If whatever God commanded be good, then murder (assuming an Abrahamic belief system) is always evil, and should be punishde by death, but what if I went back in time and killed Hitler, is that good or evil? What if God forbid’s murder, but then commands you to kill (such as in the promised land), is killing or not killing them the moral action?
My reasoning is that almost every single action can be both good and evil, depending on the circumstances, and we don’t need a deity to tell us that.
ThinkingMatters (that’s me) says
Hello, SaviorOfLogic. You have some good questions here which I am interested in answering them. But the format here on YouTube is not so good for questions such as these, and I do not think I can do them justice in the short time I have available now. Please check talk.thinkingmatter.org.nz where I’ll blog on this topic, hopefully in the next week.
My promised response follows…
I think you might want to be talking about the Mosaic Law (not the “Abrahamic belief system”), which states “Thou shalt not murder.”
You start with the word “If,” and as I already mentioned in my response UppruniTegundanna (though you may have missed it due the lengthy comment section), that the “if…” is something I am not willing to grant.
Here is what I had to say concerning the Euthyphro Dilemma.
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ThinkingMatters (that’s me) says
The ethics developed on the theism finds a transcendent ground in God. The Euthyphro Dilemma is a false dilemma, that is to say those are not the only options. The third option that splits the arguments horns is that God is the standard. Rather than the good being good because God said so – thus arbitrary, or the good being above God – thus God is not the ultimate, the good flows from his nature – the good is good because God is good.
If I accept the third option, can I say that it is in fact a false trilemma, and that there is an additional option that we are being deceived into our beliefs about what is good or not by an evil force?
ThinkingMatters (that’s me) responds
As for the third option – you could say that it is a false trilemma because there are more than three options – but all I need to do is split the horns of the dilemma. I don’t even need to argue that the third option is true, it just needs to be an option. But I do think that the third option is plausibly true – we have for instance biblical grounds for declaring it true, and we have good philosophical grounds as well, as God is defined as the ultimate being and morality is a perfection.
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What if God forbid’s murder, but then commands you to kill…
I don’t equate murder with killing. Killing is any action performed that results in the loss of a life. Murder is killing with that added moral component that makes the action wrong.
The distinction between the two is very interesting I think, but for now let us not get distracted by it.
…is killing or not killing them the moral action?
Because I think that our moral duties come from God’s commands and flow directly from his nature, not killing them would be immoral. Whereas killing them in the absence of God’s command would be immoral. I know at this point my answer seems incredible to you, so before I go on, its worth pointing out that the consistent atheist has to adopt a far more radical position.
He or she must deny there is such as thing as evil, good, and objective right and wrong. Should and shouldn’t should be wiped from their dictionary. Morals become the equivalent of personal preference akin to which way I choose to part my hair in the morning – totally subjective and amoral. On atheism ethics is as philosopher Dr. Michael Ruse says is “illusory.”
In the absence of a deity, in order to discourse with meaning on ethics, you need to give a basis for how we determine what is right and wrong, good and evil.
I hold to Divine Command Theory. This is the theory that says our moral duties are given by the decrees of God.
(such as in the promised land)
The questions I think you are really asking are; (1) How can you consider the conquest of Caanan moral? (2) Is the God who commanded them to kill Himself moral?
C.S.Lewis said when critiquing a worldview you have to do your best to step inside that worldview and assess it from the inside, or run the risk of arguing against a straw man. So step inside…
First observation is that both these questions assume the Bible is factually accurate. So its not really a critique from the outside, but an internal matter of consistency. Therefore, at most what is at stake is the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy – not the existence of God, and not even the moral perfection of God.
As I’ve distinguished between the act of murder and killing, mush of the force of (2) is already gone. Question (1) remains.
The conquest of Caanan comes set against the backdrop of Sodom and Gomorra. Abraham has a discussion where God tells him that he is going to destroy these two cities. Like a middle-eastern bargain hunter, Abraham says “will you still destroy the city if a hundred righteous people live there?” God says “No, I will not.” Abraham comes back again and again, getting lower and lower, and always receives the same answer – “No, I will not.” Eventually Abraham dare not go any lower.
The LORD does indeed rescue Lot, Abraham’s nephew, from Sodom before it is destroyed. The implication is that God would not judge a whole city if there was one righteous person who lived there. So we see the great holiness of God, the great length he will go to deliver those who seek to obey him, and judgement of a wicked and perverse people.
The fire and brimstone that reigned down on those two cities represented God’s judgement on them. As the supreme, infinitely holy being who first gave them life, God has every right to take their lives, and is under no obligation to prolong their life. Also as an omniscient being he is also capable of knowing the amount of evil that would have resulted had he not judged them in this way. It is also possible that God could have known there were no circumstances in which they would have repented if given the opportunity.
It is around this time that Abraham receives a promise that the land will be his inheritance for descendants. But does God send them in immediately. The answer is no. He stalls over four hundred years to wait for “their iniquity is not yet full.”
Fast forward to Israel exiting Egypt and the desert wandering: promised the land but unable to take possession of it, waiting for God’s command to come. When it does the command says kill every person you find there. You and I in modern times thinks that’s pretty harsh, but remember we are talking about God giving the command. Our moral duties come from his command and perfectly reflect his nature, which is pure and holy, perfect in morals and in judgement. So the command represents God’s judgement upon that nation, and this time instead of fire and brimstone, the instruments of His judgement are the Israelites.
Because God is not accountable to anyone or any over arching principle called “good” he literally cannot sin, as his own commands that flow from his perfect nature are not binding on him. We however, as his creations, are recipients of those commands and we are to be held responsible for breaking them and, if he wishes it, rewarded for obeying them.
It must be remembered that the Canaanites were not innocent victims. With the background context of Sodom and Gomorra fresh in our mind, there was probably not one righteous person among them, accept Rahab and her family who were rescued much like Lot. The people who lived in Caanan were reprobates and full of all types of wickedness and debauchery. Temple prostitution was one of things that were common practice, as well as child sacrifice.
One reason God may have given this command was He knew that if these tribes and nations had been allowed to continue to live there would have greater evil as a result. An omniscient being is in the perfect position to decide that the lives of a few thousand now is better than the lives of untold millions later.
Also, on the Christian view, the children who were killed in the conquest of Canaan would go to heaven, whereas had they been allowed to live and grow up they might have been placed in circumstances where he knew they would have rejected him. So actually when God decreed that even the children should be killed, He was doing them a favour. And when it comes to the salvation of the adults, it is at least possible that God knew that there was not any possible set of circumstances that would elicit from those people true repentance and salvation.
One reason the Bible gives for God giving this command is so the Israelites would understand the importance of being set apart from the nations that surrounded them. God knew that if these people were not exterminated then Israel would latter fall into apostasy. And if you follow through in the history of Israel, that is exactly what did happen. The very people that Israel spared were the people that latter led them into idolatry and sin. Later God used those same people to discipline Israel in turn to keep them a separate and holy nation.
The conquest of Caanan helped to shape Israel’s national identity. It is entirely plausible that God understood that an immeasurable good would result from their separated and unique identity. And in the gospels we see that God was right, for from Israel there came a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who built a bridge between sinful man and a holy God, that the whole world can be reconciled Him. A good that would not have been possible had Israel been just another heathen culture.
So we have see that given God’s moral greatness and superlative attributes that Christian monotheism is internally consistent and logically on sound ground. Whereas atheism is not logically sound if one wishes to discourse on ethics with real meaning, and is internally inconsistent as it is completely unliveable. Based on all the above, God is not only in the very centre of how we determine what is moral, but He gives us the only logical ground to affirm that both good and evil exist.
I put it to you, who is the more reasonable? The one who sees the atrocities of Hitler’s Nazi regime and says “I don’t like it, but I can’t say it’s wrong because my atheism won’t allow me to,” or the one who says “This was really evil.”
Thank God that He is the true “Saviour of logic.” :-)