves (and our ideas).  He does not, however, delegate this authority to us.  The Israelite judicial system was based strictly on individual desert (although even there, indirect punishment of others is inevitable: see the story in 2 Samuel 14:6-7 for an example).  The Israelites were also commanded to exterminate certain people groups, but had no authority to decide which ones—God provided them with a specific and limited list.

In the end, God will provide us all with individual justice.  But I think that once everything is revealed, our moral interdependence will prove to have been a means of grace.  If no innocent people ever suffered punishment for guilty people, then Christ could not have saved us, and we would be dead in our sins.  If we ourselves struggle, if sins have been transmitted to us by others, or if the punishment of others has ruined our lives as well, then what?  I think that by forgiving our forbears, and by seeking God's help for our problems, we become imitators of Jesus, as St. Peter says:

For you were called to this,
because Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example,
so that you should follow in His steps.
He did not commit sin,
and no deceit was found in His mouth;
when He was reviled,
He did not revile in return;
when He was suffering,
He did not threaten
but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.
He Himself bore our sins
in His body on the tree,
so that, having died to sins,
we might live for righteousness;
you have been healed by His wounds.
For you were like sheep going astray,
but you have now returned
to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25)

If Christ—the Innocent One—suffered for the sins of others and brought about the redemption of the world, then all of us who in lighter measure bear the sin of others, will also recieve through Christ this redemption.  From the the infants killed by St. Joshua for the sins of the guilty Canaanites, to the infants killed by Herod in place of the innocent Christ-child, everyone who has a share in the sufferings of Christ will also rise with him in eternal glory.  This is both a justice and a mercy beyond our comprehension.

About Aron Wall

I am a postdoctoral researcher studying quantum gravity and black hole thermodynamics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my first postdoc at UC Santa Barbara.
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17 Responses to When God kills the Innocent

  1. Jack Spell says:

    Very nicely written piece.

  2. Aron Wall says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Jack.

  3. Jack Spell says:

    No, thank you, Aron, for all of your work for the Kingdom. In addition to the high admiration I have for your blog writings, I've also thoroughly enjoyed your technical articles as well. I recently attended the Craig vs. Carroll debate at which Dr. Craig cited one of your papers; that's the way in which I came across your work. I have to say that it is very encouraging and inspiring to see someone with your level of intellect also be so ardent a Christian. I appreciate it.

  4. howie says:

    Hello Aaron, I just read this post and found it most interesting. But there are some points I feel I must take issue with.
    Firstly you states “God IS the ruler of the universe. This gives him authority to make decisions which ordinary human beings are not allowed to make. Just like an earthly Governor or Judge has authority to do some things which ordinary citizens don't have the right to do, God has the authority to do anything,”

    I don’t see how this follows. The fact that someone rules does not necessarily give them moral authority. I don’t think you would doubt that Kim Jong Un is the ruler of North Korea. But it doesn’t follow that he has legitimate authority to imprison his own population. You need to establish how authority is made legitimate and then show that god does this. Simply declaring him ruler does not achieve this.
    It is certainly possible that an intelligent being created the universe but does not rule it or even communicate with it.
    If Kim Jung On murders his own people, is it murder?

    I also think your argument is circular; you are assuming that god is perfectly good and then stating his killing of the innocent can’t be an abuse of authority because he is perfectly good. Of course if you assume has perfectly good then that’s true. But perhaps god is not perfectly good. Surely killing innocents disqualifies him from being perfectly good. If that doesn’t, what would?

    I don’t thin it follows that if god created there world with beings who are mortal, then he actually kills them. This is a weird definition of killing. If i create a computer that cannot last forever and then it breaks down, did I break it?
    Killing is to deprive someone of life. If someone dies of old age, no one would say they have been killed.

    The point is, by selecting, say, the first born Egyptian for premature death well before their normal mortality would have kicked in he acted unjustly. Think of the mothers crying over the death of their young children, is it just to make them go through that rather than letting the children grow up and run the normal course of their lives?

    You say god is omniscient so he knows when a people have become so wicked that they and all their children should be killed. So why did the animals have to be killed as well? Were they so wicked too? I think this is a crucial point you have over looked.

    You have not presented any evidence that the Canaanites really did carry out child sacrifice and even if they did why that does mean their children and animals have to be killed?
    If the entire parent were killed and the children and animals adopted, cared for and loved would that mean they would still be doing child sacrifices? Do you think that there is a gene for this?

    When a society does carry out child sacrifice I doubt they kill all their children, which is what god commanded the Hebrews to do, how is killing all the children better than killing some of them?

    People need to be judged by their actions, judging them by which group they belong to is just another form for racism. By justifying winnowing the gene pool for dislikable groups it’s a particularly scary form of racism quite frankly.

  5. Aron Wall says:

    Thanks for your comment, howie.

    First let me address the issue of circular reasoning. Circular reasoning is only an issue when you are trying to prove that an idea is true. But when somebody raises an objection to an idea you believe, and you are trying merely to prove that the idea is consistent, then in order to do that you only need to describe an account of how it could make sense. In constructing this account, it is perfectly valid and acceptable (indeed necessary) to assume for the sake of argument that the idea in question is true, to see what does and does not follow.

    I do believe that there is good reason to believe that God is perfectly good, partly for philosophical reasons which I will eventually get to in my current series on “Fundamental Reality”, and partly for historical reasons having to do with the teaching, moral character, and miracles of Jesus. But the purpose of this post was not to prove that God is perfectly good. It was merely to address a purported inconsistency between God being good, and his orders to e.g. kill the Caananites. The original question was, assuming the biblical accounts of these events to be accurate, is it consistent with God being loving and good?

    Now about authority. If somebody steals something from me, as a private citizen I have no political authority to imprison the thief in my basement as a punishment. Nor do I have the authority to kill somebody I believe is a murderer. Only the state has the political authority to do that (operating according to the established judicial, police or military rules suitable to the situation). Apart from exceptional circumstances such as self-defence, citizens have the moral duty not to undermine the political order by taking justice into their own hand.

    Kim Jong Un is the ruler of North Korea, and as such he does have some legitimate authority which I lack, although this authority is not unlimited. For example, if one person in North Korea stole something from his neighbor, as the ruler Kim would have the authority to imprison that person as a punishment.

    Now in fact Kim is a brutal and capricious tyrant. So his actions are often unjust, either because he abuses his authority (for example, by imprisoning and killing people for arbitrary or personal reasons) or because he exceeds his authority (for example, by requiring people to give him honors which belong only to God). That is tragic, but it doesn't change the fact that he is acting legitimately whenever he uses the powers of the state to punish actual wrongdoers.

    Indeed, the North Korean dictatorship is so unjust that it would be morally right for him to be overthrown by a revolution and replaced by a different form of government. But even that does not change the fact that, while his power lasts, he has legitimate functions.

    So in order for killing someone to be moral, it is (normally) necessary but not sufficient that the killer have the authority to do so. If I kill a murderer, you can criticize me for acting outside my authority, whereas if a lawfully convened judge and jury sentence a person to death, they cannot be criticized for acting without authority, although they might be criticized for another reason (e.g. acting on insufficient evidence). As I said, “The scope of authority is different from how one uses that authority”.

    Now God has complete and perfect authority, not merely because he is the ruler and creator of the world, but also because he is completely and totally wise and good; in fact he is the source from which all other wisdom and goodness flows. Do I really need to explain why such a being would have the right to rule as well as the power to rule? (An intelligent but limited alien being, who created the universe but wasn't perfect and didn't care for it intimately, would not at all be the same situation.) God can be trusted not to abuse his authority in any way, although we in our limited knowledge may have questions and concerns about what he does. He always chooses to do what produces on balance the most good, and for this very reason may do some things which would be prohibited if you or I did them.

    Now it is not extremely implausible that there have existed, in human history, some cultural groups which the world would have been better off without. But I claim that no human society has the moral authority to make this judgment, because (a) we don't have sufficient information to decide this reliably, (b) we would be morally corrupted by trying to do it, and (c) it would disrupt the international political order if people could decide to do this on their own initiative. Thus we human beings are best served by an absolute rule prohibiting genocide, with no exceptions.

    But none of these three reasons (a-c) apply to God, who is omniscient, unchangable, and in charge of the human community rather than (by nature) a member of it. Thus if God were to reveal by clear and unmistakable signs (such as we read about in the Torah) that he wanted a cultural group to be wiped out, I claim that the usual reasons for prohibiting genocide would not apply. Of course, if somebody falsely claimed to have divine authority to kill people, then religious and secular people alike can agree that this would be very wrong.

    But perhaps god is not perfectly good. Surely killing innocents disqualifies him from being perfectly good. If that doesn’t, what would?

    If God were not perfectly good, that would be a different situation. In the context of the question, I only need to ask what a perfectly good being might do.

    Killing innocents without sufficiently good reason would indicate that a being is not perfectly good. It is not necessary that the reason be one we can fully understand, although in this case God did choose to disclose some, but not necessarily all, of his reasons.

    I don’t thin it follows that if god created there world with beings who are mortal, then he actually kills them. This is a weird definition of killing. If i create a computer that cannot last forever and then it breaks down, did I break it?

    When you create a computer, you build it out of pre-existing materials and then it has an existence independent from you. But that is not the relationship between God and the computer. God is the power which actively sustains the computer at every moment. Not a single electron moves within its circuitry without his permission and cooperation. When it breaks down, it breaks down in accordance with his purposes and his plans in order to accomplish his purposes. Not the same.

    So why did the animals have to be killed as well? Were they so wicked too? I think this is a crucial point you have over looked.

    To me this seems a much lesser concern than the infants. Animals don't have the same moral status that human beings do. Even human beings have the moral authority to kill groups of animals for good cause. Presumably God ordered the destruction of the animals for the same reason as the gold and other property: to prevent the Israelities from thinking that the purpose of the genocide was to enrich themselves, and to emphasize the severity of the judgement.

    You have not presented any evidence that the Canaanites really did carry out child sacrifice

    No, but there is evidence. Carthage seems to have had the same culture and religion as the Canaanites, and we have independent claims from Roman sources (independent from the Bible) that the Carthaginians practiced child sacrifice. Some scholars used to think this was a lie used to justify the wars, but then they dug up the graves. I have seen the Tophet in Carthage (a burial place of sacrifices) with my own eyes. (Most of the graves are animal sacrifices, but some are human infants.)

    Within the biblical record, we have multiple sources telling us that the Israelites did not in fact kill all the Canaanites, and (just as Moses warned) they were led astray by the worship of Baal and Asherah, and constructed their own Tophet in Jerusalem.

    If the entire parent were killed and the children and animals adopted, cared for and loved would that mean they would still be doing child sacrifices? Do you think that there is a gene for this?

    No, I don't think there is a gene for sacrificing children. I imagine that God's primary objection to the Caananites was their culture rather than their genes. (I do think that God has a millions of year long genetic experiment involving the human race, so that he might well for all I know have genetic motivations for some of his decisions. But it's hard to believe that there would be any measurable selection effect on the gene pool after merely hundreds of years of wickedness.)

    You could ask why God didn't ask the Israelites to just adopt all of the Canaanite children under a certain age. I don't know, but it's not hard to imagine that there would be practical difficulties given that the Israelities had children of their own, and probably were not prepared to love the Canaanite children equally. Probably they would have been more likely to end up as a permanent slave class. In any case they were not the only children in the world to die at a tender age. Since I maintain that God kills everybody, this is not a difference that matters at the level of divine action.

    This would only be a “particularly scary form of racism” if I thought that any human being was equipped to make such decisions. As it is, I only have to sign off on a couple genocides long ago with no implications for any currently existing race of human beings. And even if the Canaanites did still exist today, the New Covenant message of reconciliation and forgiveness through Christ, for all cultures, would take precedence.

  6. Dennis Jensen says:

    I just refreshed my screen to notice that Aron has just responded to your comments, howie. But this is such an interesting and, in some critics' eyes, devastating criticism of the God of the Bible that I hope you (and Aron) don’t mind that I weigh in some comments as well. Hopefully I won’t duplicate other previous comments too much.

    God is not depicted in the OT as acting “violently” and barbarically and should not be seen as such any more than our executing a criminal might be thought of as violent and barbaric. God was merely carrying out justice. Remember that God didn’t have the genocide carried out sooner because they didn’t deserve it sooner; the “wickedness of the Amorites” was not yet full (Gen 15.16). Likewise the “plagues” in Egypt were fully deserved when we recall that the Israelites were enslaved and oppressed there for hundreds of years.

    But the big issue is the death of the innocent. The problem is that the innocent were certainly killed when God required, in justice, that an entire people group be destroyed.

    Earthly governors and judges do not have authority to do evil; they only have the authority to carry out justice. But our creator has the right to do some things we have no right to do to each other (whether we be rulers or not). If God created us, God has the right to take our lives whenever he chooses. God did not create us with a promise that we should live forever, nor was God obligated to do so. Suffering is not in the same category as death, even if death is seen as cessation of existence. It would be evil of God to cause undeserved suffering unless God has morally justifying reason for doing so and provides equivalent compensation to the recipients of this suffering. It is not evil for God to extinguish a life.

    But the Christian teaching is that, in fact, death is not our final end. Even if God has the right to cause us to cease to exist, he does not. So the innocent children who were killed when their guilty parents were also killed in the Canaanite genocide were compensated for any undeserved suffering they endured and (from my view of the teaching of scripture) are given another opportunity of life to fulfill their destiny. (It is conceivable that they could be returned to another world much like our own—maybe they will even return to this world. Some theologians think they will be admitted immediately to paradise. Whatever it is, there is no loss to the child who dies prematurely.)

    The Canaanite civilization needed to be wiped out. The institutionalized evil of child sacrifice they practiced was so horrendous and culturally ingrained that it is very conceivable that God determined that the entire civilization needed to be destroyed. Thus a creator, under the above stipulations, cannot be accused of evil for commanding the Canaanite genocide or, say, the deaths of the firstborn of Egypt.

    God could have destroyed the Canaanites without commanding the Israelites to do it. God could have sent a plague or, like he did millennia earlier, a flood. But in fact the Canaanite conquest was more merciful than the Flood. God gave them plenty of time, in fact 40 years, to flee before facing the doom they feared (cf. Josh 2.8-11).

    Today God would not be able to command his followers to carry out a Canaanite genocide—not after we had received Jesus’ teachings. His teachings about not offending these little ones, or that of such is the kingdom of heaven, or that we have to become like children, or that what we have done to the least of these we have done to him all make it impossible that his followers should kill a child. So if God wanted a genocide like this carried out again, he would have to do it himself or use a nation which does not follow Jesus’ teachings.

    You say, “I don’t think it follows that if god created there world with beings who are mortal, then he actually kills them. This is a weird definition of killing. If I create a computer that cannot last forever and then it breaks down, did I break it?”

    It's not a weird definition of killing at all. God could create us so that we would never die so in fact God does take our lives by creating us to be such that we will eventually die.

    Again you comment, “So why did the animals have to be killed as well? Were they so wicked too? I think this is a crucial point you have over looked.”

    This statement ignores the fact that all animals also die sooner or later. God even allowed mass extinctions and the scripture speaks of these cycles of extinction and replenishing as part of the God’s wondrous creation, something which brings glory to God (see Ps 104). So animals either don’t feel pain in any significant manner as we do or God has some other plan for them which hasn’t been revealed to us because it isn’t really any of our business to know. In any case the problem of animal pain, in just about any context you place it, has some pretty easy answers.

    You say, “You have not presented any evidence that the Canaanites really did carry out child sacrifice. . . .”

    Christian and Jewish defenders of the God of the Hebrew scripture do not need to give evidence for this. The entire issue is posed hypothetically since many skeptics do not even believe the Exodus or most of the claimed historical events of the Hebrew scripture occurred anyway. So the question is, If the God of the Bible exists and did command the Canaanite genocide, would there be any justification for this act? Well, yes there would be, if the Canaanites were as bad as the scripture says they were. So at this level of the argument, what really did happen does not matter. What matters are the hypothetical answers to the hypothetical questions. But in fact, as Aron points out, there is some evidence that the Canaanites were this bad.

    You ask, “When a society does carry out child sacrifice I doubt they kill all their children, which is what god commanded the Hebrews to do, how is killing all the children better than killing some of them?”

    An institutionalized evil like this will continue generation after generation without end until the culture is fully destroyed. The conquest of Canaan occurred once and only once. Also, a sword to the neck is much more merciful than being placed upon the glowing red-hot arms of an idol. Having mentioned a “merciful” “sword to the neck,” I need to reemphasize my earlier statement that the biblical view is that God does compensate any undeserved suffering and that this is not something a Christian could ever do. I also need to emphasize that if the Israelites were morally incapable of killing these children (if they were not in some way, might we say, semi-barbaric) God would have done this himself. God chose this people to do this because their moral development in this particular regard was not as high as it would be after the time of Jesus’ teachings. In other ways, however, the Israelite morality was much higher than that of their neighbors.

    You say, “People need to be judged by their actions, judging them by which group they belong to is just another form for racism.”

    The Canaanites were not killed because of any racial or ethnic identity. But if the parents were killed because of their wickedness, the children could have been killed because this too was part of the punishment of the adults. This was a time in which loss of progeny and the continuation of ones’ linage was considered probably the greatest of all punishments. Anticipation of this punishment by the Canaanites was a punishment in itself. And again, remember that in God’s economy the children are not punished at all since all undeserved punishment is compensated (cf. Rm 8.18, Gen 18.25, etc.).

  7. howie says:

    HI Aaron, thanks you for taking the time to reply, didn’t expect that so close to Christmas.

    Of course if you assume god is perfectly good then by definition anything he does is good.

    However I feel you have failed to address my question. If killing innocent children and animals does not disqualify him from being perfectly good, what would?
    As a scientist I would have thought you would be keen to challenge assumptions in the light of observations. It seems that that is not the case. Your entire assessment of the evidence seems to rely on your central assumption, and at no point do you question it.

    So I repeat my question, is there any action by god which would convince you that god is not perfectly good? Or perhaps I should re phrase it this way, even if you believe there exists a perfect god , is there any action of the god in the bible that would convince you that this character is not that perfect god ? If there is none, then that would seem extremely narrow minded. If there is some, how is genocide not it?

    I also feel you did not address my question about what legitimises authority. How does one come to be in a position of legitimate authority? A government is deemed to be legitimate if it is elected by the people and does not abuse its power. As Kim Jong Un was not elected I see no reason to say he has legitimate authority. Even if was elected he has clearly abused his authority. So again the question should be asked if genocide doesn’t count as an abuse of authority then what would? Again your argument seems to rely on your inability to question your assumptions in the light of observations.

    To say there is a reason but we don’t understand it, again seems to show an unwillingness to question your underlying assumption. How do you know there is a good reason? It seems only your starting assumption can give that. But looking at the stories in the bible it seems the opposite is the case. My reading of the Exodus story is that god wanted to show off his power and harden Pharo's heart.
    Exodus 7 :
    “And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt....
    5 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.

    Now of course I might be reading the story wrong, but if we don’t know gods reasons then we don’t know they are good. Unless of course your refuse to challenge your starting assumption.

    To say that animals have less moral status than humans is not to say they have no moral status. Yet the passages in the bible and your own stance seem to imply that. Consider that it isn’t just the Canaanite massacres but also many others instances. For example the great flood, the 10 plagues etc.
    Consider Joshua 11:6,
    6 And the LORD said unto Joshua, Be not afraid because of them: for to morrow about this time will I deliver them up all slain before Israel: thou shalt hough their horses, and burn their chariots with fire.”
    To hough a horse is too severe it’s Achilles tendon, would you not expect a perfectly good god to disable the enemies horses in a less painful way? He could have put them to sleep, but instead he ordered this barbarism.

    You seem utterly indifferent to the suffering of the animals and your explanation treats them as if they are simply property. On that basis someone who batters their dog to death with baseball bat has committed no moral crime as the dog is the possession of the person.
    In Leviticus if a man has sex with animals, not only is the man to be killed but the animal as well. How is that the command of a perfect loving god?

    God could have made those animals impossible for the Israelites to steal by some miraculous means but instead he decided to have them put to death by the sword or the stone. He could have just killed the Egyptian task masters but instead he not only had their children killed but their animals too. He could have wiped out humans in the flood but he chose to kill animals too. Sending a 40 day flood down to drown would not qualify as a humane way to kill in my humble opinion. Perhaps you differ?

    Again if that doesn’t convince that the god of the bible is not perfectly good then what will?

    Even if Carthage did practice child sacrifice (which your own source said is disputed) it does not in any way show that the Canaanites did. Even within a particular religion the practice of that religion can vary significantly from place to place. In Christianity there are estimated to be thousands of different denominations. Many Christians campaigned against slavery and racism, other Christians kept slaves and used the bible to justify it, and some are racists. Orthodox Jews wont drive on the Sabbath, reform Jews will. I’m sorry but you can’t prove guilt by association.
    In the Old Testament the Hebrews are commanded to kill their own children for religious reasons too and of course god kills all the first born Egyptians. I don’t see why child sacrifice is worse than genocide or stoning your child to death if they don’t follow your religion? What I find particularly cruel and inconsistent with al loving god is the following command: Deut 13
    If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
    7 Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
    8 Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:
    9 But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.”

    Why does god command the parent to kill the child? even if it is right for the child to be killed, to make the parent do it seems especially cruel. Imagine an authority commanding you to kill your own child , is this an act fo a loving authority, that is all perfect?

    If gods concern was a culture why did ne not employ more peaceful means to change it? For example American culture kept slaves, did that mean it would have been ok to wipe out all Americans? Culture can change and grow more peaceful and empathetic over time. Read Steven Pinker’s book “The Better Angles of Our Nature” for some good work on this. If god can harden hearts ( as he claimed for Pharaoh) why can’t he soften them?
    God can command to kill but not to love and or adopt? God could have commanded them to be merciful, but he chose violence instead.
    To say you only have to sign off on a couple of genocides long ago is very worrying. My empathy is not limited to those around me now but to any one in history that has to go through such a terrible fate. I would hope yours does too.

  8. Aron Wall says:

    Dear howie,

    First of all, it is insulting to me that you leap to the conclusion that I don't have ordinary human feelings for animals, when I maintain that God had a good reason to kill them. I don't believe that animals are merely property, and I do believe that they have some moral status, but that doesn't mean there can't be good reasons to kill them. (Are you by any chance a vegetarian? Because if not, your criticism is especially odd.) Can we please assume that I am a normal human being, that babies being killed is also disturbing to me, but that nevertheless as a rational being I understand that in principle it can sometimes occur that certain bad things are necessary in order to prevent worse things from happening? Thanks.

    And perhaps you can also accept that, as a religious person, who believes in a being who transcends human limitations, whom I believe is perfectly good and wise, and who swears he has non-cruel motivations, that this is not the same as me personally liking the idea of killing women and children, and having no empathy for their sufferings?

    However I feel you have failed to address my question. If killing innocent children and animals does not disqualify him from being perfectly good, what would?

    Actually I did answer your question, when I said: "Killing innocents without sufficiently good reason would indicate that a being is not perfectly good. It is not necessary that the reason be one we can fully understand, although in this case God did choose to disclose some, but not necessarily all, of his reasons." You did not provide any response to this.

    But perhaps we should distinguish between two questions. Are you asking "What would constitute perfect goodness in God?" or are you asking "By what evidence would we come to know that God is in fact good?" The questions differ in that the first one is a conceptual question about possible states of affairs, while the second one is a question about our own knowledge. It is not particularly surprising that a good but omniscient being should sometimes act in a way that does not appear to be good to us.

    As a scientist I would have thought you would be keen to challenge assumptions in the light of observations. It seems that that is not the case. Your entire assessment of the evidence seems to rely on your central assumption, and at no point do you question it.

    You might be surprised at how often scientists refuse to question their fundamental theories on the basis of various challenges to them. The majority of time, theories which are originally well-supported (like general relativity) end up triumphing over experimental challenges which at first sight seem to contradict them.

    This, of course, raises the question of whether the original belief that God is perfectly good has any positive evidential support. But I said quite explicitly that my belief that God is good comes from other sources, which are not currently under discussion. I agree with you that the Canaanite genocide is prima facie evidence against God's justice and mercy, but I don't think it's irrational for me to decide my beliefs on the basis of all the evidence, which includes positive evidence of God's character elsewhere. The question is whether the positive evidence for his perfect goodness exceeds the negative.

    Nevertheless, I don't think it's very useful to broaden this conversation by you citing more and more examples of Old Testament passages (e.g. parents stoning rebellious children) whose morality is problematic to modern readers, and then I can cite all of the passages which portray God as good and loving. If we are to make any progress in this conversation, we need to keep things focused. Perhaps on the concept of authority?

    Your statement that the legitimacy of political authority comes from democratic elections is clearly false. Prior to the 18th century, very few government systems were democratically elected (though many had the support of the bulk of the people). Your view would imply that before that time, there was no such thing as a just trial. This is absurd. As for abuse of power, I agree that Kim Jung Un does it in spades, but I fail to see how that should make a difference on those rare occassions when his judicial system acts to punish actual wrongdoers. Does living under an oppressive government make it acceptable to loot your neighbors? If not, then it is legitimate for the oppressive government to punish you for being a thief. I agree with you that elections are a good system for reducing government abuse, but that does not imply that all monarchies are illegitimate by nature, just that they produce good outcomes less frequently.

    The Christian answer to your question is that all political authority on earth is ultimately delegated from God, who possesses authority over us because he created us, loves us, and knows us perfectly. In other words he is not even remotely like Kim Jung Un. Supposing hypothetically that you knew such a being existed (if necessary, suppose that the Old Testament passages in question didn't really happen, and postulate whatever is the minimum amount of hypothetical evidence that would make you confident of his existence), would you agree that he would have legitimate authority over you? And do you also agree that there are at least some things which such a being could legitimately do, which would be presumptuous for a being with lesser power and wisdom to do?

    Aron
    (If you don't mind, my name has only one "A" in it.)

    PS I agree with St. Dennis' remarks about why trying to prove that the Canaanites practiced child sacrifice is a red-herring:

    Christian and Jewish defenders of the God of the Hebrew scripture do not need to give evidence for this. The entire issue is posed hypothetically since many skeptics do not even believe the Exodus or most of the claimed historical events of the Hebrew scripture occurred anyway. So the question is, If the God of the Bible exists and did command the Canaanite genocide, would there be any justification for this act? Well, yes there would be, if the Canaanites were as bad as the scripture says they were. So at this level of the argument, what really did happen does not matter. What matters are the hypothetical answers to the hypothetical questions. But in fact, as Aron points out, there is some evidence that the Canaanites were this bad.

    PS2 Yes, God can soften people's hearts: that's the main point of the New Testament. But I suppose God doesn't generally want to do so when it would override the will of the person in question. Pharoah hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15, 8:32) twice before God hardened it for him (9:12). The word translated as "harden" also means to "strengthen". God was merely giving Pharoah the psychological strength to do what Pharoah himself wanted to do. (7:3) is earlier in the chronology, but this is merely a prediction of what is going to happen.

  9. howie says:

    Hi Aron
    Sorry for misspelling your name and I hope you had a nice Christmas.

    I'm also sorry if you feel insulted over the issues of animals.
    I, of course do not know you and so can only respond to what you put in your posts.
    What is in your post does seem to show a lack of concern for the animals that are killed and tortured at gods command and by god in the bible.
    Your response was:

    "To me this seems a much lesser concern than the infants. Animals don't have the same moral status that human beings do. Even human beings have the moral authority to kill groups of animals for good cause. Presumably God ordered the destruction of the animals for the same reason as the gold and other property: to prevent the Israelites from thinking that the purpose of the genocide was to enrich themselves, and to emphasize the severity of the judgement."
    This response does seem to treat animals as property and I fail to see any empathy for the hurt animals in your post. Perhaps I have overlooked something, could you can point it out to me?

    To answer your question, yes I am vegetarian. I see no reason to eat animals when we don’t have to. But the killing of the animals in the bible seems to go far beyond killing animals for food. They are killed and not eaten and they are not just killed but also tortured. At no point in your post do I see any empathy for this. I'm not saying you personally don’t have any, I'm saying I don’t see any in your post and in your argument. I hope you understand my issue is with what you post, I know nothing of you as person. If you are the nicest person in the world and spend all your time working for wounded animals, I will still have the same issue with your post. I hope you will also see that the validity of my arguments do not depend on whether or not I'm a vegetarian.

    The justification you imagined for killing all the animals of the Canaanites was so the Israelites didn’t enrich themselves, which implies its okay to kill animals to prevent personal enrichment. Moreover, god could have made the animals temporarily immobile, he could have given the Israelites a burning pain if they tried to touch the animals, he could have made them invisble, all of this would have given them the same lesson but with less violence. Yet god chose the way of violence and suffering. Again if that doesn’t show god is not morally perfect, what will?
    You respond:
    "Killing innocents without sufficiently good reason would indicate that a being is not perfectly good. It is not necessary that the reason be one we can fully understand, although in this case God did choose to disclose some, but not necessarily all, of his reasons."
    And no sufficient reason has been given so I fail to see why we should not conclude that in the absence of a sufficient reason that the god of the bible is not perfectly good. Of course its possible that god has some good reason for his apparent evil acts. But its also possible he has an evil reasons for his apparently good acts. Surely we have to assess those agents based on the evidence we see not on a hypothetical reasons that no one has been shown.
    If I want someone to love and I appear to do evil acts, shouldn't I should explain myself to that person? If I do not then it seems perfectly reasonable for that person to withdraw their affections.
    So far I have seen no good explanation in your posts about why god can not only allow so much suffering for animals but actually command it. Why does he use so much violence when peaceful methods could be used?

    I have no problem with your belief in god coming from other sources, what I find hard to understand is why someone trained in scientific method, would still not want to test your otherwise derived beliefs against the available observational evidence. Surely no matter how reasonable a theory may seem we must always test it against the evidence wherever we can? I would not [be] surprised to find one observation not over turning an a compelling piece of theory. But observation after observation, most certainly should. If it doesn’t that's a problem with science not a defence of god. And that is what we see in the bible, time and time agin, if the stories are true, we see gods being needlessly violent. When you don’t up date your beliefs in the light of observations then you are lost in a delusion.
    I don’t doubt god does some good things as well in the bile, but if he does good things ands bad things, then how is that consistent with being perfectly good?

    With regard to authority, I asked what legitimises authority? Your response was god delegating power but this argument would imply that any government that has not been delegated by god has no authority. So a just trial done by a government not delegated by god is not just? How do you know if they are delegated by god or not? I don’t see why creating someone means you have absolute authority over them, should my parents have absolute auhtority over me? What if they could build a mind reading machine? They would then know me perfectly, does that mean they can enslave me? Your argument form authority doesn’t follow.

    As we have seen the evidence that the Canaanites committed child sacrifice is not as compelling as many Christian apologists imply. Your response is to quote someone saying you don’t need any evidence. This seems to be a consistent theme. Yet they also say "If the God of the Bible exists and did command the Canaanite genocide, would there be any justification for this act? Well, yes there would be, if the Canaanites were as bad as the scripture says they were." Note the conditional "if the Canaanites were as bad as the scripture says they were." But how do we know if they were that bad? We need evidence and the evidence presented is not compelling. Moreover I haven't seen the claim that the Canaanites sacrificed their children nor the Egyptians, nor the pre flood population in the bible. But even if it is there why is child sacrifice worse than killing disobedient chidlren in the case of the Hebrews or keeping slaves as in the Americans? I have not seen any reason for this.
    Perhaps even more importantly do you think if we found a society today that killed their children should they be wiped out? Personally I would not condone genocide even for such a soceity. The Germans of WII killed millions of their own citizens, does that mean a genocide aganst the Germans in 1945 would have been justified?

    Why should god give Pharaoh the psychological strength to lead to the death of so many innocents? The first born of every Egyptian, and their animals, not to mentioned that suffering of the other plagues? Why would god give pharaoh the strength for this outcome? How is this consistent with a perfectly loving god?

    [Several typos fixed on request--AW]

  10. howie says:

    Sorry I dont see how to edit my posts so there are a few typos , in particular "condone" should be "not condone"

  11. Aron Wall says:

    howie,

    Thanks; I had a nice Christmas. But unfortunately I have the flu right now and thus I don't have the energy to make a detailed response to all of your arguments. But let me clarify what I meant by government having divine authority. I was referring to the Christian doctrine that government is in general authorized by God to do certain things, as St. Paul says in Romans 13:

    Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

    This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

    St. Paul did not mean, of course, that the Roman government was authorized from God in the sense that God specifically spoke from heaven and said "I command that there be a Roman Senate and Emperor", and that there are other governments which were not authorized. (The only nation which has ever been directly founded by God was ancient Israel, and therefore that was the only legitimate theocracy to ever exist. All other goverments are presumptuous if they seek to enforce a religious code of law.)

    He meant that God has providentially arranged so that human beings are capable of forming governments for the purpose of justice, using our own wisdom, and that those governments therefore possess real delegated authority from God. Similar to the way God has delegated authority to you to feed your own body and look after it. He didn't need to tell you in a voice from heaven to do that, it's built into his creation.

    So when you ask "So a just trial done by a government not delegated by god is not just? How do you know if they are delegated by god or not?"; the answer is that ALL governments are delegated by God in this way, whenever they seek to do justice. Of course this doesn't justify them when they do injustice (for example when, somewhat ironically in light of the passage I just quoted, the same Roman government executed St. Paul).

    Regarding parental authority:

    I don’t see why creating someone means you have absolute authority over them, should my parents have absolute authority over me?

    You are taking isolated things out of context. I never said that creating somebody gives you absolute authority over them.

    But it does give some authority. As you know, your parents had quite a lot of authority over you while you were younger. For example a parent is allowed to punish their own child, but not a random adult or a stranger's child. This authority was grounded partly in the fact that they begat and bore you (it would be an exaggeration to call this creation given that they have almost no control over the process), but also in additional facts about them and facts about you. Assuming your parents were ordinary decent people, they would have loved you more than anyone else, devoted time and effort to raising you, knew you better than almost anyone (sometimes better than you knew yourself). You on the other hand were weaker, less rational, had a great need to be taken care of and so on. It is therefore quite natural that parents should have (nonabsolute) authority over their children. When the children grow up they rightly assume control over their own lives, although they always owe their parents respect and honor, not just for bringing them into existence but also for services rendered which cannot ever be fully repayed.

    The authority of parents is rightly limited because parents never love or know their children perfectly, and in the end they are the same kind of being. The child does not exist solely for the sake of their parent: their DNA (which the parent only transmitted, not controlled) has made them into a being who properly has their own independent interests and ambitions.

    Now God's authority over you is rooted in a similar natural situation of parent to child, only his authority is absolute because the ratio of his greatness to yours is infinitely greater, even after we grow up. There is no chance of you being right and him being wrong. Also, he created you for a specific purpose, and knows that you will be unhappy if you don't fulfil it. And he knows better than you do how to acquire true happiness. And yet it is true that he's delegated quite a lot of freedom to you, so apparently he isn't a bossy micromanager either.

    What if they could build a mind reading machine? They would then know me perfectly, does that mean they can enslave me?

    Didn't I also mention something about love?

    If I want someone to love and I appear to do evil acts, shouldn't I should explain myself to that person? If I do not then it seems perfectly reasonable for that person to withdraw their affections.

    That seems to presuppose you and the other person are roughly equal in wisdom, so that they can fully understand your reasons for behaving the way that you do (and that you have no good reason to withhold the information from them). But in the case of a parent and a small child, parents may know perfectly well that their explanations won't always satisfy the child, and yet they still reasonably ask them to trust and obey them. Or if a proven good friend whose character you trust says "I can't tell you why I'm doing this without breaking a confidence. You'll just have to trust me," then that might be reasonable in certain circumstances. Of course I am presupposing in both cases that the person trusting has other, positive experiences of the parent/friend, on which to base the judgement of trust.

    Perhaps even more importantly do you think if we found a society today that killed their children should they be wiped out? Personally I would not condone genocide even for such a soceity. The Germans of WII killed millions of their own citizens, does that mean a genocide aganst the Germans in 1945 would have been justified?

    If you go back and read my previous comments you will find that I stated twice that no human beings have the right to commit genocide in the absence of specific divine authorization. So the answer to your question is NO.

    I have responded to only a small portion of your questions, and yet my reply has still gotten rather long. With these internet exchanges it's best to keep things very tightly focused or they quickly spin out of control. As I said, I don't have the energy to follow up this conversation much longer (but don't let that keep other people from responding if they wish).

  12. Hello again Aron & howie,

    howie, please look back at the post I did on the 22nd. In my thinking I’ve answered most of the arguments you’ve presented. Of course I think Aron has as well but for some reason you have simply ignored or misunderstood most of what he has said. (To be charitable, I’ll assume the latter.) He had to say more than once that he has answered certain of your accusations against the biblical God and then he repeated his answers, yet you keep repeating the same accusations.

    So would you go over my comments (from the 22nd) and point out what you think I have failed to answer? (I know you have added some new arguments since the 22nd, e.g. the problem of Deut 13, but they are extraneous to the basic issue covered in this particular blog topic.) In the meantime I will try to go over Aron's and your posts and try to find some arguments to which no one has responded and I will make some comments. Hopefully I won’t be too long in getting a post out to you.

    And as Aron mentioned, some other readers may have comments as well. Hope you're feeling better, Aron. Maybe you just need a good break from your blogging.

  13. Hi howie,

    You quote me: “If the God of the Bible exists and did command the Canaanite genocide, would there be any justification for this act? Well, yes there would be, if the Canaanites were as bad as the scripture says they were.” You then go on to say, “Note the conditional ‘if the Canaanites were as bad as the scripture says they were.’ But how do we know if they were that bad? We need evidence and the evidence presented is not compelling.” I went on to point out that this is merely a hypothetical argument needing nothing more than a hypothetical answer. It seems to me that you do not understand that the burden of proof is not on me to provide additional evidence, it’s on you to show an inconsistency given the information we have.

    At the risk of repeating much of Aron’s statement, let me try to explain my argument differently. You are making the claim that there is an inconsistency in the Hebrew scriptures such that one cannot claim that the God described there is completely just and good as it claims (e.g. Gen 18.25). God’s actions, according to the text, show that this God cannot be good, you claim. But if we are going entirely and only by what the Hebrew scripture says, one cannot pick and choose which portions one wants to accept and which one wants to reject. It’s the fact that this book says that the Canaanites practiced child sacrifice and that this was a major reason these people should be destroyed (Lev 18.21, 27-28) that makes the account consistent. It is consistent for it to say that God is absolutely good and just as well as to say that God judged that by the Canaanites’ wickedness they deserved destruction.

    Nevertheless, though it is not needed for the above argument to work, there is good external evidence that the Canaanites did practice child sacrifice. The cultural connections between Phoenecian Carthage and Canaan, the archeological evidence that they worshiped the same deities, and the references throughout the Bible and other Near Eastern writings provide good evidence that this did happen in Canaan. A. R. W. Green’s book The Role of Human Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East (1975) would be the best place to look for the most complete evidence.

  14. howie says:

    Hi Aron, Sorry to hear about your flu, hope you are recovered now.
    I have been very very busy over the last few months but have finally found some time to reply. I recognize you earlier said you are bowing out of the conversation, so no worries if you don’t reply to this. I thank you for the time you have spent on it.
    Dennis Jensen, if I get some more time I will post a reply to your post.

    Aron:

    When you say that all governments are delegated by god whenever they seek to do justice. I don't see any real argument here, because the phrase "doing justice" is not clearly defined.
    For example some Christians feel they are doing justice when they prevent homosexual marriages, others think this is itself unjust. Some Jews feel that it is wrong to drive on the Sabbath, others feel its fine. Some Muslims think blasphemy should be punished by death, others think this is wrong. In short simply saying a government is legitimate when it’s just is not a clear answer, as even believers in the same religious text do not agree upon what is just.

    With respect top parental authority no one is claiming parents have the rights to kill their children or read their inner thoughts. So I think the analogy is weak. You accept of course that parents have limited authority over their children but only because their knowledge of them is imperfect. But again, what if In the future it is possible to read someone’s thoughts? You answer is simply:
    "Didn't I mention something about love".
    I’m sorry I don't understand how this is an answer at all. The questions remains.

    A parent that doesn't even try to explain their apparently cruel actions is quite possibly an irresponsible parent. You say that parent and the child have to be roughly equal in wisdom, where is the justification for this? A child that is punished for being naughty may well know they were being naughty, that doesn’t mena they are even close to equal in wisdom to their parent. They need to have a minimum amount of knowledge, I see no reason to suggest they have to have an equal amount of knowledge.

    It’s possible that a parent that appears to be cruel is really loving, but of course it’s also possible that they really are cruel. Surely we have to go on the basis of evidence that we have and not just reconfirm our preconceived notions, which is what it seems you are doing.
    You make statements such as “There is no chance of you being right and him being wrong” but this just confirms that you are not open to evidence, instead you simply seek to rationalize your already held beliefs. You say “Also, he created you for a specific purpose, and knows that you will be unhappy if you don't fulfil it.”
    Would you tell that to the mothers of the slaughtered Egyptian children, that god knew what would make them happy and fulfilled and so killed their first born children?

    How can you seriously claim that the god that supposedly created the entire universe yet is interested in my sex life is not a bossy micro manager?

    I understand that you think no human being has the right to commit genocide in the absence of divine authorization. But I think you are missing the point. The point is you are trying to give some justificaiton for god’s actions. For example, when you appeal to the child sacrifice of the Canaanites, you are effectively arguing that there are some circumstances when it’s okay to commit genocide when it’s right for god to command it. So my question is, if it was right for god to command the Israelites to kill the Cannonites why would it not be right for the Israelites to kill all the Germans after WWII? To simply hide behind the fact that god didn't command it, doesn't explain why gods commands are just.

    I also don't see any justification for the torture of the animal found in the bible in your reply. Quite frankly I have never seen a good justification of this. Let us remind ourselves that god commands the Hebrew armies to severe the Achilles tendons of their opponents horses. God could have just put these horses to sleep but instead he commanded them to tortured instead. If that sort of evidence doesn’t convince you this is not a loving god, what would ? One can only assume that you are simply not open to evidence. I find that an incredible state of affairs for someone of the very high level of scientific training you have.

  15. howie says:

    Hi Dennis
    Sorry it’s taken such a long time to respond, I was extremely busy over the last two months.
    I hope you had a nice Christmas and New Years.

    You say that god is acting with justice but you a re ignoring the fact the god commands animals to be killed and tortured, so even if you are correct about the humans I don’t see how you can apply it to the animals. So the accusation stands, god is barbaric.
    Similarly you justify the killing of the Egyptian children (and their animals) by appealing to the fact that the Israelites were enslaved. That maybe true but the Egyptian children did not enslave them? God kills the innocents, why didn’t he just kill the Pharaoh?
    Would it be just to kill American children for the crimes of slavery ?

    You claim that the Canaanite children were compensated, but it does not say this in the bible, so you are simply assuming that, furthermore do the animals get compensated? Also I don’t see how compensation implies justification.
    Lets suppose a child molester compensates the said child by buying them lots of things they like; toys, candy etc. Does the compensation mean we ignore the crimes of the molester? Is the molester no longer guilty?

    I think your answer is extremely callous, imagine watching your mother killed before your eyes. Whatever compensation you receive, how could you possibly claim that the said child experiences “no loss”?
    This is where your religion is taking you, to really believe that the most horrible of crimes is really “no loss”. That is extremely worrying.

    I do not see why the Canaanite civilization needed to be wiped out. Lets assume they did have child sacrifice, why is that worse that the slavery institutionalized in America for hundreds of years? Would you say that the American civilization should be wiped out?
    Where is your evidence that a barbaric practice that a culture is performing at some time T will always be practiced into the indefinite future?

    Lots of societies were barbaric in the past, including our own. God could use his powers to protect the children from such practice, instead he decided on genocide and we are really to believe he is all loving?
    Even if we agree they should be killed,
    God could have killed the Canaanites peacefully in their sleep; instead he chose the violence of the sword.

    Coming back to the issues of animals, you claim that animals may not feel pain in any significant manner; do you have any evidence for this?
    If that is so why do animals chose to take painkillers when in pain? Your alternative is that god has another plan for them, but unless you tell me what this plain is and provide some evidence for it, I have no reason to take such an argument seriously.

  16. Aron Wall says:

    Howie,

    The argument from parents and government officials is a fortiori. That is, if parents and judges have some authority despite being human beings with limited wisdom, love, and connection to those they rule over, then how much more authority would reside in a being with infinite love and wisdom who created everything? This is the same type of argument that Jesus uses in Matthew 7:11:

    If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

    That there is disagreement about the exact scope of government authority is irrelevant. All that matters for my argument is that they have some legitimate authority. (But my own personal belief is that, apart from the specific divine authorization to ancient Israel, no government has any buisness imposing a particular religion or religious ritual on anybody else.)

    But again, what if In the future it is possible to read someone’s thoughts? You answer is simply:
    "Didn't I mention something about love".
    I’m sorry I don't understand how this is an answer at all. The questions remains.

    Do I really need to spell this out for you? The ability to read people's minds would increase our knowledge, but it would not necessarily make us more loving or even more wise. Furthermore it would be a much lesser degree of knowledge than omniscience. So the parallel to God is lacking. (Also I doubt many human beings have the wisdom to handle mind reading; I strongly suspect it would make most people worse parents rather than better.)

    How can you seriously claim that the god that supposedly created the entire universe yet is interested in my sex life is not a bossy micro manager?

    How can you possibly suggest that a God who cares about human beings, could be uninterested in one of the most important parts of human behavior? Which incidentally is also the mechanism for creating new human beings. How could he not be interested in sex? Your concept of God is much too anthropomorphic, you are thinking of him as a sourpuss and a killjoy rather than as the cosmic artist who created sex in the first place. I assume that God is great enough to be interested in every electron in the universe (or it would not exist), so why should he not be interested in the things that people care about? You may as well say that Leonardo de Vinci was a bossy micromanager when he made sure every little fleck of paint on the Mona Lisa was exactly how he wanted it to be.

    And yet, when was the last time he spoke from heaven and told you to refrain from a particular sex act you were about to perform? Or made himself so obstrusively present that you felt that your privacy was violated? Seems to me he's given you quite a bit of space and freedom to make your own choices. Quite the opposite of a micromanager, really. When you consider what God could easily do with his power, it seems to me he shows far more humility and restraint than any human being would, if given absolute power.

    You make statements such as “There is no chance of you being right and him being wrong” but this just confirms that you are not open to evidence, instead you simply seek to rationalize your already held beliefs. You say “Also, he created you for a specific purpose, and knows that you will be unhappy if you don't fulfil it.”
    Would you tell that to the mothers of the slaughtered Egyptian children, that god knew what would make them happy and fulfilled and so killed their first born children?

    I don't know whether I would have the right to say it to a grieving mother, but it would be true. The only thing capable of fulfilling the eternal longings of the human heart is a relationship with God, not with a human child. See Chapter 11 of the Great Divorce by St. C.S. Lewis.

    As for hamstringing the horses, I don't know what God's exact motives were, but I can speculate. I know you will find this difficult to believe, but although God loves animals he thinks human beings are even more important. So what he wanted to teach Israel (about not relying on cavalry) was more important than the sufferings of the horses. Possibly their lives were still better than if they'd just been killed; I'm not in a position to know that. Of course God could have intervened miraculously to teleport them all to a Happy Horse Paradise, but the same could be said about every other evil in the world (that God could remove it if he chose to). There's already lots of suffering in Nature due to disease and carnivores. Presumably God's plan includings limiting the amount of direct intervention he uses, and accomplishing some of his goals through human beings and natural processes instead of doing it all miraculously. Necessarily, some amount of evil must be tolerated as a result, but good also comes from it.

    The fact that the Germans repented of their anti-Semitism after WWII shows that they weren't irredeemably evil. Only God is in a position to know this sort of thing in advance. If we humans acted alone without divine guidance, we would be in danger of pulling up the wheat with the tares (Matt. 13:29).

    ...One can only assume that you are simply not open to evidence. I find that an incredible state of affairs for someone of the very high level of scientific training you have.

    I'm plenty open to the evidence, it's just I'm working from a broader base of evidence than you are. (There was an experiment a while back where it looked like neutrinos were going faster than light. Yet most physicists refused to accept the obvious conclusion because they were working from a broader base of evidence than just that one experiment, which indeed turned out to be wrong.)

    My additional evidence includes: 1) Metaphysical arguments about the fundamental nature of reality of the sort described in my most recent post and the preceeding posts, 2) God's own explicit statements in the Bible that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and has motives other than cruelty to act the way he does, 3) The New Testament revelation of God's universal love revealed particularly in the life, teaching, and sacrificial death of Jesus, 4) My own personal religious experiences of God, which without exception has revealed God as holy and ethical and loving (yet not always nice), 5) the religious experiences of other Christians I respect, which are similar in character.

    Since we have not discussed most of these additional sources of evidence (something which would take quite some time), you are being much too hasty in accusing me of closed-mindedness. Can't we discuss the particular topic in front of us in a civilized and rational manner, without all of this grandstanding about how irrational and heartless anyone must be to disagree with you?

  17. howie says:

    Hi Aron
    Thank you again for taking the time to respond, it is very gracious of you.

    It appears though that you didn’t really address the central problem of government authority. Recall you said governments had the authority of god when they seek to do justice. I raised the problem of how do we know when they are acting justly or not. I don’t feel that was replied. Even people of the same religious faith don’t agree on fundamental issues of justice. If you read the debates that took place over slavery in the 18th and 19th century you will find both sides of that debate used the bible to justify their position.
    I don’t see how claiming that god has infinite love or wisdom helps us here. More importantly the issue is, does the god of the bible really have infinite love and wisdom? Of course if you assume from the outset he does you will get the answer back that you want. Whenever you look at a behavior that looks barbaric you can always assume he has some good reason for it.
    It reminds me of stories of wives who are continually beaten up by their husbands and still assume he is the right and its for her own good as he really loves her!

    As regards god’s interest in sexual behavior, you tell me that god is not a micromanager and he respects free will. Yet he says about homosexual sex:
    “ If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” Lev 20:13
    You state god should be concerned because its one of the most important part of human behavior and the mechanism of creating new humans. But in the case of homosexual sex it is not going to lead to the creation of new humans. Even in the case of hetro sexual sex, this is not necessarily the case. Killing homosexuals certainly does qualify god as more than a killjoy. I don’t see how the command to kill homo sexuals is consistent with your statement:
    “And yet, when was the last time he spoke from heaven and told you to refrain from a particular sex act you were about to perform? Or made himself so obstrusively present that you felt that your privacy was violated? Seems to me he's given you quite a bit of space and freedom to make your own choices.”

    Perhaps you would like to read accounts of religious homo sexuals who have killed themselves or been killed by others because they thought homo sexuality conflicted with the bible to see if you want to continue to make such claims.
    I think it’s quite wrong to not consider that having god speak from heaven (in the form of the bible) and condemn a sexual practice like homosexuality is exactly what happens in this case. Perhaps you don’t feel this, but if you look at the wider world you will see many people do.

    It seems you are moving the goal posts with regarding people ability to read minds. Recall you stated :
    “The Christian answer to your question is that all political authority on earth is ultimately delegated from God, who possesses authority over us because he created us, loves us, and knows us perfectly.”
    If in the future technology enabled a parent to read the mind of their children they would fulfill all of your required criteria. Yet of course no one would think they then have the right to torture or kill their children.
    I note you assume that humans being couldn’t handle mind reading, maybe you are right. This reminds of the phrase power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But why not consider that the same is true for god? Would you not consider that his absolute power could possibly corrupt him?

    Again if you assume that god has all the omnis, then sure he can do no wrong and he can’t be corrupted. The problem the non-believer has is that our observations of the world and our observations of the stories in the bible do not look like they are consistent with the god of the bible having all the omnis. This is the central problem I feel you do not address.
    A god that is all powerful and all loving does not need to command the torture of animals to ensure the Israelites armies are successful in battle. He could have put the horses to sleep magically; that he chose to have them tortured instead must surely count as evidence against the god of the bible possessing those Omnis.
    Yet your replies always start with the assumption that he does possess those Omnis therefore he can do no wrong.

    You say you are open to evidence but working from a broader base and give an example of FTL neutrinos. I’m afraid I don’t think this example works. The problem with the neutrinos was not just they contradicted what we expect from relativity but that the experiment just did not stand up to replication and scrutiny. No one experiment should ever over turn a broad body of evidence for the opposite when it has not been replicated. But let us suppose though that it was replicated and scrutinized and after thousands of years and many other examples and may other teams all found the same result, would you still disregard them?
    I think in this hypothetical example you would be abandoning the scientific method.
    However if you failed to believe the FTL neutrinos in the real world scenario that actually played out you would not because there was plenty of legitimate scope to doubt the results.

    In the case of the bible though you are not in such a place to doubt the data of god’s cruelty. If you are going to believe in the bible as a reliable document then you must accept the stories as true, you cannot disregard the data that is before your eyes and assume they must have some explanation that is consistent with your sacred assumption. At some point you must ask whether your sacred assumption is false.
    The amount of data we had about FTL was insufficient to throw out relativity - or even modify it or find some verification for a loophole in it. But if the data became sufficiently robust, eventually that is what any honest scientist would have done.

    If you believe that god did order those horses to be tortured and the Egyptian children (and their animals) to be killed and for the all the beings in the world (save Noah and his family) to be slowly killed over multiple days and nights then you are not in a position to disregard the data as the skeptics of FTL neutrinos were.

    So again the question remains at what point does the data of gods actions make you question your metaphysical arguments?
    It seems to me there is no point at which you do this. If god can act with cruelty why is it impossible for him to lie? Perhaps god has some reason to lie that you are not privy to? If god has good reasons to kill, then perhaps he has good reason to lie? Or is lying a worse crime than torture and murder? Hence you should have reason to doubt god’s word.

    I don’t see how even if the NT is true this undermines the evidence of god’s cruelty. Human beings can sometimes act lovingly and at other times act with cruelty. So even if the NT is full of love and kindness and we can ignore or re intpret passages such as Jesus saying
    “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” John 15: 6
    That does not undermine the cruelty of the OT. Again only if you refuse to question your sacred assumption will this be the case.
    Although one must consider that Jesus knew that people would use their faith to send people to be burnt to death n the future, yet he still chose those words.

    You experience I’m sure is very real to you. But experience can be misinterpreted. Many people feel they have had a real experience of being kidnapped by aliens, but I would think it’s more likely they are misinterpreting sleep paralysis and false memories.
    I have no doubt your experiences seem real to you, others think god has told them to kill infidels and their experience may seem real to them. I suspect you disregard their experiences as being inconsistent with your assumptions but should it not cast doubt on the validity of such personal experiences in the first place?

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