Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Lazy atheism

EB: Even though this has been pointed out to him by Christians and non-Christians alike, Steve feels there is nothing wrong in heaping insults on top of his arguments.


1.There’s nothing quite like the moral outrage of a moral relativist. Exbrainer exudes the moral conviction of a Victorian nudist or a vegetarian hunter.

2.Give me an argument, not someone’s opinion.

3.I’ve discussed the Biblical view of apostates.

EB: 1) [See Steve's #1 above] My moral philosophy is irrelevant to the argument. The premises stand or fall on their own no matter what my personal belief is. The question is, "Is it morally wrong to order an army to kill non-combatant women, children, and infants?" One either believes it is or that it isn't.

SH: Observe what an illogical disclaimer this is. On the one hand, Exbrainer says his moral philosophy is irrelevant to the argument.

On the other hand, he says the question is, "Is it morally wrong to order an army to kill non-combatant women, children, and infants?" One either believes it is or that it isn't.

Well, then, one’s moral philosophy is directly germane to the problem of evil as an atheological argument.

There are two possible ways to deploy the problem of evil against Christian theism:

The disputant can either mount:

i) An internal critique, or else

ii) An external critique.

An internal critique could take either of two forms:

a) The disputant could show that the actions ascribed to God are incompatible with his opponent’s own value system.

b) The disputant could show that the actions ascribed to God are incompatible with the Biblical value-system.

Likewise, an external critique could take either of two forms:

a) The disputant could show that the actions ascribed to God are incompatible with moral norms shared in common by disputant and opponent alike.

b) The disputant could show that the actions ascribed to God are incompatible with the disputant’s value-system. If so, he’d also need to establish his value-system.

Exbrainer has made no effort to mount either an internal critique or an external critique.

Exbrainer is a lazy atheist.

EB: 2) Steve cites two passages of Scripture that he believes justifies his god's actions.

SH: Actually, I never said they justify God. I never got that far in my argument.

I simply pointed out that Exbrainer was attacking the morality of Scripture without ever bothering to engage the reasons given in Scripture.

In principle, this requires no commitment on my part to the authority Scripture. I could be a fellow atheist and still point out that Exbrainer had failed to do his homework.

EB: Steve claims that his god's actions are justified because of the wickedness of the people there. I wonder what wickedness the children and infants were guilty of. Yes, total depravity, according to Steve's Calvinism, but the infants and children of Israel were equally depraved according to his theology.


This oversimplifies the issue in several respects:

1.It’s true that, in Reformed theology, children are complicit in Adam’s sin. And that would supply a sufficient condition for divine judgment.

2.At the same time, the fact that God visits judgment on entire nations or people-groups does not, of itself, imply that God is exacting retribution on every individual victim. It is not necessarily a reflection on the moral status of every individual swept up in the catastrophe.

For example, both the Assyrian deportation and the Babylonian exile were instances of corporate divine judgment. Yet there were pious Jews who suffered as a consequence of national apostasy.

Exbrainer is making Deut 9:4 say more than it actually says.

One of the things that makes evil to be evil is how often the innocent will suffer on account of the wicked. Indeed, they frequently suffer instead of the wicked. This is a recurrent theme in Scripture.

This is not to say that the children were innocent. Merely to say that it’s fallacious to assume from God’s action that his intentions were punitive with respect to the children.

3.The fact that Jewish children and pagan children are equally depraved is irrelevant.

Discrimination is unfair if it defrauds the subject of his just claims. But the very fact that Jewish children are equally depraved is what justifies divine discrimination, since neither group has any inherent claims upon the mercy of God.

EB: 1 Samuel 15:2-3, though, is interesting in that it seems more far-reaching than just the wickedness of the people. In that passage, not only are non-combatant women, infants, and children killed, but also camels and donkeys. If the army was just killing because of wicked actions (past, present, or future), what sins did the animals commit?


1.Jason, Gene, and I recently spent a fair amount of time on 1 Sam 15:2-3.

2.Beyond that, one purpose of holy war was to distinguish between ritual purity and impurity, which—in term—symbolized the distinction between moral purity and impurity. Being symbolic, the relation is not conterminous.

The Israelites were not to profit from the spoils of holy war in 1 Sam 15:2-3 for the booty was ritually impure.

Remember that Exbrainer, like Loftus, flaunts his seminary credentials. But he’s just as ignorant of Biblical theology as Loftus.

Exbrainer is a lazy atheist.

EB: Here, it explains that these children and infants were killed because they would lead God's people to worship other gods. But why take wrath out on those who "tempt to sin" instead of those who would "fall to sin." Why couldn't god just say, "Yo, those infants and children that you leave alive will grow up one day and try to tempt you to worship their gods. Don't do it. Keep following me."? This seems a little more humane.

SH: Because such advice would be ineffectual, as the subsequent history of Israel abundantly illustrates.

EB: 3) It seems ad hoc to "deny a uniform code of conduct to God and man alike," because Steve claims that moral standards are universal. We have an action that, presumably, Steve would agree is "evil"--viz. ordering an army to kill non-combatant women, children, and infants. All of a sudden, the same act is not evil if committed by the Christian God. Wanting to save god from evil, the Christian simply says, "This doesn't apply to God."


This is simplistic in several respects:

1.To say that moral norms are universal in time and place does not imply that everyone is bound by the same code of conduct.

Rather, every social class is subject to the same corresponding norms.

Husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters are all bound by a uniform code of conduct. But they are not bound by the same code of conduct.

Rather, there is a uniform code of conduct appropriate to each essential social role. Husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters do not have interchangeable social roles.

Some moral norms are generally applicable to all social roles, while others are specific to a given social assignment.

So, for example, adults have certain rights and responsibilities which children do not.

2.Morality is also keyed to the nature of the moral agent.

For example, parents are responsible for their underage children because their children are dependent on their parents for their well-being.

But if, ex hypothesi, God had constituted the human race in such a way that children were not dependent on their parents, then the same obligations would not obtain.

3.Apropos (2), the Creator is not the same kind of agent as is the creature. Divine and human attributes are not interchangeable.

By the same token, the relation between God and man is asymmetrical.

4.Whether it’s right or wrong to act on orders to execute noncombatants is, indeed, contingent on who is giving the orders.

A human commander is morally and noetically fallible. By contrast, God is morally and noetically infallible.

In principle, the same order might be intrinsically licit regardless of who issues the order, but we are not necessarily justified in following the same order by someone who lacks the moral or intellectual authority to issue that command.

What is morally licit may be epistemically illicit. It is not enough that such an action enjoys moral warrant. We must be in a position to know that such an action enjoys moral warrant.

As a philosophy major in a doctoral program, Exbrainer ought to be able to draw these internalistic distinctions.

Exbrainer is a lazy atheist.

Again, as a former seminarian, Exbrainer ought to be capable of drawing these theological distinctions.

Exbrainer is a lazy atheist.

EB: Whether god is dealing with sinners or saints is irrelevant. It is either morally wrong to kill non-combatant women, children, and infants or it is not.


1.Actually, it’s quite relevant. The moral status of an individual is intrinsically pertinent to the treatment they deserve. If they’re innocent or guilty makes all the difference.

2.And even if their immediate suffering is not punitive in character, their sin leaves them liable to suffering.

EB: Steve admits that this is an indiscriminant war. This is exactly the point of the argument.

SH: Except that Exbrainer misses the point. Since holy war is indiscriminate, one cannot assume that the death of every victim is punitive, and more than one can assume that the collective judgment visited upon Israel in the Assyrian deportation or Babylonian exile was predicated on the guilt of every single Israelite. For some Jews were observant Jews.

EB: Is it immoral to order an indiscriminant war? Yes.

SH: Immoral by whose standard? Exbrainer is a moral relativist.

EB: Does any reader find it unusual that Steve avoided discussing the premises one by one? He never says whether or not he disagrees with my first assertion that "An omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-benevolent being would not commit an evil act."

I think he would agree with this, but he never said so explicitly.

SH: I skipped over it because it’s a waste of time to comment on what I agree with.

EB: Steve clearly believes that this is not true for the Christian God. The Christian God can call for an "indiscriminant" holy war, and is justified in killing non-combatant women, children, and infants.

SH: Correct.

EB: If this is true, however, it poses a problem for his meta-ethical position that morality is "universal" based on his god's nature and not on divine fiat or an external morality. If it is immoral to order the deaths of non-combatants because of god's nature, god's nature would also prevent god from doing so.

SH: As I’ve explained in my analysis of the Euthyphro dilemma, this is simplistic.

God’s nature is not the only salient condition. There’s also the nature with which God has invested human beings. In addition, there’s the moral status of human beings.

EB: Steve's only argument against me is his insistence that it is not immoral for his god to order an army to kill non-combatant women, children, and infants. This, however, produces a serious meta-ethical problem because he must find a way to explain that it is universally immoral to order an army to kill non-combatant women, children, and infants because of god's nature, but god's nature would not prevent him from doing the same act that his nature commands others not to do.

SH: Exbrainer is attempting to impose on me a framework I reject. Since I’ve never accepted the way he chooses to frame the issue, it generates no metaethical conundrum for my own position.

EB: That aside, it is really hard for me to believe that any Christian really believes this kind of act is good. I think they must think about this only in abstractions. If they pictured a spear being rammed through an infant's heart, a child holding on to her mother whom she just saw killed before her eyes and then being killed herself, etc. These are horrific images, and I feel for those who have so calloused themselves by their dogma that they can call these actions "good" because they were ordered by their god.

SH: Yes, these are horrific images. Life in a fallen world sometimes calls for horrific measures. I’m glad that I done have to execute these orders. But dislike and disapproval are two very different things.

Soldiers are often called upon to perform emotionally repellent deeds. But what is emotionally repellent may not be morally repugnant.

Severing the gangrenous leg of a wounded solder is revolting. Thank God that battlefield physicians are prepared to swallow their personal revulsion and do what’s necessary.

EB: 1) Steve assumes the position that I predicted and described in my support of this argument. He says that there are second-order goods that cannot be achieved without some evil. He forgets, though, that his god sets these rules. His god pulls the strings. His god could have chosen any goal for the earth. He could have chosen goals that did not involve evil in any way. One goal is not "better than" another if "better than" is measured only by the accomplishment of god's goal.


1.Exbrainer continues to confound ends and means. God is free to set the goal. But every goal has attendant means of attaining the goal.

Ends and means are internally related. God is free to choose one package or another, or no package at all.

2.To say that “one goal is not ‘better than’ another if ‘better than’ is measured only by the accomplishment of god's goal,” continues to confound the means with the ends.

Success is a property of the means, not the ends. Means that successfully achieve the goal.

And some means may be more efficient than others.

But that’s distinct from the goal.

3.God is not setting a goal for himself, as if he were the beneficiary. Rather, what makes one goal better than another is the betterment of the elect through the knowledge of God’s wisdom, justice, and mercy.

In that respect, some ends are better than others because some ends are more illuminating than others respecting the revelation of the divine nature. Since God is the summum bonum, knowing God is the summum bonum.

EB: Yes, I especially like Paul's answer in Romans 9, ". . . who are you, O man, who answers back to God?" Scold the questioner; that's the answer.

SH: Notice that Exbrainer dodges the verses I did cite, and substitutes a verse I didn’t cite.

Exbrainer is a lazy atheist.

The verse cited by Exbrainer is an argument from authority. This is a valid move when Paul is disputing with a fellow Jew who acknowledges the moral authority of God as well as the inspired authority of the Torah.

But that is not the only reason given by Paul in Rom 9.

EB: Or, maybe, it's that the Bible's "answers" are just pure crap, Steve. Maybe they really don't solve anything. So I guess that "Once again, we're treated to mindless, dogmatic followers of an ancient myth justifying horrific acts by quoting from a book of horrific myths."

SH: Notice that Exbrainer is substituting adjectives for arguments.

Let’s take a few steps back and remember how Exbrainer chose to frame the issue. He is attempting to deploy the problem of evil against Christian theism.

As I said before there are only two ways in which he can pull that off: Either by an external critique or by an internal critique. He does neither.

Exbrainer is a lazy atheist.

EB: So the pain and suffering of Samantha Runnion's rape was just a means to an end? What end?


1.The job of a theodicy is to account for evil in general, not evil in particular.

2.Since Exbrainer is a moral relativist, why is he so judgmental about child rape?

EB: I disagree that retributive justice is intrinsically good. I think retribution is animalistic and unnecessary.


1.Which begins and ends with Exbrainer’s shifting boundaries. As he’s said elsewhere:

“For example, I believe that it is morally wrong to rape someone. If I were to happen upon a man trying to rape a woman, my moral framework demands that I do whatever action is permissible according to that framework to prevent that action from taking place. I may acknowledge that the action is permissible according to the rapist's moral framework, but that does not mean that I must ignore what is demanded by my own moral framework.”

2.For Exbrainer, to exact retributive justice on the child rapist would be “animalistic and unnecessary.”

3.Perhaps his alternative would be to offer the rapist a lifetime membership in NAMBLA.

After all, morality is relative to one’s moral framework. So why favor Exbrainer’s framework over NAMBLA’s?

4.You see, for Exbrainer, moral norms only exist within one each respective framework, and not between one opposing framework and another.

EB: 1) Steve still doesn't seem to understand that his god was not limited in the goals he could have chosen for his creation. He could have chosen a world in which he only dealt in first-order goods (e.g. Heaven).

SH: This is such an obtuse illustration. “Heaven” is a second-order good. Heaven presupposes the Fall. Heaven presupposes sin, redemption, and death.

A seminary grad ought to know that.

Exbrainer is a lazy atheist.

EB: It may be argued that this world would not be "as good as" our own. A Christian, however, defines "goodness" (as it pertains to the state of the world) by how it achieves god's goals.

In other words, this world is "good" (according to Christians) because it accomplishes god's goal for it. To say that another world in which pain and suffering were not a part would not have been "as good" makes no sense if a world's goodness is defined by god's goals.

SH: This is utterly illogical. Yes, God’s goals are good by definition. That doesn’t mean one cannot distinguish between lesser and greater goods, indexed to differing ends.

EB: Let me try this another way. Did god choose the goal he did for this world because it was good per se or is this world good because it accomplishes god's goals? If the former, on what basis is this possible world "good"? What makes a possible world good, bad, or indifferent? Christians normally only say something is good if it works according to god's plan. If this is the case, then any other world would be just as good as this one because it fulfilled god's plan. There would be no reason for god to pick a possible world that had pain and suffering in it because it would be just as good as a world that did not have pain and suffering in it.

SH: “Good” is frequently a comparative term. Good for what? Good for whom? An unfallen world is a lesser good for a greater number, whereas a fallen world, which is redeemed, is a greater good for a lesser number (the redeemed).

EB: I agree that different scenarios would entail different "trade-offs," but there is no reason that god would have chosen a scenario in which pain and suffering was involved. To him, goodness means accomplishing his goals. He could have chosen any goal.

SH: The reasons are given in the verses I cited from Romans and Galatians (to name a few), which Exbrainer chose to disregard.

Instead of dealing with Biblical Christianity, Exbrainer concocts an ersatz version of Christianity to disprove.

Exbrainer is a lazy atheist.

EB: A free god could have chosen to make this world without pain and suffering.

SH: Not according to the Bible.

EB: If this god is omnibenevolent, then it follows that he would not inflict unnecessary pain and suffering on creatures.

SH: True, but deceptively simplistic.

EB: The pain and suffering is necessarily "unnecessary" because god could have chosen a different end for his creation.

SH: “Unnecessary” relative to what? Necessity is often a comparative term, as in “by any means necessary.”

It wasn’t necessary for God to choose any world at all. But different possible worlds are different packages containing incommensurable goods.

EB: I think this was demonstrated in Steve's response. He has claimed that his god is morally justified in killing infants and children. He has implied that his god is not free to choose goals for his creation that do not entail pain and suffering.

SH: I have implied nothing of the kind. That is Exbrainer’s muddleheaded inference.

God is free to choose the ends. And there may be more than one particular method of achieving a given goal.

However, the nature of the means is still adapted to the nature of the end. If, say, the end in view is the revelation of God’s wisdom, mercy, and justice to the elect, then that will entail sin, redemption, and judgment as the necessary means.

EB: He has implied that his god is not able to teach humanity without subjecting them to unnecessary pain and suffering.

SH: False again.

1.God is able to teach mankind without recourse to pain and suffering.

2.But an existential knowledge of God as our Redeemer is impossible apart from the Fall.

Therefore, pain and suffering, as instrumental to that end, while generally evil in themselves, are not gratuitous evils.

3.I say “generally” since punitive pain and suffering, as an instance of retributive justice, is good in its own right.

EB: What Steve has clearly demonstrated is that he is willing to make whatever twists and turns he can to maintain that his god is "good."

SH: What I’ve done is to demonstrate that Scripture has the internal resources to consistently field each of Exbrainer’s objections.

EB: If that means justifying the killing of women, children, and infants, he is willing to do that.


1.Remember that Exbrainer is a moral relativist. When he repeatedly makes these incendiary comments, he does so with fingers firmly crossed behind his back.

2.The end doesn’t justify any means whatsoever. But certain ends justify certain means.

3.Even sending the innocent to their death is not always wrong. Soldiers will go on a suicide mission. They did nothing to deserve their untimely demise. They are doing this for the common good.

But it isn’t wrong for a soldier to go on a suicide mission if that’s the only way to achieve the strategic objective—assuming the objective is vital to the cause.

A husband and father may lay down his life to spare his wife and kids. He did nothing to deserve his premature fate.

But it isn’t wrong for him to sacrifice his own life to save the life of his family. To the contrary, it is his duty.

So there are occasions when the suffering or fatality of the innocent is justifiable or even obligatory.

4.And let’s not forget, from the Christian standpoint, that death is not the final word.

Everyone dies sooner or later, whether by illness, age, accident, or violence.

Death is not, of itself, a sign of divine retribution on the decedent. In Scripture, the godly are often martyred for their faith.

JL: You just cannot get it, can you? Criminals, eh? You mean people who go through their whole lives doing nothing but what God decrees that they do such that they cannot do any differently, and then punishing them in barbaric ways for doing what God wants them to do?”

SH: Loftus has a habit of reiterating tired objections that we’ve already rebuttted. Gene, I, and others (including Manata, I believe), have often gone to the trouble of distinguishing between fatalism and foreordination.

JL Many of these so-called crimes are nothing more than a few lies, a little selfish pleasures, and a little greed, but are committed by people who are otherwise known by friend and foe, by family, neighbors, and the community in which they live to be loving people.

SH: Most folks will do whatever they can get away with. Place them in a setting where they can succumb to temptation with impunity, and just watch what happens.

JL Yeah, tear their eyes out, kill their children, and then burn them alive. Such crimes deserve such punishments, right? Says who? A barbaric people who says so, that's who. A superstitious ancient people who said so, that who. You're choice is to believe what they said or what is plainly obvious to anyone not blinded by the Biblical barbaric and superstitious authors.

SH: Not to mention modern-day unbelievers who advocate eugenic abortion, infanticide, and involuntary euthanasia in the furtherance of organ procurement—to name a few, fashionable barbarities of the secular elite.


  1. Steve, you just don't get it do you?

    Number your premises and argue for each step along the way.

    After that post what can I say? If you think God is justified in killing non-combatants, there's not much help I can offer you.

    Just so you know, I made it in to mensa and I am studying for my Ph.D. How dare you think you or your God are smarter than I.

    I notice that your Deut. passage does not have premises numbered. Moses had no syllogism, therefore Moses was wrong.

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