Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Long Branch Saloon

I rarely post comments at the Secular Web. Last week Jeff Lowder made reference to me on a post by Keith Parsons. I responded. Then other commenters responded to me. This devolved into a very lengthy impromptu debate. At the moment, that's died down, so I will be reposting my comments here. I may updated it if there's any further point/counterpoint.

I'll first make a preliminary observation about atheist blogs. Some atheist blogs (e.g. Debunking Christianity, r/Atheism - Reddit, Richard Dawkins Foundation archive) are like the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City. Lots of drunken brawlers and shoot 'em ups. By contrast, Jeff Lowder tries to run a more respectable establishment at The Secular Outpost–like Bond Rogers' boarding house in The Shootist. Jeff is very PR conscious about the photogenic image of atheism he wants to project. Mind you, there are some regulars from the Long Branch Saloon who show up at his establishment. They are best ignored.  

"1. Bomb A destroys an entire city, non-combatants, babies and all. 2. Bomb B only affects military personnel. Is there any doubt that choosing Bomb A when Bomb B was available is grossly immoral?"
From a secular standpoint, we could turn that around. Some people value art museums more highly than they value humans. Given a choice between saving a Picasso from fire and saving a stranger from fire, they'd save the Picasso.
From a secular standpoint, what makes an artistic collection of particles less objectively valuable than a human collection of particles? Humans are replaceable. A Picasso is irreplaceable.

steve Ryan M3 hours ago
i) A human being is not irreplaceable in the same way a Picasso is. There are no more Picassos because there's no more Picasso to produce them. So they're a very scarce, nonrenewable resource–unlike humans. I guess they didn't teach you that in SexEd.
ii) In addition, my argument included the fact that Picassos are valued by some people more highly than humans are valued by some people. That belies the breezy appeal to the "obviously" greater value of human particulate collections to inhuman particulate collections.
How does an atheist justify ascribing greater "objective" value to one over another?
"If you want an answer regarding where value can come from in a secular world then go read books on the topic."
You mean, like antinatalism?

steve Ryan Man hour ago
So now you're having to equivocate over what makes something irreplaceable. You try your best to camouflage your fatal equivocation by saying a Picasso painting and a human being are both irreplaceable in one respect, while evading the fact that both are not irreplaceable in another crucially different respect. You appeal to non-identity when it partially serves your purpose, but immediately ditch the principle when it cuts against your argument. But perhaps they didn't teach you those distinctions in grade school.
No, I didn't suppose you meant antinatalism, since that would subvert your argument. You then arbitrarily exclude antinatalism from secular literature on ethics and value. I appreciate your excruciating dilemma. But it's your dilemma, not mine.

steve Ryan M3 hours ago
"As a basic tip, don't get hung up on any psychological facts regarding a reason R why some S would argue P, or why S would believe some Q, if neither R nor Q are relevant to either the validity or soundness of P."
Thanks for illustrating your inability to follow the actual state of the argument. I didn't argue that the motivation of an atheist renders his argument invalid or unsound. So now that you've missed the target, do you have anything left in your quiver?
"Your particular fixation on atheism and morality is certainly irrelevant in these cases."
Since this is a debate about morality conducted by atheists, your comment is unintentionally amusing.
"Whether or not Scott is a moral nihilist is irrelevant to whether the arguments are valid or if the premises are true."
So now you've missed the target twice in a row.
"In addition, whether Scott is a nihilist is irrelevant to whether he can truthfully say 'If x is the case, then z would be immoral'".
Which is not how he actually formulated his argument. Assuming your reformulation is an improvement, he doesn't get the credit for your salvage effort.
"There is no reason that being a nihilist would exclude him from having true beliefs of what would morally be the case given particular models of morality."
Irrelevant to my actual criticism, but feel free to keep talking to yourself.
"You have not explicitly done this, however you are dangerously close to committing an obvious tu quoque fallacy by attacking Steve's alleged inconsistent beliefs to take down his argument."
i) Actually, there's nothing inherently fallacious about tu quoque arguments. A tu quoque is simply a type of argument from analogy.
ii) More to the point, you're operating with a double standard. You think it's okay to mount an internal critique of Christianity, but when I return the favor by mounting an internal critique of atheism, you change the rules.
Atheists like Scott profess to reject moral nihilism. When, however, it comes to attacking Biblical ethics, they blink. They claim to be conducting an internal critique, but they themselves keep slipping back into moral realism by appealing to (alleged) moral intuitions external to Scripture.
It's extremely hard to be a consistent moral relativist/nihilist. It's even harder when you try to attack Biblical ethics on purely internal grounds. Throughout this thread, critics keep reverting to a stance of moral realism. To a viewpoint, moreover, extraneous to the viewpoint of Scripture.
Perhaps you should try honing your rusty logical skills on the issue at hand.

steve Ryan Man hour ago
i) Now you're backpedaling from your original claim. Instead of your sweeping statement about tu quoques in general, you retreat into a guarded statement about a subset of tu quoques. I appreciate your tacit admission of error.
ii) In addition, your revised definition charges your fellow atheists on this thread with committing a logical fallacy insofar as their internal critique of OT holy war is based on (alleged) inconsistent Christian beliefs.
"Given that you think the debate is about morality conducted by atheists (Which Scott, Jeff and others are explicitly not arguing)"
Are you saying Scott, Keith, Jeff et al. aren't atheists, aren't debating morality–or both?

steve Ryan M2 hours ago
i) To begin with, no secular commenter on this thread has produced a sound internal critique of OT ethics. If you really cared about logic, you should redirect your criticism at their logical failures.
ii) Second, your objection is utterly myopic. You're like a gambler in a burning casino who sits there complaining about how your opponent is using marked cards. But even if he is cheating, that's secondary to the fact that the casino is becoming engulfed in flames, and you should make your escape before the fire overtakes the exits.
If atheism commits you moral and existential nihilism, then it's pointless to prattle on about your logical textbook. Why should we value logic in a world without values? You act as if there's something admirable about playing by the rules in a moral and existential void.

"Note that he doesn't, as veritas does, deny that this is a description of genocide."
i) Actually, I do deny that. In fact, as I said just recently, in response to Parsons:
"The passage obviously doesn't command 'genocide.' For one thing, the Amalekites aren't subject to execution due to their "race" or ethnicity. In addition, it only applies to occupants of the Holy Land. If they self-evacuate, they will not be pursued outside the borders of the Holy Land. So there's no command to stamp a particular ethnic group out of existence."
But on this occasion I chose to answer Parsons on his own terms.
"We can ignore the first sentence: nobody has denied that some people really are evil. Nor has anyone denied that evil people deserve to be punished."
Scott is conveniently omitting the many secularists who reject moral realism.
"It’s not just that God ordered war against a purportedly evil people, the inevitable outcome of which would be the death of some innocents. No, God actually ordered the slaughter of those innocents."
i) Scott misses the point of my distinction. Because humans are social creatures, collective punishment almost inevitably impacts the innocent as well as the guilty.
Therefore, collective punishment doesn't imply that everyone affected is was "punished." It's a fallacy to infer that every individual who suffers as a result of collective punishment is undergoing punitive suffering.
Take the Babylonian Exile. It wasn't just wicked Jews who suffered. Pious Jews suffered. The wicked Jews were punished whereas the pious Jews were caught up in the maelstrom.
ii) Which brings us to another key distinction: eschatological judgment is discriminating whereas historical judgment is often fairly indiscriminate.
"And let’s not forget the power this God possesses—it’s not inconsiderable. He could have snapped his fingers and killed all the wicked of the Amalekites in a second and left the innocent alone."
Yes, he could have left them orphaned. Then what? Let the underage children die of neglect? Predation? Starvation?

Scott Scheule
"But no one has advanced that as an argument."
In the context of attacking Biblical ethics, it would be a tactical mistake for an atheist to admit upfront that there's no such thing as objective morality. That's why, in order keep you honest, we have to tease that out of you kicking and screaming. It's not the sort of thing atheists routinely volunteer when attacking Biblical ethics.
"Because as I (and Jeff, and sam) have said multiple times, the argument is that the Christian’s beliefs are inconsistent in and of themselves. I can tell you’re champing at the bit to get this on the table, but it’s just not relevant."
And as I've explained to you, it's quite relevant, for it takes the wind out of your sails. If an atheist doesn't think "genocide is wrong," then that utterly trivializes the whole debate. Why should we care if a Christian's beliefs are inconsistent absent a moral obligation to be logically consistent?
Why do you expend so much time and effort on Biblical "genocide"? If you reject moral realism, then why do you fixate on inconsistent Christian beliefs rather than inconsistent spelling or inconsistent table manners? Why not obsess over the inconsistency of using the salad fork to eat cake or the cake fork to eat salad–or the fish fork to eat strawberries?
You want to focus on alleged Christian inconsistencies while declaring atheist inconsistencies to be "irrelevant." But relevance is a two-way street.
Atheists pride themselves on bravely facing up to the facts. But they don't. As long as they can treat the morally and existentially nihilistic consequences of atheism as a safe abstraction, keeping the consequences tucked away in the back of their mind, they never have to come to terms with atheism. It's just an idea.
"Stop throwing up sand. You want me to admit I reject moral realism? Happy to do so. Now back to the actual topic, which is an argument being held about the consistency of the beliefs of those who explicitly do NOT reject moral realism."
Scott, it's not your prerogative to dictate what's important, what's the real issue. Especially when that's allows you to evade the catastrophic implications of your own position.
"Steve conveniently ignores the fact, undisputed here, that God specifically commanded that the innocent be impacted."
Scott conveniently ignores the fact that survivors are impacted too. If the parents die, but the children survive, do you think the children aren't impacted by the death of their parents, or their father, or fighting-age brother?
"In other words, the fact that the innocent may suffer from certain collection actions does not justify specifically requiring that the innocent SHOULD suffer from those actions."
Sparing the innocent doesn't shield them from being adversely impacted by judgment visited on their wicked next-of-kin. Scott has this artificially compartmentalized view of human nature, as if we're discrete, self-contained psychological units.
"He could have commanded mercy."
What does that even mean? Canaanite culture was merciless to Canaanites. If God leaves that intact, that isn't merciful. Killing combatants but sparing noncombatants isn't merciful to noncombatants, for they suffer the economic and emotional consequences of having their male combatant relatives killed.
"Showing that an isolated incident is really part of a pattern of behavior does precious little to show the original incident was just."
How is the fact that pious Jews suffered in the Babylonian Exile "an isolated incident"?
"1. Bomb A destroys an entire city, non-combatants, babies and all. 2. Bomb B only affects military personnel. Is there any doubt that choosing Bomb A when Bomb B was available is grossly immoral?"
i) Compare these two statements back to back:
"You want me to admit I reject moral realism? Happy to do so."
"Is there any doubt that choosing Bomb A when Bomb B was available is grossly immoral?"
Scott announced that he rejects moral realism, only to brand a particular alternative, a few sentences later, "grossly immoral."
That's my point. Atheists like Scott are profoundly conflicted. If you pin them to the wall, they will admit moral relativism or nihilism, but that's just a throwaway concession, because a moment later they carry on like moral absolutists.
ii) Furthermore, to say killing noncombatants in OT holy war is "grossly immoral" disregards the various reasons Scripture assigns for that policy. Remember, Scott keeps assuring us that this supposed to be an "internal" critique. But in that event, he has to show that killing noncombatants was at odds with the reasons given in Scripture for killing noncombatants. To say it's "grossly immoral" is not an internal critique.
"Make sure they’re taken care of. What’s that? There’s not enough food? Presto! Here’s some manna."
Does Scott think food is all children need to survive and mature physically and psychologically?
"Plus we’re not just discussing children, we’re discussing all of the Amalekites who weren’t wicked, unless you’re arguing that every non-child was wicked enough to deserve death."
i) One of Scott's problems is that he's locked into a particular way of framing the issue. I never said the children die because they deserve to die. There is a theological justification for that, but I don't need to go there, since that wasn't a premise or presupposition of my argument.
ii) And, yes, "every non-child was wicked enough to deserve death."
"Let me advance an argument Richard Carrier often makes. If I was God, I would’ve made sure only the wicked were punished. I would have saved every single innocent person and animal."
In Scripture, "salvation" is a deeper concept than not expiring at a particular age. There's salvation from sin. There's the afterlife.

"Of course there are. Why would you think otherwise? After all, among the collections of particles that exist, some of them are alive. And among those that are alive some of them are capable of consciousness (I think I am paraphrasing John Searle here). And among those that are capable of consciousness, some are capable of such states as pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow, that are intrinsically value laden. And some such collections of particles are capable of making choices and engaging in long-term goal-directed behavior."
i) Actually, it's pretty counterintuitive to claim that a collection of particles can be conscious, experience joy and sorrow, or make choices and engage in goal-oriented behavior. For instance:
"The mysterian response to the hard problem does not offer a solution; rather, it holds that the hard problem cannot be solved by current scientific method and perhaps cannot be solved by human beings at all. There are two varieties of the view. The more moderate version of the position, which can be termed 'temporary mysterianism,' holds that given the current state of scientific knowledge, we have no explanation of why some physical states are conscious (Nagel 1974, Levine 2001). The gap between experience and the sorts of things dealt with in modern physics—functional, structural, and dynamical properties of basic fields and particles—is simply too wide to be bridged at present." 
It would be far more intuitive to say someone who attributes this to a collection of particles is guilty of personification.
ii) From a secular standpoint, what makes pain and pleasure intrinsically value-laden?
iii) Eliminative materialists argue that collections of particles cannot have the properties that he ascribes to them. So he's assuming what he needs to prove.
No doubt it's plausible for him to ascribe these properties to humans. But is that ascription plausible given physicalism?
iv) Some people think mink coats are obviously more valuable than live minks while other people think live minks are obviously more valuable than mink coats.
Some people think bacon is obviously more valuable than pigs while other people think pigs are obviously more valuable than bacon.
How does Thibodeau's physicalism broker that debate?

"Regardless, even a non-physicalist will agree that some collections of particles are conscious."
So you're claiming that an idealist or Cartesian/substance dualist will agree that some collections of particles are conscious?
"In addition, as staircaseghost pointed out in another comment, everything is made up of something. If you think that physical particles alone are not sufficient for consciousness, then please explain how non-physical stuff can do the trick."
i) If everything is made up of something, then you have an infinite regress.
ii) According to Cartesian/substance dualism, the mind/soul is not made up of non-physical "stuff."
According to platonic realism, abstract objects are not made up of non-physical stuff.
According to classical theism, God is not made up of non-physical stuff.
According to Christian theology, angels aren't made up of non-physical stuff.
You can, of course, deny all that. My immediate point is that your contention begs the question.
"Pain is intrinsically bad; pleasure is intrinsically good"
The fact that you resort to bare assertions is a backdoor admission that you can't argue for your position.
"Eliminitive [sic] materialism is false."
Once again, you substitute assertions for reasons.
I guess I should just say atheism is false. That settles it.
Many secular physicists admit that there's a profound dilemma between physicalism and consciousness. Some of them throw up their hands and grudgingly accept both horns of the dilemma.
Eliminative materialists relieve the tension by denying one horn of the dilemma.
"One problem with the formulation of your question is that you are confusing subjective value (valuing) with objective value. A person might value mink coats more than minks. But that does not entail that mink coats have more objective value than minks."
Actually, I'm challenging you to explain how folks who value mink coats more than minks are wrong. All you've done thus far is to *stipulate* that your claims are true. Is that the best you have to offer?

"I think they'd better. Whatever else they may be, conscious human persons are also collections of particles. Remember that I am not making a claim about in virtue of what people are conscious. A dualist will maintain that some collections of particles are conscious in virtue of the fact that they are associated with non-physical souls."
What about discarnate human persons, from a Cartesian/substance dualist perspective?
"Two points: (1) I don't believe that what I said commits me to claiming that everything, including the ultimate constituents of reality, is composed of something. However, I admit that what I wrote was sloppy."
But you then need to show how you can rehabilitate your original claim with that codicil in mind. You initially said "even a non-physicalist will agree that some collections of particles are conscious. In addition, as staircaseghost pointed out in another comment, everything is made up of something" to bolster your contention that some collections of particles are conscious, in opposition to the denial thereof.
If, however, you now concede that everything is not composed of something else, then you can no longer use the claim that everything is composite to bolster the claim that, for that reason, some particulate collections are conscious.
"Everything is either composed of some kind of stuff or else is some kind of stuff. A soul is either composed of non-physical stuff or else is non-physical stuff. My question, then, is, how is this non-physical stuff able to do what (you claim) physical stuff is not able to do (namely, produce consciousness)? So, on Cartesian dualism, the soul is definitely some stuff or other, namely some stuff that is not physical stuff. True, the soul may not be composed (because it is simple and not composite), but it is still non-physical stuff."
Let's compare your representation to Vallicella's:
"A substance dualist such as Descartes does not hold that minds are composed of some extraordinarily thin intangible stuff. The dualism is not a dualism of stuff-kinds, real stuff and spooky stuff. 'Substance' in 'substance dualism' does not refer to a special sort of ethereal stuff but to substances in the sense of individuals capable of independent existence whose whole essence consists in acts of thought, perception, imagination, feeling, and the like. Dennett is exploiting the equivocity of 'substance.'  
Of course, it is very difficult for the materialistically minded to understand this because they cannot understand how anything could be real that is not material. This incapacity on their part leads them to construe the Cartesian dualist as talking about some sort of rarefied matter, some sort of spook stuff, a kind of immaterial matter if you will." 
Back to you:
"Even if there was an infinite regress, I don't know if that would be a defeater of a position that maintained that everything is composed of other things. The world is a strange place."
The question at issue is whether an infinite regress is even coherent.
"I am explaining that your question is misplaced. It is an error to look for some additional fact that would explain why pain is bad and pleasure is good. Pleasure just is good. Pain just is bad."
You're just reasoning in a circle by asserting that it's an error to look for some additional fact to explain why pain is bad and pleasure is good. That doesn't give anyone a reason to agree with your contention that it's an error.
It might be an error to look for some additional fact to explain why pain is painful and pleasure is pleasant. But pleasure is not identical to good. At most, it would be an instance of good.
I can say fire is warm, but to say fire is good is a different kind of claim.
How do you define "good" and "bad" anyway?
"In the same way, it is an error to look for an additional fact that explains why 2 is more than 1. 2 just is a larger number than 1. There is nothing that makes 2 larger than 1 other than the fact that 2 is a larger number than 1."
Some claims don't require additional explanatory facts. However, you can't just stipulate that X requires no additional explanatory fact.
Even though some claims don't require additional explanatory facts, it does require an explanation to warrant your classification. To explain why the claim in question is the type of claim that doesn't require additional explanatory facts, unlike other claims which do.
Sure, sometimes we hit explanatory rock bottom. But that doesn't mean you're entitled to stipulate that we've hit explanatory rock bottom. You still need to show why no additional explanatory layers are necessary. Otherwise, your classification is arbitrary.
"As for eliminitive [sic] materialism, since you just brought it up without defending it or explaining why we should think it compelling, I felt that I need say nothing more than the truth about it; namely that it is a false position."
The question at issue isn't whether or not you find it compelling, but whether you have the right to treat the possibility (indeed, actuality) of conscious physical entities as a given.

"The (possible) existence of discarnate persons is neither here nor there with respect to my point. Whether they exist or not does not change the fact that some collections of particles are conscious."
To the contrary, you said "Whatever else they may be, conscious human persons are also collections of particles." And you said that in reference to what idealists and Cartesian/substance dualists would (allegedly) concede.
If, however, idealists and Cartesian/substance dualists believe in discarnate persons (e.g. postmortem souls), then they would not concede that whatever else they may be, conscious human persons are also collections of particles.
"Rather, I was pointing out that if a physicalist needs to explain how physical collections can be conscious, so too a dualist needs to explain how non-physical stuff can be conscious."
There's no parity between those two propositions. You've obscured the difference by using deceptively similar terminology for both. A physicalist needs to explain how a clump of matter can be conscious. How does matter generate mind?
By contrast, the dualist doesn't have that explanatory gap in the first place, since he begins with minds. To be immaterial is to be mental. He doesn't have to explain how minds can be conscious or how minds can think, since that's what minds *are*. There is no metaphysical gap to be bridged. There is no hiatus between the mind and itself. No cause/effect relation between mind and mentality.
And the type of explanation you demanded was based on your claim that "everything is either composed of some stuff or is some stuff"–which you attribute to physicalists and dualists alike, putting them in the same boat in that respect.
If, however, (Cartesian/substance) dualism rejects the assumption that minds/souls are either composed of nonphysical "stuff" or simply are nonphysical "stuff", then they don't have the same explanatory burden of proof in that respect. So your argument from analogy is vitiated by a critical disanalogy.
"…and it is, essentially, what Vallicella does in the quote you offered, even though he would deny that he is positing a special kind of stuff)."
To the contrary, you are channeling Dennett's representation of dualism, which Vallicella directly attacks and rejects as a misrepresentation of dualism.
"As for the Vallicella quote, the problem is that his solution (even if successful) merely trades one problem for another."
In which case you have to retract your original objection and present a different objection.
"He is claiming that there can exist individuals of no substance who think, feel, etc."
Not, that's not what he said. He didn't say they were insubstantial individuals. To the contrary, he said that were substantial individuals. And he defined his terms.
"How can there existence free-floating, non-realized, conscious entities?"
On what basis do you claim that Cartesian minds are "non-realized" conscious entities?
"I do not understand your claim that I am reasoning in a circle. Or, rather, I do understand it and you are wrong, so I do not know why you are claiming that I engaged in circular reasoning."
It doesn't take very long for you to bottom out, does it?
That said, let's consider a counterexample. A classical theist says the explanatory regress terminates with God. If an atheist queries that claim, his question is misplaced. It is an error to look for some additional fact that would explain why God is a se. Why God is necessary. Why God is timeless. For God just is a se, necessary, and timeless. Full stop.
If your tactic works for the atheist, then it works for the theist.
'In any event, another way of getting at my point is to repeat the point that Scott Scheule makes in another post: 'On naturalism, why think creatures with complex nervous systems have moral worth?" Kagan responds: "But I could play the same game with your explanations. Why do you think creatures with complex nervous systems have moral worth? ‘Because they have a soul,’ you say. But then I can just ask, ‘Why do creatures with a soul have moral worth?’ ‘Because God says they do,’ you say. But then I can just ask, ‘Why does God’s saying that something has moral worth mean something has moral worth?’ And so on for any fact one can offer—one can always ask, ‘Well, why should that be special?’ The answer is that some characteristics just ARE special, full stop.'”
i) To begin with, that's not a philosophically serious riposte. Are you taking the position that there's no principled distinction between proper explanatory conclusions and arbitrary explanatory conclusions?
Suppose the medical examiner determines the official cause of death is a gunshot wound to the heart. That's a sufficient explanation for the cause of death. But a homicide detective will have additional questions. Who pulled the trigger? Was it suicidal, homicidal, or accidental? If homicide, was it self-defense or murder?
ii) Likewise, it would be arbitrary for the explanatory regress to terminate with a contingent state of affairs, inasmuch as a contingent state of affairs will be causally dependent on something prior. That's what makes it contingent. By contrast, it is not arbitrary for an explanatory regress to terminate with a necessary being. Now, you may dispute whether there is such a thing as a necessary being, but *if* there is such an entity, then it's not arbitrary for an explanatory regress to terminate with something necessary.
And that, in turn, forestalls the trick question you end on.

"Vallicella does claim, in the quote, that there exist *individuals* who are not of any substance (stuff). The question is, How is that possible?"
You're posing this as if it's problematic without bothering to explicate why you think it's problematic. Unless you can give a reason for why you think it's problematic, then there's nothing for the dualist to explain.
You don't even spell out what you mean. Are you asking how it's possible for there to be minds that aren't physical stuff or composed of physical stuff? If so, why assume that minds are supposed to be physical stuff or composed of physical stuff?

i) You keep using "stuff" as a synonym for "substance." In the history of ideas, your usage is philosophically illiterate and idiosyncratic.
ii) To say properties inhere in a property-bearer (e.g. mental properties inhere in minds) is not equivalent to saying they inhere in "stuff." Moreover, you need to alert to the figurative sense of "inhere" in this abstract context.

i) I didn't offer God's necessary being as a specific answer to morality. Rather, I was addressing Kagan's facile suggestion that anywhere you terminate the explanatory regress will be arbitrary.
Hence, if I do give you a specific answer, you have to do better than artificially reinitialize the explanatory regress, as if any answer invites a further question.
ii) You also have an odd way of framing the question. You makes it sound as though God takes an intrinsically valueless preexisting entity and then makes it valuable–after the fact. As if that's a two-step process: God happens upon an intrinsically valueless entity, then makes it valuable.
But God makes it valuable by making it in the first place: by what he makes it for, by the nature he endows it with. He doesn't begin with something that already exists, then adds value to it.

"So, how can God take something that has no value and no obligations and make it into something that does have value and obligations?"
I already corrected your misstatement of the issue under point #ii (see above). You're simply rehashing your original misstatement, impervious to the corrective.
"For, since humans are social creatures whether or not God exists, if our obligations stem (at least in part) from our social nature, then these obligations would still exist even if God does not."
If God does not exist, then the fact that we're social creatures is the net effect of a mindless, amoral process. There's nothing normative about the byproduct of a mindless, amoral process. Duties presuppose that things are supposed to be a certain way. If the effect is the end-result of an unintelligent, amoral cause, then you can't infer ought from is.

"You are completely wrong about the first point. I suggest you go back and read what I wrote more carefully."
You have an intellectually indolent habit of declaring yourself right and your opponent wrong, without furnishing any supporting argument. Real philosophers don't behave in your anti-intellectual fashion.
''About the second: Then the fact that God made us social creatures is not relevant. What is relevant, according to you, is that humanity is the product of a directed process. But if all that is required for something to have value is that it be the product of a directed process, then of course the world is full of value since, even without God, the world is full of things that are the product of a directed process (cars, houses, and human lives, for example)."
You're overlooking the fact that if naturalistic evolution is true, then humans are ultimately the incidental product of an unreasoning, morally indifferent process. Indeed, even the "directed processes" of humans are the result of blind physical determinism (at the macroscopic level) or blind physical indeterminism (at the quantum level). So all you've done is to push your problem back a step, rather than solving it.
"Regardless, I don't see why we should accept either (a) if a thing is the product of a directed process, then it has moral significance."
i) You're confusing a necessary condition with a sufficient condition.
ii) Moreover, your summary of my position is reductionistic. The logical alternative to an unintelligent, amoral process isn't merely a directed process–inasmuch as a directed process can be immoral (e.g. the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attacks).
"or (b) if a thing is not the product of a directed process, then it does not have moral significance."
Well, it's easy to come up with illustrations:
i) A high school student notices a lonely classmate and buys him a birthday present as an token of friendship. That has moral value.
ii) Due to a computer glitch, Amazon accidentally mails the lonely student the same thing on his birthday. That has no moral value.
i) A Jewish teenager throws himself on top of a suicide bomber, thereby absorbing the explosion to protect those around him. That has moral value.
ii) A suicide bomber inadvertantly denotes his explosive belt, thereby killing himself before he has a chance to kill anyone else. That has no moral value.
i) A serial killer is executed for murder. That has moral value.
ii) A serial killer is killed in a freak accident when a tree falls on his car. That has no moral value.
"You have not argued for either one of these claims."
The burden of proof is a two-way street. You routinely dictate your tendentious conclusions minus supporting arguments.

i) You act as if theistic moral ontology entails theological voluntarism or some crude version of divine command theory. Why you put it that way is unclear.
ii) God is the Creator as well as the Lawgiver. Objective moral norms are grounded in the kind of creatures he made us to be. Objective norms match objective kinds. Created kinds.
For instance, we have certain social obligations because God made us social creatures. We are born very immature and dependent. Born to a mother and father.
If, by contrast, we were hermaphroditic, or if we were clones who came of age in incubation chambers, without human contact, we'd have different duties.
Likewise, the fact that God made us physically and psychologically vulnerable creatures results in certain corresponding duties we wouldn't have if we were physically or psychological invulnerable.
iii) Why do you think moral values must be necessary truths? Moral values can be contingent truths. Put another way, they may be conditionally necessary, given the nature God designed for us.

Jeff's comment collapses under its own dead weight:
i) What point did I miss? He claims that "objections to apparently immoral divine commands in the Bible are an attempt to demonstrate an inconsistency in the Christian's (or, perhaps more plausibly, the inerrantist's) beliefs."
Unfortunately for Jeff, that's not how Parsons framed the issue. When he said "I think that any morally decent person would say that if anything is bad, genocide is bad," he's not appealing to Christian belief as the standard of comparison. He's not showing that "genocide" is internally inconsistent with Biblical theism or Biblical ethics. Did Bible writers consider divine commands to execute Canaanites within the Holy Land to be out of character with Yahweh or their faith in Yahweh? Hardly.
In fact, in Scott's syllogism, which Jeff quotes approvingly, the key premise #3 is not what Christians believe or assert, but what "the secularist" believes or asserts. So that's manifestly not an internal critique. Rather, that crucially depends on a premised criterion that's explicitly extrinsic to the Christian (or inerrantist) viewpoint. Even assuming the syllogism is valid, the conclusion only follows given the question-begging premise #3–as if what the secularist asserts is unquestionable true.
Likewise, notice how Jeff framed the issue in his own post, "books like this…fly in the face of what seems obvious to everyone else who doesn’t already hold the a priori belief that everything the Bible says must be true, just because the Bible says it."
That's an external rather than internal judgment.
Jeff is free to recast the argument. He is not, however, entitled to backdate his revision, act as if that was the original argument all along, then retroactively accuse me of missing the point.
ii) Moreover, Jeff's appeal to Scott's syllogism is fundamentally confused. Premise #3 says: "The secularist asserts: Whatever morality may be, genocide is immoral." But moral nihilism cancels that premise. Jeff can't have it both ways.
iii) Finally, even if this were an internal critique, moral nihilism trivializes inconsistency. For unless we have an epistemic duty to be consistent, even if there were an inconsistency in the Christian's belief, there's nothing wrong with holding inconsistent beliefs.
Why would a moral nihilist try to disprove Christianity? Even if he thinks Christianity is false, there's nothing wrong with entertaining false beliefs, given moral nihilism. In fact, given moral nihilism, no inconsistency is better or worse than another. A shoplifter and a serial killer might both be hypocrites, but from the vantage-point of moral nihilism, the inconsistencies of the serial killer are no worse than the inconsistencies of the shoplifter.

steve sama day ago
That still requires the moral nihilist to demonstrate that Christian belief in Biblical theism as the source of objective morality is internally inconsistent.

steve sam10 hours ago
"If those definitions sound reasonable to you…"
i) You can't mount an internal critique of Biblical theism by quoting, say, Merriam-Webster's definition of "mercy" or "justice," then claiming that some OT commands are inconsistent with that extraneous frame of reference. Rather, you have to begin with Biblical concepts of divine justice and mercy.
ii) BTW, in the Biblical concept of mercy, God shows mercy to some people in spite of what they deserve.
"…then giving someone more than they deserve (whether it’s two times the punishment they deserve, or even seven times the punishment they deserve), then that punishment would qualify as revenge, not justice, correct? People venerated inanimate objects, & therefore yhwh gives double the punishment for their sins (i.e. the Babylonian Captivity; IS 40:2)"
i) Isa 40:2 doesn't say what is doubled. It doesn't say double *punishment*. Given the synonymous parallel ("her iniquity is pardoned"), it could mean double *pardon*.
ii) Even if it alludes to punishment, "doubling" may mean *equivalent* punishment, where doubling is a process of duplication. It trades on the imagery of folded fabric, where you have a two matching sides.
iii) Given the synonymous parallels ("her warfare is ended," "her iniquity is pardoned"), I think it just means full payment has been made.
iv) However, it's possible that the phrase is simply hyperbolic. Likewise, it's possible that the prophet is using a metaphor based on the principle of double restitution.
v) Finally, you fail to draw an elementary distinction between retributive punishment and remedial punishment. Remedial punishment isn't about giving offenders their just deserts. Rather, it's a form of discipline. When God "punishes" Israel, that's often remedial rather than retributive.
"People venerated inanimate objects"
No, they did more than venerate inanimate objects. They venerated the "gods" which the idols stood for. They also sacrifice children to their pagan deities.
"LE 26:27-29 (NIV) I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons & the flesh of your daughters."
"Seven times" is idiomatic or hyperbolic numerology.
"Quantifying punishment can be difficult."
Which is why, in fact, the punishment is qualitative rather than quantitative. "Seven times" was never literal in the first place.
"although we could quibble with yhwh about whether forcing people to eat their own children."
The text doesn't say God "forces" them to cannibalize their own children. Rather, that's a dire prediction. And it's a probably an allusion to conditions of siege warfare. God withdraws his protection of faithless Israel. So their enemies will starve them out of their fortified cities. Or burn their crops.
"I would speculate that slaughtering Amalekite infants & sucklings for the crime of having ancestors who were forced by yhwh to prevent disobedient Hebrews from entering the land he promised to them (Num 14) qualifies as injustice, as well. Violent murder is more than those babies deserve, don't you agree?"
i) The OT gives more than one rationale for holy war. Ancestral guilt is not the only rationale. Keep in mind, though, that younger generations can benefit from the sins of older generations. If your grandfather got rich by defrauding customers, and you inherit the family fortune, you are the beneficiary of his misdeeds. The notion of ancestral guilt is not outlandish.
ii) However, you're assuming, without benefit of argument, that I consider the death of the Amalekite children to be punitive. But I don't need to make that assumption.
Collective judgment doesn't imply that everyone affected is being punished. But because humans are social creatures, punishment almost inevitably has a collective dimension. If, say, a breadwinner commits murder, punishing him will create hardship for his dependents.
iii) To take another comparison: suppose a Jewish physician has dreams that sometimes come true. On one occasion he dreams about a mother and her young son. He's never seen them before. The next day, that mother brings her sick child (5-year-old Hitler) to his office. He gives the mother a placebo. He allows the child to die, not to punish the child, but to save his people from the Holocaust.
We could debate the ethics of his action. My immediate point is his action is preemptive rather than punitive. There's no compelling reason we have to cast the death of Canaanite children in punitive categories.
iv) In addition, historical justice is rough justice. Ultimately, eschatological justice does the final sorting.

steve sam3 minutes ago
"You can’t mount an internal critique of the Satanic Bible, & then claim that some commands are inconsistent with an extraneous frame of reference. Rather, you have to begin with Satanic concepts of justice & mercy."
Was that your attempt to be clever, because it fails badly. Apparently, I need to remind you of the context of this debate. I'm not the one who said only internal critiques are legit. It's Jeff Lowder and other commenters who chose to frame the issue that way. Therefore, I'm responding to them on their own terms, and showing how they are inconsistent with their own restrictive framework.
That doesn't commit me to their methodology. Therefore, your attempt to turn tables on me is oblivious to which side chose to insist on that restriction.
"Let’s pretend that the satanic bible makes reference to when satan stood up against Israel & incited David to count the people of Israel (1 CH 21). How would a xian mount an internal critique of the satanic bible’s version of events in order to demonstrate to the satanist that what satan did was objectively immoral?"
You're attempting to be clever, but it doesn't work because you can't consistently parallel the real Bible with a satanic Bible.
The Chronicler is not a Satanist. The fact that the narrator makes a statement about a Satanic character doesn't make the narrator satanic, or make the narrative viewpoint satanic. 1 Chron 21 doesn't give a satanic bible's version of events.
So you need to decide which approach you're going to take, because you can't combine both. You can't quote from the Bible, and also pretend that that's equivalent to a satanic Bible. That confuses a character within the narrative with the narrator.
You can try to attack the Bible directly, or you can quote from a postulated Satanic Bible, but you can't consistently combine both approaches.
"And this is a separate question: what made it objectively immoral for satan to incite David to count the people of Israel in 1 Chronicles 21?"
Evil intent.
"How would a xian mount an internal critique of the satanic bible’s version of EZ 20:25-26 (KJV), in which Satan admits 'I also gave them statutes that were not good & laws they should not live by – that I might fill them with horror'? How would the xian demonstrate to the deeply committed Satanist that Satan is here admitting that there are statutes that are not good, & they are not good independently of Satan’s having commanded them? When the Satanist resorts to hyperbole & metaphor, what would be your response?"
Once again, you're trying to be cute by substituting Satan for Yahweh as the speaker, and acting as if this statement is something only a satanic character would say.
You're overlooking the bitter, biting satire that pervades the entire chapter. Ezekiel is creating sarcastic burlesque of Israel's history. You can't rip that passage out of its ironic context, as if it's prosaic statement of fact. That ignores the genre. Ezekiel is lampooning his audience.
"So which is it?"
My definition wasn't synonymous with yours. You need to master the difference between unmerited favor and demerited favor.
"IS 40:2 (BBE) '…that her [Jerusalem’s] punishment is complete; that she has been rewarded by the Lord’s hand twice over for all her sins.'"
The Hebrew text doesn't say God meted out double punishment.
"so yhwh is using the metaphor, not Isaiah."
I never dichotomized the two.
"The quotation marks indicate that you agree with me. All they were _really_ doing was venerating inanimate objects."
You're failing to draw a rudimental distinction between what they intended to venerate and whether there was something objective that corresponded to their intent. They didn't intend to venerate inanimate objects. Rather, they intended to venerate what, in their mind, the idols symbolize. Whether or not there's a reality behind the idol is irrelevant to their intent. But as far as that goes, their worship is demonic.
"since we cannot mount internal critiques of religious texts & then claim that some passages are inconsistent with an extraneous frame of reference…"
Once again, are you just prevaricating, or have you forgotten the context of the debate?
"Then, you would need to indicate why you think yhwh (according to early Hebrew belief) would find child sacrifice objectively immoral. EZ 20:26…"
Quoting the same passage a second time which you misconstrued the first time doesn't advance your argument.
"LE 27:28-29"
You're willfully disregarding the fact that God didn't demand human sacrifice. Rather, he demanded animal sacrifice, as a vicarious alternative. The animal took the place of the sinner. That runs all through the Mosaic cultus. It's not hard to miss.
"Do you disagree that, if yhwh does force people to eat their own children for venerating inanimate objects, he would then be punishing these people qualitatively_more_ than they deserve?"
I disagree with a conclusion that derives from two false assumptions at the beginning of the question.
"Your hypothesis is that there is no causal connection between the active voice of yhwh & the subsequent cannibalism? What is the punishment that yhwh is promising, then? yhwh is passively reporting on events he has no control over?"
Now you're doing a bait-and-switch. You act as if the logical alternative to "forcing" is "passively reporting on events he has no control over." You also act as if "forcing" is equivalent to a "causal connection."
If and when you can bring yourself to pose a serious question, I will endeavor to give a serious answer.
"Yhwh takes pleasure in ruining & destroying disobedient Israelites, including making them cannibalize their children."
It's rhetorical parallelism. A plot twist ending.
"Yhwh admits that he will make them cannibalize each other."
You're simply repeating yourself. I already addressed that issue. God removes his protection from Israel. As a result, her enemies move in.
So what, exactly, is your complaint? That God was supposed to protect Israel regardless of her immorality?
"…you most likely will disagree with the idea that justice is something that is administered through calm, measured, thoughtful, dispassionate reason, not something administered through wrath, vengeance, anger or zeal."
You have a tin-ear for literary conventions and anthropopathisms.
"So, what is the purpose of forced cannibalism?"
Many sinners don't take evil seriously until they find themselves on the receiving end of evil.
"The purpose of forced cannibalism is to relieve ‘god’ of a negative emotional state, a catharsis…Does this fit your definition of justice."
Since I don't share your tone-deaf hermeneutic, your accusatory question is predicated on your own assumptions, not mine.
"So, you are telling me that you fail to make a distinction between indirect, unintended consequences of an act & the direct, explicitly intended act of slaughtering infants & sucklings ordered by yhwh in 1Sam 15:3-8?"
A disingenuous question on your part since I explained precisely what distinction I was drawing.
"yhwh is a Perfect judge, who has carefully determined that you & I are worthy of hell. It seems that, if you were to seek a scapegoat to avoid his righteous judgment, you are denying the absolute sovereignty & perfect justice of your god."
You're confusing divine sovereignty with theological voluntarism. Try again.
"As you burn in hell for eternity, would you feel justice has been served? I just want to see if you are consistent in your views."
Why would we expect the damned to be consistent?

i) Sam equivocates. He quotes no examples of God commanding these things.
ii) As even liberal commentators like Goldingay explain, the imagery in Ps 137 is figurative. It's a prayer for God to terminate the cruel Assyrian dynasty.
iii) He quotes figurative imagery from Revelation. Fictional "torture."
iv) He cites parables that describe fictional violence in hyperbolic terms.
v) He cites oracles of judgment in which God withdraws his protection from faithless Israel, which will expose Israel to her enemies. Is God supposed to extend carte blanche protection to Israel? No matter what she does, God will defend her?
vi) He acts as if the parable of the prodigal son was ever meant to be the exclusive paradigm of God.

Neither Parsons or Lowder has even begun to make that argument.

"Well, if you mean Parsons didn't actually state: 'Christians believe God is moral,' then fine you're right. But one would have thought such a belief is a given. Are you really denying that?"
Are you deliberately misrepresenting what I said? What I said was: "That still requires the moral nihilist to demonstrate that Christian belief in Biblical theism as the source of objective morality is internally inconsistent."
That's hardly reducible to "Christians believe God is moral."
"2. Here's something God did that seems pretty immoral."
If you're attempting to mount an internal critique, what's the standard of comparison? Whether the OT is contradictory or whether what some Christians believe is contradictory?
Is the internal critique that Bible writers think OT holy war is contrary to Yahweh's goodness?
If that's not the argument, then in what sense is this an internal critique? If you're not using the Bible as the standard of comparison, then you're using something outside the Bible. A relationship between something in the Bible (i.e. divine commands) and some presumed criterion outside the Bible which is brought to bear on the Bible.
But in that event, it ceases to be an internal critique. That's not critiquing the Bible on its own grounds. That's not demonstrating the Bible to be self-contradictory vis-a-vis the ethics of holy war.

"I said Parsons took a belief as a given in constructing the argument you said he hadn’t even begun to make. And once we realize that belief is taken as a given, then, contrary to what you said, he not only began the argument you say he hadn’t but he actually sketched out the full thing."
You're striving to oversimplify the issue. The issue isn't merely taking one belief as a given, but the overall assertion of an internal contradiction. No, he didn't sketch out the whole thing.
"In the sense that it’s an internal critique of Christianity. Of course Christianity isn’t a monolith, but it’s a critique of widely held Christian beliefs."
Suppose you demonstrate that Billy Sunday is theologically inconsistent. What does that accomplish? At most, you've succeeded in proving something about Billy Sunday's intellectual confusion.
Have you thereby disproven Biblical theism? Not in the slightest.
"…but in its presentation it’s meeting the Bible on its own terms."
No, you're not meeting the Bible on its own terms. Not even close.
You haven't begun to show that Yahweh is "punishing" babies."
And even if he were, you haven't begun to show that that would be unjust on purely Biblical terms.
There are huge gaps in your argument.

i) To begin with, you waste a lot of time distinguishing between sophisticated and unsophisticated Christians. That's beside the point. The point is that to critique Biblical ethics/theism on internal grounds, you need to demonstrate that Bible writers thought the holy war injunctions are contrary to Yahweh's character. That's the "internal inconsistency" you need to demonstrate. You must take the viewpoint of Scripture as the frame of reference for conducing an internal critique of Scripture.
To show that some Christian has inconsistent beliefs about the Bible is not an internal cirque of Biblical ethics/theism. At best, all you've done is to disprove the overall beliefs some particular Christian. That does nothing to disprove Biblical theism internally. The frame of reference is not the viewpoint of this or that Christian, but the viewpoint of the Bible writers.
"When I argue with someone I assume that person is what is widely regarded as a decent person, and has what are widely considered decent, moral beliefs. I take 'killing innocents deliberately is wrong (or ordering it when there are alternatives without that effect)' to be one such belief."
You keep swinging and you keep missing. That's not the same thing as arguing against the Bible from the Bible.
"My guess is if sophisticated Christians were more open about communicide being moral, then Christianity would become less attractive to the non-sophisticated—which is the atheist’s purpose in continually pointing it out."
That's a red herring.
"But that’s just my hunch as to a winning strategy for the atheist."
Why would a moral relativist care about a winning strategy for atheism? You act like there's something at stake worth fighting for.
"Even if sophisticated theists might countenance that communicide can be moral, my guess is if you polled moral philosophers, who presumably are the authorities on morality, the wide majority would deem it immoral."
That's the opposite of an internal critique of Biblical holy war commands. Why do you find it so difficult to grasp such a simple principle?
It's your side (you, Jeff, et al.) who decided to stake your position on a purely internal critique. That's what I'm holding you to.
"I stated that the Bible portrays Yahweh as perfectly just and a perfectly just being does not punish babies."
You're not showing that Bible writers think a perfectly just being doesn't punish babies. That's something you and others keep imposing on the analysis from the outside.
"You seem to accept this…"
Actually, I didn't. Rather, I pointed out that you and your cohorts are imposing a systematically punitive framework on the holy war accounts. And that's a gratuitous assumption.
I also pointed out that I don't have to invoke that presupposition.
"I take it, whatever justice means, it means one shouldn’t punish babies with death."
What you personally take justice to mean is not the same thing as exegeting the concept of justice from Scripture.
"But I ALSO take it, whatever justice means, it means one shouldn’t order for babies to be killed even if it’s NOT punishment."
Once again, you habitually confound your external critique with an internal critique. You need to acquire the critical detachment to engage a position on it own terms, rather than constantly mixing that up with your own assumptions.
"Again, respectfully, what you see as gaps in my argument are just planks that I take there to be wide agreement on."
"Wide agreement" is irrelevant to an internal critique. The standard of comparison for an internal critique of the holy war commands is the Bible itself. If you aim to show that Biblical ethics/theism is internally inconsistent, then the Bible must supply the viewpoint. Once again, why do you find that elementary distinction so hard to grasp?

"I think Steve, ironically, missed the point again."
Since I didn't miss the point the first time, as I already explained (which Scott conveniently ignores), I can't very well miss it again.
"The secularist needn't have any commitment to true belief or any philosophical system that would ground such a commitment. His argument is simply: If you think it's good to have true beliefs, then you should have consistent views. If you don't care about true beliefs, that's fine--but I'd like to hear that admission."
Ironically, Scott is now recanting his original argument, which was predicated on the following premise: "The secularist asserts: Whatever morality may be, genocide is immoral."
I do appreciate his retraction.
"Steve seems to think the secularist has to have some sort of cosmic mandate to take any action. 'Why would a moral nihilist try to disprove Christianity?' he asks."
Because, as a matter of fact, atheists who attack Christianity routinely do so because they think what people believe (and how they act on their beliefs) is important.
"The arguments I construct still stand and fall on their own--the motivation is irrelevant, and the attempt to return to that topic looks more and more like a way of distracting others from the real issues."
Given moral nihilism, what "real issues" are there?

"While you’re here, why don’t you respond to Keith’s actual post and tell us which of his four solutions, if any, you favor."
Aside from what I've already responded to, let's take one or two additional examples:
"Could such militants invoke the same sort of justification you offer, i.e. no idolatry in sacred lands? You might reply "But my God is the true one, and theirs is false." Ah, but the Islamic militants can say that just the same and with as much apparent justification as you! Sauce for the goose."
But unless he subscribes to alethic relativism, where all completing claims are equal, his conclusion is not only false, but subverts basic epistemic standards.
He also fell back on neo-Aristotelian ethical naturalism. But that's vulnerable to formidable objections:
"While you’re here, why don’t you respond to Keith’s actual post and tell us which of his four solutions, if any, you favor."
In answer to your question, let's examine some of his recent remarks:
"It describes what we would in most circumstances spontaneously describe as mass murder, no different in outward appearance from what ISIS is currently doing in Iraq."
To outward appearances, a field medic who must operate on a patient without anesthetic and a sociopath who vivisects his victim may be hard to distinguish empirically. But they are morally very different actions.
"As for the issue of justification, yes, you may certainly appeal to Christian standards. However, if those standards are too far removed from broadly-shared, intuitive standards of common decency, then the effect will be to discredit those Christian standards."
i) 10 years ago (give or take), most Americans opposed gay marriage. So does the Third World. So his majoritarian appeals are a double-edged sword.
ii) He ignores historical counterevidence to his appeal to "broadly-shared, intuitive standards of common decency." And, if anything, his appeal is ironically indebted to Christian cultural conditioning. For instance:
"In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis argued eloquently that there are broadly-shared ethical principles, common to many traditions and societies. He further argued that Christian ethics is continuous with this broader moral milieu."
That equivocates between descriptive and normative ethics.
"If, on the other hand, the Christian justification for massacre is esoteric, or indulges in special pleading, or invokes some variant of the old bumper sticker 'God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!'--then the judgment will rightly come down on those Christian standards."
Actually, his own standard of comparison is special pleading.
"2) I cannot see that you have answered my earlier question, so I will repeat it: How can it be that the worship of any God other than Yahweh (i.e. "idolatry") within the boundaries of the land claimed by Israel, is of such heinousness that it would confer collective guilt upon an entire community, justifying their utter extirpation? Indeed, the entire notion of collective guilt needs justification. How do you justify the "collective judgment" that you mentioned? Intuitively, people should be considered guilty only of the sins they commit, not the sins of others."
Collective judgment is not the same thing as collective guilt. Moreover, every member of the collective isn't singled out for punishment, as if it must be punitive in reference to each individual.
"As for sparing the young, the practical difficulties you mention seem exaggerated and implausible. Also, don't forget that the order for their extermination came from God. God, of course, being omnipotent, is not limited by the practical exigencies humans are. Surely God could have found a way to spare the infants, had he wanted to do so."
That's too vague to respond to.
"As for the comparison with the claims of Islamic militants, no, I did not mean to imply that all knowledge claims are equal. I am merely pointing out what appears to be a case of special pleading. Islamic militants could read the passage from I Samuel 15: 1-3 and say 'Yes, we fully agree with the principle stated there--that infidels are to be eliminated from holy lands. However, I Samuel misidentified the true God that issues such orders, It is Allah, not Yahweh.'"
Those are asymmetrical claims. The truth of Islam depends on the truth of the Bible, not vice versa. Muhammad staked his prophetic credentials on confirming the OT and NT. If, in fact, the Koran contradicts the Bible, then he's a false prophet by his own yardstick.
"The problem is that such a reply rests upon an extremely dubious moral principle. Injustice most definitely is not justified by compensation. If an eccentric billionaire were to beat me to a pulp and then offer me ten million dollars in compensation, I would be happy to have the compensation, but I would still think he was guilty of a crime. Likewise, even an eternity in heaven does not justify the murder of an innocent victim. If Christian standards say that it does, then this supports my point about the unacceptability of Christian standards."
For him to call it "murder" begs the question. Not everything that happens to heavenbound individuals in this life is for their personal benefit. Some heavenbound individuals suffer harm for the good of others.

"I said it doesn’t matter whether the atheist can ground morality, because what’s being argued is that the theist’s case is contradictory on the theist’s assumptions. Jeff agreed. You said that wasn’t Jeff’s original argument. But nope, it was."
You're recontextualizing the original argument. Your original syllogism appealed to the viewpoint of "the secularist." That's hardly equivalent to the viewpoint of Bible writers.
Moreover, your syllogism was Jeff's explicit frame of reference. He quoted that and made that the premise of his own argument.
"Jeff quotes a publisher’s description"
That wasn't Jeff's frame of reference in response to me. You're resorting to a bait-n-switch.
"'Would a good, kind, and loving deity ever command the wholesale slaughter of nations?' That’s clearly posing the theist’s description of God—'good, kind, and loving'—against description of the Biblical God’s behavior—'the wholesale slaughter of nations.' It is juxtaposing two beliefs of theists. Jeff said the contradiction is obvious and rather desperate hair-splitting is needed to avoid it.
i) All you've done is to assert a contradiction. To claim that it's "obvious" is not an argument. Rather, that begs the very question in dispute.
But I do appreciate your backdoor admission that you can't actually argue for your allegation. You merely posit that to be the case.
ii) In addition, you're assuming, w/o benefit of argument, that divine goodness is incompatible with divine judgment. But there's nothing "obviously" contradictory about a good God exacting judgment on a wicked nation. Indeed, justice is a hallmark of goodness.
You don't get to take crucial shortcuts in this debate.
iii) You also seem to be assuming, w/o benefit of argument, that to be "kind" or "loving" means God must be equally kind or loving without respect to the righteous or the wicked.
"Whether or not Jeff or anyone else has any adequate ground for morality is irrelevant. The argument goes through either way."
You're equivocating on whose argument goes through either way. That wasn't Parsons' argument.
"But even if you weren’t and Jeff had made a gaffe, who cares?"
So you don't care about misrepresentations. Thanks for that damning admission.
"I’m giving the stronger argument, Jeff has endorsed it as being what he meant, so let’s argue that."
You're now substituting a different argument that you didn't use before. You don't get to claim Jeff's retroactive endorsement. He may read your comment and endorse it after the fact, but that's different.
"The only reason my secularist asserts what he does is because he thinks that Christians agree with what he’s pointing out."
i) "The secularist" (your original referent) is not a synonym for "the Christian." So your ex post facto gloss is special pleading.
ii) Furthermore, both you and Jeff equivocate over the referent of inconsistency. Are you claiming that some Christians have contradictory beliefs about OT holy war? Or that OT writers have contradictory beliefs about OT holy war?
Is this an internal critique of the Bible? Or an internal critique of what some Christians believe? Showing that some Christians hold inconsistent beliefs wouldn't demonstrate that OT theism is contradictory. Is the Bible the frame of reference, or a publisher's blurb? Those are hardly equivalent.
"So can we please discuss the actual arguments here and stop going after the people making those arguments?"
To the contrary, since you and Jeff are making this an issue about consistency, it's quite germane to point out the inconsistency of moral nihilists attempting to disproving Christianity, as if people have an obligation to value the truth. You're operating with a double standard.
"Obviously by 'real' issue, I meant the ones that are important."
Which simply restates the dilemma of the moral nihilist. Given moral nihilism, what makes one issue more or less important than another?
"One can distinguish between big and small issues without judging small issues or big issues to be morally bad or good."
How does a moral nihilist distinguish between better or worse?
"as opposed to satellite issues that strike me as ancillary and of limited import…"
How is your ranking system justifiable from the standpoint of moral nihilism? What makes "satellite" issues of "limited import"? And even if they are, what makes that less valuable–given moral nihilism?
"While you’re here, why don’t you respond to Keith’s actual post."
That's something I've done on my own blog.

"I’ve explained what I meant by that plank of the argument. If you’re going to stick your fingers in your ears and refuse to listen to my explanation, I suppose you’re welcome to do so, but it’s hardly the behavior of someone interested in getting to the truth of something or have a constructive exchange."
If you were sincere, you wouldn't belatedly redefine antonyms ("secularist," "Christian") as if they were synonyms.
"I would hope that the majority of Bible-believing Christians do believe that 'genocide is immoral,' and the secularist can appeal to that belief, but if you disagree with it, then by all means, state it for the record and correct me."
That wasn't your original syllogism. Moreover, you're playing a semantic shell-game: "Bible-believing Christians" think "genocide" is immoral, the Bible commands genocide, therefore the Bible is immoral.
Needless to say, Bible-believing Christians don't think the Bible commands immorality. What you impute to Christians is vitiated by your equivocal usage.
"Sure, and that’s the argument he said he was making all along."
Jeff, along with many other atheists, carelessly oscillates between internal and external critiques.
"Is there really any doubt that possibility 2 is wildly counterintuitive and possibility 1 is not?"
i) To begin with, I don't concede your tendentious characterization. The Bible doesn't command "genocide."
ii) However, even if it did, you're not entitled to claim intuitive support for your position.
To begin with, genocide is commonplace in human history. What is your basis for claiming that genocide is intuitive immoral when it happens so often? What's your evidence for that moral intuition? Do you think the perpetrators of genocide share your intuition?
iii) From a secular standpoint, moreover, what makes it intuitively immoral for one collection of particles to disintegrate another collection of particles?
"I don’t often argue for things posited that I take the vast majority of people to agree with."
What's the historical evidence for your claim that the vast majority of people agree with you?
Moreover, since when do atheists consider majority opinion to be a criterion of truth?
"I suppose if someone was really skeptical that the sky is blue I might post a cell-phone pic, but I hardly think it’s my epistemic duty to do so any time I discuss the weather."
If you're saying moral perception is comparable to sensory perception, then you do, indeed, have an epistemic duty to demonstrate that analogy.
"You want to dispute what that actually means, fine. But if you don’t dispute what would seem to be the obvious meaning of the text, then I submit there is nothing just, divine or otherwise, about the killing of 'babes in arms' (not to mention innocent animals)."
i) You're not entitled to stipulate what you think is just. If you espouse moral naturalism, you must make a case for that. You don't get to ride around on your stolen moral high horse. You have to pay for that before you get to ride it.
ii) There's no reason to presume God is exacting justice on "babes in arms. For instance, when children die in natural disasters, that's not an act of divine *retribution*.
You chronically beg the question by recasting the issue in punitive terms. But that's not the only reason people die in a fallen world.
iii) To say animals are innocent is a category mistake. Animals aren't innocent or guilty. Rather, animals are amoral.
"But I didn’t say the secularist is a Christian. I’m saying the secularist points out something he thinks the Christian believes."
That's what you say now, not what you said then.
"I’ve been perfectly clear what the inconsistency is. (Some) Christians assert: 1. God is moral. 2. The Bible is accurate. The Bible said God did something immoral."
What Christians assert all three propositions?
"But if you really need me to give a reason for arguing against you, then fine, here’s one: I enjoy debating these issues. This is a completely subjective motivation, but it is a motivation nonetheless."
Given the vacuity of a godless existence, I understand why some atheists fill the void by arguing for the sake of arguing. Frivolous intellectual diversions. Some people get drunk. Some people get high. Some people provoke meaningless debates to kill time until their meaningless death terminates their meaningless life. Any distraction will do.

steve sam2 hours ago
Quoting Ps 145:9 to generate a conflict with Ps 109:6-15 or Jer 13:14 is peculiar:
i) To begin with, as even liberal commentators like Goldingay point out, Ps 109 is using figurative imagery.
ii) As for Ps 145, it's as if Sam stopped reading at v9. Yes, v9 makes a statement about Yahweh's general benevolence, but if you read down to v20, that's counterbalanced by "The Lord preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy."
Therefore, the Psalmist did not regard divine judgment as incompatible with divine mercy or goodness.


  1. Steve, whenever I read your interactions with atheists I'm always reminded of these Francis Bacon quotes:

    It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. For while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them, confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.- Francis Bacon

    Small amounts of philosophy lead to atheism, but larger amounts bring us back to God.- Francis Bacon

    Of the approximately 2 billion professing Christians in the world there are probably only a small handful who can argue for Christianity nearly as well as you can. If the Lord doesn't return for another 1000 years, the efforts you guys and gals make *now* in defense of Christianity will have a tremendous Butterfly Effect on future generations.

    Those of us who can't defend the honor of our God (whom we all love) as well as you guys/gals can, cheer you on!

    “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.”- John Calvin

    1. On the one hand, I feel sorry for (and have compassion toward) non-Christians because they are missing out on the wonderful glorious God that we know and have; and who is also the source of all life and meaning. As R.C. Sproul has pointed out, if atheists really knew the kind of God they were rejecting, they wouldn't be so quick to reject Him (or words to that effect).

      Yet on the other hand, I have to confess that I'm glad whenever I see (as Calvin put it) the mouths of the obstreperous (obstreperas) stopped [Institutes book 1, chapter 7, section 4]