CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

After writing about Internet atheists and their rhetorical tactics over the weekend, a commenter provided an example of the type of disingenuous rhetoric that I was referencing. In the blog post entitled Internet Atheists and Rhetoric, I quoted an article by Dr. John Mark Reynolds who stated that Internet atheists don't understand the force of the arguments raised by Dr. William Lane Craig. In response to that blog entry, Internet atheist/gadfly Steven Carr commented:

For example, Criag [sic] argues that it is morally correct to stick a sword into the belly of an expectant mother Here

This article was widely discussed among atheists, the majority of whom found such view revolting.

This is an example of another type of atheist rhetoric: take a long, nuanced argument and boil it down to something that everyone agrees is offensive but which completely misrepresents what the author says. In other words, set up the straw man.

I certainly urge people to read the Craig article. He looks at the Biblical account of the order for the destruction of the Caananites openly, honestly and intellectually. He deals with issues such as divine command theory, ethical relativism, historic setting, the role of the Israelites in God's plan for salvation, and perspective. At no time does Craig duck from the idea that to our western minds raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition the order for the destruction of the Canaanites seems completely immoral.

So then what is Yahweh doing in commanding Israel’s armies to exterminate the Canaanite peoples? It is precisely because we have come to expect Yahweh to act justly and with compassion that we find these stories so difficult to understand. How can He command soldiers to slaughter children?

I have made these same arguments, and I certainly understand the points that Dr. Craig is making. The story of the slaughter of the entire Amalakite people or the Caananite people are among the most difficult for people with a strong sense of morality (which comes from God) to accept. I know several people who otherwise accept the historicity of the Old Testament who simply refuse to believe that God would have been involved in these actions and reason that they are written into the Bible to try to justify the evil actions started by the Israeli people themselves. I understand their concerns and frankly if I were not committed to the fact that the entire Bible is true I would be inclined to take that tact as well. It certainly does away with some rather difficult Bible accounts.

However, I personally find Craig's argument to be both logical and reasonable. To characterize what Craig is saying as "it is morally correct to stick a sword into the belly of an expectant mother" is a complete injustice to Dr. Craig's attempt to deal with a situation that is extremely difficult to understand. Let me suggest an analogy to this mischaracterization of Craig's essay: At the tail-end of the Second World War, the Allies had defeated the Axis powers in Europe. All that was left was to defeat the Japanese. The problem was that the invasion was largely considered to be a very costly effort in terms of human lives. The Allies had just lost more than 12,500 soldiers in their invasion of Okinawa, and the Japanese had lost 100,000 civilians in that same invasion (according to Japan-Guide.com). According to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum,

Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe all were decimated by incendiary and other bombs. In all, hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed in these air strikes meant to deter the resolve of the Japanese people. Yet, Japanese resolve stayed strong and the idea of a bloody "house to house" invasion of the Japanese mainland would produce thousands more American and Allied casualties.

In order to end the war with fewer lives being lost, Truman authorized that the first two atomic bombs be dropped. The first, dropped on Hiroshima, did not lead to the surrender of the Japanese -- that's how committed to fighting the Japanese people remained. The second, dropped on Nagasaki, apparently led the Japanese to ultimately surrender under the belief that the United States would be able to continuously drop these bombs at a low risk of loss of life to themselves. Truman, it is reported, believed so strongly that dropping the bomb was the best course of action when all of the alternatives and the risks of those alternatives were taken into consideration -- even though dropping the bomb on a city would kill thousands of innocent people including pregant women and babies -- that he did not even agonize over the decision.

Having read the foregoing, would you say that it is accurate to claim: "Truman was in favor of dropping atomic bombs on babies"? Would you say that someone who believes that Truman was right to drop the atomic bombs is "in favor of dropping atomic bombs on babies"? If you say either of these things then I find your reasoning to be highly suspect. Truman was the only commander in history (thus far) to actually order the dropping of an atomic bomb, and he did so on two separate occasions. But the fact that he did so in particular circumstances when all of the other options were taken into account and did so because it seemed to him to be the best option to bring a decisive end to the war with a minimum loss of life should tell anyone that such a blanket statement about Truman is simply misguided and not consistent with the whole picture.

Likewise, saying that someone today who argues that Truman made the correct decision when he decided to drop the atomic bombs on Japan favors "dropping atomic bombs on babies" is pure rhetoric. It is little more than an effort to win the argument by claiming that the person supporting the decision to bomb Japan supports an activity that he really doesn't support but the argument is being made solely to make the person supporting Truman's decision look bad. After all, only a crazy person could be in favor of "dropping atomic bombs on babies", right?

That, in my eyes, is the same thing that happens with the blanket assertion made by people like Carr about the slaying of the Amalakites and the Caananites. There is a whole lot of factors and considerations that should be taken into account when trying to understand what happened and why. To simply say that someone who defends the truth of the Biblical account in context is in favor of "killing babies", "sticking a sword into the belly of an expectant mother" or "genocide" so completely misrepresents the very nuanced and thoughtful arguments being made as to be recklessly and willfully ignorant.

I fully expect someone to comment how I am just trying to justify genocide. If they do, they merely prove my point. I do not support or justify genocide, but I do try to understand what the Bible is saying in context. To boil that down in such a fraudulent manner is intellectual dishonesty.

21 comments:

Bk,

Even if one disagrees with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, your point about oversimplification still stands. If Truman was wrong about the bombs, it would still be a misrepresntation to say, "Truman argues that it is morally correct to drop atom bombs on innocent women and children." It would more accurately be said, "Truman believes that it can be morally correct to drop atom bombs on population centers that include innocent women and children if, ___, and ___, and ___ and ___ and ___ factors exist."

You can still disagree with Truman's analysis of the morality of the decision, but it is a disservice to the debate to oversimplify his moral stance.

So too with W.L. Craig.

Yes, I agree 100%. I am not saying that Truman was correct in his choice. You can completely disagree with his decision, but to say that he was in favor of killing babies because he dropped the bomb is simply absurd. Your point in your comment is right on point.

I think (not that I'm defending Steven here {wry g}) that the sceptical complaint is more along the lines of 'WLC argues that it is morally correct to stick a sword into the belly of an expectant mother because this flying spaghetti monster exists and says it's morally correct sometimes. But we don't believe in the flying spaghetti monster!'

Similarly, I don't know many Christian who are willing to give Jim Jones a provisional pass for suiciding his cult down in Guyana; ditto the Heaven's Gate ufo cult.

Or again, to give a more immediately pertinent example, how many Christians are willing to point out that the 9/11 terrorists, in their own perception, weren't slaughtering innocent men and women (some of whom may have been pregnant) at the World Trade Center, therefore we ought to cut them some personal slack? They thought the conditions had been met for a morally proper lethal action against those people, too; sanctioned not-incidentally by supposedly-the-same-YHWH found in the OT, Whom we ourselves consider to be far more plausible than a flying spaghetti monster.

If we're expecting sceptical opponents to cut us some slack on a prima facie moral problem, then we ought to be willing to do the same for people _we_ think are just as wrong wrong wronggity wrong as sceptics think _we_ are. So, when those Muslims rioted after the Pope called their religion a lying plagiarism where not an evil invention--how willing were you to see the complexities of their angle?

(As I recall, most Christian commentators followed the line of snorfing at the Muslims for violently rioting because the Pope had said their religion was violent. Which of course makes no sense. Which lack of sense was thus imputed to the Muslims to show that they were irrational, thus synching up with another Papal statement about their religion being anti-rational. Very convenient--but not at all what the Muslims themselves would have been caring about much less rioting over, I think.)

I'm not saying Steven was right to traduce WLC like that, or that he was doing anything more than being a rhetorical troll again--I've known him for several years now myself, long enough to think that any good point he happens to stumble across was probably accidental. {lopsided g} I'm just saying: it's hard to keep from doing that against _our_ opponents, too.

JRP

JRP,

I think the point is more than GOD SAID IT. Steve's point seems not to be God didn't really say it, but the fact that you have to say God said it proves what a monster your conception of God is. Thus, Craig's response is not just, GOD SAID IT, but are there morally understandable reasons why God would say something like that.

Here is my atheist rhetoric on Craig's response.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

I deleted Babinski's comments again because of irrelevance and excessive linkage.

Did Truman order the destruction of the entire Japanese population, man,woman and child?

Could the Israelites not have spared the lives of the expectant mothers, just as they spared the lives of the virgins in Numbers 31:17-18?

I should have nuanced my statement.

'William Lane Craig believes it is morally correct to stick a sword into the belly of an expectant mother if and only if he believes that God has told him to do so'

What part of 'Thou shalt not kill' did Truman not understand?

Craig writes 'The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.'

The act was wrong in itself, byt the soldiers were obeying orders.

This is known in theological circles as the 'Nuremberg' defense.

Chris: {{Steve's point seems not to be God didn't really say it, but the fact that you have to say God said it proves what a monster your conception of God is.}}

(_THANK YOU_ for de-spamming our doses of Ed-ification, btw. {s} That being said, Ed provides a far more focused and link-free comment over at Victor’s DangIdea link to this discussion, if anyone cares to read it.)

Eh, okay I agree that’s true, too--a sceptic could go either way on that. (I was thinking less about Steven than about other sceptics of my experience. It usually pays to think less about Steven as much as possible. {g}) Thus the fact that the Muslims rioted because they thought God wanted them to riot, proves what a monster their conception of God is--I’ve seen _that_ angle attempted, too.

My main point was that if we’re asking sceptics to take a breath and consider morally understandable reasons for why God might command (and so in essence do) something like that, we ought to be willing to do the same thing when considering apparent atrocities wrought by our opponents.


Oooh, I bet back in the private channels that at least four of the replies since I was here yesterday would be by Steven Carr! I win! {!!beam!!} {off to buy myself a Coke}

Incidentally, the word in the commandment is ‘murder’, both in the Greek and in the Hebrew I think. That doesn’t solve all problems by a long shot, but it does prevent countertextual rebuttal from that direction.

Wes’ “rhetoric” is much better {g} and is worthy of serious discussion; though there’s something to be said for the ‘Nuremberg defense’ complaint, too. (I just don't think Steven is capable of serious discussion on it. Long experience. {wry s})

Fwiw, I don’t think Bill was complaining at all about reasoned complaints, but about trolling--which is a merely rhetorical tactic (at best).

JRP

Steven,

So many questions. Let's see:

Did Truman order the destruction of the entire Japanese population, man,woman and child?

No, he ordered the dropping of two atomic bombs that killed virtually everyone in two sizable Japanese cities (including expectant mothers and babies), the combined populations of which probably exceeded the total number of Canaanites.

Could the Israelites not have spared the lives of the expectant mothers, just as they spared the lives of the virgins in Numbers 31:17-18?

Possibly. But in asking the question you are actually asking "Wasn't there a less drastic alternative?" That's one of the questions that Craig seeks to answer in his article. He tries to give a thoughtful answer which you have boiled down to the misrepresentative statement that I complained about.

'William Lane Craig believes it is morally correct to stick a sword into the belly of an expectant mother if and only if he believes that God has told him to do so'

This, of course, ignores context completely. As I have pointed out in an article I know you read because you did the same hatchet job to me, I pointed out that the acts that are being discussed occurred in the context of a time when God was leading the Israelites and keepig them separate and pure. It was a time leading up to the birth of Jesus. With the birth of Jesus, the rules changed. Today, I think it would be unthinkable that God would order such a thing because we now live in the age of grace and "love your enemy." Craig point out the first part of this in his article. Does Craig acknowledge that God -- if he is God -- could order such a thing and we would be obligated to obey? Sure, that's simply true. But no where does Craig suggest that God would order such a thing today.

What part of 'Thou shalt not kill' did Truman not understand?

Really, Steven, you need to do some more thinking on this if you really consider that to be a legitimate Biblical critique of Truman's decision.

This is known in theological circles as the 'Nuremberg' defense.

The Nuremberg defense doesn't apply when it is God speaking.

Jason,

Of course you are right on your last point. The attribution of the ordered destruction of both the Canaanites and the Amalikites to God are very troubling issues. I don't back away from those discussions and I welcome them. What I am objecting to is the way in which they are handled by people from the other side. I know that because I have written my own reasoned defense of the destruction of the Amalakites I have been accused of supporting genocide. That's so completely absurd that I stand amaze that anyone can think that. But it is simply part and parcel of the rhetoric that I see coming out of the atheist camp on a regular basis.

The point is this: if you want to debate Christianity, let's do so. But if you want to try to win the argument through rhetoric or use heavily assumptive, negative language, just go away. I don't need to waste my time. However, I will call the spade a spade and note how the arguer is using rhetoric instead of real argument.

And here's some more of the same kinda' stuff that it intellectually dishonest and deceptive:

http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/08/creationists_fo.html#comment-202230

The comment to a link to an article by Hector Avalos (which is itself rather humorous if anyone believes it) says:

"If Weikart cannot find evidence of modern Christians justifying the killing of entire groups of people, men, women and children, I am willing to help him out. Try [link to this blog post]."

Insanity.

God kept the Israelites 'pure' until the time of Jesus (and then sent the Roman armies to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple?)

Well, if some of those expectant mothers in Canaan had been allowed to have their babies, the religious leaders of Israel at the time of the birth of Jesus would not have been so 'pure'.

So best that the Israelites stuck swords into them.

It was what God would have wanted.

BK
I think it would be unthinkable that God would order such a thing because we now live in the age of grace and "love your enemy." Craig point out the first part of this in his article.

CARR
Why is it 'unthinkable' for God to once more do what Craig said was morally acceptable for God to have done?

Christians claim we live in an age when we have to 'love our enemy', which is why it was OK for Truman to drop atomb bombs on babies.

Steven,

Having a discussion with you is like having a discussion with a Magic 8 Ball -- things are said that seem to have no relation to reality.

Well, if some of those expectant mothers in Canaan had been allowed to have their babies, the religious leaders of Israel at the time of the birth of Jesus would not have been so 'pure'.

So best that the Israelites stuck swords into them.

It was what God would have wanted.

If you think for a moment that this makes any sense, you really need to take a nap. Non sequitur.

Why is it 'unthinkable' for God to once more do what Craig said was morally acceptable for God to have done?

I have explained this before, but you don't try to understand so I'll not waste my time.

Christians claim we live in an age when we have to 'love our enemy', which is why it was OK for Truman to drop atomb bombs on babies.
Non sequitur.

Okay, _now_ I'm going to say something in Steven's defense, despite the fact that I usually agree about the Magic 8 Ball relevance. (I do defend him occasionally; it's far from the first time, though Steven has never once acknowledged it.)

What Steven is trying to say, not very eptly, is that if the defense for the genocide was for the Israelites to remain pure, then by Jesus' day it makes no sense for the Israelites not to have stayed "pure", which obviously they weren't. By this line of defense, the inference would be that Israel should have done _more_ genocidal things, not less, in order to stay 'pure'. (Racially pure? Morally pure? Whatever.)

Thus Steven ironically quips that if some of the expectant mothers in Canaan had been allowed to have their babies, the religious leaders of Israel at the time of Jesus would not have been so 'pure'.


The nonseq in Steven's other quip was that you didn't explain very well how dropping atom bombs on civilians counts as loving our enemies. The problem here isn't really that you didn't explain why atom bombing Nagasaki and Hiroshima counts as loving our enemies, but that your defense of God ordering the deaths of children is that you wouldn't expect Him to order that _now_, because _now_ we live in an age of grace when we're supposed to love our enemies instead of killing their children (by implication). And yet you, the Christian, defended the killing of children in WWII. (One hardly needs to even bring in the atom bombs: we had reduced 66 other Japanese cities, equivalent to the 66 largest US cities of that time, to ash already by conventional incendiary bombing.)

That's the disparity Steven is quipping about.

Perhaps not-incidentally, in the debate against Keith Parsons ten years ago, WLC tried to defend against concerns that God might command such a genocide again on the ground that Jesus wouldn't do such a thing: a flatly Arian schism. If 'God' commanded such a thing, then 'Jesus' commanded such a thing--or else orthodoxy isn't true. On the other hand, if orthodoxy is true then the God Who commanded such a thing, assuming He did, also hung on a cross for most of a day after being scourged, paying for sin and suffering in the world.

JRP

BK: Of course you are right on your last point. The attribution of the ordered destruction of both the Canaanites and the Amalikites to God are very troubling issues.

Actually, no. Not troubling at all. Your point in the main article was correct, but the comment I quoted is missing something crucial, something that is central to the whole issue.

Why is it so troubling for God to command someone to kill someone else? Because killing is so wrong? But almost everyone agrees that killing is sometimes morally justified, e.g. in self-defence. This is where the theist's involved analysis of all the details comes in, trying to establish that this particular set of circumstances really does justify what happened. (And meanwhile the cheater simply pulls a sentence with enough emotional charge out of context to try to score cheap debating points.)

But while it is proper to call out any cheaters who are trying to build strawmen, let's just assume that none of the justifying conditions apply; let's assume that if you were to undertake these killings on your own initiative, you would rightly be charged with murder. If the Bible ever described a situation like that, then God would be in trouble, right?

Except just because it's wrong for me to do something, doesn't mean it's wrong for God. And this is the key point. Why not? Is God above the law? Of course He is! He made the law! You simply can't say God is subject to a law he created for humans just because you are subject to it, or because you simply don't like it.

Remember why people used to say murder was wrong? (Lots of people still say it, but I think not as many as used to.) Because it was "playing God". Deciding who gets to live and who gets to die is God's prerogative. If you usurp that right, you're committing a crime. When God exercises that right, He's doing His job. Whether you die of crib death when you're 2, or from a heart attack when you're 82, it's still up to God. If a meteorite falls on your head and kills you, that's not murder. So why does it matter whether God decides to kill you with a meteorite or a soldier's sword? Answer: it doesn't (at least, not from the moral perspective under consideration here).

The points about how now we live under a new covenant, now we're supposed to love our neighbours, etc., are good points, but different points. They're answers to some other questions. (I don't think they're as relevant as people are implying, anyway -- the caricature of God in the Old Testament as tough, cranky Yahweh vs. soft, compassionate Jesus is not accurate to begin with, and even in the OT the Canaanites and Amalikites are highly exceptional events.) But as soon as you admit that God is Himself subject to some law, some standard of good and bad, you're granting your opponents a false premise.

It may be politically incorrect to suggest that right and wrong are determined by what God tells us to do rather than by what "feels good (or bad)", but the fact is that God makes the laws, and we're subject to them. Any discussion that sets out trying to establish whether God's actions are justifiable or not is not talking about the Judeo-Christian God. Any god who is "below" the law, who is subject to a higher moral standard, is not the real God, cannot be the real God (presumably whoever or whatever is the source of those higher standards would be the real God, unless that power in turn was subject to yet higher Laws!).

(Incidentally, this points out that the real problem with the Nazis was that they weren't following orders: they disobeyed the higher commands of God in deference to the human orders of their superior officers. If there weren't some higher law they were breaking, how could we blame them for doing something bad?)

NOW, the atheist can certainly say, "Maybe God isn't 'wrong' to command those deaths under these premises, but that still makes him Not Very Nice, and how do you explain that if this God is supposed to be so loving?" -- and that's a legitimate question that deserves an answer. Why would God order soldiers to kill someone? Why would God drop a meteorite on someone, or let someone drop from a heart attack? Why doesn't God just make us all immortal?? Well, that's all really just different ways of phrasing the good ol' "problem of pain", and as I said, it's a legitmate question -- it's just not the question that was originally raised.

The original question was "How can God do things that are so awful?" and the answer is that "awful" is a subjective, emotional, human reaction to actions we're interpreting as done by humans -- not as though they were done by God. Finding something unpleasant does not a logical argument make, and logically speaking, human law cannot apply to God, not the God of Christians (and Jews and Moslems, etc.). Of course if you're arguing about some other, law-bound god, then hey, no need to argue, 'cause I don't believe in those gods either.


-DLG

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