Divine Genocide

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This is a continuation of a conversation that was started on the blog of one of my favorite atheist podcasts, Reasonable Doubts. You can find it here.

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I am focusing on the one point because it is the primary point under debate. Everything else is secondary and entirely dependent on what is concluded about the primary point. The primary question under discussion here is whether God is reprehensible for taking life. The tendency is to muddy the waters by jumping to secondary issues before addressing this primary one.

When I say “context” I am referring to the backdrop the Bible itself provides for the story. Questions like who God is, what he is trying to accomplish, who man is in relation to God etc. Superimposing external ideas on top of the Bible narrative will naturally lead to contradictory conclusions.

For example, if I start from the premise that God did not directly create man or that in creating him, he somehow obliged himself to grant man his 80 year lifespan; of course we would consider it unfair if God then took that life prematurely.

If you disagree with the premises the Bible is written on then we need to leave the current subject and discuss those premises first. If on the other hand you want to focus on this issue, then we need to address it within the backdrop the Bible sets up for it.

 

Now regarding “hereditary guilt” this is not something that I am arguing for.  What I mentioned first of all was that the human race would have never come to exist if God had revoked Adam and Eve’s right to life as soon as they rebelled.

My second point was that by letting them live, the rest of humanity was given an opportunity. Yes, they would be born in their parent’s image (i.e. sinful) and be under condemnation not for their parent’s sin but for sins they themselves would commit. (I realize that this itself raises many questions which will get us on quite a tangent if you want to go there)

However, God allowed them to exist for the sole purpose that they would have an opportunity to realize there is a better way and change. Even though they had been born at a disadvantage, their experience in sin could lead them to understand why God’s way is better. And, humanity is better off having this opportunity then no opportunity at all.

But again, this is the only reason why God allowed humanity to exist. He has no interest in sustaining a race of individuals simply so that they would squander their opportunities. He has made no promises to mankind and has entered into no contractual agreement with them to grant them this lifetime to do with as they please. If He does allow them to exist, it is an undeserved favor. If he ever chooses not to with any individual or group, there is nothing there that He can be accused of.

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Comments

  1. Clifford Banes  February 6, 2013

    I’m a little torn on where to go with this one, since I’ve never really fully thought through the question of when a just God does or does not have the right to take the lives he creates, but I’m seeing some ways to potentially put some very strong limits on that, and I’m tempted to pursue them for the academic sport of it.

    But as I said before, this is a point I’m willing to concede for sake of argument. And I understand where you’re going with that: If there IS an omnipotent deity behind all of existence, then he’s responsible for thousands of deaths every day. Whether all of those men, women, and children are dying at the hands of soldiers or cancer cells or anything else is, if all you care about is the fact of death, immaterial.

    But what I, at least, am arguing is that the problems with the OT genocides go beyond the simple issue of whether a death occurs or not. Which think I covered adequately in my previous posts, after I conceded the divine-right-to-kill point the first time.

    As for the hereditary-guilt thing, I’m really confused about where you’re coming from anymore. Originally you’d said God is justified in killing us at any time because he has given us rules, and “You have the ability to reject these rules but you will forfeit your right to exist in the process.” My response was that I didn’t think the average person’s sins could justifiably be considered capital crimes, at which point you said you weren’t talking about average people, but rather “the race as a whole” due to Adam and Eve’s actions. So I addressed that in terms of “hereditary guilt,” which does find support in multiple Bible passages about sons being punished or cursed for the sins of their fathers. But now you’re back to saying that it’s about our sins as individuals? What was the point of that detour through the Garden? At this point I don’t even care what your answer is re: how the mundane sins of most people’s lives merit death, since I’ve already officially put aside any objections I may have to God’s right to kill. But I just had to describe my bafflement at the circuitous path you’ve taken us on.

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  2. Unapologetics  February 7, 2013

    I realize you’ve already conceded this point. The reason I am persistent on it is because I don’t quite see how you can concede it and not concede the whole debate. Or maybe I do not understand exactly what you are conceding and you might need to explain it a little further. For example,

    - you are conceding that God can be justified in taking life, right?
    - are you also conceding that he can be justified in wiping out entire people groups/nations?
    - if yes, is it just the methods he used to do it that you have an issue with?
    - if no, when is God NOT justified in killing? Are there certain requirements that must be in place for God to be justified in taking a life? If you think so then we obviously need to discuss this before moving on to the methods used.

    You mentioned:

    “If there IS an omnipotent deity behind all of existence, then he’s responsible for thousands of deaths every day.”

    Depending on how you mean that I might or might not actually be arguing from that perspective. In other words, even if we assume human beings are just highly complex biological machines sort of how the naturalist views them, my argument would still apply. God made the laws of physics, the universe, the planets, animals and man, set them all in motion and stepped back. They are not continuously dependent on Him keeping them alive. If someone dies in an accident it is more because of the laws of probability and/or his own or another’s mistakes than that God actively took their life. So if God decides to kill someone he has to actually step in to a system that was built to run just fine on its own.

    Of course neither is he actively trying to stop things from happening although he could which in a sense would still make Him responsible if that’s what you meant. But if he did step in every time, we would never see the consequences of our actions and no lesson would be learned from the experience.

    As far as the hereditary guilt issue, part of the problem with this is that, depending on your background in Christianity, some of the same terminology can be understood in different ways by various traditions. Since I think the issue is essential to what we are discussing I will try to summarize it again with additional details that might further clarify where the Bible is coming from as I see it.

    1) It begins with God being the only “one” in existence (won’t get into the trinity here). He decides to create intelligent beings; beings that have free will (not pre-programmed).
    2) There is a risk in this however in that one or more of these beings might choose to misuse their free-will in a way that will impose on the rights of the other beings. This would lead to a very chaotic state of affairs that God has no interest in allowing. He does want to create a society of intelligent beings but only as long as these could coexist in harmony.
    3) He deals with this in several ways.
    a. First, he grants life conditionally. Life is not a right but a privilege and this privilege can be lost if the individual/s become/s a threat to the wellbeing of society as a whole.
    b. Second, He sets up some form of constitution clearly spelling out His expectations and consequences; mainly that if anyone chooses to go in a direction that threatens the wellbeing of the group they will forfeit their right to exist.
    c. He creates them with the inherent impulse to resonate with these restrictions such that, if anyone turns from them, it is not by mistake or because of some personal weakness but an intentional and calculated action.

    (Let me pause here to clarify some potential points of confusion:

    - What I am describing here is not yet dealing with the human race but with the initial situation before Adam and Eve were created and before sin came into the picture; the sinless state.
    - The intelligent beings described include the angels (which apparently number in the millions) and other races similar to the human race (very briefly mentioned in scripture). But definitely more than just a small number of individuals. (Of these only a small percentage eventually sinned: Satan and his angels – which topic I will be skipping unless you bring it up – and mankind.)
    - An analogy to help with the distinction between the sinless state described above and the sinful state we are in now is the difference in the temptation to smoke between a person who has never smoked and someone addicted to it.

    )

    4) Now we come to Adam and Eve who also were created with the same advantages and expectations mentioned above i.e. sinlessness, conditional existence etc. And Adam and Eve failed to meet the conditions and forfeited their right to life.
    5) In this case God would have been fully justified in taking back their life then and there. He created them under these conditions, he made them aware of the conditions and they went against them. There would have been nothing unjust about wiping them out at that time (as far as I can see).
    6) And, as I mentioned before, if God had done this we would have been affected as well not because we would be punished for Adam’s sin but simply because we would have never been born.
    7) Instead God placed our planet under quarantine sort of speak (so that we would not have an influence on other beings that still sided with God) but He allowed Adam and Eve to continue living for some limited amount of time. He did this for the sole purpose that they might have opportunity to realize their fault and to repent.
    8) In doing this he was already doing more than justice demanded of Him so cutting their life short through old age or even changing his mind and wiping them out prematurely could not have been held against Him (in my opinion). It would be like taking back a favor that already wasn’t deserved. If you disagree with this point then I’d like to know why.

    9) Now we come to the last part of this which is Adam’s children, i.e. the rest of the human race. Since, if God had justly punished Adam we would have never been born, God’s favor to Adam was also a favor to us that God was under no obligation to grant us.
    10) Because Adam was now in the sinful state we would be born in his image rather than in God’s image; we would be born with a rebellious instinct rather than with the instinct to resonate with God’s system, the way Adam and all the other beings previously mentioned had been created. So from the start we would not be the kind of beings that would fit in to the harmonious system that God was trying to set up.
    11) Nonetheless, because our experience with sin/suffering/rebellion could potentially lead us to understand why He was against it to begin with and cause us to want something better, He allows us a chance to exist for limited time so that we might possibly come to that realization.
    12) The human race was better off having this opportunity rather than no opportunity at all but, once given, there was nothing obligating God to keep giving it if He chose to do so no longer. It was already a favor on top of a favor that God would have been perfectly just never to grant.

    One final clarification regarding what I said in previous posts. Even though human beings are born in a sinful state because of Adam’s sin and as a result end up doing things that go against God’s requirements, they are not consider guilty for Adam’s sin itself.

    Although quite lengthy (there are actually several other layers to this that I skipped over for the sake of time) the extra details will hopefully help answer some questions (as well as raise new ones, I’m sure). But I’m hoping it is clear by now why I don’t think, within this larger context, that God could ever be considered unjust for taking the life of an individual, a group or even the entire race.

    I am interested to know your basis for determining under what circumstances God would be justified or unjustified in talking a life.

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  3. Justin  February 7, 2013

    Implicit in this response is a premise that I find unwarranted.

    ‘If person X is the reason for the very existence of person Y, then person X can do whatever he/she wants with person Y.’

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  4. Unapologetics  February 7, 2013

    That’s not exactly implicit in the response, but even so it would help to know why you find it unwarranted.

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  5. Unapologetics  February 7, 2013

    Let me add a little more to that in the hope of saving time in the long run.

    I don’t yet have a clear picture of what would be considered correct/fair interaction between X and Y from your (or Clifford’s) perspective. I don’t recall this being clearly addressed in the debate. I other words, what expectations SHOULD we have regarding how a creator should deal justly with the creature and why. It would be helpful to know this so that I am not just barking up the wrong tree.

    This relationship is not exactly similar to that of a parent/child. Yes, parents are the reason for the existence of the child, but they are not the reason for the biological mechanism that made reproduction possible.

    A slightly better analogy would be if we ever became technologically advanced enough to develop sentient programs on a computer. What would be our obligations to such a program and why?

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  6. Clifford Banes  February 8, 2013

    - if yes, is it just the methods he used to do it that you have an issue with?

    More or less, yes. So far your arguments about death have addressed it from a very clinical perspective, divorced from the brutal circumstances of war. But before we get into that, I do want to point out one subtle but important point about my position, which is that I don’t think it’s impossible for a deity to be justified in doing… well, just about anything. With a little imagination and a dose of who-are-we-to-know-the-mind-of-God, any act can be rationalized. This is one of the more disturbing features of theistic thought, in fact. So my objections about this story don’t constitute an airtight proof, but are more a matter of conceptual plausibility.

    So sure, let’s say God has the ethical right to kill all of these people. Does he strike them dead in an instant? Does he devour the city in a single burst of sulphur and brimstone? No, he sends the Israelites to kill them one by one, man by woman by child, whether in the heat of battle against soldiers or in cold-blooded execution of defeated prisoners. All the protracted terror, the gory messes, the brutalization not just of the Amalekites but of the Isrealite soldiers themselves who had to kill every last mother and infant no matter how defenseless. What was the point of that? The only “why” the story gives us is to “punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.” Which happened in a previous generation – there’s that hereditary guilt again.

    As I said, I don’t think it’s impossible to imagine a reason why all of that could’ve been necessary within the perfect justice of God. But the plain text is lacking, and more importantly, there are only so many ethical contortions I’m willing to go through. It reminds me of a certain young-Earth Creationist argument for how we can see starlight that needed to travel millions or billions of years to get here: that God created the universe “artificially old” in the same way that he created Adam and Eve as full-grown adults, so the streams of light were planted in situ at the moment of creation. The problem is that this makes God out to be deceptive, telling stories in starlight that never happened and making the universe speak directly against his own supposed word. While he certainly could have done all of that, every hoop you need to jump through to get there weakens that case versus the option of simply accepting the universe as it presents itself. Likewise, the story of the Amalekites looks all the world like a case of simple tribal revenge, and the harder one tries to square the details with some concept of divine justice, the worse the case becomes.

    I have many problems with a lot of the logic you’ve presented, but it’s logic in defense of the divine right to kill, which is a topic I’m trying really hard to move past, so I won’t go into those now. The one thing I can’t help but remark on is that you brought up the “sentient computer program” thought-experiment, since that’s been in the back of my head this whole time. As a matter of fact, I think the creators of such a thing – assuming it had an awareness of self and desire to continue existing, as we do – would have as much of an ethical obligation to keep it running as doctors have an obligation to keep a conscious patient on life-support alive. (An argument could be made that stopping the program without erasing it would still be acceptable, as that’s more like sleep and not death, but the technical details of computer-based life could get very tricky indeed the further down the rabbit-hole we go.) Suffice it to say that I think self-awareness and the capacity for pleasure and pain, hopes and fears, etc., are the source of all our basic rights, and the circumstances of our creation do not affect those rights.

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  7. Lausten North  February 8, 2013

    I pretty sure I disagree with what you think “the premises the Bible is written on”, but there are a lot of things you don’t state, so it’s hard sayin’. Each author had their own premises, some no doubt felt they were diligently transcribing oral tradition, while others certainly were using those traditions to make political statements. Each needs to be examined in their context. This gets difficult because the whole OT was redacted and pieces from different authors were combined into one. The edits in the NT are a little easier to spot, but we know so little about what others were thinking in the second temple period, it is still difficult to surmise their premises. If you can’t show me how you know what these premises are, you’re arguments remain unconvincing.

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    • Unapologetics  February 8, 2013

      I was using the word “premises” somewhat differently here.

      There are generally three main lines of attack against Christianity:

      1) The first is to argue against theism itself. If God doesn’t exist then Christianity is false as well. These types of arguments usually involve scientific data or logical argumentation.

      2) The second is to argue from a historical-critical approach. This might involve archeological data regarding places and events that don’t match up with the Bible or might involve questioning the existence of Jesus etc.

      3) Lastly, it is to argue that the Bible is internally inconsistent or flawed. This might appeal to Biblical contradictions or to unfairness on the part of God.

      Justin’s debate here is taking the third approach. It is basically going off of Dawkins’ statement that “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”

      The argument here is that, even if we evaluate the story itself, the way we would evaluate a fictional novel, the story still doesn’t add up. So, even if we grant that God exists (as an academic exercise) and grant that the Bible was in fact inspired by God, there are still huge problems with the story.

      And, since the original argument was of this third type, my response goes along with that by saying, if we’re going to evaluate that particular story, let’s be fair and evaluate it in the greater biblical context of the story.

      You are bringing up the premises of the individual authors, their motivations, their agendas etc. and I understand what you are saying but that would more likely fall under the second category of arguments as described above (the historical-critical type).

      The way I am approaching this is by saying, let’s assume that regardless of who wrote each part of the Bible, what their motives were, whether they collected info from several sources etc., that God oversaw the whole process and that everything that is in the Bible now is exactly what HE wanted to put there. Let’s just take that assumption for granted for the moment. Now let’s read the whole story and then evaluate the argument that Justin brings up in the context of the Big Picture we get from the rest of the Bible.

      I am responding this way since that’s how the original argument was set up to begin with in Justin’s debate.

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      • Lausten North  February 8, 2013

        I see. And you think this helps you? I see you have many steps, most of them rest upon this idea that God is granting us our lives and that justifies him taking those lives. Not much point in having a discussion with you if you’re going to start there.

        Just curious though, did God also want there to be different Bibles with different interpretations, sometimes even different books? It gets to hard to evaluate when it’s that way.

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      • Unapologetics  February 8, 2013

        Helps me with what exactly? I listened to the Reasonable Doubts debate and I don’t think their arguments hold in light of the wider context of the Bible.

        If you’re having a hard time with all the different Bible translations you can always go straight to the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.

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        • Charles Bonner  February 9, 2013

          We could do that, although then we might have a hard time will all the different manuscripts (of which we have many copies, but no originals).

          What follows from your assumption that God oversaw the whole process and that everything that is in the Bible now is exactly what he wanted to put there? If God is sometimes portrayed in the certain passages of the Old Testament as a tyrant, or petty, or vindictive, or a liar, or a doofus, all we can reasonably conclude, on the basis of your assumption, is that God must have wanted to be portrayed, in those passages, as a tyrant, or petty, or vindictive, or a liar, or a doofus. Similarly, as far as any supposed broader context is concerned, if the Bible appears to contain a certain number of errors, contradictions, frauds, and forgeries, all we can conclude on the basis of your assumption is that God must have wanted it to appear that the Bible contains a certain number of errors, contradictions, frauds, and forgeries.

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        • Lausten North  February 9, 2013

          Helps you make your argument. What kind of a question is that? You said you want to evaluate the Amalekite story in the greater Biblical context. And you think that helps you. The point of evaluating the Amalekite story IS to include the entire context. This is the context of nationalism and genocide that most people ignore.

          And yes, I could learn Greek and Hebrew and possibly one day come up with a better translation than anyone else, one that the entire world would accept as the CORRECT translations, but that’s not the point. The point is we currently don’t have consensus on that. You are asking me to assume “everything that is in the Bible now is exactly what HE wanted”. I don’t know what you meant by “the” Bible, because there are many translations, and I don’t understand how we can proceed with a discussion about “a” story when the story teller himself has deliberately thrown multiple versions out there.

          I’m asking you how you selected the particular version of the story you have.

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    • Unapologetics  February 11, 2013

      * Sigh * I will make one last attempt to explain myself here.

      Imagine for a second that you were sitting in an English Literature class and were participating in a group discussion on Romeo and Juliet. And suppose someone said that they did not find the story believable because it doesn’t make sense that Juliet would risk her life drinking that potion just to appear dead when the potion could have potentially really killed her. To which you might respond that, if they considered the greater context of the story, the feud between the two families, her love for Romeo, the fact that she was about to be married off to another, it wouldn’t be hard to see why a love stricken teenager would go to such extremes.

      So even in a case where we all know the story is fictional, we can still discuss its internal consistency and logic. Because the original question is a question about the plausibility of an event within the story, the response can appeal to the greater context of the story. It wouldn’t make sense here to mention, for example, that it’s unlikely that Shakespeare really wrote Romeo and Juliet or that archeological evidence does not back up the way of life of the characters as described in the story. And, regardless of how many variants or translations of R&J there might be, chances are almost all share the greater context of the family feud, the romance etc.

      Now in the RD debate Justin is arguing that God did not have the right to take the life of the Amalekites. I am responding by saying that in the greater context of the Bible God has a government. Mankind already committed a capital offence and God gave them a second chance. So if someone is intent on misusing this second chance as well God is perfectly justified in taking their life within His own legal system.

      If we had a criminal on death row and he was offered a pardon but then went out and started committing the same crimes again, no one would accuse the judge for making sure this time the sentence was carried out. To argue against this they would have to make a case against the legitimacy of capital punishment altogether, which is the point I was getting at with Justin’s debate. For Justin’s argument to be valid he needs to make the case that God does not have the right to take human life, period.

      Regarding the different versions of the Bible, the “greater context” that I am talking about would be the same in all of them unless you’re using some off-the-wall version like Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible. Every mainstream version of the Bible talks about God’s government, man’s sin and that mankind is already under condemnation.

      And, in response to Charles, the bible manuscripts fit into 2 main categories and the context wouldn’t change regardless of which group of manuscripts we used.

      Regarding “the assumption that God oversaw the whole process” Charles also misunderstood where I was going with that. I was not here making the argument that this is how we should treat the Bible in general. I was simply saying that in this case, because Justin Schieber’s argument had to do with an internal element of the story, my response would focus on that as well while assuming that other potential issues with the Bible were not there so that we could focus on the issue at hand.

      Finally Charles mentioned that if God oversaw the process then God wanted to be portrayed the way He has been. Again, this is a different discussion than my original point about the RD debate, but this isn’t the case necessarily. God allowed stuff to be in the Bible because that stuff IS what actually happened and not because He endorsed that action or event necessarily. For example, in the book of Judges the Israelites go and almost completely wipe out one of their own tribes. This is mentioned in the Bible not because it is what God commanded or even what He wanted but simply because it happened. Just because some action or event is in the Bible does not mean that God endorses that particular action or event even when it is done by one of His faithful followers. It simply means that the action/ event happened and God wanted it to be reported. He endorsed the reporting of the event, not the event itself.

      Now if there are any more comments about Bible versions, manuscripts or the point I made in the previous paragraph, I will open a new thread for them since they are not directly related to the current topic.

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      • Charles Bonner  February 11, 2013

        If, when you say that “mankind had already committed a capital crime,” you are referring to the myth of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, you are misinterpreting the myth. I understand why you would do so in view of what you call the greater context of the Bible, because a straighforward reading of the myth contradicts that greater context.

        However, even were it not the case that you are misinterpreting the myth, my understanding is that you are asserting the absolute moral right of God to kill, or order the killing of, any human being. Or cut off very important parts off their bodies, or whatever. What is not clear to me is whether you are saying that God has this right only because we are all someone’s descendants and are all subject to collective punishment for the supposed misdeeds of our ancestors (starting with Adam and Eve), or whether you are arguing the broader case that, since God had created Adam and Eve, they had never had any moral rights vis-a-vis God, ever. In other words, if Adam and Eve disobeyed God, he would be justified in killing them, but also, even if they had obeyed God, he would still be justified in killing them — or rather, he would need no justification for killing them (or cutting off very important parts of their bodies, etc.). Nothing that God might have done to Adam and Eve would have been an injustice, since, because he had created them, at no time was he ever under any moral obligation to treat them justly.

        But perhaps I’m wrong about what you are trying to say, because if you are truly saying that God needed no justification to order the killing of Amelikite babies, I don’t understand why you are at such pains to argue that God was justified in ordering the killing of Amelikite babies.

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        • Clifford Banes  February 12, 2013

          From what I’ve gathered of Unapologetics’s stance, he’s actually espousing a third option, wherein God does not have the universal right to kill his creations simply because he created them, but he does have the right to kill those creations who never would have come to exist without his act of mercy upon their criminal ancestors. Unapologetics distinguishes this from hereditary guilt by focusing on the simple fact that God saved the descendants from nonexistence before they were born, which apparently gives him the right to revoke that gift at any time.

          I don’t think this logic holds up at all; in reality, it’s either a subset of hereditary guilt or it’s indistinguishable from a universal right to kill. But Unapologetics seems to think it’s its own thing.

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        • Unapologetics  February 15, 2013

          Not exactly. What I was trying to distinguish was between the Catholic concept of Original Sin and what I understand the Bible to promote.

          Original sin states that human beings are born under a type of judicial guilt inherited from Adam so that they’re guilty before having done anything themselves.

          The Bible does not teach that people are guilty automatically for Adam’s sin. Rather, that they are born with an instinct/ inclination towards sin that eventually they end up acting upon and become guilty for their own actions not for Adam’s actions.

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          • Clifford Banes  February 15, 2013

            No, this is explicitly not what you said.

            This started when I said, “I by no means buy that the average human’s sins in any way justify the notion that their ‘right to life’ has been forfeited.” Then you quoted that and replied, “I am not talking about the average human’s sins, I am talking about the race as a whole. Adam and Eve forfeited their right to existence and god would have been perfectly justified to take it away then and there (in which case they would have had no children and you and I would not be having this conversation today.)” You further reinforced that in this thread when you said, “The human race was better off having this opportunity rather than no opportunity at all but, once given, there was nothing obligating God to keep giving it if He chose to do so no longer. It was already a favor on top of a favor that God would have been perfectly just never to grant.” So I thought it was a very accurate paraphrase of your position when I said, “God saved the descendants from nonexistence before they were born, which apparently gives him the right to revoke that gift at any time.”

            But NOW, however, you say what matters is that people “become guilty for their own actions”. So we’re back to the average person’s sins, which is exactly what you said you WEREN’T talking about. This is a maddeningly frustrating circle you’re running us through, and I’m prepared to wash my hands of it. This example is more acute the other discussion you and I are having down the page, but I’m feeling similar frustrations there. Unless I see more consistency and less ad hoc patchwork in your reasoning, this will probably be my last post here. Thank you for the discussion.

          • Unapologetics  February 16, 2013

            Now that’s hardly fair. We’re discussing a complex topic that has several facets and, just because one of my comments might be addressing one part and another comment something else does not mean I am contradicting myself. I spent a lot of time writing a pretty detailed outline of the Biblical storyline in order to clarify exactly what I was trying to say.

            The other problem is that you are using terminology that is used a certain way in Christian theology and I am not sure if you are using it in the same way or not. Some of my comments were meant to distinguish what I am saying from Catholic theology for example. But, if you’re background is not in Catholicism, then my comments probably didn’t make much sense.

            I don’t have time to explain everything again right now but I will write a response to Charles as soon as I can and maybe it will clarify some of the confusion.

          • Unapologetics  February 16, 2013

            Need to add a clarification here. When I said, “What I was trying to distinguish” I was referring to a previous comment to Clifford and not my conversation with Charles above.

          • Charles Bonner  February 17, 2013

            No, the concept of original sin has a definite Biblical foundation. Consider the death of an infant. Looking at the infant, you and I might conclude that the cause of the infant’s death was malnutrition and chronic diarrhea, but Paul would suggest, in Romans 5:12-19, that the ultimate cause of the infant’s death was “sin”:

            “12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned— 13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come. 15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! 18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

            In short, the infant died because, “through the disobedience of one man” (Adam), the infant, like the rest of “the many,” was made a sinner. “All” (including the infant) have sinned. I submit that the notion of original sin is at least as “reasonable” a way of trying to make sense of what Paul is saying here as any other.

          • Unapologetics  February 18, 2013

            We can start a new conversation on Original Sin in a separate post, if you’re interested, as soon as I’m caught up responding to all the comments. For now just insert an “in my opinion” after “The Bible does not teach…”

            I was just trying to clarify that I don’t personally hold that view, if that is in fact what Clifford was referring to.

            BTW, I started a new post in response to the above conversation here:

            http://mikemanea.com/unapologetics/divine-genocide-ii/

  8. Andy Anderson  February 8, 2013

    You sure do use a lot of words to say that it’s okay to order people to hack women and children to death with swords. Or maybe they just bashed the children’s heads against the walls? Who knows? I’m sure they got creative after a while, being all charged up on adrenaline and fear of the LORD and killing a lot of people in one-sided close-quarters battle.

    You really want to defend that as the product of the most good and loving being in the universe, ever?
    That’s an awfully petty and small God you’re trying to defend.

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  9. Unapologetics  February 11, 2013

    “Suffice it to say that I think self-awareness and the capacity for pleasure and pain, hopes and fears, etc., are the source of all our basic rights, and the circumstances of our creation do not affect those rights.”

    I think the computer program thought-experiment has helped the discussion progress a bit. A basis for the “rights” of created entities was an essential element never addressed in the original debate.

    My question for you now is not, when would we be justified in terminating this program? Rather it is whether you can think of situations where it would be unjust or unethical to refrain from terminating the program?

    “So my objections about this story don’t constitute an airtight proof, but are more a matter of conceptual plausibility.”

    I personally wasn’t approaching the topic from that angle and I’m not sure what exactly would be gained in doing so. If the Biblical story was somewhat more polished, as I’m sure other ancient god stories are, would it be any less likely that it was made up? The argument would then be that it was too polished to be true. My take on this ignored that aspect altogether and focused mainly on proper protocol for evaluating the internal consistency of a narrative.

    Now regarding the methods used to wipe out the Amalekites, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t consider this the central issue but I will share a few thoughts. I will mention several points and then bring them all together at the end.

    First, in regards to the sensibilities of the Israelites being shaken by the slaughter of women and children, I don’t think this was as much a concern for them as it is for us. This is how war was done and they were used to it. War was a common aspect of their lives and apparently occurred quite often. And they were not particularly preoccupied with the proper treatment of civilians. Nor had others been in dealing with them. In fact, it had been done to them by the Amalekites themselves. It was, I think, to put a limit on this that commands were given not to kill women and children (with some exceptions) or else they would not have thought twice about it.

    I’m not an expert on ancient warfare but there are several things that come to mind when looking at this from a purely secular perspective. It seems to me that one would have different considerations when doing war depending on the situation. If it was simply a case of one nation fighting with another then you would basically battle until one side surrendered and then you would discuss conditions of peace. If instead it was a situation where one nation was trying to expand into an empire then you would probably be more thorough subduing a nation because otherwise it would only be a matter of time before they regrouped and tried to regain their independence. Of course, if they did break free, you would simply retreat back to your home land.

    If on the other hand you intended to conquer a region and then settle there, then you would probably need to be exceptionally thorough displacing the natives since otherwise they would likely continue to harass you for generations to come and, since this is your home land now, you have no other place to retreat to. This would apply to any neighboring allies of the nations you were displacing as well (like the Amalekites). You might in some cases take prisoners and keep them as slaves to prevent any chance of revolt, but in this case, the Amalekites were so wicked that God didn’t want any exposure to them whatsoever.

    So now let me spend a little time on the Amalekites themselves. They are first introduced in Scripture as part of the group that had been conquered and were later delivered by Abraham and his men. They were in the area when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed but were among those given 400 more years of grace.

    Part of the reason for the plagues in Egypt was to make it perfectly clear to the surrounding nations that God was with the Israelites. Yet in spite of all this, for whatever reason the Amalekites were not impressed and decided to attack the Israelites unprovoked as they were traveling. But, instead of taking them head on, they decided instead to attack from the back where the most defenseless would be.

    After that incident, God promised to punish the Amalekites but it wasn’t His intention that it take several centuries. The directions were that, once Israel had settled in Canaan and had taken care of the immediate priorities that they should go deal with the Amalekites. However, once the Israelites settled down they got comfortable and didn’t do all that they were supposed to in order to assure the security of their nation for future generations.

    So in my opinion when God mentions to Soul that he should deal with the Amalekites and mentions their sin in attacking Israel centuries ago, He is not saying that Soul should punish the children for the sins of the parents. He is simply bringing that up to remind them that they should have been dealt with years ago. The reason that Soul should attack them now is because they are still the same threat to Israel that their parents had been. (1 Sam. 14:48)

    But the question still remains of why God didn’t just destroy them Himself instead of making the Israelites do it. Here are two possible reasons:

    First, there is a consistent pattern in the Bible where God only does for someone what they are unable to do for themselves. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and not in a position to take on the superpower of that time, He intervened directly to make it possible for them to escape. As soon as they were able to organize themselves and had the resources to set up a military, he began expecting them to cooperate in the process of doing whatever was necessary to establish themselves as a nation. So any miraculous intervention on the part of God was only to supplement what they themselves could not do.

    Second, there is an advantage from a spiritual perspective, to war as oppose to sending fire from heaven for example. Anyone among any of these nations that realized that God was with the Israelites and that they were being punished for their sins might have had an opportunity to escape or at least to repent before death. So in essence, this form of punishment left some opportunities open that Sodom, for example, didn’t have since, per God’s conversation with Abraham, there wasn’t even 10 righteous people in Sodom.

    One last thought on this before I bring it all together. There were only a few times in Israelite history when they were in a position where God could work with them. Most of the time, they were actually at odds with God themselves. If Israel had been continuously faithful then God might not have needed to be so drastic. They would have been under His continuous protection and able to defend themselves from their enemies. Instead, God had to take advantage of the few moments in Israelite history when He could work with them in order to deal a hard enough blow to their enemies as to assure the survival of future Hebrew generations.

    Which brings me to my last point that I need to preface with a brief discussion about omnipotence. One of the problems in apologetics is that theologians feel the need to come up with terms describing the attributes of God which often do more harm than good in the long run. If God is omnipotent then surely He could have found a better way to deal with this that didn’t involve killing a bunch of innocent children. The Bible uses the word Almighty rather than omnipotence to describe God which, regardless of how similar a word it might be, does not imply, for example, that god could make a square circle. The word Omnipotence gives the impression that God should be able to create a rock so big that even He can’t lift it, but that he should then be able to lift it anyway.

    The God of the Bible however works with limited possibilities. He could easily, for example, manipulate people to do His will. But, because He has pledged Himself to grant people free-will, He will not go against Himself and tamper with that human attribute.

    So, in conclusion, we can sit in judgment of God’s actions, but we don’t see the whole picture of what He had to deal with; His available options, His limitations… What if we had been in His place? Would our solution have been better? At the end of time would our solution have led to a greater number of people being saved over all? Since that is what GOD’s primary focus is in all this.

    The problem with drawing conclusions about the Bible based on stories like this is that we don’t see the full picture and all the issues involved. A person who is already inclined to believe will be inclined to give God the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was the best thing to do under the circumstances. Another who is inclined to doubt will do the opposite, and, in the end, what grounds would we really have to determine who was right?

    This is why my response to the Reasonable Doubts debate wasn’t trying to justify God’s actions here but to bring up the question of whether there are circumstances where a creator would be justified in taking the life of the created.

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    • Lausten North  February 11, 2013

      Bringing up possible circumstances that could explain why someone or something ordered an army to kill children is exactly the same as providing justification for those actions. Especially when you can only offer speculation about what those circumstances might be.

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    • Clifford Banes  February 11, 2013

      My question for you now is not, when would we be justified in terminating this program? Rather it is whether you can think of situations where it would be unjust or unethical to refrain from terminating the program?

      Sure. If, for instance, the program were in some form of constant and unstoppable agony. Or if the program were an active threat, Skynet-style.

      As for the rest of your post, I’ll repeat my earlier statement: “I don’t think it’s impossible for a deity to be justified in doing… well, just about anything. With a little imagination and a dose of who-are-we-to-know-the-mind-of-God, any act can be rationalized.” Which is exactly what you’ve done, right down to appealing to our ignorance. (I also think some of your rationalizations are deeply flawed, but that’s actually beside the point I’m making.)

      A person who is already inclined to believe will be inclined to give God the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was the best thing to do under the circumstances. Another who is inclined to doubt will do the opposite, and, in the end, what grounds would we really have to determine who was right?

      Depends on how absolute you want to be about it. Matters of conscience are already damnably hard to prove, but when one of the actors is an infinite being with ultimate awareness and creative power over the entire universe, that being’s perspective is impossible to fully envision and therefore there are any number of unknown factors that could potentially justify an act. Especially if we’re evaluating what’s “for the best,” which introduces the equally unknowable set of variables which is the optimum sequence of events among all possible permutations of history, who on Earth can say? So sure, if you’re looking for absolute proof, there’s none to be found.

      But that doesn’t mean that all non-absolute evaluations are equivalent. If you want grounds for who’s “right,” what I’m using is basically ethical parsimony: If I am to accept this event as a command from a perfectly just God, versus a product of flawed humanity, how many circumstantial assumptions do I need to make and questions do I need to leave unanswered in order to square it with any reasonable concept of justice? And, knowing that God’s infinity could in theory absorb even the most heinous imaginable acts within the fog of unknown mitigating factors, at what point do I say “enough” for the sake of sanity and go with the far less troublesome interpretation that this was a purely human event? I leave it to your conscience to decide where to draw that line as you ask yourself those things; my conscience is pretty well settled on this one.

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    • Unapologetics  February 15, 2013

      Here is a synopsis of where we are so far, if I understand you correctly:

      After you mentioned several times that you were conceding the point of the divine right to take a life I asked what exactly you were willing to concede; just the life of the individual, of multiple individuals, or the methods used.

      When you began talking about the methods I assumed you were conceding the previous two points. What this meant to me was that the discussion would then be framed like this:

      Given:

      1) God IS justified in taking human life and,
      2) God IS ALSO justified in destroying entire nations/ people groups (including women and children) by divine means like raining fire from haven etc. (ex. Sodom)

      Then,

      Would He also be justified in destroying a nation using another nation?
      This would be a problem on two counts:

      a) Prolonged suffering before death and
      b) The traumatic experience to the Israeli soldiers.

      I responded to the two problems as follows:

      1) To the prolonged suffering issue – even though an army would take a lot longer to destroy the city then fire from heaven, it would also provide opportunity to escape or to repent. And, although this might not seem like a worthy reason to us, God would consider it worth it if there was any chance that even a few individuals would do so.
      2) To the issue of the traumatic experience of killing civilians I responded that this was something they were used to doing and would normally do of their own accord unless God told them not to.

      So to the two issues you brought up I responded with two simple answers, which, if “deeply flawed,” we can definitely discuss. However, I don’t quite see my two answers as an endless string of forced rationalizations (assuming the previous points really were conceded).

      Now granted, if we were looking at this as an independent story and I had to choose whether this was divinely inspired or just a human work, I would probably be inclined to side with you. Of course I might also ask you for some model of how it happened. In other words,

      1) Did King Saul make this up to rationalize his brutality? That would not make much sense since the story makes him look bad as well.
      2) Did King David make this up to justify his right to the throne? That possibility also has problems since Moses mentioned the Amalekites would be destroyed centuries earlier.
      3) Did someone later down the line make up both stories? The problem then would be that by that point, they would not have much reason to make their God look bad in order to justify the actions of long gone ancestors.

      In other words, the proposition that this story is a “product of flawed humanity” would also need to be presented in a way that makes sense.

      However, the flaw in all this is that this story is not an isolated event. When my conscience decides where to draw the line here, it doesn’t look at this as an independent story. Before I ever came to this story there was a long series of preliminary questions I’ve had to ask myself first; questions regarding the existence of God, the various religions, the Bible in general etc. Anyone who examines this story is already going to be leaning one way or another based on how they responded to previous questions and that will determine for the most part what they do with this story and not so much the elements of the story itself.

      For example, the other day I took my kid to the doctor and had to hold him down for several minutes while the doctor performed a pretty painful procedure on him. If my kid were to evaluate my love for him based on that individual event he would definitely conclude I didn’t love him since I was helping someone that was hurting him. But, even though my kid probably did not understand why I did what I did in that particular instance, he still interpreted that event in lite of the rest of his experience with me.

      So even this statement you made, “I don’t think it’s impossible for a deity to be justified in doing… well, just about anything.” Even though theoretically speaking, if you thought long enough you might find a way to justify anything, in practice you wouldn’t. Going with my previous analogy, if as a parent I also regularly mistreated/ abused/ neglected my child, he would definitely interpret the doctor event as more evidence that I didn’t love him.

      In essence I am disagreeing with your methodology here. Isolating this event and then asking which explanation requires the least amount of “circumstantial assumptions” and unanswered questions is not going to lead us to any type of worthwhile conclusion, as far as I can see. In my opinion, anything we decide about this story is far more influenced by how we respond to previous questions than it is by any element of the story itself.

      I want to make sure that I am not misunderstanding your point before I say anything else about this…

      Going back to the computer program discussion, I think this is very good:

      “Sure. If, for instance, the program were in some form of constant and unstoppable agony. Or if the program were an active threat, Skynet-style.”

      Let’s add one more variable to this analogy. Let’s assume there was more than one entity involved. In other words, instead of creating a sentient program we created a virtual environment and created several intelligent entities within this environment. Besides the two reasons you mentioned would there ever be a case where you would think it necessary to terminate one entity because it was threatening the others even if it wasn’t necessarily itself in agony or a threat to us as creators?

      And, on a different note, do you think the U.S. was justified in dropping the atomic bomb? If not, would it have been justified if it could be shown that many more American lives would have been lost without it? What if it could be shown that without this one drastic measure, the Axis power would win the war and the world would be under Nazi domination for centuries after?

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  10. Charles Bonner  February 11, 2013

    Regarding omnipotence: It is generally held by those who assert God’s omnipotence that God can do anything that does not involve a logical contradiction. Thus, he can’t make a square circle, because a square circle is a logical contradiction by the meanings of the words “square” and “circle.”

    “Can God make a stone so heavy that even he can’t lift it?” is a question that deals with quite a different situation. The purpose of the question is to suggest that the concept of omnipotence (or, if you must, “almightiness”) is not altogether coherent — unlike, say, the concepts of “square” and “circle.” And I think that’s probably true. I would note, however, that even I can make a snowball so heavy that I can’t lift it, and I make no special claim to omnipotence. So perhaps the answer to the question, “Can God make a snowball so heavy that even he can’t lift it” is “yes”. Either that, or I can add one more to my list of things that I can do that, perhaps, God can’t.

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    • Unapologetics  March 13, 2013

      What is not altogether coherent is how people interpret those concepts. It is possible to understand what the Bible is trying to say when using words like “Almighty” without stretching these words to incoherent extremes.

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