Category Archives: euthyphro dilemma

Divine Command Theory

God’s ways are not our ways” Elizabeth said. “Who are we to demand things from our Creator?”.

Zach clutched Elizabeth’s hand a bit tighter than normal. “But what if Jesus came down from heaven right now and told you to kill me? Would you do it?” Elizabeth sighed and rolled her eyes a bit. “But Jesus would never do such a thing. Don’t you know that God is love? How could it be a loving thing for me to kill you?” Elizabeth laughed. “That doesn’t make sense!”

The laptop on Elizabeth’s lap went into sleep mode. It looked like their late-night marathon of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” would take a break midway through “Manos: The Hands Of Fate” for a theological intermission. Zach looked at the black screen intently while Elizabeth studied Zach’s facial expression. She could see that he was off in another world, as if contemplating the next move in a chess game.

Zach looked up and back at Elizabeth, staring into her eyes. “You know I love you, Lizzy. Right?” he said. The inflection in his voice tone gave the words an unromantic matter-of-fact feel, yet at the same time underscored a deep-seeded conviction. “I would never let anything happen to you. But… your answer didn’t give me that same assurance towards me.”

“What do you want me to say?” Elizabeth exclaimed. “There’s no way a situation like what you just asked me would happen. It’s impossible!” Elizabeth let go of Zach’s hand. She looked at him and stated with a sprinkle of disappointment “I love you too, you know, but sometimes I think my friend Jeff was right about this sort of relationship”.

“Yeah, well… he thinks that we shouldn’t be together because you’re a Christian and I’m an agnostic. That might work for him, but I’m dating you an not him. Besides, he’s not my type!” Zach replied. “But seriously, I think he likes you anyway, and wants to steal you from me.”.

Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t worry, he’s not as hot as you. Besides, we’ve been friends forever. That would be like dating my brother!

“Yeah, well, I still don’t trust him. So wait, what if he got it in his head that you two were destined to be together because he prayed and God told him so?”

“I think that he would be making it up.”

“How do you know? Or you know… what if… what if some burglar barged in here and tried to rape you. What if it was God’s plan that you get raped? Do you think I should try to stop the rapist?”

“How… ! I don’t think God would plan for me to get raped! That’s such a horrible thought, I… I…” Elizabeth began shifting in her seat on the futon, looking down at her lap and furrowing her brow while fidgeting a bit. “I don’t think I like this…”

Zach responded abruptly “There is no way I would let ANYONE hurt you. They would have to kill me before that. They’d better kill me, because oh, man, would I kill them. Broken arms, legs, stab wounds, whatever… I would stop at nothing to kill them for doing that to you. No question. But, thousands of women are raped every day, all across the world. You’re special to me, but are you special to God? I mean, more special than all of those women in your God’s eyes? Are you saying that God cares about them less? Commanded their rapes? Why didn’t he stop those from happening? What if God commanded you to be raped because it would start a like chain of events that like makes everyone on the planet Christians? And because I would stop at nothing to prevent you from being hurt, from being attacked, wouldn’t that mean I was going against God’s divine commands? Wouldn’t that make me immoral for attempting to stop your rape, if God commanded it?”

“That would… that would never…”

“But it has happened. Not to you, but to other women. Why would I stop at nothing to keep some guy from attacking you, but God wouldn’t? Hasn’t, at least in the case of other women?”

“I believe that… well, I don’t know… I… I think that free will–“

“Do you really think that the hundreds of women being raped is better than preventing free will? Or that God cares about them less than you? What makes you more special — in your God’s eyes — than the many other women who are attacked?!”

Elizabeth fell silent. Her mouth slightly agape, as though she were going to speak, yet no words were spoken. She stared at the black screen on her laptop, and placed her arms across her upper body as though she were shielding herself from a cold wind that only she could feel. Zach looked at her arms folded across herself and looked back up at her somewhat startled facial expression. He reached over to her chin with his index finger and with a soft, suggestive nudge turned her head towards his, where their eyes met. He looked fixedly into her somewhat sullen gaze as though he were looking into a deeper part of her; a part beyond all social conventions and pretexts; a part beyond all polite or impolite society; to the part of her that defined the very essence her soul. He looked with an intensity that almost betrayed a brooding anger.

“As long as there is breath in my body…” Zach paused, “…you will be safe with me. Always.” His eyes squinted. “But if your God exists, and it was just him looking out for you… I don’t think… well, I don’t think he would feel the same way.”

Elizabeth’s face warmed up, and a soft smile graced her lips “He does feel the same way. That’s why he gave me you.”

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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in euthyphro dilemma, god, morality


God Torturing Babies For Fun

Is god torturing babies for fun immoral?

Most of us would react immediately and say “of course”. But this is more of a question for those who believe that all morality comes from god or is defined by god. Usually, when faced with this sort of question, they run through the outcome of each answer (the question is a binary question so there are only two answers: yes or no). If they say “yes” then this necessitates a source of moraliy outside of god that god has to appeal to. If they say “no”, then they are implying that god can do the most obviously horrible acts and still be considered good. This second is more of an emotional reaction but it’s an appropriate emotional reaction.

Of course, the purpose of this question is to find out what the implications are behind the assumption that god is the source for all morality.
This is where the right-minded believer will respond with “God would never torture a baby for fun”. But this doesn’t actually answer the question. It avoids the question altogether. Imagine a group of collge kids sitting at a bar drinking. Someone comes up with the question “What would you do if you have a billion dollars?” Most people would ponder the question for a bit and then answer with things that they would do given nearly unlimited resources. The point of the question is not the question itself, but what drives people. What they are really like.
What would the group of college kids say to someone who answers the billion dollar hypothetical with “I’ll never have a billion dollars” or “It is impossible to have a billion dollars”? The question isn’t asserting that you have a billion dollars, it’s asking what would you do if you had a billion dollars. By refusing to answer the question, someone might assume that the poor student has something to hide by not answering the question. Or maybe they lacked the mental faculty to ponder hypotheticals.
If I had a billion dollars I would put half of it in a savings account and live off the interest, and then become a fulltime student for the rest of my life 🙂 From answering that question, a person might be able to gain further insights into my character and what drives me. 
So the hypothetical question “Is god torturing babies for fun immoral?” isn’t meant to show how much of a bastard god is, but to question a fundamental premise. To question the nature of morality and whether it depends on the existence of god or not. Some theists might respond with a “definitional” argument; that is, god – by definition – will not torture a baby for fun. Much like, by definition, you can’t put a square peg in a round hole. Human beings also by definition cannot have Superman-like powers but it doesn’t stop some people from pondering what they would do if they have Superman-like powers (some might argue that Superman himself is a commentary on what a person would do with Superman-like powers). So the definitional response still doesn’t address the core point of asking that hypothetical.
Other responses that theists give (that they think are avoiding the question) actually give away the game. Some responses I’ve heard are “If torturing a baby for fun advances life somehow…” or “If torturing a baby for fun gives glory to god somehow…”. The first response is the first class of response. This shows that “advancing life” is the external standard that god has to appeal to in order to be “moral”. Thus morality does not come from god, but from advancing life. As long as we are advancing life, then we can cut god out of this equation. This class of response is the equivalent of answering “yes” to whether god torturing babies for fun is immoral.
The second class of response is more nebulous. How do we know what brings glory to god? This response brings us to Skeptical Theism. The idea that because god is mysterious, we don’t actually know what is moral and what isn’t. Or modified for this case, we don’t know what brings glory to god and what doesn’t. Some might point to the Bible at this point, but the Bible is just as morally relative as any other cultural product.
What if a little boy out with his family on a camping trip getting dragged away and eaten by wolves brings glory to god? What if having your wife and children raped and killed brings glory to god? It would actually be immoral to try to prevent this! And in the Bible, it is exactly the Midianites who are the “immoral” ones for fighting Moses and the Israelites. In the end the Israelites killed every Midianite man, boy, and woman… but saved the Midianite virgin girls as spoils of war (Numbers 31). This class of response, then, is equivalent with answering “no” to whether god torturing babies for fun is immoral.
In the end, if a person wanted to question whether god is the source of morality, how else would they do it other than by asking hypothetical questions like this?
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Posted by on December 14, 2010 in euthyphro dilemma


The Sovereign Defense

When certain Christians say that we can’t judge god’s actions because he is an all-powerful entity, it’s the “creator” defense, or the “sovereign” defense. It’s a pretty bad defense.

Suppose that instead of Jesus, there’s some other superpowerful entity named Susej who created the world. Susej commands that everyone rape at least one virgin. Those who fail to do so, Susej will send them to hell to burn for all eternity. As long as someone has raped a virgin, they will enter eternal life when they die no matter what else they’ve done.

Unless it’s conceded that Susej’s commands are not immoral, then you would have to acknowledge that we have the right and capacity to judge a superpowerful entity. Thus the sovereign defense is no a valid position to hold, since we have a moral compass that we can use to judge this superpowerful entity.

This is really another spin on the Euthyphro dilemma. Is something good just because god(s) decree it, or do the god(s) decree it because it’s good? If the latter, then we definitely have the right to judge superpowerful creators, because there’s a morality that exists “outside” of god(s) that god(s) is ultimately subject to. If the former, then certain acts that we intristically find vile (like the above rape scenario) would become absolutely moral… and the “right” thing to do!

And just so that the above rape scenario doesn’t seem to be pulled from thin air, here is Numbers 31:

1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.”
3 So Moses said to the people, “Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites and to carry out the LORD’s vengeance on them. 4 Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel.” 5 So twelve thousand men armed for battle, a thousand from each tribe, were supplied from the clans of Israel. 6 Moses sent them into battle, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, who took with him articles from the sanctuary and the trumpets for signaling.

7 They fought against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every man. 8 Among their victims were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba—the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. 9 The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. 10 They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. 11 They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, 12 and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho.

13 Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. 14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle.

15 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. 16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people. 17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

19 “All of you who have killed anyone or touched anyone who was killed must stay outside the camp seven days. On the third and seventh days you must purify yourselves and your captives. 20 Purify every garment as well as everything made of leather, goat hair or wood.”

21 Then Eleazar the priest said to the soldiers who had gone into battle, “This is the requirement of the law that the LORD gave Moses: 22 Gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, lead 23 and anything else that can withstand fire must be put through the fire, and then it will be clean. But it must also be purified with the water of cleansing. And whatever cannot withstand fire must be put through that water. 24 On the seventh day wash your clothes and you will be clean. Then you may come into the camp.”

25 The LORD said to Moses, 26 “You and Eleazar the priest and the family heads of the community are to count all the people and animals that were captured. 27 Divide the spoils between the soldiers who took part in the battle and the rest of the community. 28 From the soldiers who fought in the battle, set apart as tribute for the LORD one out of every five hundred, whether persons, cattle, donkeys, sheep or goats. 29 Take this tribute from their half share and give it to Eleazar the priest as the LORD’s part. 30 From the Israelites’ half, select one out of every fifty, whether persons, cattle, donkeys, sheep, goats or other animals. Give them to the Levites, who are responsible for the care of the LORD’s tabernacle.” 31 So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses.
32 The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, 33 72,000 cattle, 34 61,000 donkeys 35 and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man.

36 The half share of those who fought in the battle was:
337,500 sheep, 37 of which the tribute for the LORD was 675;

38 36,000 cattle, of which the tribute for the LORD was 72;

39 30,500 donkeys, of which the tribute for the LORD was 61;

40 16,000 people, of which the tribute for the LORD was 32.

41 Moses gave the tribute to Eleazar the priest as the LORD’s part, as the LORD commanded Moses.

42 The half belonging to the Israelites, which Moses set apart from that of the fighting men- 43 the community’s half—was 337,500 sheep, 44 36,000 cattle, 45 30,500 donkeys 46 and 16,000 people. 47 From the Israelites’ half, Moses selected one out of every fifty persons and animals, as the LORD commanded him, and gave them to the Levites, who were responsible for the care of the LORD’s tabernacle.

48 Then the officers who were over the units of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—went to Moses 49 and said to him, “Your servants have counted the soldiers under our command, and not one is missing. 50 So we have brought as an offering to the LORD the gold articles each of us acquired—armlets, bracelets, signet rings, earrings and necklaces—to make atonement for ourselves before the LORD.”

51 Moses and Eleazar the priest accepted from them the gold—all the crafted articles. 52 All the gold from the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds that Moses and Eleazar presented as a gift to the LORD weighed 16,750 shekels. [b] 53 Each soldier had taken plunder for himself. 54 Moses and Eleazar the priest accepted the gold from the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds and brought it into the Tent of Meeting as a memorial for the Israelites before the LORD.

There it is, in its entire context. Not only were 32,000 women who had “never slept with a man” taken as war spoils (i.e. virgins – so what exactly were they kept for?), but 32 of these virgins were offered as “tribute to YHWH” along with the sheep, cattle, and donkeys. We all know that a sheep offered as tribute to YHWH meant animal sacrifice, so it only follows that these 32 poor virgin girls were also ritually sacrificed on the altar. The word used in the LXX is γυναικων gynaikon, “women”, which is where OB/GYN comes from. “Girls” would be either κοριτσια::koritsia or παρθενες::parthenes.

This is woefully immoral.

And to top it off:

Deuteronomy 22
28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered,
29 he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

What is the punishment for raping a virgin (who isn’t pledged to be married)? Paying the father 50 shekels and marriage. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with raping a virgin, unless you consider using someone else’s toothbrush immoral. If you’ve used someone else’s toothbrush that they haven’t gotten to use yet, then you simply have to pay them the value of their now dirty toothbrush and keep the toothbrush.

While not an outright command to rape, the “punishment” is still woefully immoral. Imagine… a rape victim having to marry her rapist.

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