Can God Be A Moral Monster

Is it possible for God to be morally wrong? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

He told me that it the flood was wrong. I wanted to know why. The reply was that it brought about a lot of agony. I’m sure it did, but on what grounds does that mean it was wrong? There are plenty of events that bring about agony. Sometimes, it’s needed. I had a lot of agony after my back surgery. Still glad I went through it.

One of the big problems with this kind of objection is that it carries in it a built-in idea about God that many Christians hold to as well. The book Is God A Moral Monster? is a great book and I’m not saying Copan holds the view I am critiquing, but it could be asked if the claim is even possible. Can God be a moral monster?

When objections are raised about what God does, the claim often comes up that it is wrong for God to do X. Why? On what grounds? I am not going the presuppositionalist route here. This is not asking by what authority one can condemn God. It’s asking if questions of morality can even apply to God.

Consider how this works. If God is capable of being moral or immoral, then that means there is a moral law that is objective. Christians agree at this point, but does this mean that it applies to God? God is under the law and is to be held accountable to it? Who could hold God to account for it?

So if God takes a life, for example, on what grounds has He done something wrong? He is the Lord and source of all life. If He wants to take a life, He can. Is there anyone that He owes a life to? Is there anyone that God is in debt to?

Now one objection I can think of to this is that God has made promises. Doesn’t God keep His promises? Doesn’t He have an obligation to do that?

God does keep His promises, but it’s not because He’s moral, doing what He ought to do as there is no ought above Him. It is because He is good. All moral acts are good, but not all good acts are moral. Sometimes, we go above and beyond what we ought to do and that is a good act that is not required upon us.  I may have a moral requirement to help my neighbor in need. It’s going above and beyond if I can somehow pay all of his bills for a year.

If you ask me then if God is moral, I will say no. The question doesn’t apply. If you ask me if God is good, I will say absolutely. The question does apply. This is not because goodness is something outside of God He submits to. It is because goodness is His very nature. He is good because He cannot deny Himself or be untrue to Himself.

Thus, in a debate, I make it a point that my opponent has to demonstrate why God is supposedly in the wrong for anything. It’s not mine to assume God’s actions have to be defended. My opponent needs to show me why they need any defense at all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Is Morality Constructed?

Is morality a construct? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

“You’re telling me that judging right from wrong is just a matter of our personal feelings and preferences, grounded in nothing more substantial than our own views, with nothing external to back it up? That there are no objectively true moral facts out there in the world?
Yes, but admitting that morality is constructed, rather than found lying on the street, doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as morality. All hell has not broken loose.”
The Big Picture by Sean Carroll pg 409-410.
So says Carroll, and he does want to say that this doesn’t mean morality isn’t real, but this depends on what is meant by real. If you mean that there aren’t systems out there that we call morality, that’s false. People who do not believe in any external source of goodness and morality do hold to some idea of morality. If you mean that morality is not something that we discover, that is true though. In that sense, morality doesn’t exist.
Now for my purposes, when I talk about morality, I push it back further and ask about goodness. Very few people bother to even define good when they use the term. I prefer to go with what Aristotle said in the opening of his Ethics.
Goodness is that at which all things aim. Goodness has a being to it. A good pizza is the one that has the attributes a pizza should have. A good squirrel is one that can climb trees and eat nuts. A good book fulfills the purpose of a book. A good human being is one who lives as a human being ought and does actions a human being ought which are good actions.
It’s simplistic in writing it out because the philosophy is much more in-depth. Edward Feser does have a good introduction to it in his book Aquinas. I recommend someone curious go there if they want to learn more.
So now let’s consider what it means to be constructed. Carroll compares it to basketball. Just because basketball is a construct doesn’t mean the rules aren’t real. It used to be played with baskets and the ball would have to be fetched every time it went in, and then we found a hoop with a net worked a lot better. Why can’t morality be like basketball?
It is true basketball was nothing discovered. It was made up by someone. Normally, a shot is worth 2 points, but we could easily imagine a universe where it is worth 3. We can imagine a universe with 7 players on each team. However, imagine if these universes were real and some team from that universe tried to play a team from ours? We would have to bend the format of the game seriously since things were so different.
I’m an avid gamer and I find the history of video games fascinating. One thing I found out recently was that Mario might not have been the mascot of Nintendo. When Donkey Kong was being worked on, Popeye was being seriously considered for the role of the one fighting the big gorilla. We could have had Super Popeye Brothers or something similar. Bowser could have been forever replaced by Bluto.
There is nothing essential to these games, but is morality something like that? It could be I could have grown up in a universe where it was Super Popeye and be thinking, “Wow. I just learned the other day they were going to go with some plumber guy named Mario for a while. Can you imagine how bad that would have been?”
If we try to imagine a world where it is okay to torture babies for fun or where we would praise the Holocaust as a great event in human history or where boys were encouraged to go out and rape women, it sounds like a nightmare. It’s hard to imagine such a world. I can easily picture our scientific theories changing, but I cannot picture some moral principles ever changing.
The question we have to ask is if those principles are discovered or invented by us. If they are invented, then like basketball, we could make them whatever else we wanted eventually. It could happen just like it did with games. The Yakuza series of games went from a fighting style to an RPG style. Breath of the Wild broke the rules for Zelda games by making a truly open world Zelda game and it was the best selling Zelda game of all time. We can say torturing babies for fun is wrong, but we can eventually get to a point where it will be okay and practically celebrated.
If they are discovered though, we can go against the grain all we want to, but we are doing something truly evil if we torture babies for fun. It doesn’t matter if everyone else thinks otherwise. The whole planet could think it is okay to torture babies for fun and they would be wrong.
Now Carroll does say if we have moral differences, we can sit down and talk them out, but to what end? We talk about matters that we disagree to come to some truth, but if there is no moral truth, then why talk about it? We can talk about why we like different flavors of ice cream, but we don’t think there’s some eternal truth on ice cream flavors to be discovered, although if there was, peanut butter ice cream of any kind would be marked as the best of all.
Not only that, but why should I care about what you have to say in a conversation? Perhaps my morality that I construct tells me it’s okay to kill you on the spot and take your money and credit cards. You might not like that. Tough. Why should I care? Why should I be working on any goal with you? Why should I not just do what i want?
You want to tell me that’s wrong and that you will throw me in prison? Isn’t that just you enforcing your own morality on me? You want to punish someone for disagreeing with a claim you hold that is not objectively true anyway but is just your personal opinion?
Let’s go even further. The only reason any of us does anything is we think we are achieving some good. In Hitler’s mind, doing the holocaust was a good thing. In Stalin’s mind, murdering millions of his people was a good thing. The reason anyone does anything is they are pursuing what they perceive as a good.
But if nothing is truly good or bad but thinking makes it so, what reason is there to truly do anything? It’s all still just chasing an illusion. This is quite interesting for someone like Carroll who wants to be so scientific and live in reality.
But if reality is there is no good or bad at all, then why should we create a fake system just so we can survive? Do we have to deny reality in order to make it in this world? We could say all hell has not broken out yet, but if people en masse ever did embrace the idea of moral relativism or constructivism, there’s no reason it wouldn’t.
In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: God’s Gravediggers Part 5

Is there a moral argument for atheism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this chapter, Raymond Bradley tells us that there is a moral argument for atheism. Now I did find this intriguing. After all, it usually works the other way. Unfortunately, any such argument is nothing new. It’s all about the atrocities that God allegedly committed and this should show there is no God.

Those who know me know I don’t use the moral argument so much as I do the argument from goodness. I contend that God is not a moral being, but rather that He is a good being. Morality is doing what one is required to do and what one ought to do, but God has no set of laws He has to obey. Morality would have to be something above Him. Instead, God, whose nature is goodness, does the good that is His nature.

At the start, Bradley makes a statement off the cuff saying “Knowing the Bible as I do.”

It’s still a laugh every time I read it.

He also says that God is the creator of evil, no doubt with Isaiah 45:7 in mind. This is just more of Bradley keeping up his fundamentalist reading. Hint. Don’t talk about knowing the Bible if it is clear that you do not.

He also has a statement about it being morally wrong to provide one’s troops with women to use as sex-slaves. Again, no doubt Numbers 31 is in mind. I have responded to that here.

He also says that God allowed the people to indulge in cannibalism when they abandoned the covenant. What’s the problem here? God was very clear and said that if they abandoned Him then they would not get the benefit of His protection. Does God owe them protection in some way?

Finally, there is the sacrifice of Jephthah. I will refer to my ministry partner for that here. Thus far, it’s pretty much Bradley has a PhD and yet is bringing out the same old tropes that any internet atheist would bring out.

Of course, Bradley talks about Hell and the endless torture in Hell. He never seems to have considered that most evangelical scholars today do not believe in a fiery hell but believe that the flames are a way of describing judgment and not to be read in a wooden and literal sense. After all, Hell is also described as a place of darkness. I have my own view on the topic.

He also says Jesus invented the doctrine of Hell. For this, I want to thank my friend Chris Date who I asked if he had any resources on this as I knew Hell came from the intertestamental literature, but since he spends so much time on this doctrine, I figured he had the resources. He was kind enough to supply several passages. Consider Psalms of Solomon 2:31-34.

 the One raising me up to glory, but putting to sleep the arrogant for eternal destruction in dishonor, because they did not know Him.

2:32 And now, magnate of the earth, see the judgment of the Lord, that He is a great and righteous king, judging what is under heaven.

2:33 Praise God, you who fear the Lord with understanding, for the Lord’s mercy is upon those who fear Him along with the judgment

2:34 in order to separate between the righteous and the sinner and to repay sinners forever according to their actions,

Or consider 12:4-5?

12:4 May God remove far from the innocent the lips of the lawless persons in confusion, and may the bones of the slanderers be scattered far from those who fear the Lord. May the slanderous tongue be destroyed in flaming fire far from the saints.

12:5 May the Lord protect the quiet soul who hates injustice; may the Lord guide aright the men who makes peace at home.

Or 1 Enoch 46:4

He shall hurl kings from their thrones and their dominions; because they will not exalt and praise him, nor humble themselves before him, by whom their kingdoms were granted to them. The countenance likewise of the mighty shall He cast down, filling them with confusion. Darkness shall be their habitation, and worms shall be their bed; nor from that their bed shall they hope to be again raised, because they exalted not the name of the Lord of spirits.

There are just a few. I was not sure to use some of them because some do come shortly after Christ and I did not want to risk skeptics crying foul. All references are found in Edward Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes. We can disagree on the nature of Hell, but we can be assured Jesus did not invent the doctrine.

Bradley also raises the problem of those who never heard. Again, there is no interaction with any different thought on this. Bradley speaks about how it is under the name of Jesus everyone is saved, thinking that means the phonetic name instead of the authority of the name. One is judged by the light they have and Jesus is the authority who determines if they are allowed into the Kingdom or not. Again, there are plenty of resources that could have been read on this topic by Bradley, but apparently, he chose to not interact with them.

Finally, in all of this, Bradley has throughout the chapter assumed good or evil. I agree he is right on their reality, but he gives no basis for them. This is just a chapter of indignation ultimately. It does not surprise me that emotional outrage is the fountain of many an internet atheist.

We will continue later.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

 

 

Book Plunge: God’s Gravediggers Part 3

Does God deserve to die? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As I keep going through this book, Bradley often looks less and less like an academic and more and more like that little fundamentalist boy who is on a rant. He starts off this chapter with a reference from H.L. Mencken on gods who were omnipotent, omniscient, and immortal, and all are dead now. You can see the list here.

It’s important to note that he says that they are theoretically the attributes I listed. In reality, they were not. That’s a big difference. Many of these gods were limited to one people group and were part of a polytheistic system and thus NOT the omni-qualities. Of course, we could replace the idea of gods with scientific theories and I could say “Look how many theories were believed by so many people in the past and today, they’re dead!” Would that be accepted? No, nor should it. What we have to ask is why these deities “died” and why the deities of religions like the big three monotheisms and various polytheisms live.

Bradley goes on to tell us that supernaturalism is dead. Outside of religious belief, it lives only in those who believe in ghosts, poltergeists, and the like. He refers to these people as credulous. Nothing like poisoning the well is there? Supernaturalism isn’t defined to which I refer the reader to my article on that term.

We can at least be relieved to see that he says that atheism is a term used to describe someone who does not believe in a god, any god. Unfortunately, he goes on from there to use the argument of religious believers being atheists with many gods. He just goes one god further.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. You all believe there are many people in this courtroom who did not commit the murder. I just ask that you look at my client and go one person further!”

He also speaks of a god who tortures non-believers in the fires of Hell. Once again, this is a fundamentalist child on a rant. Most of us trying to take the text as it was intended do not speak of a fiery Hell but rather see that as language of judgment and of shame.

He does say naturalism can be shown to be false. What’s the way to do it? Picture a global apocalypse happening such as how Bradley sees the book of Revelation and that could be evidence. This tells us Bradley is not open to argument demonstrating that theism is true. He will only accept an experience, all the while giving a book of arguments hoping theists will change their mind. Isn’t it interesting? The theist is the one in Bradley’s world who is responsive to evidence and the atheist the one who is responsive to an experience. Who knew?

He asks that if a new problem shows up in the world such as a new virus, where do you put your money? Well, since that is a problem relating to matter specifically and the material world, yes, I look for a scientific solution. What about when it comes to the character of scientists and everyone else for that matter? I look for a theistic solution to that. I see no reason to think science itself has improved our moral character.

It’s not a shock that he brings up the myth of 38,000 denominations in Christianity. Unfortunately, he never really has studied the source for this. Even a Catholic apologist recognizes the problem with it as can be seen here. Bradley is still a fundamentalist who now blindly believes from the other side parallel claims he used to blindly believe as a Christian.

He also says the Bible is supposed to be God’s autobiography. I have no idea where that came from. Was this what he was actually taught?

He naturally talks about literalism and asks that if a passage was meant to be interpreted figuratively, why not put them in an innocuous allegory form in the first place. Yes. It would be absolutely awful to think you have to study the book and actually learn about it. These are the same people that accuse us of wanting easy answers and being anti-intellectual.

He tries to show that the stele referring to David is not what it is thought to be since there are no vowels in the Hebrew script so it might not refer to David, which is very much grasping at straws, and some archaeologists think it’s a forgery. If this is true, he does not tell us who they are. Of course, things get even better when we move to Jesus.

We have the usual questions. Why don’t we know exact dates of events of his life? (Despite us having very good ideas about those claims like we do for many people in the ancient world and of course, it’s ludicrous to think historians of the time would treat a supposedly failed Messiah the way they did the emperor on the throne.) Why didn’t anyone else mention the slaughter of the infants like Josephus? (Why should we think Josephus tells us everything Herod did and a slaughter of a dozen or so infants would be par for the course for Herod.) Why were tales of His life told decades after His death? (Like they were for most everyone else in the ancient world.) Why didn’t He write His own autobiography? (Which hardly anyone did. Most great teachers didn’t even write down their teachings but left it to their students.) Why didn’t any historians of the time write about this God-man? (See my article on why Jesus is not worth talking about here.) Why is He based on so many pagan myths of dying and rising gods? (Because He isn’t as even Bart Ehrman shows in his book Did Jesus Exist?)

He then says he has asked this to several and never got a satisfactory answer. Considering how Bradley acts though, I am not surprised. I consider Jesus Himself could come down from Heaven, smack Bradley in the face, tell him the answers, and Bradley would write it off as a delusion.

He assures us that he is not being eclectic in raising these questions. He then points to his supposed long line of mythicists. I am sure Strauss would be surprised to find himself in that company. He then refers to the prolific D.M. Armstrong Aka Acharya.

Seriously?

Then it ends with a long list of the supposed moral crimes of God in the Bible. If anyone goes through this, just search this blog and you can find many of these addressed. I am more convinced that Bradley does not spend any time really interacting with biblical scholarship. This is a problem. While points Bradley makes in other areas could be valid, I hesitate to trust him because of how shoddy his argumentation is with accepting the great myths of atheism. It should always be remembered that if you want to convince someone, you have to use evidence they will find persuasive and understand that they think their worldview is true. Failing to learn and understand it will only hurt your approach.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: The God Virus Part 5

What about morality? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This whole chapter is pretty much a train wreck. If we take this chapter seriously and believe it, we can dispense with everything else in the book. Seriously. Moral judgments without an objective transcendental standard are highly flawed and doomed to failure.

He says no virus could survive if it did not adjust to morality over time. So is morality changing? It would seem to be in Ray’s case. However, if morality is changing, then what are we really adjusting to? It’s like saying we are adjusting measurements to the speed of light, but the speed of light is always changing.

Suppose we look at the Southern Baptist Church which was founded in defense of slavery. Was the church wrong then? The question is nonsensical on this view. After all, if morality changes, maybe it was moral back then and the SBC was in the right then.

If morality changes, with what does it change? With what the people do? If so, then no people group is ever truly wrong. If the South had won the Civil War, then slavery would be okay today if it lasted. If Hitler had won World War II, we could all say Jews deserve to be put to death and that would be okay.

Naturally, we have the prison inmates claim brought up. That is better dealt with here. Ray also makes a claim that a religious person will say “religiosity equals morality.” It doesn’t! The pagans engaging in orgies in the Roman Empire and the Canaanites offering up their children as sacrifices were quite religious. Stalin and others murdering millions and dynamiting churches were quite irreligious.

Now does religion help with morality? Depends. I think Christianity certainly does because Jesus Christ has been the best motivator for good behavior. The way I treat people around me is often based on what I see in the life of Jesus. Certainly by no means perfect, but that is the basis for it.

What about caring for the sick? Again, Christians are often on the front lines here. When a disaster takes place somewhere, when you go there, you will often find Christians already there tending to the sick.

What about divorce? I do not know if Ray’s book was written before Shaunti Feldhahn’s book on divorce and marriage, but she did find that those who take their Christianity seriously, such as doing regular activities like attending church and Bible reading, are less likely to have a divorce.

Ray also lists a number of beliefs he learned from his church, which really explains a lot.

Women are to be honored and respected, but they are inferior to men.

Don’t trust someone educated unless they went to Bible College.

Ministers are human so follow their words and not their deeds.

God loves everyone but you don’t have to. You don’t have to welcome blacks into the church. Don’t marry someone from another religion. Gays are going to hell. (For the second one, I have already said that’s not because of lack of love but because of how one treats Jesus. Gays aren’t going to hell but those who have a life that regularly participates in immoral behavior and is defined by it are not going to inherit the Kingdom, including heterosexual sin.)

If you believe you go to Heaven and if you go to Hell you didn’t believe enough.

The Bible is the perfect word of God and any inconsistencies are because you don’t read it right. It doesn’t need interpreting and is to be read in black and white. (My own position is inerrancy, but the second part is complete bunk)

Sex is sinful except in marriage and even then it’s suspect.

Too much education is bad for your faith.

Don’t trust scientists unless they agree with the Bible.

I have not listed all of them, but these are enough and the rest are like that. If this is what Ray grew up with, I don’t blame him for abandoning it. Good for him. The problem is the threw out the baby with the bathwater and based on his bad fact-checking in the book, he hasn’t done much research since then.

Ray also says we would think “You should not kill” is clear, but what about the wars to claim the Promised Land? Those weren’t killing in the sense of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments does not condemn killing, but murder. Some killing is justified, such as self-defense.

One major flaw in this is that Ray gives no basis for morality. He doesn’t define the term. He doesn’t define goodness. He gives no basis for the existing of any of these. If all that exists is matter in motion, then what is goodness and morality? Are these real or just illusions? If unchanging morality is a myth, then morality changes, so who is to say that people in the past or even in another culture are wrong?

Ray does try to give sources to go to for wisdom on moral judgments, but if there is no objective morality, what wisdom is there? It’s like saying go to experts in math when rules of mathematics are constantly changing. If morality is changing, then we can dispense with everything said about sex in the previous chapter. There are no moral or immoral sexual practices. There are just ones society approves of and doesn’t and if society approves of pedophilia someday, that will be moral too. Right?

Ray will often point in the book to scientists. It would be good if he read some philosophers.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Opening Thoughts On The Final Fantasy VII Remake

What are my thoughts on Square-Enix’s latest release? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Normally, I would have had to put getting this one on hold, but fortunately, someone was very kind and decided to surprise me with a copy of it. I spent a few hours going through it yesterday becoming immersed in the story and enjoying the new additions to it.

While the play style is different and there are no new enemies to fight, I really don’t want to focus on that part. There are enough reviewers of games who comment on that. I want to comment more on the questions of good and evil that are raised.

To begin with, I always think it’s important to consider a work of fiction from the world it’s set in. When we hear talk about killing the planet, those of us who are more conservative might think of the environmental movement and think this is the same thing. That could be true from our world, but in this fantasy world, if what a character like Barrett says is true that the planet has a lifestream and Shinra’s plants are draining that to line their own pockets, then the organization is indeed killing the planet.

Today, we might consider a group like Earth Liberation Front and consider them terrorists. However, if their claims were true about what we are doing to our own planet, then one could say even if they disagreed with their methods, their goal is the right one. While I disagree with Islam, if Islam turned out to be true, then if Allah says killing the infidels is right, well, it would be right.

If you know the story of Final Fantasy VII, you know that the first part of the game involves the group blowing up one of the reactor plants. The difference in this game is that after that, Cloud has to wander through the streets of Midgar and you hear all the side chatter. Listening to what townspeople are saying, you can imagine what it was like on 9/11 if you were in New York City at the time.

Not only do you hear the chatter of the people, but you hear first responders. You hear talk about needing stretchers and someone being injured. The townspeople talk about what they were doing and who they were going to meet and about their families at the time. This is a very real aspect that you don’t hear about in the first game.

This does raise the questions of good and evil. Some might think that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. It could be tempting to say we do not know what is good and what is evil, but we do. We know somehow in the game that Cloud and his friends are the ones we are meant to cheer for. Now in reality, that doesn’t mean they’re right. Movies and games and TV shows can have us cheering for guys who aren’t doing what is right. You can watch a heist movie, for example, and be eager to see how the main characters are going to outsmart the police and the rest of security and commit the crime.

But ultimately, this is what I like about the remake. It’s the realism. In the original, you blow up a reactor, no big deal to you, and you go on with the game. In this one, you see traffic stopping as people watching and the whole area around falling apart. It definitely brings out that there is a real battle going on.

This game thus far only consists of the parts that take place in the city. We eagerly anticipate what is coming next from Square-Enix in this regard. I am considering doing a video if I can figure out all the things of how to show images of games on FFVII and good and evil and those kinds of questions. Be watching to see what I decide.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Atheism: A Critical Analysis

What do I think of Stephen Parrish’s book published by Wipf and Stock? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Stephen Parrish has written a book that is highly philosophical, and yet at the same time, highly readable. The book is a look at the idea of atheism. Does it really stand up to scrutiny? He looks at it from a scholarly level and from a popular level both.

At the start, one gets treated to definitions. What is meant by atheism and theism? What is meant by religion and science? What is meant by the term supernatural? These are all terms that we use freely, but very rarely do we stop and ask what they mean. I am one who never uses the term supernatural thinking it is way too vague and when I get a claim such as someone talking about the evils of religion, I ask for a definition of religion.

He also deals with popular objections. Is atheism merely a lack of belief in God? What about the idea that someone is an atheist to many other gods out there. The one who identifies as an atheist just goes one god further. Sure, these are all piddly weak on the surface and the old atheists would have been embarrassed to see such arguments, but they are out there today.

Parrish’s work that presents problem areas mainly for atheism come in three categories and these can be broken down further. The first is the origin of the universe. This is an interesting topic in itself, but I am pleased to see that he goes even further and asks not only how the universe came into being but rather how does it continue in being. It’s not enough to ask why it came in the first place. Knowing how it remains here is something great to ask too.

The second area is the problem of the mind. How is it that the mind works? What is the explanation of consciousness? There are a plethora of different theories out there. Parrish works to explain the flaws in the other theories and gives a case for why theism has better explanatory power.

The last is ethics and morality. There is a subsection here on beauty as well. How is it that we live in a universe where there seem to be principles of good and evil that most people consider objective, binding, and authoritative? Could they all really be subjective?

An atheist reading this could think, “Ah. Those are issues, but surely he should discuss the issue that’s problematic for theists. The problem of evil.” He should and he does. He looks at this and a number of defenses and theodicies and then turns and says that on his argument, the problem of evil is more of a problem for the atheist than the theist.

Some of you might be wondering why I don’t spell these kinds of thoughts out even more. There’s a simple reason for that. You need to go and get the book yourself. I can’t help but think of the quote of C.S. Lewis.

“In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — “Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,” as Herbert says, “fine nets and stratagems.” God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”

A man wishing to remain in his atheism should also realize that this book is a trap as well. While I am far more Thomist than Parrish is in my philosophy, there is far more that I agree with than I would disagree with. Anyone who is a critical atheist needs to get this for a critical analysis of that view.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Lost World of the Torah

What do I think about Walton and Walton’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Several years ago, Weird Al came out with a song called “Everything You Know Is Wrong.” One could say that if the Waltons are right, everything you know about the Law is wrong. The Waltons come with a new way of reading the Torah that is not without controversy, but those who disagree will still have something to think about.

The book starts the usual way with the idea that Torah is an ancient document. This seems like something so simple and obvious, but it is easily missed. Too many times, we take the text and then thrust it into our modern context and assume the writers of the Old Testament were writing from the same cultural context that we are.

What is important in understanding any ancient work is not just what is said, but the world in which it is said. The background knowledge of the text makes all the difference. There are some things my wife and I can say to each other that will make each of us laugh that you are not likely to understand as an outsider. The reason is the simple word or words bring out memories that are funny based on our background knowledge.

Getting into the meat of the matter, the first major section is that the law codes are not legislation. If we took just one law in America in all of its fullness, it could very well be longer than the Torah itself. We cover every possible rule and scenario we can think of. Not so in the ancient world. It was more guidelines there. It could be seen as wisdom literature. One scenario I was surprised was not mentioned at this point was Solomon. Solomon wanted to know how to rule over the people. He never figured, “I have the Law so I have everything that I need.” No. He asked for wisdom and in his famous scenario of the two prostitutes and the baby, that wisdom won the day.

The next is that other cultures had rituals serving to meet the needs of the gods. The gods needed food and everything else and man was meant to supply them in exchange for blessings from the gods. Not so with YHWH who needed nothing. Israel was chosen for entirely different reasons.

Instead, Israel was chosen and rituals were done to maintain covenant order, which is the next major point. We should read the Law as a covenant. In this, the recipients of the covenant would swear loyalty to the sovereign and in exchange, the sovereign would give them blessings. Covenant is so huge in understanding the Law that we will go wrong if we do not see it that way. If we see it as just a random set of rules to be followed, we miss the point.

From there, we get to the ongoing usage. For one thing, the New Testament quotations of the Law do not show how it was necessarily understood by its first recipients. The purpose of the Law was also not to provide salvation. It also should not be divided into different kinds of law such as ceremonial and cultic. Most challenging today perhaps is that we should not go and get prooftexts to settle moral disputes today. We should read it as it was written.

There is also a very helpful section at the end dealing with the Ten Commandments. It’s a quite thorough look that can actually deal with many atheistic statements about the Ten Commandments one encounters today. The Waltons show how the Ten Commandments fit into a covenant system.

I thought it would have been helpful to have more examples of how the Torah should be read. Perhaps take a section and show how we read it today and then give an explanation from there on how they would have understood it. There is much in the book that will be debated and I can’t say I’m entirely sold on it yet, but there is certainly a lot of food for thought to consider.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christian Delusion Chapter 13

What is the relationship between Christianity and morality? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

David Eller returns this time in yet another chapter of John…..Loftus’s…sorry, briefly forgot who he was, book. This time it’s to argue that Christianity does not provide the basis for morality. Immediately, I’m wondering who is saying it does.

Morality is something that is discoverable from nature alone. Now there is no doubt that Christianity has been a great incentive for morality and the life of Jesus has provided a powerful example. Christianity did bring about a moral revolution, but it was not by suddenly grounding something, but by revealing what was always there to begin with.

Of course, it’s hard to see how Eller can argue about anything with morality since in this chapter he says that goodness is completely relative. If so, then let us drop any idea of having a good society. We might think it’s good while someone else out there doesn’t. Who is right? No one.

If this is the case and morality isn’t about goodness, what is it about then? Is it about doing what one ought, but why ought someone do anything? What is the foundation for all of this?

Eller also says that by religion killing and hating and warring are often moral. I see no basis for the second, but sometimes, the others were commanded. When evil people rise up, then sometimes the only way to remove them is by force. If someone seeks to take my wife’s life while I am there, I will kill if I have to.

Eller says that killing witches may be good for society, but it isn’t for the witches. By this kind of standard, let us get rid of the prison system. After all, locking up murderers where they can’t escape might be good for society, but it isn’t for the murderers. I would even disagree with that. Put them in a place where they can do less harm and that is for their good as well.

Eller then goes with Michael Shermer’s definition of morality. It’s about doing what is right or wrong in the context of the rules of a social group. Of course, this is just moral relativism at the social level. Which society? The Southern Baptist Convention? Stalinist Russia? Vatican City’s? Nazi Germany’s? Why should we choose any such society and not go our own way?

Eller in the end says morality is nothing more than the human desire to appraise behavior and set up standards of appraisal. From there, we get into the way different religions view morality. Fascinating to be sure, but not really relevant to the overall claim.

Eller does say that he does not believe morality is in any way real or objective. Well, I guess Christianity obviously cannot be the basis for morality since there is no morality to be the basis of. I wonder also why Eller means then by saying that even killing and warring and hating can be seen as moral. Why not?

He also brings up the Euthyphro dilemma. Why do atheists keep doing this and ignore that Aristotle took the challenge on and just went out and defined what goodness is? I suppose reading is just hard for some

He also says that morality would be better off if it got rid of religion, but how can that make sense? How can something be better if it’s not objective or even real? How can there be any sort of improvement?

He also says the danger is religion takes it out of human hands. If anything, that’s the positive. Take morality and put it in the hands of humans and tell them there’s no higher authority for them to answer to and you have a nightmare situation coming up. Those men will themselves become gods. Eller says that this move will empower us to be the ones that decide. That is exactly what concerns most anyone concerned about an authoritarian system.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christian Delusion Chapter 8

Is YHWH a moral monster? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Chapter eight brings us the first chapter by Hector Avalos. Much of the material I think is adequately covered in my review of his book on slavery here. I see no reason to reinvent the wheel.

The chapter might as well be a diatribe against Paul Copan and everything he says. I do think Copan is working on another book along these lines so we will see if there is any reply to Avalos there. I intend to really just hit on some highlights.

For one thing, Avalos looks at how Jesus interprets the Old Testament Law and says that Copan assumes Jesus’s stance is correct. In this case, Copan is entirely accurate to do so. It could be Jesus’s stance is incorrect, but Copan is seeing if Christianity is internally coherent within itself. He doesn’t have to prove everything he believes about Christianity in such a case. If he did, then his book Is God A Moral Monster would need to include arguments for God’s existence, the reliability of Scripture, the process of canonization, the existence of God, the case for the deity and resurrection of Jesus, etc. Such is not needed when Copan is really trying to address one question. We might as well say in a chapter by Avalos that he assumes that evolution is true without giving an argument. He has no need to do so when arguing from the perspective of atheism.

He does the same again when Copan argues that YHWH has the prerogative when it comes to life. Avalos says this assumes God exists. If it’s Allah, doesn’t He have the same? Indeed, He would! Yet once again, this is about internal coherence. We don’t need another chapter on why Islam is false.

Yet despite Avalos’s ranting throughout this chapter on how evil YHWH is, the humor and true gold of this essay comes at the end.

As an atheist, I don’t deny that I am a moral relativist. Rather, my aim is to expose the fact that Christians are also moral relativists. Indeed, when it comes to ethics, there are only two types of people in the world.

  1. Those who admit they are moral relativists.

  2.  Those who do not admit they are moral relativists.

It’s just really so amusing. We have a whole chapter arguing that YHWH is a moral monster and then, in the end, we are told there are no moral monsters because relativism is true. What has Avalos been complaining about this whole time? He doesn’t like killing Canaanites. YHWH does. So what?

While the book Copan wrote with Matthew Flannagan does advocate Divine Command Theory, there are other explanations. Avalos doesn’t even bother with any of them. He ignores that some of us of the more Thomistic variety have another way of determining morality and that’s by determining goodness. For all his talk about assuming, Avalos, in this case, does assume that there can be only one way to establish moral principles.

Avalos goes on to say that atheism offers a much better way to construct morals. Really? How could you tell? Do you produce better morals? That can’t be because of relativism. Better results? Same problem.

In the end, Avalos says that we still find God to be a moral monster who endorses slavery, genocide, and infanticide, as only a moral monster could. Upon what grounds? He has told us all of this is relative and then returns quickly to being an absolutist. He tells us that what is frightening is that Copan can say that killing women and children is sometimes good. That frightening ethos, Avalos says, makes the New Atheism more attractive all the time.

Except how could it? Copan supposedly says it’s good. Avalos disagrees. So what? Those are just relative differences. They don’t really matter. Again, Avalos is just confusing. He says that morality is relative and then complains about moral wrongs.

That kind of inconsistency is making Christianity more attractive all the time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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