Bloody hell, there are three times as many people on the planet today as there were when I was born!
No wonder I find the cities and traffic too busy.
Got the data from A BBC News web page – 7 billion people and you: What’s your number?.
William Lane Craig went ahead with his “empty chair for Dawkins” stunt in his Oxford appearance. While many of his fans loved the trick, Craig didn’t get off unharmed by his stalking of Richard Dawkins. Obviously some of Craig’s fans are concerned about Dawkins’ reference to Craig’s justification of biblical genocide. So he was forced to confront the issue during question time.
While most of Craig’s fans applauded his answer, others were rather shocked. Here’s how one reporter at the event described it (see William Lane Craig vs. Chair of Dawkins ):
“However, ultimately one question exposed Craig’s alarmingly questionable moral principles: ’Dawkins has refused to debate you because (he says) you think genocide could be acceptable in some contexts. Have you ever said anything which warrants this view, and what do you actually think?’ He started with the straightforward denial that we expected — ’I have not in any way ever said that God commanded, or could command, human genocide’. However, the following ten minute explanation of Numbers 33:50-54 (look it up) did not involve a justification of genocide, merely a justification of the mass displacement of an ethnic group; the kicker at the end was his summary that if this forced displacement did involve killing some Canaanites, well the adults deserved it because they were sinful, and it’s alright because the children went straight to heaven. Seriously?”
“The widespread applause this statement extracted from the audience was possibly more alarming than the statement itself. Somewhere up in the wings a lone voice was shouting ’Boo’; the news editor and I stared gormlessly; the rest of the spectators seemed to find this little speech all fine and dandy. I am a religious person, and as a person of faith (not in spite of it) I was morally repulsed by this analysis, and deeply concerned about the intellectual and moral fibre of the believers who found it commendable.”
“The only benefit of the doubt that I can possibly extend to Craig (and I am scraping the barrel) is that under pressure he grasped at the nearest explanation for Biblical injustices which came to mind, and would — hopefully will — qualify his extraordinary comments at some later date. I shan’t hold my breath.”
And from another report of the same event ( see Craig strikes back at genocide smear):
“However, in a question and answer session near the end of the debate, Craig’s response to the accusation that he approves of Biblical genocide provoked murmurs of disapproval from parts of the audience, and a loud boo from the upper wings.
’There was no racial war here, no command to kill them all,’ he initially said, referring to extermination of the Canaanites in the Old Testament, ’the command was to drive them out.’
Then Craig said: ’But, how could God command that the children be killed, as they are innocent?’
’I would say that God has the right to give and take life as he sees fit. Children die all the time! If you believe in the salvation, as I do, of children, who die, what that meant is that the death of these children meant their salvation. People look at this [genocide] and think life ends at the grave but in fact this was the salvation of these children, who were far better dead…than being raised in this Canaanite culture. ’
One attendee, who wished not be named, called Craig’s argument ’alarming’: ’I’m a Christian who generally agrees with Craig’s ideas but what he said for the last question was simply disturbing. He completely contradicted himself, one minute saying that, effectively, no children were killed in the genocide, only to say later on that it was OK that children died, that it was God’s will, and that they were saved from a debauched culture.’
He added: ’I believe in a benevolent God, but that didn’t sound very benevolent at all.’
I suspect Craig will come to regret the way he has approached this problem. He has the habit of inventing explanations for things and sticking to them. even declaring his opponents are dishonest or illogical if they don’t accept his arguments.
But when it comes to strong moral issues like genocide more and more of his fans will come to see these arguments as disingenuous. Especially if he repeats his justifications ad nauseam. A habit of his.
Credit: Photo by Apolgetics 315. Yes the photo is doctored – but not by me.
A while back I participated in a discussion involving a number of non-theists and theists. You can guess which side I was on. But I bore no ill feelings to the theists — and why should I have? These discussions are largely harmless.
But when the discussion turned to biblical genocide I found I had very strong feelings of hostility to one of the theists, a local minister of religion. Why? Because here I found someone who was blatantly justifying the slaughter of thousands of people. Genocide! And he justified it because he thought those people had been sinful!
Perhaps some people might think my reaction naÃ¯ve. But I feel exactly the same hostility towards people who justify the Stalin terror, the victimisations and murders of Mao’s so-called ’cultural revolution’, Pinochet’s slaughter of Chilean democrats, Hitler’s slaughter of Jews, Slavs, homosexuals and communists, Pol Pot’s murder of intellectuals, and so on. And in my life I have come across people arguing to justify the genocide in all these cases. I really don’t see the justification of biblical genocide any differently. If you can make such justifications perhaps you are also capable of carrying out such atrocities.
So I can understand why Richard Dawkins recently expressed such feelings of disgust about the justification of biblical genocide by William Lane Craig (see Dawkins responds to a stalker – Craig gets his debate.
We have yet to hear Craig’s response. But he has clearly endorsed that genocide
and I can’t see that his response can be at all human — unless he withdraws that
Craig’s justification relies on his support for, and interpretation of, ’divine command’ ethics. Basically he is saying that there is an objective standard of ’right’ and ’wrong,’
that this is determined, defined, by his god, and that if his god commanded
these acts of genocide (which his bible said she did) then they are justified.
That genocide was OK — morally ’right!’
Supporters of ’divine command’ justifications for genocide
have responded to the natural reaction by insisting that their god can do no
wrong. So if their god commands it, then it must be right. And they argue their defence for this position by defining their god as a ’loving’ god. In fact they
will go further to support their justification. Matt Flannagan, a local
theologian who also supports this biblical genocide, argues that these ’divine
commands’ come from a person (his god) who has a whole range of features.
’As I noted a divine command theory entails that Genocide is permissible only if a just and loving person fully informed of all the facts and who was rational would command it. Now a rational person obviously uses logic correctly, a person who is fully informed is aware of all the facts, and if they were loving and just they would value the things that loving and just people value. So any situation in which God commanded Genocide would be a situation in which it was justified . . .’
Oh, he also claims elsewhere that this person must be omniscient.
Two problems here:
1: His excuse for giving up his moral autonomy in such an extreme situation is that his commander is omniscient, loving, fully informed, rational, etc.
See the problems? This is exactly the sort of description the followers of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot or Mao would have given of their leaders! Stalin was even revered by many in the West before and during World War II — Uncle Joe they used to call him.
2: He is arguing to outsource his moral decisions. Saying one should commit something as extreme as genocide just on the basis of following orders. No self-reflection. No questions. Just get stuck in!
He is just following orders — opting out of any obligation to moral autonomy. He has no intention, or any way, of evaluating these commands. In fact it would be considered heretical to do so. ’Following orders’ is a requirement for soldiers to become automatic fighting units in an army. Questioning commands is not allowed and soldiers are trained not to. But this can also happen to civilians who are brainwashed by strong ideologies.
A specific example of such ’divine command’ ethics today is demonstrated by
the farewell letter of a Dutch jihadist:
’In the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful,
I write this letter to inform you that I departed for the land of the jihad.
To dispel the unbelievers, and to help establish the Islamic state.
I do not do this because I like fighting, but because the Almighty has commanded this ‘Fighting is obligatory for you, much as you dislike it. But you may hate a thing although it is good for you, and love a thing although it is bad for you. God knows, but you may not’’
’God knows, but you may not.’ No questions allowed. And
we are talking about genocide!
Here’s another problem. It seems that religious apologists who argue for ’divine command’ ethics really have no idea how they should find out what these commands are. This is strange as ’commands’ that cannot be identified are useless. Just imagine an army where soldiers had no idea of their orders or how to find out what they were!
Perhaps religious apologists are more concerned with establishing that there are such commands, than with knowing what the commands are, or how they should go about finding out what they are. After all, ’divine command’ ethics are intimately tied up with the apologist ’argument from morality.’ That argument
says that because there is an ’objective morality’ there must be a god to have
created that objective morality. Maybe all this talk of morality by religious
apologists is completely opportunist. They are only concerned with proving the
existence of their god and can’t give a stuff about human morality at all.
You have got to wonder. Recently I posed this question to several local religious apologists, self-declared experts in ethics. ’How do you think our minds come to know what our ’moral obligations’ are?’
It seems a simple question but for a long time all I got was evasion. Here’s a sample of their responses (these are repetitive — click here to get to the end if you wish):
’Moral Obligations cannot exist without God. He’s not trying to say that we cannot know Moral Obligations without believing in God.’
Yes, I know that
’I don’t see how your question is at all relevant to the question at hand because it only covers moral epistemology.’
’EPISTEMOLOGY AND ONTOLOGY ARE NOT THE SAME THING. EVEN A 5 YEAR OLD CAN TELL THERE’S A DIFFERENCE BECAUSE
THEY ARE SPELLED DIFFERENTLY.’
’he’s talking about Moral Ontology, while you are continuously getting it mixed up with Moral Epistemology. This can be seen clearly in the question you keep asking.’
’Is it really that difficult to tell the difference between (a) explaining how we came to have the ability to judge that X exists and (b) explaining what X is and why X exists.’
’SCIENCE CAN HELP CONFIRM HOW MORALITY WORKS IN THE HUMAN BRAIN, BUT NOT ANSWER QUESTIONS ABOUT MORALITY
’Your question is vague and not entirely clear.’
’This is an issue of Moral Epistemology, and is not really relevant to the issue at hand here.’
’you can not draw the basic distinction between an epistemological concept and an Ontological concept.’
’Have you stopped beating your wife yet?’
’you [are] not really interested in honest discussion.’
’ how .. we know what moral obligations we have … is a question of moral epistemology. Divine command theories are theories of moral ontology they are questions about what divine commands are, hence, although your question is interesting and important it actually has nothing to do with the topic.’ (My emphasis).
Yes, I get your point. Don’t need to labour it. Are you avoiding something?
Of course one does not need to use words like ontology or epistemology to
see the difference. Despite prevarications you admit that the ’question is
interesting and important.’ It’s valid. Surely self-proclaimed ethicists
should have no trouble answering.
I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps these experts were quite happy to use
words like revelation and bible at church or to children, but are ashamed to
use those answers when grown-ups are present.
Then a glimmer of hope:
’a person can agree that moral obligations are divine commands and yet disagree about how we come to know what God has commanded.’
OK sounds like you guys disagree — but what about some suggestions?
Then a specific answer (well, sort of):
’My view: God make us in such a way that we intuitively have some understanding of right and wrong. He could have easily communicated this to us through divine revelation, or he could have hard-wired it into us via Evolution. I think it’s a bit of both!’
And finally a confirmation
’For the record, if a divine command theory is true and moral obligations are divine commands, then one can determine what God has commanded by determining what our moral obligations are.
’I take it that you and most people know that rape is wrong and giving your wife a box of chocolates is not wrong? hence you like most people can and do know what your obligations are. If so then you can know what God commands,.’
And, at another blog:
’There are a number of ways, perfectly compatible with divine command ethics and the moral argument, that people can find out about moral truths. According to ethical intuitionism, under the right conditions there are moral truths that we intuitively grasp in much the same way that we have immediate experiences of the world through sight. Other ways of arriving at moral truth might involve a kind of reflective equilibrium, where we take the moral truths that we are more certain about and try to ensure that our other moral beliefs are compatible with them. Some might even believe that moral truths are secretive things that only those who belong to their religion can receive, imparted directly via some sort of unique special and personal revelation’
Phew — why couldn’t you say that several days ago when I asked my question?
But now I had the answer — I was assured these were ’ways of arriving at moral truths.’
I pointed out that in the old days I would have intuitively known that equal rights for women were ’wrong.’ That slavery and racism were ’right.’ That denial of rights to homosexuals was ’right.’ Now I intuitively know that denial of rights to women and homosexuals is ’wrong.’ That slavery and racism are wrong. This doesn’t seem very definite for ’divine commands’ or object moral truths. Surely we don’t just rely on our changing intuitions?
The response to this was:
’its not true that in the old days people ’knew’ that slavery was right. Its rather that people mistakenly thought this. We have since learn’t that was mistaken.”
I see. These guys don’t see these commands as so divine after all. They are trying to second guess them. Judge for themselves whether they are acceptable or not (that’s a good sign).
Isn’t this exactly what they are doing? How do they ’know’ slavery is ’wrong’ when they would have known it was ’right’ if they lived in the old days. After all, even then ’most knew what their obligations were’, to paraphrase the above.
These apologists provided intuitive moral knowledge as their main answer to my question. But because of the fact that this intuitive knowledge can be ’wrong,’ all these apologists should agree that they have a way of independently evaluating what they are considering to be ’objective moral truths’ or ’divine commands.’ Shouldn’t they?
I have written elsewhere that intuitions are very much involved in out automatic, unconscious moral system. But I have pointed out that such unconscious moral decisions can reflect all the prejudices, customs and personal learning. They may or may not correspond to a ’correct’ moral decision.
I have also described how we can arrive at a more ’correct’ moral decision by conscious reflection. Especially when the deliberation is social, the resulting moral decision is likely to be a good reflection of what could be considered the ’moral truth.’ This is because it has been arrived at through applying reason to the objective facts of moral situations. It is also open to the accepted value system arising from our empathetic and social nature. We have used an independent moral standard to judge our intuitive decisions, our ’divine
This is a secular process — treating morality as a real world problem. In a way this is like the scientific process. It produces a knowledge which is not absolute, but approximate. A good reflection of the truth. It is open to revision and upgrading. Yes, it may be messy, even inaccurate at times, but it is the best we can do because it has been arrived at by the best system we have available.
OK, I have talked about an ’objectively-based morality.’ Others talk about ’moral truths,’ ’objective morality’ or even ’divine commands.’ Does that matter? Because, whatever we call it, most sensible people will probably use a similar secular process of social deliberation, reasoning, consideration of objective facts and applying social and empathetic values. In most cases, I guess not.
But, I am concerned about those who avoid this social process. Who insist that the moral values they have are the correct one because they are ordained by the ultimate authority, their god. That any attempt to question or modify those commands amounts to heresy. These people outsource their moral decisions and don’t critically assess them.
I can’t for the life of me see any way to justify genocide using the secular moral process described above. None of these oblige a person to hand over their moral decisions to a ’divine commander’ or to claim that ’God knows, but you may not.’ To take moral commands from ancient documents without any room for interpretation or judgement. To refuse to use their brain for intelligent reflection on the issues.
But that is what William Lane Craig and his supporters have done to reach their position of justifying biblical genocide.
I reckon the “Rapture” may have come in New Zealand on Sunday Night.
However, it proved to be another failure for Harold Camping who had predicted the end of the world by then. He said last September:
“The end is going to come very, very quietly probably within the next month. It will happen, that is, by October 21.”
Since then Camping has kept well clear of the press – although I get the impression that after three failed attempts at prediction there were very few reporters hanging around outside his door.
However, there is now a report that he has retired from this whole business. According to the Chrsitian News (see Harold Camping Exclusive: Family Radio Founder Retires; Doomsday ‘Prophet’ No Longer Able to Work):
“Harold Camping, who predicted Oct. 21 to be the day Christians would be caught up to heaven and that God would judge the world, said on Oct. 16 that he is no longer able to lead Family Radio Stations, Inc. or his ministry, and his wife has confirmed that the 90-year-old radio evangelist has retired, a documentarian close to Camping told The Christian Post in an exclusive interview.”
But what about this?
Apparently some preachers were upset that the world didn’t end last weeked. The newspaper reports “they were all disappointed that Christ did not come”
With friends like this!
Thanks to Jerry Coyne (Physics pwns creationism)
I think the cartoon perceptively indicates that sort of “research” done by “creation science.” Biblical stories are used for the answers then they only have to sort out which science they can distort to “prove” their answers. I guess that’s why we have websites like “Answers in Genesis.”
But here’s a new blog which demonstrates a “purpose” for this creation “research.” Its called Science Essentials and has the subtitle “Practical Resources for Teaching Creation-Based Science.”
The blog describes its aim as supporting a community of “parents, teachers, and administrators who desire to teach creation-based science.” And “is committed to providing relevant, practical resources to those who engage elementary and/or secondary students.”
The old story of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians attempting to get their religious myths taught in science courses.
These people never seem to give up. Which, unfortunately, places a demand on science and the supporters of science to be constantly wary of these attempts.
In my debates with some theists over the nature of human morality I am sometimes accused of being utopian. Of only seeing a good side to human nature. Ignoring the history of violence and persecution.
Maybe it’s just a matter of my critics finding a balanced view of human nature impossible. However, I reject their criticism because I have in fact written about the human nature and intuitions, such as the “then vs us” intuition, which have motivated negative examples of human activity.
Still, these critiques have put me in admirable company – Steven Pinker has received similar unwarranted criticism. Particularly in the publicity surrounding his new book: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
I have a copy and look forward to reading it. His earlier books are impressive and this has certainly had excellent reviews.
Pinker argues, and provides evidence for his argument, that human violence has declined. He is not claiming this trend is inevitable or that it cannot be reversed. Just that it is a fact of recent history.
The Guardian recently published an interview with Pinker about his findings. You can read it at Steven Pinker: fighting talk from the prophet of peace. This included a table from the book that impressed me. it was a list of the 21 worst atrocities (conflicts or tyrannies) in human history. Pinker recalibrated these, to express the number of victims in terms of an equivalent 20th Century population.
I have listed the data below in order of the recalibrated death tolls. It certainly provides some food for thought. (And, incidentally put’s paid to the simplistic ideologies which blame all wars and atrocities on either religion or atheism).
|Ranking||Conflict||Century||Death toll*||Death toll (20C equivalent)**|
|1||An Lushan revolt||8th||36m||429m|
|3||Middle East slave trade||7th-19th||18m||132m|
|4||Fall of the Ming dynasty||17th||25m||112m|
|5||Fall of Rome||3rd-5th||8m||105m|
|7||Annihilation of the American Indians||15th-19th||20m||92m|
|8||Atlantic slave trade||15th-19th||18m||83m|
|9||Second world war||20th||55 million||55M|
|11||Mao Zedong (mostly government-caused famine)||20th||40M||40M|
|12||British India (mostly preventable famine)||19th||17m||35m|
|13||Thirty years’ war||17th||7m||32m|
|14||Russia’s ’time of troubles’||16th-17th||5m||23m|
|16||First world war||20th||15m||15m|
|17||French wars of religion||16th||3m||14m|
|18||Congo Free State||19th-20th||8m||12m|
|20||Russian civil war||20th||9m||9m|
|21||Chinese civil war||20th||3m||3m|
*Median/mode of figures cited in encyclopaedias or histories. Includes battlefield and civilian deaths
**Deaths were calculated against global population at time, then scaled up to mid-20th century level
Last year when I was at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne there was a motley little crew of creationists (3 I think) outside heckling people and demanding that Richard Dawkins debate evolution with them. Just one example of people who try to hitch their cause on to the fame and reputation of others.
And what arrogance. Dawkins was travelling throughout Australia and New Zealand for lectures and other appearances. He arrived as the last speaker at the convention having flown from Auckland where he had lectured the night before. An extremely busy man. And I am sure audiences appreciated his willingness to make these efforts to communicate his love of science and counter the childish rumours some people put out about him.
And even more arrogant – these creationists accused Dawkins of cowardice because he refused to debate them! (Actually he probably didn’t even know they existed).
Recently we have seen a similar arrogance from William Lane Craig. Wishing to boost his audience during his current UK visit Craig demanded Dawkins debate him. Then he promoted a cowardice story and attempts to make a point by debating an empty chair instead. Childish. But also publicity seeking.
Frankly I think Dawkins was perfectly correct to turn down a debate request. So does Sharon Hill who wrote:
“Debates are not about who has the best facts, it’s about who is the best debater — something completely different. And, debates are for the audience. If the audiences comes into the debate, entrenched in their views, they leave loving their champion even more.”
I think Dawkins has hit on a better approach with the public discussions he has promoted. Here two authorities can sit down and have a reasoned discussion, presenting evidence, outlining their differences as well as where they agree. Much better than the public punch-up of the debate format and the bloodletting pronouncements of winners and losers from the fanboys.
I wondered if Dawkins should respond to Craig by offering a public discussion – something Craig has no skills in. But clearly Dawkins’ objections to Craig run deeper than differences over debate formats. He says in a recent article (Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig) that he just wouldn’t share a platform with the man. Because of Craig’s “dark side, and that is putting it kindly.” Craig’s “refusal to “disown the horrific genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament.”
Dawkins quotes extensively and convincingly from Craig to justify his claim (he calls them “revolting words”). Have a look at the article for the details.
However, it strikes me that Craig has now got the debate he wanted – but not on his own terms as he usually insists. Dawkins has called his bluff. Up till now Craig was effectively stalking Dawkins. Harassing him in the hope of getting cheap publicity. Dawkins has basically ignored him
But now Dawkins has laid down a challenge. He has pointed out Craig’s support for some of the worst action and justifications of Christianity and religion.
Inevitably Craig and his many apologist fans, will retaliate. Not in the format they want. Nor on the subject they demanded. But it would be inconceivable for them to ignore the challenge.
So the debate is on. Let’s keep it clean. Dawkins has laid down his criticisms – it’s up to Craig and his supporters to put up their defence, if they can.
I think so far it is Dawkins 1: Craig 0.
Here’s a nice little video from Greg Craven. It’s arguing for an approach to the climate change controversy which doesn’t involve understanding complex science – risk management.
It’s a sensible approach. one that governments and organisations often take when they are unclear about the science. When the consequences are such that waiting until the science is completely settled (never happens) before taking action means likely catastrophe.
Thanks to Lynda Hannah.
Even in little old New Zealand.
It’s really only stating the obvious – being a non-theist doesn’t make you a bad person. In principle most Christians probably agree – or say they do. However it hasn’t stopped many of them from finding such slogans offensive.* Because alongside these campaigns to put up such billboards, there have been campaigns to prevent them – or remove them.
Mind you – perhaps there is poetic justice. An Ohio church happened to own the land on which a Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) billboard was. The advertising firm was unaware of the ownership – they just rented the site. The Christ Cathedral Church in Columbus, Ohio had the billboard removed back in June.
Problem (for the church) is this bought to public notice the fact they owned the land, that they were earning an income from the land – but they were not paying tax on that income. (One wonders how much this sort of tax evasion goes on in New Zealand where religion can also earn a tax-free and local body rate free charity status – just because they are religious!)
The FFRF looked into this, found the church owned several commercial properties which they evaded taxation on by declaring them as “places of worship!” (see Columbus Church must ’render unto Caesar’).
I guess they were worshiping the almighty dollar!
FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor commented:
“Apparently this church doesn’t heed the scriptural advice in Matthew 22:21 ‘Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,’
“Has this church, that was so offended that a grad student could be ‘good without God,’ been good with God?”
I like that question “can you be good with God?” I guess some people might be asking that these days – there seem to be many cases of priests and religious ministers caught with the hand in the till (or in other places they shouldn’t be). So it’s natural to wonder.
However, I would like to assure Christians and other believers that there is no reason that their beliefs will necessarily stop them from being good. I say that with some confidence because over recent years there has been a lot of progress in the scientific understanding of human morality. And this overwhelmingly indicates that human morality is actually a secular activity. It’s involved with the real world, the non-”sacred” world. Just like accountancy, scientific research, plumbing, etc., it is a secular activity we can all indulge in – whatever our beliefs about a supposed “supernatural” world.
So it doesn’t matter if you believe in a god or not. These beliefs are irrelevant. You can still be an accountant, a scientific researcher, or a plumber. Just as you can sill do morality.
Because morality is a secular activity – its got nothing to do with gods or other supernatural beliefs.
*This hostility is interesting – perhaps at heart many Christians actually don’t think you can be good unless you hold the same supernatural beliefs they do. After all, their holy book says in Psalm 14.1:
The fool says in his heart,
‘There is no God.’
They are corrupt, they do
There is none who does good.’
Perhaps they think that atheists are supposed to be immoral (after all this is the “word of their god”)