- Our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a loving and just God.
- A loving and just God, in normal circumstances, prohibits killing the innocent.
- In very unusual circumstances in the past, God commanded people to kill the innocent for the sake of some greater good
My last post defended premise #1, premise #2 is not debated, therefore today we are defending premise #3. Why do we have to defend this premise? Because even theologians don't like to stomach this idea. Listen to what Theologian C.S. Cowles said:
“If the indiscriminate slaughter of human beings for any reason can be called a ‘good’ and ‘righteous’ act…then all moral and ethical absolutes are destroyed, all distinctions between good and evil are rendered meaningless, and all claims about God’s love and compassion become cruel deceptions. It represents the ultimate corruption of human language and makes meaningful theological discourse virtually impossible.”
The issue for the skeptic is this: We can't coherently call God "good" if what he supposedly commands is so far at odds with our existing moral beliefs that it would take a moral revolution to accept them. In other words, would you accept a man who said that God told him we must love the world and hate God or one who said rape was good and martial faithfulness if evil? Of course we wouldn't and that is the point of the skeptic. They believe that to accept the command to kill the Canaanites is like accepting that rape is now good.
How should we respond to this? We have a few answers
- Our moral judgments are fallible. That means we have no right to judge the infallible God because we can make mistakes. Would you dare say you have never made a mistake?
- Our morals are subject to revision. Haven't you changed your position on certain things as you have grown older?
We are not talking about a moral revolution where we have to give up certain non-negotiables in order to accept a new proposition. That is, God could never command rape as good b/c it goes against certain principles that we all consider non-negotiable. But the command to kill the Canaanites, if we look closely, does not contradict any non-negotiable. As I wrote in my last post, we all would have shot down that last plane on 9/11 had we thought it was going to hit a building killing thousands of people. Thus innocent people would have died but it was for the greater good. The argument is not whether we can make such moral judgments but whether God can and still be called good.
Lets look at some objections to our view
1) Immanuel Kant--A german philosopher in the 18th century argued Even if we can coherently believe that God commanded a violation of the Crucial Moral Principle, we question whether it is ever rational to believe this. Let me paraphrase his point;
- If we have two conflicting views we go with the one that is easier to know.
- We have two claims, (1) It is always wrong to kill innocent people, (2) Divine Revelation has given the Israelites the right to kill certain innocent people.
- The former is easier to know therefore we reject the second one.
The mistake with Kant's view is that he does not note the difference between quantity of evidence and quality of evidence. Suppose you are a detective who is investigating a murder. Your suspect has an alibi, plane tickets, receipts, hotel confirmations, and such showing he was out of town. But then you have only 1 piece of evidence against him. It is a video tape which shows him clear as day killing the victim. Which evidence do you follow? Obviously the video tape. Why? Because quality can sometimes trump quantity. Therefore, the quality of evidence we have that points to the fact that we do have divine revelation really telling the Israelites to justifiably kill innocent people.
2) It is always wrong to kill innocent people. We dealt with this in our illustration of the 9/11 attacks.
3) Even if killing noncombatants is on a given occasion morally permissible, then commanding someone to do this would still be a moral atrocity given its psychological and moral impact on the person carrying it out.
- War can cause PTSD but some of us still believe in just war. What is better...allowing a foreign nation invade your country so that millions of innocent people die OR making a preemptive strike which may cause a few soldiers to get PTSD?
- It has been shown that handling the charred remains of humans can cause PTSD. Should we think it is a moral atrocity to hire Medical Examiners?
- Thus, it is not always a moral atrocity to command someone to do something which may cause them psychological damage.
4) Christians used the Conquest texts in the Bible to justify moral atrocities such as the Crusades.
- This is just historically false. I point you to this or this article to read more on true history concerning the Crusades.
In conclusion we have seen that we do not sit in a place to judge the morality of God because we are finite & fallible yet He is perfect. Secondly, we all admit intuitively that there are exceptions when it is justifiable to kill innocent people. Don't get me wrong, nobody wants to make that choice but we wouldn't fault someone who had to. Thirdly, all the objections against our view fail. Can you think of any other objections?