Saturday, October 11, 2014

ISIS and atheism

Here's something ISIS and atheism have in common. Let's begin with the story. You have two addlebrained teenage girls who run off to ISIS. Once in their clutches, they discover that the harsh reality doesn't match their glamorized image:
Now, we could make allowance for the fact that they are young and dumb, although most teenagers never do anything that stupid. Indeed, some teenagers are very sensible.
But it isn't just schoolgirls. You have ditzy grown women who make the same mistake. Western women who marry Muslims. They discount the warnings, then find out the hard way that they made a terrible mistake. Only by then it's too late. 
Of course, you also have young Western men who run off to ISIS or the Taliban as well. But their situation is a bit different. Unfortunately, they take to it only too readily.
Why do some women make such an obvious mistake? Because they fall in love with an idea
And that's what they share in common with atheists. Atheism is a horrendously nihilistic worldview. Moral nihilism. Existential nihilism. Eliminative materialism. 
Yet most atheists simply deny the logical consequences of atheism. And the few who are more candid wear that as a badge of honor. That shows how tough-minded they are. 
Now, many atheists can get away with this in large part because, for them, atheism is just an idea. The dire consequences of atheism are just an intellectual abstraction. They don't feel the consequences. They don't experience the consequences. As long as it remains a safe abstraction, it doesn't bite into them. 
Of course, there are millions of people who've suffered under atheist regimes. Stalinism. The Khmer Rouge. North Korea. Likewise, as euthanasia takes hold, some of the logical consequences are becoming more tangible. 
In addition, there's a sense in which the logical consequences of atheism are unreal. Because atheism is so unnatural and counterintuitive, it takes tremendous effort to suppress what you instinctively take for granted. It's very hard to be a consistent atheist. Very hard to imagine all the things that must now be false if atheism is true. That's why atheists constantly revert to reactions that make no sense given atheism. 

Show them no mercy

Since the fate of the Amalekites in 1 Sam 15 is a favorite text that infidels pounce on, I'm going to make a few brief observations. There's more than I could say and will say in a subsequent post, but for now:

i) Divine threats of destruction aren't necessarily predictions of destruction. It's not that the conduct of their ancestors necessarily doomed their successors. For divine warnings are often conditional, explicitly or implicitly. A threat to mend your ways or else. A threat to turn from evil and turn or return to God. Oracles of impending judgment don't necessarily, or even usually, mean it's too late to avert judgment. 

ii) It's not simply a question of ancestral guilt. It's not as if the Amalekites were wicked during the time of Moses, but repented and turned to Yahweh at a later date. They were wicked from one generation to another. They continued to harass Israel (e.g. Judges 3:13; 6:3; 10:12; 1 Sam 30:1; 2 Sam 8:12). 

It's not just a question of wicked individuals, but a corrupt culture that reproduces mass depravity from generation after another. A factory of evil. Sometimes it's necessary to burn down the factory. That's the only thing that will stop it once and for all.

iii) Apropos (ii), Elizabeth Anscombe has a striking anecdote:

Or, even in not so ancient times there might be the feeling that these people are so atrocious that they must all be wiped out, down to the children themselves. This was done, according to the story, when the cause of disappearance of travelers was found, somewhere in Scotland under James VI. There was a family, a tribe of several generations, living in a cave or caves, and waylaying travelers, whom they killed and ate. Not all at once; human hams were found preserved and hanging up in their caved. When found they were all seized and slaughtered without any suggestion of a trial. Faith in a Hard Ground (Inprint Academic 2008), 235.

“You are clearly obfuscating…”

Scott Clark published this clip under the heading “What American Journalists Once Did”. I’ve always believed that journalism, properly practiced, is an effective means of arriving at the truth of things. One hopes that there will be more of this kind of realization:

From YouTube:
Published on Oct 8, 2014
Emma Alberici and Wassim Doureihi of Hizb ut-Tahrir clash on Lateline over Isis

Lateline presenter Emma Alberici and Wassim Doureihi of Hizb ut-Tahrir clash on ABC's late-night news show in a discussion about Tony Abbott's comments on extremist organisations. She presses him to say if he supports the Isis tactic of beheading western journalists and aid workers. On Melbourne radio on Thursday morning, the prime minister praised Alberici: "She's a feisty interviewer," he said. "Good on her for having a go and I think she spoke for our country last night.

Friday, October 10, 2014

More Bad Consequences Of Same-Sex Marriage

Amy Hall has a good post about the effects of same-sex marriage on friendship.

Flannagan v. McGrew

Matthew Flannagan said...
I note Steve mentioned me in the first comment, in fact almost everything Lydia says is addressed in Paul and my forthcoming Did God really command Genocide? Which comes out in November. This is under copywrite, so let me brief.

1.Lydia interprets the argument about “hyperbole” to be an argument that the reference to animals, women and children, was hyperbolic and denying any non-combatants were present. But that’s not what we argue, the claim we defend is that references to “all” the inhabitants “killing all that breathed” and “leaving no survivors” is hyperbolic, grossly hyperbolic. I in fact explicitly state in the book that I agree non-combatants were killed. The position we defend comes from from Kenneth Kitchen who states that when the war rhetoric is taken into account, what you have is not total destruction and occupation, but disabling raids where less mobile inhabitants were killed and the “alls” are qualified to exclude those that got away to fortified cities, and Israel immediately return to their camp at Gilgal.

2. Lydia takes the reference to hyperbole to be an attempt to address the charge that God commanded the killing of the innocent. But it’s not. It’s addressing the different charge that God commanded Genocide. The position we take out in the book is that the reference to Genocide is a gross exaggeration based on misreading the text, so that particular charge is unwarranted.

I agree that the lesser, but still serious charge, that God commanded the killing of innocent people is not addressed by these textual issues. Which why in the book I address this second charge a different arguing philosophically that there are conditions under which one can attribute an apparently immoral command to God.

3 Some of Lydia’s arguments she uses against Hess are arguments (such as the appeal to Deuteronomy 20) I myself used against Hess in my review of Copan’s book.

4. Lydia makes some claims which I think are false and which we address directly in our book. Here I’ll focus on two.
(a) she claims in Numbers “Moses, purporting to speak for the Lord (and there is no reason in the text to think that he is not speaking for the Lord) expressly orders the killing of real infant boys, not to mention all non-virgin women.” Actually, Moses in the text does not purport to speak for the lord. The phrase “The LORD said to Moses” which accompanies Moses’s prophetic utterances in the book of Numbers is absent from the command in this text. God did earlier state that they were to “attack the midianites” but the text states the Israelites had carried out what God commanded when they killed only the men. (v 7) .Lydia’s here argument to the contrary is based on the fallacy of arguing that because there is no reason to deny a thesis it follows we can affirm the thesis.

(b) Lydia states “Similarly with the Amalekites in I Samuel 15. Saul is not sent against some named and possibly entirely military location. He is sent to wipe out a group qua group.” Actually, in the text Samuel is sent against a specific location. The NASB brings this out well:
Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”Then Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, 200,000 foot soldiers and 10,000 men of Judah. 5 Saul came to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the valley..

Amalek in the text is actually a city or encampment of some sort not a people group.

I have much more to say about both these episodes and in our book. But the point is Lydia’s observation about the text is not actually what the text presents and her critique of Copan’s position, actually does not address the position Paul and I actually defend in our latest book.
Lydia McGrew said...
Matt: When I read Copan's article, to which I link in the main post, it was quite clear to me that Copan _did_ mean to use the hyperbole and other answers to try to respond in some way to God's order to kill the innocent. There are specific phrases to that effect. To be sure, he falls back on endorsing the killing of the boys in Numbers 31, so it doesn't _work_, but he clearly has the idea that he can sort of "whittle away" at all of this by these various responses and make it "not so bad." I think this is a poor approach, but to say it isn't meant to be a response to the claim that God ordered the killing of the innocent *at all* is simply to make an artificial cut between murdering babies and genocide as if the one has little or nothing to do with the other and as if worries about the one are not ipso facto worries about the other and also as if Copan does not give the impression that he is addressing both. Perhaps I will have time later to look up some of the quotations in question, as well as the _universal_ impression among interpreters that this "ancient near eastern phrases" approach has *something* to do with making us feel like God didn't really order the killing of innocents.

As for Amalek, of course the name could refer both a people group and to a place, but the very rationale for killing everything belonging to Amalek is a kind of inherited guilt rationale which does not apply to a single, possibly only military, place. The rationale is anger over the treatment of the children of Israel by the Amalekites long ago. It seems to me intensely strained to take this to be the destruction of a specific place *as opposed to* a people group.

Besides, are you really going back to implying that Samuel did not order the real killing of real innocents? Is this the "hyperbole" response all over again, bolstered by a baseless conjecture that "Amalek" was a military fort containing no innocents? But I thought you just said that wasn't what the "hyperbole" and "ancient near eastern text" argument was meant to address!

As for whether Moses attributes his orders in Numbers 31 to God, I would argue that Moses was tacitly invoking his authority as God-ordained ruler by his giving a religious rationale for the killings. Notice that it is the same as in Deuteronomy 20--namely, that if they don't do this killing, they will be led astray. I have acknowledged in the comments here and elsewhere that one can _try_ to squirrel out of it by saying that Moses just got this wrong, but it seems to me highly implausible that he was not giving the people the _impression_ that he had religious, God-given authority to order them to do this on religious grounds.
Lydia McGrew said...
For example, Copan starts his wrap-up of the on-line version like this:

"What if the brief sketch above turns out not to be correct in that Israel also targeted noncombatants? We should remember that the non-Sunday School response above takes a good deal of the sting out of the Canaanite problem. But let us pursue the question of noncombatants being targeted as well."

Okay, first of all, the first sentence implies that the brief sketch above is saying that Israel *did not target non-combatants.* This is clear from his saying that, if the sketch above is _incorrect_, then Israel _did_ target non-combatants. This does not fit with a claim that his "hyperbole" claim is *solely* about total genocide and not about the targeting of non-combatants short of total genocide.

Second, he claims that somehow what he has said "takes a good deal of the sting out of the Canaanite problem." This is a vague statement that implies that somehow we should feel better if _fewer_ Canaanite innocents were targeted or something to that effect--in other words, that somehow one can "whittle down" the problem by means of things like the "hyperbole" claim.

Then there is this paragraph:

"This stereotypical ancient Near East language of “all” people describes attacks on what turn out to be military forts or garrisons containing combatants — not a general population that includes women and children. We have no archaeological evidence of civilian populations at Jericho or Ai (6:21; 8:25).8 The word “city [‘ir]” during this time in Canaan was where the (military) king, the army, and the priesthood resided. So for Joshua, mentioning “women” and “young and old” turns out to be stock ancient Near East language that he could have used even if “women” and “young and old” were not living there. The language of “all” (“men and women”) at Jericho and Ai is a “stereotypical expression for the destruction of all human life in the fort, presumably composed entirely of combatants.”9 The text does not require that “women” and “young and old” must have been in these cities — and this same situation could apply to Saul’s battling against the Amalekites."

Here Copan clearly implies that these places "turned out" to be military forts--this strong conclusion is *not* supportable, as I argue above--and uses the "stock phrases" claim to argue that it looks like plausibly *no* non-combatants were killed in these locations. This is a really poor argument, as I argue above in the main post. Moreover, the whole _point_ of Copan's making this argument is (as he says at the end) to "take the sting out of the problem" by implying that Joshua and his armies didn't kill any non-combatants in these passages, because they were military forts and non were living there! So obviously, the problem in question is supposed to be killing non-combatants! This goes beyond merely arguing that _total_ genocide did not take place.
Lydia McGrew said...
The entire "ancient near eastern stock phrase" argument is rather extraneous if one is *solely* arguing against total genocide and not addressing the killing of non-combatants per se. In the former case, it would be fairly easy to say that they *did* kill young and old, men and women, but simply that they didn't kill *all* of them. But on the contrary, the whole point of the "stock phrase" argument, together with the (unjustified) implication that these were military forts with no non-combatants, is to imply that such phrases could mean that *no* non-combatants were killed. The very structure of the argument is addressed to concerns about killing non-combatants per se.
Matthew Flannagan said...
Matt: When I read Copan's article, to which I link in the main post, it was quite clear to me that Copan _did_ mean to use the hyperbole and other answers to try to respond in some way to God's order to kill the innocent. 

The phrase “hyperbole and other answers tends to reinforce my point. In Paul’s article, he offers several lines of argument. One is an appeal to hyperbole, and another is an appeal to Hess’s work about forts and stock phrases. These distinct lines of argument . Hess’s argument that the cities were forts, could be correct and the language of all being killed could be literal. Similarly, the language of killing everyone leaving no survivors, could be hyperbolic and the targets not forts.

My point is that in the book Copan and I wrote on the topic this year we develop the first line of argument ( the appeal to hyperbole) in much more depth. The appeal to Hess plays almost no role at all in our argument. Moreover, we explicitly state the appeal to hyperbole does not show that no non- combatants were killed.
The dialectic is this: some skeptics claim argue as follows: (a)the bible tells us that Genocide is permissible. That it commands us to engage in genocidal slaughter of unbelievers. And (b) it’s wrong to for us to engage in genocidal slaughter. The response is twofold,
re (a) we point out that the picture they paint of scripture is inaccurate, the text does not present a command for us today, or a (present tense) permission of Genocide. It narrates an episode where God in the past granted an exception to the normal rules that govern warfare ( which require non-combatant immunity) for a particular context within salvation history. Moreover, the picture of genocidal slaughter they paint is inaccurate fails to understand the language is highly hyperbolic and is actually talking about small scale disabling raids on various centres using standard ANE rhetoric.
This refutes (a) and makes (b) superfluous. However it does enable the moral problem to be recast in terms of an objection to the more limited claim: that God could on a specific historical occasion grant an exception to the principle of non-combatant immunity, and the rest of the book addresses this objection without appeal to hyperbole. This appears contrary to our moral beliefs. We then address this different objection another way.

but to say it isn't meant to be a response to the claim that God ordered the killing of the innocent *at all* is simply to make an artificial cut between murdering babies and genocide as if the one has little or nothing to do with the other and as if worries about the one are not ipso facto worries about the other

I don’t think it’s an artificial cut, suppose a person engages in a home invasion and kills a women and child, would any government anywhere in the world insist they go to the Haque and face charges for genocide and crimes against humanity? No, almost every jurisdiction in the world would consider that an over the top extreme and unjustified response. Why ? because genocideis not the same as killing the innocent.
If I have evidence which, on the face of it suggests, my neighbor killed his wife for the money. I don’t get a right to testify in court that he killed five people out of racial hatred. No court I know of would exonerate perjury of this sort by noting that, because both accusations involve killing, it’s all artificial and doesn’t matter, and we can proceed to charge the women with the racially motivated murder of five people.

If skeptics exaggerate and distort the facts they should be called on it, not given a free pass because there is some other more sensible objection that they could raise but they don’t. Of course we do need to address those other objections as best we can, but this doesn’t mean the original objection stands.
Matthew Flannagan said...
As for whether Moses attributes his orders in Numbers 31 to God, I would argue that Moses was tacitly invoking his authority as God-ordained ruler by his giving a religious rationale for the killings.

The claim that Moses ordered it as a God ordained ruler, is very different to saying he commanded it in his role of prophet. According to Romans 13, all civil rulers have authority as God ordained rulers, including Nero Caesar yet civil rulers are fallible and prone to error. No one would say that because Nero was the god ordained ruler of Rome, it followed that God ordered Seneca to kill himself in 65 AD . If the claim is that God ordered these killings you need more than to say Moses made the command as an ordained ruler, you need to see him as uttering a prophetic utterance in his office as prophet. The text does not however say that.

Also Moses doesn’t give the religious rationale that God commanded it, nor does he give the rationale that they will be led astray, he gives the simple rationale that the women in question enticed the Israelite men to violate the vassal treaty they had made with Yahweh ( which constitutes treason) no reason is given in the text why the children were killed.

As for Amalek, of course the name could refer both a people group and to a place, but the very rationale for killing everything belonging to Amalek is a kind of inherited guilt rationale which does not apply to a single, possibly only military, place. The rationale is anger over the treatment of the children of Israel by the Amalekites long ago. It seems to me intensely strained to take this to be the destruction of a specific place *as opposed to* a people group.

It’s not strained it’s what the text actually says:
“I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. 3 Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” 4 Then Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, 200,000 foot soldiers and 10,000 men of Judah. 5 Saul came to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the valley.”
The word “Amalek” in v 2 is identified in v 5, as a city, by a valley, the reference to an ambush suggests a single location from which the attack on this city occurred. Just prior to the battle Saul asks the Kenites to depart from amongst the Amalekites suggesting Kenites were close to the likely theatre of battle, not that they were mixed amougst the Amalekite people all over the region. All indicators in the text then suggest Amalek is being used to refer to a particular encampment of some sort.

Besides, are you really going back to implying that Samuel did not order the real killing of real innocents? Is this the "hyperbole" response all over again, bolstered by a baseless conjecture that "Amalek" was a military fort containing no innocents? But I thought you just said that wasn't what the "hyperbole" and "ancient near eastern text" argument was meant to address!

Pointing out that Amalek, in 1 Samuel 15 is a city or encampment and not an entire ethnic group is not the same as claiming it’s a fort and does not contain non-combatants. I think Auckland is a city not an entire people group does that mean I think Auckland is a fort and contains no civilians?? That clearly doesn’t follow.

Moreover, even if that was what I said, that’s not the “hyperbole” response. The hyperbole response is the claim that the language of destroying all people is rhetorical exaggeration. The claim that a particular center is a fort is a claim about literal history, it makes no reference to hyperbole at all.

Hess's argument is a distinct argument from the appeal to hyperbole one.
Lydia McGrew said...
Okay, Matt, perhaps I should clarify. I have used the phrase "hyperbole" in some cases as an umbrella term to refer both to the idea that these phrases referred to a _larger group_ than were in fact killed and to the idea that these phrases referred to _types of people_ who were not in fact killed and who were not envisaged to be killed. Thus I think I've sometimes said "hyperbole or stock phrases" or something like that. I'm afraid this is now causing some confusion, and I apologize for any confusion.

I am _not_ concerned chiefly with strict genocide but rather with _murder_. I think that what you are saying here supports my case that some believe that Copan's overall argument can do more than it can do--that is, that it can resolve our concerns that God commanded what seems like murder. Already in the on-line version of Copan's argument (which I do consider fair game),his capitulation on Numbers 31 shows that that is not the case. If he later merely hammers on the argument that God didn't command literal genocide, that shows even more strongly that he isn't really saying that he's resolved the murder conundrum in a way that dissolves it and that doesn't require falling back on more "traditional" responses.

This should show how my argument applies to Amalek. Your concern is there with God's not literally having them wipe out the entire people group. Therefore, when I used the "people group" phrase as an argument that Samuel really was commanding the killing of innocents, your concern was to show that instead Samuel was commanding killing everyone in a city, not to show that Samuel was commanding killing an entire people group.

I still tend to disagree with you there, because of the rationale based (as the quotation of the passage shows) on the behavior of the ancestors of the Amalekites. But since my concern is with murder by killing innocents, my point is served merely by pointing out that the entire language of the passage suggests going after a large group indiscriminately (you say, a large group in a city) rather than narrowly targeting a military fort.
Lydia McGrew said...
On Numbers 31, by a God-ordained ruler, of course I mean something much stronger than the Romans 13 sense. By "led astray," I mean to refer _precisely_ to the story that Moses tells about the women leading the men into sexual sin. Copan appears to agree with this as well, as I recall. He implies that these women were some kind of specially trained "sexual warriors" all set up to try to get the men to commit idolatry. You're quite right that that doesn't even address the issue of the baby boys. But I was bringing up the rationale only to point out that Moses was invoking the idea that they should listen to him as the "regent of God," not to say that he clearly made a _case_ for killing the baby boys. Of course, I think the whole thing is appalling anyway, so it doesn't surprise me that he doesn't even try to give an argument for killing the baby boys.
Matthew Flannagan said...
Ok, I think that clarifies things, regarding the exegetical issues.

The issue seems then to be over seriousness the question of Genocide vs Murder and how that relates to the problem.

I guess this brings me to the other objection I have to your post. You state: “Prima facie, this is in direct conflict with the commandment to do no murder. Any attempt to answer the problem by saying that original sin means that no one is really innocent proves far too much, for it removes the rationale for regarding the killing of infants generally as murder.”

I agree with the point about original sin, and get frustrated trying to explain this to some over-zealous Christians who dismiss the problem. However, I am not sure that the problem with the text is simply that the command is in prima facie incompatible with the command against murder. All that would be needed to resolve this problem would be to claim that the prohibition against murder in scripture is, strictly speaking, not an exceptionless absolute prohibition. But rather holds unless God commands otherwise.

But we already accepted something like this with the sixth commandment anyway, the commandment literally states something like “do not man slay” and most Christians accept that this does not rule out things like killing in self defence, or capital punishment, or just wars, precisely because other commandments in scripture suggest these things are permissible and hence qualify or grant justified exceptions to the rules.

Similarly there are various passages in scripture which suggest its wrong to lie, yet passages about the Hebrew midwives suggests to many orthodox commentators that the command to not lie is not an absolute. In both cases people follow the interpretative point that if a general prohibition occurs in a text and latter a specific permission is mentioned in the same text, the general probably lays down the general rule to which the specific case is an exception. This is normal in legal interpretation.

I am inclined to think the moral problem is whether its possible for God to command otherwise in the first place. We want to claim that God is good, that he has various character traits such as being loving and just. The problem is that, one can't attribute these traits to God and also contend he can command just anything at all. A good God would never command us to do what is morally wrong. And unless we are moral skeptics, we have to accept that we have a reasonably accurate (though fallible) grasp of what it is right and wrong for us to do. Consequently, any command attributed to God can’t disagree too violently with our intuitions about is right and wrong.

Now, Consider the following two claims:

[1] Genocide is morally permissible

[2] While killing non-combatants is almost always wrong there are rare circumstances in which it can permissible.

It seems to me that the appeal to hyperbole (in my sense) changes the problem from having a theological position that contradicts [1] to having a theological position that contradicts [2]

Moreover, I am inclined to think that a theology that entails [2] is significantly more plausible than one that entails [1]. To deny [2] all you have to do is deny a strict absolutism with the prohibition against homicide, to a position where it is an extremely strong prima facie presumption that is almost never overridden. That I think doesn’t do a huge amount of violence to our pre-theoretical moral intuitions, in fact most ethical theories skeptics would countenance today would probably have a far less strict position than that. Whereas the claim Genocide is permissible does violently contradict our pre-theoretical moral intuitions.

Of course this doesn't address everything. But I think it goes some way to resolving the concerns about consistency.
Lydia McGrew said...
I think we need to make a couple of distinctions. First, between killing a non-combatant (such as a woman or man who is a civilian)and killing an undeniable innocent, such as an infant or young child. Second, between killing as collateral damage and deliberately killing--e.g., putting to the sword.

Now, you're certainly right that most moral skeptics have a significantly less strict view than that deliberately killing babies is always morally wrong. Many of them are, for example, pro-choice on abortion. But my concern in all of this has _never_ been merely to answer some non-Christian skeptic, where a tu quoque will do or where I can appeal to his own non-absolutism in moral matters. My concern has always been strictly with what is true, and my own work in the pro-life movement and thoughts about the natural law have led me to believe that it _is_ an exceptionless rule that we must never deliberately target and kill an innocent. Cutting off babies' heads or running them through with the sword is a paradigmatically intrinsically wrong act. The skeptic who doesn't believe this is the sort of person I've been arguing with for twenty-five years, starting with the abortion issue and moving out from there to "Wouldn't you kill a four-year-old to save the world?" and other such scenarios.

As far as killing adult non-combatants, I find it just barely possible to imagine a situation in which one could be epistemically justified in believing that an adult non-combatant had nevertheless done something so bad as to deserve the death penalty and that you were supposed to be the one (or group) to carry it out. This is my hat-tip to "the Canaanites were so bad, and the Israelites were the chosen tool of God's judgement." Fine, I say, let's grant as much rope as possible to the biblical account and God's right to do things differently sometimes, but not the little ones who didn't know what any of it was about. If murder _isn't_ always instantiated by killing infants, then the command to do no murder becomes a sort of joke.

I just disagree about how much worse genocide is. I think that intuition is a result of modern race-consciousness and group consciousness. The problem with genocide is simply that it is murder on a grand scale, not especially that you kill or try to kill every member of a people group. If some mass murderer said, "Ah, but I deliberately left alive two hundred males and two hundred females of that people group who could interbreed so as not to commit genocide" after deliberately slaughtering men, women, and children, it wouldn't be cause for heaving a sigh of relief. In the movie _The Last of the Mohicans_ the Indian chief gives a ruling that one daughter of the British colonel is to be burned at the stake for revenge but that the other daughter is to be kept alive "so that his seed won't die out." This is supposed to be a bizarre and cold-blooded murder, not praiseworthy because they are worrying about whether they are committing micro-genocide against the "seed" of the British colonel.
Lydia McGrew said...
By the way, if Paul Copan thinks Hess is _wrong_, he should come out and say so. In fact, he should either take the earlier article down or put a prominent UPDATE on it if he has changed his mind about the import of "ancient near eastern stock phrases." Until and unless he does that, the article is fair game. Articles don't just sort of magically cease to be relevant for discussion after a couple of years, as if they have a sell-by date on them, unless the article clearly changes his mind. And this isn't a very long time ago, either, though I suppose in the Internet we now have an exaggerated sense of what counts as a long time ago. Copan was quite willing to make use of Hess, and he writes as if Hess has made his case convincingly. If he doesn't think that anymore, he should make that clear. Until that point, there are undeniably people who still think that Copan/Hess have shown that these "turn out to have been" military forts and that phrases like "men and women, old and young," or "men, women and children" don't really mean to include women and children! If Copan is repudiating that, then that's probably good from a scholarly point of view, but it would be better if he said so explicitly rather than hoping people would just forget about material of his that is still readily available.
Lydia McGrew said...
Does Paul Copan no longer believe that these "turn out to have been" specific military forts at which no civilians were slaughtered? That would come as a surprise to many, I suspect. When I was preparing to write this post, I at first was going to focus on the hyperbole-genocide angle. I was told by someone I respect that I was *not* investigating and answering Copan's position sufficiently unless I tackled the claim that these were specific military forts and that "ancient near eastern stock phrases" can explain away the references to women and children.

So it's rather frustrating to have addressed that and then to be told that I shouldn't be bothering with it because his most *recent* book doesn't happen to emphasize those claims! Believe me, there is still a very real perception that these claims are an important part of his position.

Express train to heaven

There Paul summarizes God’s action in saving us in terms of his foreknowing us, predestining us, calling us, justifying us, and glorifying us.  
Think of it this way.  Predestination is like a train that has a pre-determined destination.  All who board the train and remain on it will inevitably arrive at that predetermined destination.  Moreover, there is no other way to reach that destination.  If we want to make it there, we have to get on that train, and remain on it through each of the stops along the way.
i) "Foreknew" is not the most accurate rendering of proginosko in this passage. BAGD defines it as "chosen beforehand." And even Brian Abasciano admits that's more accurate.
ii) One basic problem with Jerry's analogy is that if we're going to use a train ride to illustrate Rom 8:29-30, then it's God who chooses the passengers beforehand. God who puts them on the train. God who keeps them on the train. Rom 8:29-30 is not a process of attrition, where the passengers who arrive at the appointed destination are not the same passengers who boarded the train in the first place. 
In fact, there are no stops. No layovers. They don't get off before the final destination. Rather, things happen to them (or for them) onboard. Inside the train. Like eating and sleeping. Spiritual nutrition. 
iii) In Jerry's analogy, the train is predestined, but the passengers are not. By his logic, if the train arrived empty at its heavenly destination, it would still have served its purpose since predestination only applies to the train, not the passengers, if any. Whether the train is full or empty is irrelevant to how he recast the issue. 
That's actually a very revealing, albeit unwitting, illustration of the vacuity of corporate election as a substitute for individual election. 

Uneven Stevphen

"Colbert's double game" by Robert P. George.

Atheist gut reactions

Veritas and Steve Hays made several valuable comments over on a Secular Outpost piece titled "Biblical Genocide and Village Atheists". I'll also note Steve previously responded to Parsons here, here, and here.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Irrational skepticism forum

I just thought I'd collate in a single place Steve's excellent series in response to some typical village atheists over at the Rational Skepticism Forum. In chronological order, from earliest to most recent:

  1. "Shooting blanks"
  2. "The Cartesian theater"
  3. "Third-rate atheists emulating second-rate atheists"
  4. "Routing infidels"

Deconstructing humans

I often make the point that if a man is just an ephemeral, fortuitous collection of particles, then human life has no significance. Now someone might accuse me of committing the composition fallacy. To which I'd say the following:

i) Not all part/whole inferences are fallacious. If every part of a marble bust is made of marble, then the entire bust is made of marble. 

ii) Let's sharpen the objection. A critic might say that if stones are arranged to spell out S.O.S., then that's meaningful. You can't say it's reducible to the individual stones. 

Likewise, they say what makes humans significant is the entire physical organism. How the parts are interrelated.

iii) There are, however, problems with that comparison. To begin with, you have the familiar "hard problem of consciousness."

iv) Over and above that, the illustration is counterproductive. If, say, the stones accidentally formed that pattern, due to erosion, it wouldn't really be a message. To be a message, the stones must be arranged with the intention of expressing a message. Someone had to do it with that in mind. 

In addition, the abbreviation has no inherent meaning. Rather, it's code language. The meaning of language is not inherent in the arrangement of letters or vocables. Rather, meaning is assigned to words by speakers and listeners. 

If humans are reducible to bodies, human significance must be extrinsic rather than intrinsic to humans. And arrangement of matter is not inherently significant. 

v) In addition, my contention isn't confined to physicalism. There are other factors. If there's no afterlife. If, once we die, it's as if we never existed.

If human existence is the byproduct of a mindless, amoral natural process. No inherent purpose or value. 

Routing infidels

This will probably be my final reply to the Rational Skepticism Forum. Normally, I don't even comment on what rank-and-file atheists say. I focus on high-profile atheists. I only replied to them because the moderator solicited assistance in responding to one of my posts. Mind you, there is some value in seeing the intellectual level at which the average atheist operates. The incredibly poor quality of reasoning.

laklak » Sep 28, 2014 7:35 pmI believe narcissism is a necessary prerequisite for fervent religious belief. You have to believe 1) you're the pinnacle of creation for whom the entire universe was formed

is that what devout Hindus, Vikings, and Baal-worshipers have to believe?

 2) you are created in the exact image of god

Is that what devout Hindus, Vikings, and Baal-worshipers have to believe?

 and 3) that of all creatures we're aware of you're the only one that gets to live forever.

Angels get to live forever. 

Sounds pretty f***ing self-centered to me.

From a secular standpoint, what's wrong with narcissism? 

ElDiablo » Sep 29, 2014 1:53 pmThe only thing the post affirms is that some adults need the crutch of a father figure to get them through life and give life meaning.

Because he can't engage the actual argument, he substitutes a claim that bears no resemblance to the actual argument.

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that some adults need a religious crutch. From a secular standpoint (i.e. physicalism), that's what some people's brains are telling them. If the brains of atheists are telling them not to believe in that, how can one brain judge another brain? 

Ven. Kwan Tam Woo » Oct 08, 2014 10:50 amSez him. Other believers would emphatically disagree, and would eagerly back up their views with plentiful reference to holy scripture. 

He hasn't quoted any Bible verses commanding Christians to behead coworkers, bomb abortion clinics, or fly airplanes into skyscrapers. 

Furthermore the assertionist nature of religious belief means that the author’s contentions about what constitutes “objective morality” are no more valid than those of the extremists.

Notice that he himself is making an "assertionist" claim. 

“General basis” for morality? Sounds like backpedalling to me.

He lacks a grasp of rudimentary distinctions. For instance, the existence of electricity supplies the general basis for lightbulbs. But electricity doesn't entail lightbulbs. 

So how does a “general basis” for morality turn into objective moral norms?

For instance, humans have social obligations because God made us social creatures. 

What processes are involved, and how do you know that you’re doing it right?

We don't turn it into moral norms. God does. 

The question of “metaphysical foundations” of moral norms is a non-question; it is yet another fabrication (like the concept of absolute nothingness and a First Cause) which is merely asserted by its proponents without any corroborating evidence to justify it.

So he's just admitted that he's a moral nihilist or relativist. 

Once again the author demonstrates his disturbing lack of both empathy and reasoning ability. Beheading coworkers and flying planes into buildings is blameworthy because it causes loss of life and immense suffering for those left behind, and it is made all the more blameworthy by the fact that such acts are done on the behalf of some imaginary sky fairy. No “objective morality” required.

Empathy doesn't require objective morality, but culpability does. culpability is a value judgment. To say the absence of empathy is blameworthy is a value judgment. 

That’s because they do share the same referent! They’re both postulated to be the God of Abraham, they’re both postulated to be the supreme creator and ruler of the universe…

Notice the equivocation between "objective referent" (my term) and "postulated referent" (his term). 

…and they are both equally imaginary. 

Begs the question. 

Even if they weren’t referring to the same damn thing, the God depicted in Christianity has inspired and – according to the Bible itself - committed more than enough atrocities to be considered every bit as noxious as the God depicted in Islam.

Since he just said the metaphysical foundations of morality are a "fabrication," he's forfeited the right to use value-laden characterizations like "atrocities." 

Again, sez him. What an asinine analogy – we are talking about the qualitative and normative words of a bunch of Bronze Age goat herders…

Did Bronze Age goat-herders have the literacy to write the Bible? 

Show me how the Bible makes a definitive case against such extremism; show me how the extremists are “miscalculating” in their interpretations of their texts.

Since Woo is hurling the accusations, the onus lies on him to prove his claim from Scripture. 

For one thing, secularism does not equate to atheism. 

And green doesn't equate to color. 

Secondly, ecoterrorists (who might these be, by the way?) 

I gave examples. 

Yes an argument from authority. Stating that certain people have said such and such without providing corroborating evidence to back up their claims is in fact an argument from authority, because you are implicitly asking your audience to respect something simply by virtue of the fact that a certain person said it.

On my blog I've either linked to their arguments or quoted their arguments. But it's not my job to coach an atheist on what his own team says. 

Quite frankly I don’t give a damn what any of those philosophers say, I can think and evaluate for myself thank you very much. 

He illustrates why it's not a good idea to let students grade their own exams. 

My being an atheist does not in any way obligate me to subscribe to what certain philosophers say just because they happen to be “secular”.

He ignores their arguments. 

Yes it does, particularly if you can rationalise to yourself that setting a dog on fire is somehow a substitute for setting a man on fire. 

I didn't. 

Why would setting a dog on fire be any less “evil” than setting a man on fire anyway?

The longer atheists talk, the worse they sound. 

Atheism is merely a lack of belief in gods – there are no ethical implications of such a lack of belief in and of itself.

Whether or not God exists has far-reaching metaphysical implications for what the world is like. 

The question is, does he realize that different acts can provide a “particular standpoint” for the moral ‘judgement’ of other acts? This is why his moral framework is in fact a relative moral framework, because it says that some acts are relatively better or worse than others. On the other hand, objective morality alludes to the idea that any given act is either definitely “right” or definitely “wrong”, and that degrees of morality are beside the point.

He repeats the same mistake even after he was corrected. Moral relativism is not that one act may be better or worse relative to a different act, but in reference to the same act. 

Regarding the idea that no act has any fixed “moral value”: never mind whether there is such a thing as a “fixed” moral value, how could you even objectively measure the “moral value” of an act in the first place? Not only are moral acts relative based on historical period, culture, and their relationship to other im/moral acts, but they are also relative based on the perspective of a particular observer. 

In which case he's just disqualified himself from attacking Biblical morality. That was moral for that time and culture. 

For example, the act of killing a lion might seem moral from a human point of view because it means that lion won’t eat any people in the future, but from a lion’s point of view it is an evil destructive act. 

So lions view predation as evil. That ascribes remarkable moral aptitude to lions. 

These are not implications of atheism btw; they are simply observations of how the world actually works. Morality is an inherently adaptive phenomenon.

Notice that he's committing the naturalistic fallacy. 

I don’t quote it because I don’t need to. The author’s own words make it abundantly clear that he can’t fathom why a person would care about other people without an “objective” morality provided by a God who metes out reward and punishment. 

The question at issue is whether people ought to care about others. Woo has offered no secular justification. 

The author believes in an entity who resides in “heaven”…

He repeats that trope even though I corrected him. 

…and who monitors and judges his every thought and act; therefore the term “sky tyrant” is an apt description of his God.

Monitoring good and evil isn't "tyrannical," but just. 

How does he know that a brain high on LSD can’t indulge in reliable worthwhile self-analysis? Is he speaking from firsthand experience? Is a believer’s self-analysis trustworthy? At any rate, the “trustworthiness” of the brain’s self-analysis (however you evaluate that) is beside the point; the fact that it can indulge in self-analysis at all using a given set of data and logical rules is what’s relevant here.

It's hardly beside the point when he himself invoked the distinction between illusion and reality.

I wonder if the author also thinks that little drops of Pure Happiness exist somewhere in the cosmos? Even if they did, so what? “Moral facts” is an oxymoron, because – as I said earlier – morality is an inherently adaptive and practical enterprise. 

Once again, he's confused. "Happiness" is not a moral norm. Rather, happiness is subject to normative judgments. 

We care about the survival and well-being of the community because we are social organisms…

And once we become aware of our evolutionary conditioning, we're in a position to break the programming. 

…because being social organisms has been and continues to be an immense survival and evolutionary advantage. 

From a secular standpoint, why should I care about the future survival of the human race? Why should I care what happens after I'm dead? 

Furthermore the author is glossing over the fact that “Number One” is a fairly recent concept which has arisen within an unusual set of cultural circumstances, and it is a concept which falls apart upon closer inspection because it’s underlying assumption of personal individuality is fallacious.

i) In which case, he can't object to Biblical "atrocities." Individuals don't count.

ii) Notice, though, that he must tacitly assume a personal viewpoint in order to even distinguish between social identity and individual identity. So his claim is self-refuting. 

And no, it does not necessarily follow that promoting your communities well-being leads to imperialism. For one thing, what a person regards as their “community” can include the whole of humankind.

In which case everyone has less so that everyone can have something. But why should an atheist be altruistic at his own expense? 

Moreover, the same risks of retaliation, overstretch and revenge-cycles which help to give rise to (adaptive) moral codes within particular human communities also work to condition conduct between those communities.

Funny how ineffectual that hypothetical deterrent is in real life. 

The whole point of Dennett’s Cartesian Theatre is to point out the silliness of not completely abandoning the logic of Cartesian Dualism.

No, that's not the whole point. Dennett is basically an eliminative materialist, although he's a bit coy about admitting so. 

Wrong. The author might want to look up the concept of “introspection” sometime. The author also makes the implicit and erroneous assumption that his sense of self is the overseer of all his mental activity, when in fact it is just another dynamic mental construct generated by the brain.

Of course, if his sense of self was just a mental construct, he'd lack the objectivity to recognize that fact. His claim is premised on a third-person perspective which his conclusion denies. Describing what he's really like, from the standpoint of an independent, outside observer, when his claim is that our sense of self is just a neurological projection. But a projection can't introspect itself. For the "mental construct" is the effect of the brain-generated process. It has no rear-view mirror. The direction is cause>effect. 

The very fact that we even have effective tools like the scientific method and cognitive behavioural therapy shows that the brain can indeed construct a “third-person perspective” in order to assess the processes underlying some other aspect of its cognitive activity. 

Given his theory, he's in no position to know that we have effective tools like the scientific method and cognitive behavioral therapy. A mental construct can't assume a viewpoint external to itself. 

A man does not argue with his own brain; rather, the brain has a dialogue with itself, and the “man” is in fact a mental construct which contributes to that dialogue rather than orchestrating or leading it.

Like fictional characters in a computer game. Although there may be a reality outside the computer game, characters inside the game can never access or be cognizant of that external reality. 

What exactly does the author think is required for a process to be considered “intelligent” anyway?

If you have to ask how intelligence is defined, you lack the intelligence to grasp the definition. 

Is the author suggesting that he doesn’t in fact have any sense of self-identity??

I'm responding to him on his own grounds. 

Is he serious?! I don’t deny the existence of invisible entities if there is credible evidence of their existence . Abstract “objects” are just that – abstract. They are hypothetical constructs derived from our experience of the material world.

So he's a radical empiricist–oblivious to the bootstrapping problems endemic to his position. 

The author has missed the point of my analogy (what a surprise!), which is that such a program works by mimicking the processes of “naturalistic” evolution. “Purpose” is an illusory phenomenon which arises when habituation to a certain mode of activity causes a system to become dependent on that activity for that system’s continued functioning.

A betting program doesn't mimic naturalistic evolution. Purpose is not an illusory property of a betting program. So the comparison is critically disanalogous. 

Why does he put naturalistic evolution in scare quotes? That's standard terminology to distinguish naturalistic evolution from theistic or deistic evolution. 

And what is the difference between “internal” and “external” intelligence? 

I gave an example. 

What is guiding the cognitive processes of the “intelligent agent” operating the toy plane?

Predestination and providence.

Because it doesn’t have to! All it needs to select for is efficient ways of finding pathways to food. What is a “true” belief anyway?

In which case he can't say atheism is true and Christianity is false. 

Thought necessarily requires temporal sequencing. 

An assertion in search of an argument. 

How does the author propose that a “timeless” God can think, let alone interact with a temporal cosmos?

Strictly speaking, God doesn't "interact" with the cosmos. Rather, God enacts the cosmos. Like the way a novelist "interacts" with the plot and the characters–not directly, but by how the plot and characters are written in the first place. 

What natural effects, the ones that have been systematically explained by science and shown to require no conscious “intelligent” direction whatsoever?? 

Begs the question. 

Moonwatcher » Oct 08, 2014 2:57 pm

In looking over his blog, I see some typical sidestepping. For instance he takes my "Magic Man in the Sky" analogy to mean I literally think that he believes "God" lives in the sky. Of course he doesn't. He probably believes "God" is everywhere or that such things as placing him/ her/ it to a specific location and/ or all locations is wrong to begin with.

Actually, I think God is illocal. Subsisting outside of space and time. 

He doesn't believe "God" and Heaven are located in the physical universe for the same reason that any educated person doesn't believe that. Because through science, we have been in the sky and into orbit and outer space and we know that there is no "Heaven" sitting on a cloud or in the sky. In fact, people consciously or not, tap into ideas from science (and science fiction which derived its ideas from science) about other realities and dimensions. But previous to those scientific theories, people did believe Heaven was in the sky, always just out of visual range perhaps or above a cloud in inside of one, etc. The suave, sophisticated modern belief of God and Heaven as some vast and non-corporeal things developed over time as a result of the gaps being closed.

Wrong. According to Gen 1, God preexisted the world. God existed apart from the physical world, which he created. Therefore, God doesn't live in the sky.

I'd add that God's natural invisibility (according to the Pentateuch) is another reason for denying that God is a physical being who occupies space. 

Not of that requires astronauts or unmanned space probes.