My unqualified condemnation of those who bludgeoned babies to death in Rwanda is rooted in a belief that you ought never ever bludgeon babies (NEBB). NEBB is not only a basic belief, it is as indubitable as any belief I have (and more indubitable than most). Though I am not clear on the mode by which I know NEBB, fortunately I need not know how I know to know that I know. It may be that I know NEBB as an immediate intuition,25 or perhaps I know it by a faculty of moral perception that parallels sense perception.
In this paper I have argued that genocide is always a moral atrocity from which it follows that if Yahweh is God then Yahweh did not command the Canaanite genocide. To this end I critiqued four arguments Paul Copan uses to justify the genocide while providing four counter arguments against the possibility of divinely mandated genocide. While this may not yet tell us how we should respond to biblical narratives of divinely sanctioned violence, at the very least it will save Christians from the sorry spectacle of attempting to convince ourselves and others of that which everybody knows cannot be true.
There are several basic problems with Rauser’s claim:
i) “Everyone” doesn’t know that cannot be true. For starters, the OT writers didn’t think divinely commanded “genocide” was “morally atrocious.”
And from Rauser’s standpoint, it wasn’t just OT writers. If, like Rauser, you reject the inspiration of Scripture, then ancient Israelites didn’t practice genocide or child sacrifice because the Bible sanctioned that practice; rather, the Bible sanctioned that practice because ancient Israelites practiced genocide and child sacrifice.
(I don’t think the Bible sanctions infant sacrifice. I’m merely playing along with Rauser’s allegation for the sake of argument.)
On the liberal view of Scripture, which Rauser espouses, the OT merely canonizes the prevailing social mores of the day.
Furthermore, child sacrifice was a common ANE custom. It wasn’t just an OT phenomenon.
ii) That, however, counts as prima facie evidence against Rauser’s appeal to “immediate intuition” or a “faculty of moral perception.” For if that’s the case, then why wasn’t that immediate intuition or moral perception shared by ancient Israel and other ANE civilizations?
Same problem applies to the perpetrators of the Rwandan massacres. I haven’t studied the issue, but from my recollection of news coverage at the time of the event, this was on a massive scale.
iii) In principle, Rauser could postulate that OT writers, ancient Israelites, and other ancient Near Easterners knew these practically were morally atrocious, and violated their conscience in so doing. And that could be the case.
But unless Rauser has independent evidence for an “immediate intuition” or “faculty of moral perception” according to which genocide and infant sacrifice are morally atrocious, how can he discount the prima facie evidence to the contrary?
What’s his evidence for “an immediate intuition” or “faculty of moral perception” that condemns genocide or child sacrifice? He can’t appeal to empirical evidence or testimonial evidence, then preemptively discount empirical or testimonial evidence to the contrary without vicious circularity.
iv) There is also the dilemma of secular ethics. On the one hand, Rauser is appealing to a free-floating faculty of moral perception or immediate intuition to judge religious ethics, but without a religious grounding for ethics, what does his appeal amount to? Aren’t objective moral norms dead in the water apart from God?
v) Apropos (iv), the feasible options don’t range between secular ethics and religious ethics, but between rival religious ethics. Secular ethics is a nonstarter. I
vi) Then there’s the hypothetical case of an ostensible divine command which might be so repugnant to us that this would call into question the source of the command. However, that raises two additional issues:
a) A command might be deliberately repugnant as test of faith. Indeed, that’s how many construe the command to sacrifice Isaac.
The test actually involves a counterfactual command, yet its counterfactual status can’t be known in advance of the attempted compliance with the command. Only the divine speaker is privy to his ulterior motives. Only by attempting to obey it does the human subject discover that it was just a test. That the command was never in play.
b) Or a command might be repugnant to us because we lack sufficient information to appreciate the overriding considerations which justify the command.
For instance, suppose a police captain orders a sharpshooter to kill a baby in a stroller. On the face of it, that’s morally atrocious. On the face of it, we’d say the sharpshooter has both the right and the obligation to defy a direct order from his commanding officer in that instance.
But suppose, as it turns out, the baby in the stroller is not a real baby. Suppose it’s a dummy, concealing a powerful bomb.
vii) Rauser also sidesteps the question of whether the identity of the divine speaker can be known. If so, then his objections are moot.