What Are the Flaws of Moral Relativism? – Part 4

Post Author: Darrell

Re-post from Aug. 11, 2010

Beckwith and Koukl’s sixth fatal flaw reads as follows: Relativists can’t hold meaningful moral discussions.  To the relativist, morals are formulations that exist only in the minds of human beings, and as a result, objectively true moral standards do not exist.  Consequently, there is no way to compare and contrast different moral points of view as all views are considered equal and no true transcendent standard of morality exists. However, having a coherent meaningful conversation regarding morals necessitates the ability to compare and contrast different points of view.

Some moral relativists may respond by saying, “All views are not equal.  There is a view which is better than others – my view!”  However, one is left asking, “Why is your view better?”  To what standard does the relativist appeal in order to claim that their view is better?

In the first post in this series, DagoodS claimed that the “Veil of Ignorance” standard as formulated by John Rawls demonstrates that Hitler’s actions were wrong.  But the big question left unanswered is, “Why is the Veil of Ignorance standard better than Hitler’s standard of morality?”

In reality, the moral relativist has nothing to which they can appeal to show that another moral view is wrong.  Therefore, there is no way to have a meaningful moral discussion, because there is no way to compare and contrast views in order to show that one view is better than another. DagoodS may love the “Veil of Ignorance” standard, but if someone believes it to be utter hogwash and believes that murdering millions of people is perfectly moral, e.g., Hitler, the relativist is completely powerless to meaningfully and logically counter their claim.

Seventh Flaw: Relativists can’t promote the obligation of tolerance.  Moral Relativism is built upon the virtue of tolerance.  Relativists claim that we should all be willing to tolerate the moral views of others because morals are an individual and/or community driven issue and we have no right to push our views on others. What is morally wrong for one person may be morally good for another, and we should all be open minded and willing to tolerate those with whom we disagree.

However, the worldview of the Moral Relativist makes their cry for moral tolerance incoherent. In reality, to claim that tolerance is something to which we all should adhere is to claim that it is a moral standard to which all should be held. This then makes tolerance a universal moral standard and is self-defeating given the worldview of the moral relativist. In fact, for the moral relativist to say that all should be tolerant is actually intolerant of them!

In conclusion, as each of these seven fatal flaws demonstrate, the worldview of Moral Relativism has several practical and logical problems.  It creates a world where nothing is wrong and nothing is praiseworthy. If Relativism were true, there would be no such thing as justice or fairness, no such thing as moral improvement, and nobody could be expected to be tolerant. In short, Moral Relativism would create a world in which no one would truly want to live.

  • Hey! Since I get a mention in this blog entry, it would be impolite to ignore it!

    Darrell: But the big question left unanswered is, “Why is the Veil of Ignorance standard better than Hitler’s standard of morality?”
    Because less people are murdered.

    While this is technically correct, it is the same problem with every meta-ethical position! Merely pointing it out for one—Social Contract—does not eliminate it for others. We could equally ask, “Why is the Christian claim of theistic morality ‘better’ than Hitler’s?” * (Why was the Hebrew morality “better” than the Midianites, thus allowing the Hebrews to commit genocide?)

    *”better” can be a bit loaded, but I think I understand what you mean.

    Why is a Buddhist non-theistic standard better than a Christian theistic? Why is a Protestant standard better than a Catholic? A Mormon better than a Hindu? A vegetarian better than a carnivore?

    All ethical positions are jostling to be declared “better” than the others. It is why we read, research, write, argue, present, debate and discuss these moral dilemmas, theories and claims. Leading me to…

    Darrell: In reality, the moral relativist has nothing to which they can appeal to show that another moral view is wrong.
    Incorrect. We utilize reason, empathy, example and discussion to proclaim the superiority of our moral view. And by “we” I mean all of us—theist, non-theist, agnostic alike. Notice what this blog series is doing—framing a set of arguments to indicate moral relativism is inferior to theistic moral basis.

    We each use the same tools—language and logic—as the basis for our position. The theist may start with arguments for the existence of God—but in the end, the foundations of our belief are the same–reason.

  • Because less people are murdered.

    This begs the question if murder is wrong. On what basis do you proclaim that murder is wrong?

    The Veil of Ignorance standard is not transcendent and cannot be used to declare murder wrong for all people because it is a standard that some humans may want to use but other may not. Given the fact that morals are not objective standards you have no basis to judge the one believes your standard to be hogwash as wrong.

    The problem you are having is that objective standards that apply to all people at all times is incoherent for the worldview of an atheist or moral relativist. However, in the theistic worldview it is perfectly coherent, for we hold that morals are decreed to us by a transcendent God and apply to all people at all times.

    You may claim (as was done in the first post) that these decrees are filtered through and given to us by humans, and as a result, we can’t truly “know” if they are from God or are human creations. However, this fails to take into account that morals are, for the most part, universally standard. They are innate. We have studies showing that babies know the concept of “fair” long before they can be influenced and taught by their parents.

    As such, to say that we can’t “know” what the moral decrees of God are is actually begging the question that our innate moral code is not evidence for God. The theistic position is that it is.


  • Darrell,

    Asserting there is a transcendent God who decrees morals and successfully demonstrating there is a transcendent God who decrees morals are two very different things. No matter how many times you say it. Simply declaring it is as persuasive as my declaring Social Contract theory must be the moral code we live by.

    Not very convincing, eh? That is why we turn to discussing, debating and dissecting moral positions using our reason and empathy. Exactly the point I was making in my comment—we both appeal to language, logic and reason to show our moral view is correct, and the other’s moral view is incorrect.

    And, there are coherence problems with theistic morals—namely the Euthyphro Dilemma as more commonly asserted. Whether you recognize and wrestle with those problems is up to you.

    Darrell: However, this fails to take into account that morals are, for the most part, universally standard. They are innate.
    To further expound on difficulties within theistic morality, I’ll focus on Christianity in particular. There is a reason the Holocaust is inevitably employed—we are aghast at genocide. The example deliberately shocks us; we assume no one dare support its use—all would innately (to use your term) find it immoral.

    But now let’s look at the Christian God. Allegedly, if a city wars with the Hebrews, God ordered them to kill all the males, and take the females and children as “booty.” Deut. 20:13-14. My innate conscience has a problem with that. Apparently, in that situation we CANNOT apply our innate moral sense to what is really moral.

    YHWH goes on. When it comes to the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, however, not even the women and children are to be spared. God orders them all to be killed. Deut. 20:16-17.

    God ordered genocide. The very thing you are claiming we are “innately” against. If we “innately” understand genocide is immoral, and God ordered genocide—it follows God ordered an immoral act.

    In Numbers 31, YHWH orders the genocide of all the Midianite males (even the babies, vs. 17), kill all the women who have had sex, and keep the virgin females as plunder. (Note—how did they verify virginity?) Again, my innate moral sense says that is immoral.

    Are you sure we want to use “innate” as being universally standard? If so, I presume you reject the Christian God, or certainly a perfectly moral Christian God.

    Or the Amalekites. God orders their genocide too, (1 Sam. 15) for something their great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents did. Not only do is the genocide something I find innately immoral, the punishment visited on generations many times removed is equally innately wrong.

    But I guess to a Christian it is acceptable.

    I always wonder why a Christian who believes in a perfectly moral God would use the Holocaust as an example. They can’t be against genocide—their God (who allegedly cannot commit an immoral act) did it.

  • QED

  • Bill Pratt

    For those interested in reading about why God ordered Israel to kill Canaanites, please see this blog post.

    For a more detailed explanation, please see this article.

  • Then of course there is the question of how the Christian determines that his God’s morals are superior to anyone else’s God’s morals. Christians considered the 911 attacks immoral, but if one ancient desert deity can order his followers to kill those with whom the deity is displeased, how are we to say that another ancient desert deity might not do the same thing?

  • Bill Pratt,

    Me: …all would innately (to use your term) find it [genocide] immoral.
    I stand corrected. According to your own blog entry, and the article cited, you appear to argue that genocide, at least on occasion, IS moral. In fact, you appear to take it one step further to indicate one’s refusal to participate in genocide could be immoral!

    In my opinion, this severely undercuts Darrell’s argument for some “innate universally standard” morality, but I will let the two of your duke that one out.

    Again, this demonstrates theistic morality equally has coherence problems.

    One interesting question to ponder, under your schematic: How does a soldier independently determine, when commanded to commit genocide in the name of God, whether the genocide is the morally correct thing to do? Or worse, whether it would be immoral to refuse!?

  • As an aside, if any lurker is interested, I wrote a bit on the Amalekite genocide. All right—I wrote more than just a “bit”!

  • Bill Pratt

    You obviously did not read and understand both articles, because you are misrepresenting what was written. When you can actually explain what was written accurately, I would be glad to answer any honest questions you might have.


  • Bill Pratt,

    Then perhaps you can tell me where I went awry.

    I see the following arguments being made:

    1) God is perfectly moral.

    I take from that God will not order an immoral action.

    2) God ordered genocide.

    Sure, you attempt a rationalization for that—“justice”—but that is merely additional explanation. Let’s cut through it–you are still left with God ordering genocide (for whatever reason.)

    3) Therefore genocide is moral.

    Otherwise you would have God ordering an immoral act OR you have to say God didn’t order Genocide. But as near as I can tell, (3) inescapably follows from (1) and (2).


    4) Humans are required to follow moral orders from God.
    5) Failure to follow that order would be immoral
    6) Therefore, failure to follow the order of genocide would be an immoral action.

    All my questions are honest; I just realize they are impossible to answer under a theistic system. (Hence the reason I am not a theist any longer!)

  • Vinny & DagoodS,

    Nice Red Herrings. You are both missing the point and seeking to go down irrelevant rabbit trails.

    The point of this whole discussion is that within the worldview of Theism, objective morality which is applicable to all people at all times, is completely coherent; however, within the worldview of Moral Relativism (which, by nature, atheism must be), objective morality is incoherent.

    While your charges that we cannot demonstrate that God exists (major question begging here) and that the Christian God ordered murder (He didn’t, and if you actually take the time to read what Bill wrote, you would understand this… obviously, being obtuse is something on which you pride yourself), etc., are very interesting, they are completely irrelevant to the fact that your worldview logically prevents you from claiming that the Holocaust or any other horrible act is immoral, for you have absolutely no transcendent objective standard by which you can judge them.

    NIce try though.


  • Darrell & Bill,

    How do you know that the Nazi’s weren’t God’s instrument for chastising the Jews? How do you know that any particular horrible act isn’t really God’s method of meting out justice in that circumstance?

  • Bill Pratt

    You still don’t seem to understand the arguments made in the blog, and especially not the article on the Christian Thinktank. If you will actually read what was written, and then repeat back to me what you learned, I will talk to you about it. Right now, all I see you doing is distorting the contents of the blog post and article in order to score debating points.

  • Bill Pratt

    I don’t know and can never know what God’s plans are in every specific situation. He doesn’t give us this information, and so speculating about it is pointless.

  • Vinny,

    How do you know unicorns don’t exist? You can’t prove a negative, and showing that God DIDNT do something is trying to prove a negative. Show me the evidence He DID do it.


  • Darrell & Bill,

    I don’t have to show that he did do it. That God could make it moral by doing it or commanding it is sufficient to render your world view incoherent. The fact that I cannot determine the morality of any act without speculating about God’s involvement leaves me without any objective standards.

  • Vinny,

    You are equivocating. God could not make the actions moral because the nature of God’s actions would not be the same.

    For example, if I fall behind on my car payments, and Joe Smith the plumber takes away my car, it would be immoral. However, if John Doe from Bank of America takes away my car, it would be perfectly moral. One action would be stealing, and the other woudl be repossessing. They are different in nature.

    Joe the plumber has no right to take away my car, for he doesn’t own it, didn’t finance it, and has no authority over it or me; however, Bank of America let me borrow the money to buy the car, and if I fail to repay them, they have every right to take away my car.

    Hitler had no claim on the lives he took. He didn’t create them, they owed him nothing with their lives, and he had no authority over their lives. As a result, he committed murder.

    God, on the other hand, would not and could not commit murder. He created people, gave them life, and has authority over their lives. When and if He takes away lives in judgement, it is because people have failed to live up to the standards for which He created them and to which he expects them to live. As such, just as Bank of America is justified in taking back the car, so God is justified in taking back lives that are His in the first place.


  • Darrell,

    I understand perfectly, but remember that Bank of America acts through human agents. Whether a particular human being is committing an immoral act when he takes my car depends entirely on whether he is acting on behalf of the Bank. Joe the Plumber is stealing but Joe the Repo Man is just doing his job.

    That is why I have to determine whether the guy has the authority to take my car or not. By the same token, when a bunch of religious fanatics fly planes into skyscrapers, it is an act of righteous jihad if they have the proper authorization from their deity and an act of terrorism if they do not. No matter how horrifying it might be, there is nothing objective about the act itself to tell me whether it is moral or immoral.

    It’s called Euthyphro’s Dilemma.

  • Darrell,

    Again, asserting there are “transcendent objective moral standards” and providing support for the existence of “transcendent objective moral standards” are two different things. Yes, we all know moral relativism does not have “transcendent objective moral standards” (it is the reason we call it moral relativism; it is within its definition!) and yes, we see the difficulty in convincing others as to why one meta-ethic is more appropriate than another.

    But (again) theistic morality shares these same problems. Regardless whether we would consider “transcendent objective moral standard” to be “better” or “worse”—the very basic question is first whether such a standard even exists! We may all agree it is “better” to live to be 150 years old—yet simply because it is “better” or we desire it, does not make it true.

    Throughout this series, you repeatedly utilized the Holocaust genocide as an example for the difficulty of moral relativism. That is very legitimate. In my comments, I decided to use the same moral example you used—genocide—to show how theistic morality fares no better, and in some instances, worse. At least Social Contract theory can work with what we know exists—human selfishness—to demonstrate how genocide violates its moral system, rather than attempting to frame a moral system around an unverifiable, unobservable, ill-defined source.

    If you find this a red herring, or “obtuse”…I apologize. I certainly didn’t mean for it to be. I will leave you to your position and move on to discussions with others.

  • Bill Pratt,

    Fair enough, I will repeat back to you what I see your argument is.

    Bill Pratt’s Argument

    God is bound, by justice*, to enforce the death penalty for sin. Since all humans (even 1-minute olds) have sinned; by God’s justice, he can kill any human. Any time. God has employed a variety of means to execute this judgment, including fire, flood, pestilence and ordering genocide. He is not guilty of murder; he is an executioner.

    *There is insurmountable difficulty in this concept; I have written extensively on it, if anyone is interested. However, for purposes of our discussion, it is not necessary and would be a rabbit trail.

    The Christian think-tank article makes the same argument, only with more words. For example, rather than merely state “sin”—it goes to great length listing the various infractions of the Amalekites. The argument stays the same; whether for one sin or a billion, God’s following justice mandates his killing all humans.

    Bill Pratt, under this argument, God’s ordering genocide merely becomes the tool to perform the execution. It is the choice between God sending fire, or flooding, or ordering one set of humans to kill another set of humans.

    If a government executioner chose to use an axe, rather than a rope, to perform the capital punishment, we would not decry “Oh, it is immoral to use an axe. One must never use an axe. How can you justify using an axe? The Moral relativist is unable to demonstrate axe executions are immoral.” Of course not—we understand the axe is the implement; the tool used.

    And the same way, if a person used an axe to murder another, we would not blame the axe—we understand the difference between the executioner using an axe, or a murderer.

    So what your argument has done is reduced genocide to being a tool. Certainly in the hands of an immoral human agent (such as Hitler), it would be immoral. Just like the use of an axe by an axe-murderer would be immoral. Yet likewise in the hands of a moral agent (what the theist claims is God), the use of genocide becomes moral. Just like the Christian position that claims the use of genocide by YHWH is moral.

    If you would prefer, to grant the greatest leniency, we have:

    1) God is perfectly moral.
    2) God ordered genocide.
    3) Therefore, at least at times, genocide is moral.

    4) Humans are required to follow the moral orders from God.
    5) Failure to follow that order would be immoral
    6) Therefore, failure to follow the order of genocide from God is an immoral action.

    Leaving us the question, “How do we determine when genocide is ordered by God?” It is why I asked the question earlier (so far left unanswered), “How does a soldier independently determine, when commanded to commit genocide in the name of God, whether the genocide is the morally correct thing to do? Or worse, whether it would be immoral to refuse!?“

    Shall we open our Bibles? Numbers 31:3, “So Moses spoke to the people…” Numbers 31:15, “Moses said to them [the captains]…” 1 Sam. 15:1-3, “Samuel said to Saul…”

    In these situations, one human is telling another human what God has ordered. Now in other situations, we have one human telling another human what God has ordered, only this Christian positions claims those instances were immoral.

    How can a soldier tell the difference? How could you, Bill Pratt, independently determine if your pastor said, “God told me last night we are to kill all the homosexuals because they are ruining this country by their evil ways” whether that was really from God or not?

    Oh, I understand Christians would not follow that order. That is NOT because of their theology—you have successfully argued genocide could be perfectly moral—it is because of their intrinsic moral sense.

    Notice a person holding this position cannot utilize a “transcendent objective moral standard” because under their God-belief, such a standard would allow genocide.

  • Greg

    For somone to claim that there is no moral law giver and in the same sentence claim that moral law exists is rediculous. To say that we use instinct, reason, empathy or anything else to know what is morally good is just self defeating. Everyone reasons differently, people have differing instincts. Some people have no empathy! Who is right and why?

    What the atheist should say is that morals exist (at least in my mind) and anyone who disagrees is immoral even though I’m not the one above morality and therefore cannot define it but certainly I must be right because its what I believe (even though you are a completely immoral person!)

  • No matter how horrifying it might be, there is nothing objective about the act itself to tell me whether it is moral or immoral.

    I can see where you are coming from. There are times when simply looking at the physical act itself is not enough to determine morality. Physical action does not necessarily define the nature of the action, and as a result, we may need to delve deeper and look at some of the meta-physical characteristics of the action, e.g., intent, in order to determine its nature.

    For example, if I walk into a room and see a man holding a knife standing over a body which is lying on a table, my immediate reaction may be to scream “Murder!” However, if I discover that the man is a doctor, and that he is getting ready to operate on a sick patient, the whole picture changes.

    Is it practically difficult to determine the morality of some actions? Perhaps. Personally, I think you may be making a little much of this, but for argument sake, let’s assume that it is. Even if this is the case, practical difficulty in determining morality of an action does not lead to logical incoherence in the existence of true transcendent moral standards. This does not follow.

    Within the Christian Theistic worldview, objective true morality is logically coherent even if practical difficulty does exist in determining whether a select few actions are moral. The existence of a transcendent law giver is sufficient to ground the existence of true moral standards. However, the same cannot be said for the atheistic worldview. Not only do atheists struggle with practical difficulty, they have absolutely nothing upon which to ground the morality of any action. The atheistic worldview is logically incoherent with the existence of true transcendent morality.

    Euthyphro’s Dilemma is a false dilemma because it only offers two options for the nature of goodness or morality and God. In reality, there exists at minimum a third option, and it happens to be the one adhered to by the traditional Christian Theist.

    God cannot make that which is immoral moral simply by declaration. Hitler committed murder, and God could not make Hitler’s murderous actions moral simply by decree. Actions are not good because God commands them as morality is not defined by God’s fiat. In addition, God is not subject to moral standards that transcend Him. He does not adhere to, nor is He subject to a higher standard. Christian’s are not cosmological dualists. Instead, morality or goodness flows from and is rooted in God’s nature or character.


  • God cannot make that which is immoral moral simply by declaring it to be so.

    Of course not, because there is no basis for determining that it was immoral in the first place absent God’s decree. If God ordered the jihadists to fly those planes into the Twin Towers on 911, it would not be a case of God making the immoral moral. From the theistic perspective, it would always have been moral because God has the right to punish those who displease him in whatever way he sees fit, just as it would always have been moral to slaughter the Amalekites based on the will of the God of Israel.

    I think that theists and atheists face the same practical difficulty in determining tough cases like whether it is immoral to steal a loaf of bread to feed a starving child, but I really don’t think that the Holocaust poses a big challenge for anybody. It is true that I cannot claim to have an absolute ground for my morality, but claiming one doesn’t obviate the need to reason out moral decisions in everyday life.

    On the other hand, if my worldview included a God who could order his followers to kill those with whom He was displeased, suddenly an easy case becomes difficult. The assessment of the 911 attacks (which virtually any rational atheist/agnostic would consider highly immoral even if only on a relative basis and not an absolute one) now depends on my ability to determine which religion reads the correct holy book and which religion worships the correct God. It may be obvious to you, but it’s not to me.

    As an atheist/agnostic, I am also denied the ability to justify actions that I would otherwise consider immoral on the grounds of “Because God says so.” I cannot justify discriminating against people based on consensual private activity on the grounds that God hates homosexuality. I cannot justify physical abuse of children on the grounds that God says “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” I cannot justify wars on the grounds that one country is God’s special favorite and its enemies are God’s enemies. I am limited to that which I can justify based on reason and evidence even if I cannot claim an absolute ground for it. This seems like a good thing to me.

  • Bill Pratt

    You now seem to at least understand some of the key points made in my post and the Thinktank article, although you left out quite a bit that would support our position even further. You once advised me to understand an opposing point of view or argument well before criticizing it, and I thought that was great advice, but you often fail to follow your own advice. You frequently pick out little pieces of bigger arguments and attack them, but leave us with the idea that you are attacking the entire argument. You also sometimes distort arguments to make others look bad instead of charitably dealing with arguments you don’t agree with.

    Anyway, at least you made some attempt this time…

    Now, to the argument. You left out one major point that I made in my post: God, as the Creator of life, has every right to take life away. In addition, He can always give it back. It is not just his justice that speaks to why He can take human life, but the fact that He created it in the first place. That is an important part of the argument which you completely omitted.

    A second point. If you read the Thinktank article, it specifically denies that genocide occurred at all. The definition of genocide, according to dictionary.com is:
    the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group.

    Were the Israelites trying to systematically exterminate the Canaanites, kill every last one of them, chase them around the world until they were all dead? Was that their true goal when they entered the Promised Land?

    Here is the Thinktank’s summary of Israel’s dealings with the Canaanite people:

    Summary: The Israelites had been promised a specific area of land, since the time of Abraham. Most of the local indigenous peoples were either descendants of Abe or very familiar with the traditions of those people. When the “time had come,” God judged the Canaanites and decreed for them to be expelled from the Land. Their tenure was up–they were evicted. New tenants were moving in. The Canaanites were given decades and decades of notice–in many ways and at different times. And they understood clearly–all the records we have of their understanding of their plight is TOTALLY in line with the Land-Grant of YHWH.

    With the ‘eviction notice’ published, the Canaanites could decide to either vacate the premises peacefully or deal with military force. If they vacated peacefully, they could choose their locations, mode of travel, and not have to deal with unpleasant military overseers. If they choose to challenge Israel’s God and His expressed intentions, then they did so with complete knowledge of His power–as displayed in Egypt.

    Even though [the Canaanites] were the ‘scourge’ of the earth at that time–by international consensus–God did not desire to annihilate the people. His expressed intentions were to move them away from His people. He gave them ample opportunity to leave peacefully before Israel arrived, and even allowed the bulk of the ‘less institutionalized’ to have a little longer. His people were not instructed to hunt them down in neighboring nations at all.

    Israel was severely restricted in the Conquest. They were not allowed to be simple ‘land grabbers’ or ‘wealth seekers’ or ‘self-righteous’ or ‘land scorchers’ or ‘international empire builders’ or ‘captive-abusive’. At the same time, they were to eliminate the threat of Canaanite destructive influence (both spiritual and physical) if called upon.

    And God allowed no double standards. When Israel began to look like ‘Canaanites’, God judged them IN THE SAME WAY…and ‘vomited’ them from the Land as well. This expulsion was also accompanied by the harsh measures of warfare faced by the Canaanites.

    The punishment of the Amorites/Canaanites was thus one of ‘deportation’–NOT one of genocide.

    So God was not committing genocide against anybody. He wanted them to leave the Promised Land, gave them ample opportunity to do so, and only used military conquest as the last resort when a remnant of Canaanites refused to leave. I highly recommend to anyone reading along that they read the full article, where it backs the summary up.

    Dagoods, where does that leave us in your 6-premise argument? Well, premise 2 is false. Now, if I was charitable, I could convert the word “genocide” to “deportation” in your premise 2. Continuing with the other premises:

    3) Therefore, at least at times, deportation is moral.
    4) Humans are required to follow the moral orders from God.
    5) Failure to follow that order would be immoral.
    6) Therefore, failure to follow the order of deportation from God is an immoral action.

    Then your question would be: ““How do we determine when deportation is ordered by God?”

    The answer would be the following. When a true messenger from God speaks and that messenger instructs God’s people to take hold of land that God promised to them, then we know the order of deportation came from God.

    How do we know when a messenger is truly from God? One test is that this messenger will be able to perform miracles to prove he is from God. If the messenger is unable to perform miraculous signs, then we should doubt he comes from God. At the time of Israel’s entering Canaan, Moses was the messenger, and he was confirmed to be from God by numerous miracles. The Israelites were well justified in following his orders to take the land of Canaan.

    Nowadays, if someone claims that they are a Christian and that they’ve been told to deport some people from land that God promised them, I would ask them to prove they are from God by performing miraculous signs. If they could not, I wouldn’t believe them.

  • Bill Pratt

    You said, “I am limited to that which I can justify based on reason and evidence even if I cannot claim an absolute ground for it. This seems like a good thing to me.”

    How would you go about justifying a moral code that applies to all people at all times from reason and evidence? What does that look like?

  • How would you go about justifying a moral code that applies to all people at all times from reason and evidence? What does that look like?

    I’m not sure that I could Bill. Would I want to? Has such a moral code ever proved to be such a boon to all mankind that it made all codes based on self-interest look feeble by comparison?

  • Raphael Wong


    I love these kinds of debates, and yet hate them at the same time. But I think I will offer a few summary comments nonetheless->

    (1) Vinny, strictly speaking, you can only either be an Agnostic or an Atheist in practice. And from your posts thus far, I reckon that you are a practical Atheist, as opposed to a practical Agnostic. I disagree with Dawkins’ manner of classifying religious belief; I find it overly-presumptous to compress religious belief into a linear system.

    (2) Bill, the problem with the Creator-has-a-right-to-take-away-life argument is simple. He has a material ability to take away life, but this does not imply that he should take away life. Just because God can take away life, it doesn’t mean that God should take away life. That is a naturalistic fallacy.

    Furthermore, there are two kinds of Justice: Retributive and Reformative. The Death Penalty is always somewhat problematic because it doesn’t contain the reformative aspect. So it is a valid moral question to be asked whether God ought to order the slaughter of the Canaanites, if they could be reformed instead.

    Nonetheless, DaGoodS, it doesn’t indicate that your criticism is accurate. God’s sense is a big-picture sense. In the larger scheme of things, to demonstrate the problems with the Canaanite way of social and political life, God permitted the Israelites to “slaughter” the Canaanites.

    Note also that it was a minority of Canaanites, not the whole of the kingdom, that was slaughtered, probably just a single city, as a reformative hint to the other Canaanites. Plus, it wasn’t just a lesson for Canaan; it was a lesson for Israel as well: this is what would happen to them if they did not adhere to God’s Will. (I am uncomfortable about the words “command” and “obey”, because they tend to be misinterpreted by atheists as violating free will.)

    Note also that God permitted; God didn’t mandate. In fact, in that famous passage, the main speaker is Moses. Moses, not God, is the one who commands the Israelites to slaughter the Medianites,

    (3) DaGoodS, compared to “genocide”, “mass slaughter” or “mass killing” is a more objective term, because “genocide” already carries a normative judgement along with it, in addition to its original meaning. And this normative judgement carries tones of a twentieth-century, post-war worldview, which doesn’t necessarily reflect even the pre-war worldview well.

    So in addition to the moral question I posed to you and Bill earlier, I add one more for you: What sort of mass slaughter comprises genocide, and what kind of mass slaughter comprises justified mass slaughter.

    Because I have one more addition to make; under the ancient worldview , the “genocide” of Medianites would be considered to be Israel’s self-defence against regional powers. And whatever the cultural worldview, it seems that self-defence is moral. Remembering that communalism was the norm even for the Canaanites, with its attached honour-killing codes and so on, the mass slaughter of the Canaanites can easily be justified as a defensive maneouvre.

    (4) Vinny, how do you define “self”?

  • Bill Pratt,

    A few points in response.

    1. I apologize for not referring to your argument about God creating life means God can take life. I thought you were making that a subset of the Justice argument. (And the Christian think-tank article didn’t refer to it all; rather it referred to God’s justice as being the rationalization.)

    Due to the similarities, the response would stay the same. Rather than stating “God may commit genocide by a moral law,” this would be indicating “God may commit genocide by some natural law [or the supernatural equivalency of natural law.]” Either way, once we provide God can commit genocide, there is little reason to avoid the claim he did.

    2. I am quite aware Christian Think-tank attempts to claim these events were not genocide. In fact, if you looked at my Amalekite Article (written three years ago), I dealt directly with this claim. (Humorously, I also dealt with the claims “God made life; God can take life” and “God is Just” as well. Bill Pratt, I really do look at what others say, and attempt to address it.)

    3. The “deportation” argument simply doesn’t fly. They always want to ignore the Midianites and the Amalekites. All one has to do is read the Bible: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take vengeance on the Midianites…’” Numbers 31:1-2. Nothing there about “deportation” or pushing the Midianites out of Hebrew land.

    “Thus says the Lord of Hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way up from Egypt.’” 1 Samuel 15:2. Again, nothing about “deportation.” Oh, one could attempt the argument (personally I think it fails, but that is not necessary here) regarding God wanting to deport the Hittites or the Jebusites—however in the situation of the Midianites and Amalekites, God gives specific reasons for the genocide. And it is not deportation.

    4. Interesting–your requirement of miracles from a person ordering a genocide from God. First, I would note no such requirement is listed in the Bible. Indeed, King Saul had not performed any miracles, yet his order to annihilate the Amalekites was to be obeyed. At best, one can only infer a miracle from Samuel.

    More importantly, this indicates even Christians utilize a different scale than just “God can do it, so we must follow him.” If a Pastor suggested Christians love their neighbors by giving more to charity, I seriously doubt s/he would be called into question as to the morality of the statement, based on whether they had performed a miracle. “You want me to give money to the Haitians because of the earthquake? First perform a miracle—THEN we’ll give some money.”

    But when it comes to genocide, bells and whistles go off. Even though the Christian God had ordered it in the past, even though the Christian acknowledges God has the right to order it again at any time, the Christian requires more.

    I’m glad for it, of course, but it does significantly undercut the idea Christians believe in following a “transcendent moral standard.” (Again, there are problems with ALL meta-ethics, and I fully agree that simply because I can point out problems with Christian ones, doesn’t mean my own has none.)

  • Raphael Wong: In fact, in that famous passage, the main speaker is Moses. Moses, not God, is the one who commands the Israelites to slaughter the Medianites,
    You are quite correct. This generates a significant problem. It is one thing to have God (the one whose vapor trail of glory left Moses’ face shining for a month) directly appear and order one to commit genocide. Yet as you point out regarding the Midianites (and the Amalekites too, by the way) the order came from humans—Moses and Samuel. And the soldiers receiving the orders would be even more removed—receiving it from their captains.

    It is why I asked, “How does a soldier independently determine, when commanded to commit genocide in the name of God, whether the genocide is the morally correct thing to do? Or worse, whether it would be immoral to refuse!?” Especially when that is through the human.

    Yes, “genocide” is a post-war term. We live in a post-war world; I am uncertain what is wrong with using our terminology, if it aptly describes what is occurring. “Genocide” is defined as “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political or cultural group.” Seems to me, God ordering, “Kill all Amalekites, including male, female, child, married, unmarried, old, young,” fits the definition exactly.

    I understand many Christians want to couch it in less abrasive terms—“deportation” or “mass killings”—doesn’t mean it works. It was genocide. Or do we look at a different set of morals for the time and place in which this occurred? (I am sure you see the trap in that! *grin*)

    Raphael Wong: What sort of mass slaughter comprises genocide, and what kind of mass slaughter comprises justified mass slaughter.
    As to the first part—I would utilize the standard definition. When it is ordered and intended for the extermination. As for the second part, when the mass slaughter results in less subsequent slaughter.

  • Raphael Wong


    (1) Samuel is not born yet, so he can’t be commanding anything.

    At any rate, your argument was about God’s cruelty in ordering the extermination of the Medianites. If you accept my point that it was Moses, not God, who issued those commands, then your argument is invalid, regardless of the new argument that you are making here.

    (2) It will hinge on the effect the “genocide” has on your emotional state and that of people around you. Defensive Maneuvres are justified; Agreesive ones are not.

    More importantly though, I would add that you are oversimplifying the issue.

    (3) The problem is that it doesn’t describe what is occurring aptly.

    Firstly, “all Amalekites” or “all Medianites” does not refer to literally all of the Amalekites or all the Medianites in the world. It refers to all of such people who are directly affecting the security of the State of Israel. To understand how it affects their security though, you need to see things from their worldview.

    Second, the desire is not to “exterminate”. The desire is to “defeat”.

    Thirdly, this is war time, not peace time; even in modern terms, “genocide” only refers to a mass slaughter done during peacetime or during an occupation; it does not refer to violence and bloodshed as a result of war itself.

    In modern times, we have a division of labour between military and civilian; such a division was absent in ancient civilizations. Even up to 600 BC, the Spartans were still still training boys as young as 8 to 9 years old for battle. In a warrior nation, everyone fights the war, even sometimes the women. Where everyone fights the war, it is hard to distinguish which are the “guilty” and which are the “innocent”.

    Remember, we are talking about ancient tribes, not modern nation-states.

    Plus, “systematic” implies the existence of an industrial-age or proto-industrial mindset, where you have generals deciding on underlings’ attack strategies while sipping first-grade coffee. Ancient warfare was battlefield warfare, not this kind of pre-planned strategic warfare. Battlefield warfare is necessarily less “systematic” and more responding to events on the ground as they unfold.

    (4) Yes, I see the trap in that. No, the standard of morality is not different. What is different is the set of constraints present in each time period, which God needs to permit to exist to ensure that free will exists.

    The action is still immoral in the short-run, but it restores moral balance – if slowly – in the long run and does not violate free will.

    It was a “mass killing”, but it wasn’t genocide, because it was not conducted with genocidal intent. It doesn’t even count as a Holocaust, because these wars were defensive wars against existing military threats. It is noticeable that the only two reasons Israel ever uses to justify war is initial population settlement and military defence. Israel’s “expansionism” comes as a corollary of a defensive war, not as a result of invasion. In fact, this limitation might be why even today’s Jewish conservatives will try to depict the West Bank Settlements as defending Israel’s territorial integrity. (Again – please, no hasty judgements.)

    (5) For the first part, they are not intended for the “extermination”. For the second part, these demonstrations of military might – and they were demonstrations of military might – helped prevent Israel from sliding into too many conflicts, and so prevented more slaughter from occurring, for as long as the Israelites didn’t start emulating the ways of the surrounding nations, at least.

  • Raphael Wong

    By the way, to pick out the salient points of the Christian Think-tank article on the Amalekites for you:

    (1) Amalekites are a group of foreigners.

    (2) Amalekites and Medianites and etc are always welcome as immigrants (not slaves) in Israel. So whatever “slaughter” that occur, it is not an ethnically-based slaughter. Medianites are not being slaughtered because of their race.

    (3) Even though Israel is against the pagan religions, the Ten Commandments only prevent Israelites from performing pagan rituals; they are not meant to constrain Pagans in the same way. When Israel attacks Median, it is not merely because Medianites worship Baal; it is because their worship of Baal causes actions that harm the Israelites. basically, the same logic the the New Atheists use in their offensive against Theism.

    (4) Because the cities are typically fully destroyed, there are no economic gains from Israel’s war efforts. In the case of the Medianites, the Israelite soldiers are rebuked for not destroying everything entirely. (Because of certain customs prevalent at that time, it is likely that women and children were not spared the sword for altruistic reasons. No Israeli Human Rights Defender here!)

  • Matt Salmon

    So what is considered immoral for the relativist? Is imposing “your” moral standards on others the only thing considered immoral or bending to the moral standards “of others” in objection to your own? Or is changing your “personal” moral standard considered immoral (requiring people to commit an immoral action in becoming a relativist)?

  • Bill Pratt

    Quick addition to Raphael’s last post. The Thinktank has an entire article dealing with the Amalekites. Below is the conclusion if you don’t feel like reading the whole thing:

    Summary statements:

    1. The case of Amalek does not conform to known patterns of genocide, and therefore cannot legitimately be so called.
    2. Constructing a logical contradiction (disproving God’s existence) in this case would be exceptionally difficult (at best).
    3. We have real-life trade-off decisions involving human life that create a presumption against the unilateral application of the “to kill a child is always unjust” without qualification or situational variance.
    4. The Amalekites had a long and violent history of aggression against early Israel (and other nations as well), raiding, plundering, and kidnapping them for slave trade.
    5. The biblical descriptions and accounts about the Amalekite situation have earmarks of authenticity in themselves (e.g. verisimilitude) and control data from the ANE increase the overall credibility of these foreign-descriptions considerably beyond initial ‘historical skepticism’.
    6. Nomadic groups such as the Amalekites were violent and [caused] terrifying problems all over the ancient world.
    7. The innocents were not guilty of their fathers’ sins, and anything that happened to them as a consequence of military action against the warrior class could not be construed as a punishment on the innocents.
    8. There was a solid line of anti-Semitic and misanthropic treachery/behavior by successive generations of Amalekites.
    9. The fate of the innocents was a direct result of the horrible actions of their leaders–the warrior class.
    10. Amalek’s acceptance into Israelite society is a clear indication of a non-genocidal military action against a specific location of Amalek.
    11. The military action was designed to completely eliminate the Amalekite presence in the desert, and the only option was wholesale destruction of the warrior/military population.
    12. There were only a couple of options as to what should be the fate of the Amalekite dependents.
    13. There were no options to absorb the people into Israel, and there were no options for welfare, or relief programs in the ANE.
    14. The only two choices were leave them to die slowly/agonizingly or kill them quickly/violently.
    15. People themselves normally chose to die quickly (i.e., in cases of individual suicide or group suicide) rather than go into foreign slavery or lingering torturous death (at the hands of others or at the mercy of the harsh environment and times).
    16. God chose for them to die quickly, rather than the prolonged suffering scenarios of dehydration, starvation, exposure.
    17. The ancients considered suicide/euthanasia for anticipated (but only for certain-to-occur) extreme and terminal sufferings to be morally acceptable.
    18. The amount of atrocity and terror and violence done by the Amalekites to the Israel over those centuries would VASTLY DWARF the actions of Israel in that one final battle.
    19. In modern situations and times, this action against the innocents could likely be considered “war crimes”, but in the radically different ANE/desert situation, the label of ‘war crimes’ would not make sense. [It was much more of a euthanasia-type of action.]

  • Raphael Wong,

    Unsure if you understand the claimed history here. (Perhaps you do, and if I am repeating what you know, please forgive me.)

    Moses (and approx. 2 Million Hebrews) left Egypt to get to the Promised Land. Commonly referred to as “the Exodus.” Because of certain issues with God, they end up wandering for 40 years in the Sinai Peninsula. During this period they encounter the Midianites. Particularly the Midianite women who enticed the Israeli men, leading them astray. (Numbers 25.) (Note, Moses married a Midianite!)

    God sends a plague, killing 24,000 Hebrews as punishment for being enticed by Midianite women.

    Then we reach Numbers 31. The Bible indicates God decides to take revenge on the Midianites by recruiting an army, and going to war against the Midianites.

    1) the Midianites were NOT on Hebrew-promised lands (they were nomads) No “deportation” here.
    2) the Midianites were NOT at war with the Hebrews.
    3) the Midianites were not even attacking the Hebrews, or causing them any trouble. Other than having good-looking females.
    4) It was not defensive.
    5) The Midianites were not a threat.

    God says kill all the Midianites. There is no limitation. They are being killed for being…Midianite. We know this because Numbers 31:17 indicated Moses told to kill even all the baby males. What possible warring or attacking could a baby Midianite have done? Further they were already captured, giving Moses time to sip his first-grade coffer and order the captains to dispense with the extras. This was no “battlefield warfare.”!

    Curiously, the only “slaughter” the attack on the Midianites would prevent, was the “slaughter” of YHWH sending more punishment because the Hebrews couldn’t keep their hands off the Midianite women! (Yet then Moses has them preserve 32, 000 of them anyway [What “free will” was God permitting them?])

    If you want to rationalize this away as not being genocide—the only people you can possibly convince are those who equally need such a rationalization in their belief.

    Let’s move to the Amalekites. (The Samuel reference.)

    Now the Amalekites were a nuisance during both the Exodus and the years following, during the time of Judges. But that was not when God ordered the genocide.

    At the time of King Saul, there was peace. But (again) God decides to take revenge for the actions of the Amalekites’ forefathers. 1 Sam. 15.

    God tells Samuel, who orders Saul to kill all the Amalekites. 1 Sam. 15:3 You are telling me, when God said to kill all the Amalekites, it doesn’t mean they were supposed to kill all the Amalekites. Why should I believe you over the Tanakh? (Careful here—plenty of traps! *wink*)

    I would note and agree, despite the indications of both Numbers 31 and 1 Sam. 15, the Israelites did NOT kill all the Midianites and all the Amalekites. The point of this question is not the effectiveness of the Hebrews following God’s commands–it is that God commanded it in the first place.

    1) the Amalekites were NOT on Hebrew-promised lands. No “deportation” here.
    2) the Amalekties were NOT at war with the Hebrews.
    3) the Amalekites were not even attacking the Hebrews, or causing them any trouble. Other than having ancestors who did.
    4) It was not defensive. (Note God didn’t order it as a pre-emptive strike.)
    5) The Amalekites were not a threat.

    There was no “slaughter” being prevented by attacking the Amalekites, unless one wants to speculate. Even then, God doesn’t indicate he is doing it to prevent future slaughter.

    Midianites were not “welcome” as immigrants in the Israel state—there was no “Israel State” in existence. Amalekites may have been welcome as immigrants, but only up until the time, King Saul ordered to kill them all.

    Since we have been comparing these events to the Holocaust, this is a bit like saying Jews were welcome in Germany. Yes, until Hitler decided to kill them all!

    Look, you want to claim this was not genocide—fine. I can understand why. I don’t find it very persuasive because I have no wedded belief mandating it one way or another. (I, in fact, am not convinced any of these events happened, but certainly not on the scale claimed by the Tanakh. Sure there may have been in-fighting between Midianites, Amalekites, and Canaanites with a tribe of Canaanites who eventually associated themselves with the name of “Israel.” These are just myths passed down, perhaps for centuries that exponentially grew over time. However, I can read and review the history, and to claim the writers didn’t mean this to be genocide, is…well…not convincing.)

  • Raphael Wong


    Yes, I understand the claimed history, or at least what you allegedly claim to be the “claimed history”.

    (2) There is a joke in Asia about how Americans can’t differentiate between Iranians and Iraqis: As long as you wear a hijab, you are a terrorist. More seriously, the same thing applies to ancient accounts. “Medianites” are the label given to a set of groups of people who live in the region called Medea. The Medianites that Moses was related to, and the Medianites he fought later on are different people, just like the Hyskos were different people from the Israelites (although it appears that both the Egyptians and modern historians mixed them up).

    You also neglected to mention the point, in the narrative of the preceding chapters before Numbers 25, that the Medianite women were enticing the Israelite men as part of a calculated political ploy; think of it as ANE Psychological Warfare.

    Since it is psychological warfare, it is a valid national threat.

    (3) I shall hold out comment, because I can’t find the verse that says that the plague was sent by God. As far as Numbers 25 is concerned, it seems like a public execution as opposed to a natural disaster.

    (4) Numbers 31 is an expansion of Numbers 25:17-18, and Numbers 25 is a continuation of the narrative in Numbers 22.

    (5) In reply:-

    (a) The Medianites were not on Hebrew-promised lands formally; what they were doing was a form of indirect colonialism through their religious bodies.

    (b) Numbers 22 provides evidence to the contrary.

    (c) Really? What was the point of sending Balak to curse the Nation of Israel (Numbers 23-24) then? You really need a larger-scale perspective here. Incidentally, sending good-looking females is a staple of espionage, even up to the Cold War.

    (d) If you understand ancient politics, you would not make such an inaccurate statement.

    (e) Ditto on (d).

    (6) No, they are being killed for what they did to Israel in Numbers 22.

    I mentioned Sparta earlier for a particular reason. Yes, killing baby males in an individualistic society is cruel and barbaric, but the ANE was communalistic, so quite literally slaughtering baby males is pre-emptive warfare.

    They were slaughtered as part of war, not after the war. That makes the difference. Oh, and also, the word used is “child”, not “infant”. “child” has somewhat of a long age-range.

    It was battlefield combat – but with the city as props.

    (7-8) What you need is a lesson in ancient history. And not even one that is phD-level.

    (10-12) The Amalekites are even more amorphous than the Medianites. (At least the Medianites are settlers.)

    (13) Don’t think yourself so high and mighty. This is a case of you trying to force-fit your interpretation into the Tanakh. I don’t think my analysis in any way contradicts the Tanakh. Yes, the Israelites were supposed to attack and subdue all the Amalekites that WERE RAIDING AND ATTACKING THEM FOR THE PAST 400 YEARS. “all the Amalekites” refers to “all the Amalekites” in contact with Israel, not all the Amalekites per se.


    (14) Yes, it is a matter of what God commanded; I never disputed with that. (Common Atheist tactic: drag out strawmen; I had hoped you wouldn’t do that.) It is, however, a matter of what scope the “all” refers to. “all Medianites in the city” is different from “all Medianites in the country” or “all Medianites in the world” or “all Medianites that stand up to fight you”. Atheists – and you and Vinny sadly are no exception – love to jump to teh conclusion that “all Medianites” refers to “all Medianites in the world”, which is patently not true, especially when reading the original Hebrew text.

    To use an analogy, let’s say a mother comes into the kitchen and tells her daughter, “throw away all the biscuits, because they are spoiled.” Based on the Atheist’s logic that you are using, the daughter should then go out to every store selling biscuits in her neighbourhood or in the world and tell them to dump their biscuits because of what her mother said. Obviously, her mother’s words need to be taken in context. The same thing applies to Numbers and 1 Sam.

    Neither me nor Bill are making any rationalizations; you are the one rationalizing out ancient history to fit your modernist or post-modernist worldview.

    (15) *Sigh*. The Amalekites were a band of raiding bandits that even caused the other pagan nations grief. So, they were all the 5 things that you mentioned.

    In fact, your logic would equate to telling the Pentagon not to worry about Al Quaeda because they have been silent for about 2 years and

    (1) AQ is not in the USA.

    (2) AQ is not at war with the USA.

    (3) AQ hasn’t bombed the WTC for a long time.

    (4) There is nothing to defend against.

    (5) AQ is not a threat.

    This is literally how silly your assertions about the Amalekites would sound to an Israelite general working under Moses.

    (16) If you want to ignore archaeological history, I can’t help you.

    (17) They were welcome as immigrants in Israelite lands, by God’s command in Deut. Some of them, anyway. (Remember, the Medianites are not a uniform group.)

    (18) Well, they were at least tolerated in Germany until Hitler came along. But your analogy is totally off the mark.

    (19) Stop sounding so patronizing. I am not arguing that this is not genocide because of any “wedded belief”. I am arguing it based on my understanding of ancient culture and on modern law, none of which you grasp adequately.

    Also, I am sick of this “wedded belief” argument. Yes, I know it makes you atheists feel so high and mighty and progressive, but to everyone else it just shows how thick in the head you are. You want to know what is rationalization? Well, your wonderful patronizing paragraph is a capital example of rationalization.

    In the case of “mythic”, unfortunately for you, there are very few mythical elements in this section of the Bible. The book of Numbers is mostly a political account. The only (possible) mythical account is the Balaam story in Numbers 22-23. And even then, it is very low-grade myth. A talking donkey feels more associated with Winnie the Pooh than Beowulf. Considering how long the story has been passed down, that is a very minor embellishment.

    The numbers quoted in Numbers 31 are acceptable by historical standards.

    All I can say is that your preconceptions are blinding you.

  • Nuts, Bill Pratt. It’s like Christian Think Tank isn’t even trying to avoid contradictory arguments. What they embrace in one article; they abandon in the next.

    Aren’t you going through a series, based on a Christian Think Tank article, claiming (essentially) slavery was not that bad under the Hebrews? (By the way, I tend to agree Mosaic Law IS more favorable toward slavery than many ANE Nations of the time.)

    Yet look at what argument they are making in point 15—that people would rather die than be Hebrew slaves! It must not have been that great…Which does Christian Think Tank claim—that Hebrew slavery wasn’t that bad? Or that it was so terrible people would rather die? This also goes against points 13 & 14, as an “option” would have been to have the children be slaves. (Christian Think Tank, like the Tanakh, is extremely vague on numbers. Did the Hebrews have the resources to assimilate the Amalekites? Oddly, they refer to the Midianite situation, indicating they could assimilate 32,000 females, yet noting the Hebrews just lost 24,000 males—meaning the Hebrews had less resources, not more.)

    Further, I see now the “deportation” argument is no longer being used—as Christian Think-Tank admits the Amalekites were not part of the land promise. Just…Like…I…said…Earlier.

  • Raphael Wong,

    I had difficulty following parts of your last comment. Some I got; some I did not. For example, you stated:

    ” (7-8) What you need is a lesson in ancient history. And not even one that is phD-level.”
    I am utilizing the historical record as recorded in the Tanakh, even though I am not convinced by it. Certainly not the population sizes claimed. Is there a particular historical claim you believe I am inaccurate on?

    Further, you indicated I ignored archeological history. I was referring to the claimed Midianite genocide in Numbers 31 that is claimed to have occurred during the Exodus, after Moses and the Hebrews left Egypt, but prior to their entry into Israel.

    I thought the Tanakh is claiming the Hebrew state did not exist at this time—because they weren’t there yet! Are you indicating you have archeological evidence the Hebrew state existed prior to the Exodus?

    And yes, Raphael Wong, I agree it was a tribe vs tribe world. Where tribes fought (and sometimes aligned, even with former enemies) and nations were threatened, and empires overtook other nations. And undoubtedly there were wars between the Hebrews and other tribes. Enmities that lasted 100’s of years.

    You continue to justify these actions as battle tactics. Actions taken in war. The problem I keep running into is that is not what the Tanakh says! Again—1 Sam 15:2: “Thus says the Lord of Hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did…’” God didn’t say, “Hey—here’s a good self-preservation tactic” or “Why don’t you perform a pre-emptive strike on the Amalekites?” God didn’t even say, “Go to war with the Amalekites.”

    The Tanakh indicates God ordered Amalekite baby boys to be killed as punishment for what their ancestors did. Not because of “bad blood.” Not because the Amalekites were a pain in the butt. Not because the Amalekites were warlike and mean.

    The Tanakh explicitly claims God says to kill the Amalekites as punishment. I understand you argue when God said “Kill all the Amalekites”—this meant only kill the Amalekites in contact with Israel. Which would make sense if this was a war tactic.

    It is not. It is punishment. If anything, it would seem to me, the argument would have to be, “Kill all the Amalekites” would mean, “Kill all the Amalekites who were direct descendants of those who harassed Israel on the Exodus.” How would Saul tell the difference?

    The same problem applies to the Midianites. God didn’t say, “Go to war;” God said “Take revenge.” Num. 31:2.

    This whole discussion stems from the question of meta-ethics, and the viability of a “transcendent moral standard” as claimed by Darrell. I pointed out the Amalekite and Midianite genocides as difficult situations for some Christian theists regarding the “transcendent moral standard” in that it would seem to allow genocide as a moral tool. Even to the point it would be immoral to not commit genocide.

    I utilized those two examples for a particular reason. First, because of the specific order to kill babies—not just combatants. But second, because of the reason given by God for the genocide. It was not for war, for protection, for defense. It was vengeance and punishment. (and thirdly, if anyone is interested, because I think the 32,000 virgin females creates a particularly difficult justification for the defense that God had to wipe them all out, because it would be impossible to same a few. The “gangrene” defense.)

    Unless you need further clarification, you may have the last word.

    P.S.—why do you use “Medianite” rather than the more common “Midianite”?

  • Raphael Wong



    (1) What you need is a refresher on how ancient societies worked – culturally. The big-pcture.

    The archeological evidence I am referring to is not evidence on the Hebrew State; it is evidence on all the surrounding cultures, e.g. Egypt, Akkhadians/Medians, etc etc.

    (2-3) There was a Hebrew Community then, just not one that was settled permanently. But Numbers describes an Israelite community that was camping at least some of the time. Which is logical – given that they were in the desert 40 years after all.

    (6) I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry at reading this.

    Yes, the Tanakh doesn’t mention it explicitly, but it is implied very very very obviously. You are trying to force the Tanakh – and I suspect an English-translated version – to conform to your dictionary. But it was written for a people who had a very different mental map from you, so their text would not mention “self-preservation tactic” or “pre-emptive attack”, simply because such words do not exist in Ancient Israel’s vocabulary. As for “go to war”, well duh, how else is “punishment” meted out on errant nations? When a King says that he will “punish” another nation, it is obvious – especially to people of the ancient millieu – that a war is included in the meaning of the word.

    (7) Right; and exactly what did the ancestors of the Amalekites do? Have you forgotten? Also, just because it isn’t mentioned doesn’t mean that the Amalekites were not still bothering the Israelites then. In fact, they couldn’t not bother Israelites; bothering other people was the Amalekite/Amorite lifestyle, as is attested by the archaeological evidence the Christian Think-Tank cites.

    (8) Again: And what is the most obvious means of “revenge” against a foreign nation – which is what the Midianites were? Your “problem” is really imaginary.

    In any case, Numbers 31 is structured exactly like an ANE war account, so it can’t be anything else other than a war.

    I apologize for saying this, but it really looks like you are grasping at straws to rationalize away the idea of warfare, just to justify your accusation that God ordered two genocides.

    (10) “babies” is present in the translation you used; it is not in my translation, and the original Hebrew text uses an even vaguer word which accurately translates into “youth” or “young people”. So saying that God specifically targeted babies is a misinterpretation.

    And before you wish to jam me with the “many disagreeing interpretations” argument, I don’t need to be a Christian to notice your misinterpretation; it is a textual misinterpretation, not a theological misinterpretation.

    I will give the rest of the argument in my next post.

    (11) Both words mean the same; it is just that I am using a different English translation from Bill.

  • Raphael Wong

    Okay, my complete argument, for final clarification:

    I have debated online with quite a number of Atheists. I notice that the distinction made between Monotheism and Polytheism is always the very simplistic: monotheists worship one God, and polytheists worship many Gods. That’s not quite accurate.

    In the Tanakh – and the Bible in general – God is the one and only God who is supreme over all, not simply a God over other “Gods”. Which is why there is both a commandment forbidding creating idols and a commandment forbidding placing other gods before Yahweh. If Yahweh is only meant to be a god above all other gods, then the commandment against idolatry is totally unnecessary.

    The real difference between the Monotheistic God – shared by Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Ba’Hai, Zoroastrianism and Vedic Hinduism – and the polytheistic God is that the former is Universal while the latter is local.

    So although Yahweh is the God of Israel in the sense that He is the divinity worshipped by Israel, He is also – as is established in Genesis – the God of the Medianites, Amorites/Amalekites, Jebusites, Arabs, Egyptians and so on and so forth. And God, being God, has the whole view of history.

    So, God seeing two tribes or two nations fighting is like a parent seeing two children fighting. God, as the parent, intervenes to stop the fighting and to ensure the welfare of both children – Median and Israel or Amalek and Israel. Israel attacking the Medianites or Amalek is God’s form of corporal punishment for the nation suffering the attacks.

    God does not take revenge on either the Amalekites or the Medianites; rather, God permits the Israelites to execute their vengeance on these two nations in order to punish them for their wrongdoings and to protect the nation of Israel from external threat. (“nation” is different from “state”.)

    When the ancient writers wrote the accounts in Numbers 31 and 1 Sam, they were taking this macro-perspective, not doing the numbers-crunching atheists are so fond of doing.

    In the case of the 32000 virgins, God didn’t have to wipe them out; the Israelites needed to, so that they would prevent history from repeating itself. The reason why Israel went to war in the first place was because Median had been using women as the equivalent of spies to subvert the community of Israel. If the women were not exterminated, Israel would not be at peace, both emotionally and politically, which is well-proven in the events that unfold in the rest of the Tanakh and Old Testament. And these women, being war captives, would have doubly the incentive as their predecessors to do exactly that. And then throw in the gangrene defence to get the whole picture.

  • Bill Pratt

    The Thinktank treats the Amalekites separately in order to deal with the issue of the killing of Amalekite children. The article on the Amalekites provides more insight into that particular people-group and their history with Israel. To call this a contradiction is just silly.

    The Thinktank is not a “they” but a “him” and he, I’m sure, is well aware of what he wrote in these two articles, and is probably intelligent enough to not write contradictory articles that are on the same website and linked to each other!

    Why you would jump to the conclusion of “contradiction” is beyond me. We’ve had this discussion before about the word “contradiction” where your definition is something like the following: “two statements (or chapters or books) that contain two different perspectives or accounts of a general topic when Dagoods thinks there should only be one perspective or account.” That, my friend, is not what a contradiction is, however. I wish you would be more careful in throwing this word around so often.

  • Bill Pratt,

    Was slavery under the Hebrews so bad the Amalekites would rather die? Or not?

    Were the Amalekites subject to the “deportation” argument?*

    *I should note Christian Think Tank only applies the “deportation” argument to the Canaanites—not the Amalekites. It was you that applied it to the Amalekites.

  • Bill Pratt

    I’m still working through the slavery issue, so I’m not prepared to discuss the slavery of Amalekites in Israel. Maybe Raphael has some information here.

    The Amalekites are not subject to the “deportation” argument, as they did not live in the Promised Land, to my knowledge. When did I equate the Amalekites with the Canaanites and apply the deportation argument to them? I don’t recall doing that, although maybe I did. Could you remind me?

  • Bill Pratt: When did I equate the Amalekites with the Canaanites and apply the deportation argument to them? I don’t recall doing that, although maybe I did.
    Actually, you did not. I apologize and retract my previous statement. (That’s what I get for relying on faulty human memory, eh? *grin*)

    In reviewing our comments, I was thinking about the Midianite and Amalekite genocide, but you were responding to the Canaanite killings mentioned in your previous blog and the Christian Think Tank article. I asked how the deportation argument could apply to the Midianite and Amalekites, and then veered off discussing with Raphael Wong.

    But that is no excuse, I should have re-read the comments before stating that.

  • Bill Pratt

    No problem.

  • Alueshen

    The discussion has been a good one, and yes I read the entire thing. The problem I see, one I know your all aware of, is that this entire argument is based upon works that cannot be confirmed via evidence as being reasonably true.

    It’s like arguing the ramifications of Dan Brown’s “the DaVinci Code” starting with the assumption that it’s true, then discussing the conspiracies within skipping over the fact that it’s a work of fiction that has elements of truth. Since any society can claim (and do claim) that their god makes the rules, the place to start seems to be to show evidence that your god not only makes the rules, but how to know which god is THE god.

    Imagine a society where gods all got equal promotion in society. There is of course a reason why this isn’t possible, but I’m certain your all aware of it….

  • Raphael


    Thanks for adding your two cents.

    Haha, it is really rare for someone to read the entire discussion, or the entire article for the matter, as from my experience, so thanks for doing that too.

    (1) “Evidence” is a slippery word, which you need to define clearly before proceeding.

    (2) Of course the issue with “the Da Vinci Code” was that Dan Brown started off by claiming that only the plot-line of the novel was ficitonal i.e. the parts with action are ficitonal. He claimed that the exposition was fully historical; that is why “experts” seized on the ramifications of “the Da Vinci Code” before the real experts came in and proved the work a colossal fiction. (And before Baigent tried to sue Brown for copyright infringement.)

    In any case, you need not be a theist to be a moral absolutist. You can hold the existence of some immanent laws in the Universe that have an independent existence of corporeal beings. This way, you stop short of falling into Frege’s Abyss, which the relativist falls into. Frege’s Abyss is the more colourful way of describing what Darrell talks about in the article. This problem exists independently of any problem a theist might have with defending Divine-sanctioned morality.

    Of course, there are escape hatches, such as making the Ideal Observer a hypothetical construct, or moral reasoning a heuristic process, so creating an analytical wedge between life as analyzed and life as lived. Relativists have to resort to these escape hatches in order to preserve their logic (and their sanity). But these hatches only work by contradicting the key concept of relativism, so where the hatches exist is where a relativist theory fails.

    It is theoretically simple to show which god is the god: Get a list of characteristics that a god is supposed to have, and compare that list to all vying candidates, and see which candidate totally fits the bill. Naturally, the practical problem is how to obtain that list of characteristics when all the researchers have a natural bias towards particular candidates. And the other problem is because God is God, God is a singular entity; in the structure set up, you cannot prove that a candidate is the true god by comparing it to another preset entity.

    (3) Going by the direction of your post, I am guessing that the “reason” you give is “All gods are fictional”, which is a relativist escape-hatch strategy.

    gods – in the widest sense of the word – get varying degrees of promotion because the people in charge of societies have their own particular biases. The existence of bias, however, doesn’t disprove the existence of all gods. Rather, bias is an entity that is super-imposed onto an innate tendency towards God or Nature or Goodness (God has many names). This innate tendency is shared by all humanity, even “atheists” and “agnostics” and “spiritualists”. Each religion is a map to realize this goal, but each is distorted in its own area.

    And actually, I would argue that it is possible to have a society where gods all got equal promotion. It is where all gods were equal before and in God, where all gods are seen as equal images of God, and where God works to promote the status of each god. (There is a category error in equating “God” with “god”.)

    And oh yes, it Christianity that promotes such a society’s god as god. 😀

  • Boz

    The RSS feed has stopped working for me. Not sure if this is my problem or the site’s problem.

  • Darrell: “Some moral relativists may respond by saying, “All views are not equal. There is a view which is better than others – my view!” However, one is left asking, “Why is your view better?” To what standard does the relativist appeal in order to claim that their view is better?”

    One could equally say: “Some Christians may respond by saying, “All standards are not equal. There is a standard which is better than others – my view!” However, one is left asking, “Why is your standard better?” To what standard does the Christian appeal in order to claim that their standard is better?”

  • The Christian ultimately appeals to the moral law which is grounded in God’s nature. We come to know this moral law through the Scriptures and from the study of human nature.

    Whether we always agree on what the moral law is in every case is beside the point. When we disagree on a moral question, Christians can both debate the meaning of Scriptures, and debate our observations of human nature. Often we can come to an agreement after these debates.

    The relativist cannot debate anything because there is nothing to debate! All moral behaviors are of equal status. There is no single standard to which relativists can, even in principle, argue toward. Each human being is a separate moral law creator, so there are as many moral law standards as there are human beings.

  • “The Christian ultimately appeals to the moral law which is grounded in God’s nature.”

    I don’t get why this is superior. Talk of debating the scriptures is beside the point – even if at every moral debate God Himself appeared and told us exactly what the ‘moral choice’ was, how are you determining that this is a superior system? You’re grounding a law in God’s nature, sure – but what standard are you using to determine that God’s nature is the superior one? You can say that it’s unchanging by why does that make it better?

    You refer to a ‘moral law creator’. If it’s eternal, how was it created?

  • God is the most perfect being, and therefore the good of his nature is the highest possible good. Rationally, we would want to pursue the highest possible good.

    I referred to human beings as moral law creators under the rubric of moral relativism. I did not say that God created the moral law at some point in time.

  • “God is the most perfect being, and therefore the good of his nature is the highest possible good.”

    Sure, but this seems to be just declared by fiat. It seems to pre-suppose that there is such a thing as ‘objectively perfect’. Generally, when we describe something as good, it is in relation to something – it’s perfect according to a pre-existing definition. Or it perfectly fits some requirement. Calling something ‘most perfect’ without relation to any requirement or definition doesn’t strike me as being meaningful.
    “Rationally, we would want to pursue the highest possible good.”

    If you have in mind the concept of ‘highest possible good’, and you think that God fits this, I don’t see why you couldn’t aspire to that concept even if you didn’t think God existed. If the concept is meaningless without God, then it strikes me that it is equally meaningless to say a God could embody this standard. It either makes sense or it doesn’t – with or without a God.

  • I’m not trying to be rude or snarky, by the way Bill. I think it’s great that you try to do the right thing and hold morality as a great aspiration. I think it’s unhelpful and divisive on your part to say a God is necessary to do this, or to make sense of doing this. To say that ‘good’ exists objectively and God embodies this – that sounds fine to me. But to say that the good couldn’t exist without the God… that makes me wonder what you even mean to call God good in the first place. It must exist independently of Him for it have any meaning as a label applied to Him.

  • Anybody could aspire to the highest good, as you say. But without an objective and specific conception of the highest good, we would each interpret our own highest good differently. Your highest good may involve my harm, for all I know.

    Christian theologians have carefully studied God’s revelation and the evidence God has left in nature to determine what attributes the most perfect being possesses. Beauty, wisdom, love, righteousness, justice – these are all part of God’s nature.

    But it goes beyond these words, because Christian theology fills out the meanings of these words with specifics. We don’t just love, we love our neighbors as ourselves; we love our enemies; we love by serving those in need; we love by following the example that Jesus gave us.

    Without this specific content, the “highest possible good” is just empty words that can be filled in with whatever content the person wants to put in.

  • So you believe that the targeted killing of children and babies is, sometimes, under some circumstances, justifiable??

    Even in war, the targeted killing of children is considered a war crime. Killing children as “collateral damage” in the act of war is not a war crime, but deliberately targeting children for killing; hunting them down; looking for their hiding places and then running them down as they scream in terror as they see you raise your sword or knife, IS a war crime.

    Your god would be arrested, tried, and convicted of the most heinous war crimes if he were put on trial today. He is a monster. How can you teach your children this barbaric nonsense? How can you call yourself a “moral” person and believe this?

    There is NEVER any justifiable reason to target children for killing. Never.