What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.

About

What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

On Paul Copan's attempted solution to the Canaanite slaughters

I have a new post up at my personal blog on a currently popular attempted solution to the Canaanite slaughters based upon alleged hyperbole and Ancient Near Eastern idiom. The short version is that I don't think it works at all. I am not going to do the whole cut-and-paste to cross-post, but here is the link. Please feel free to comment in either location--either here or at Extra Thoughts. As so often happens, the post is already generating much discussion on Facebook after being up only a few hours. (Insert wry face symbol here.)

As I say there, I take no pleasure in knocking down someone else's argument meant to help fellow Christians, but I think in this case a little "friendly fire" is better than letting people go out thinking they have a solution, based on specialized scholarly knowledge, when in fact it does not work.

Comments (215)

Lydia,

I'm glad you finally made your thoughts public on this important topic. Just the other day I heard a priest I like and respect field a call about this question (on a Catholic radio station). He bit the bullet and made the case that God did indeed order the slaughter because the Canaanites were irredeemably wicked and needed to be wiped off the face of the Earth. His argument was sort of a modified form of the argument that Copan uses for the Midianite infant boys in Numbers 31 -- the Canaanite children were so corrupted (even the babies?!) that God knew it was just and right to order the Israelis to get rid of them.

Of course, I want to be charitable to such an argument, but as Jay Richards says in the comments over at your blog -- how does one reconcile such a command with what we know to be true of God's good nature (i.e. what we know via the rest of the Bible, or via the natural law). It beggars belief to argue that any baby in the most wicked culture (North Korea, the Gaza Strip run by Hamas, Iran's theocracy, etc.) can know enough to be guilty of anything besides crying too long for their next meal!!!

So these passages will continue to 'haunt' Christians of good will and be used against us. I'm glad you quoted Copan on the power and redeeming nature of the New Testament and Christ's sacrifice for us. That is what we must ultimately draw strength from.

I don't see where the big problem is here. Lydia admits that God has the authority to kill whomever He wants. He also, I would say, has the authority to delegate His authority as He sees fit. Therefore, He cannot be denied the authority to delegate (to certain men) His rightful power to kill whomever He wishes to see killed.

Jeff, I have been intrigued to see how the hard-line response (George's comment is yet another example) seems to be fairly popular. So far I've had quite a number of people, both on blogs and on Facebook, taking a hard-line response of the kind that would make Copan's whole literary approach unnecessary. Copan himself sort of falls back on a hard-line response, with a touch of consequentialism, when he can't do anything else, as in the case of Numbers 31. I haven't actually taken a poll, but I find this surprising. I had gathered that the interest I sense, vaguely, among Christians in Copan's literary approach was a result of the fact that biting the bullet leaves a lot of people with a bad taste in their mouth.

The consequentialism really is shocking. Hey, if killing baby boys so they don't grow up to be a later army against you is fine and dandy (assuming that the "you" is some specially important and favored people group), then that opens up all kinds of convenient doors, doesn't it? But some people's consciences do occasionally rebel.

George, I find it a continual astonishment how easily some people just _leap_ over that step where they say, "If God can take a baby's life, then why can't he delegate that to me?"

The answer is so obvious: Because _my_ taking a baby's life is a paradigm case of what we call "murder."

This is obvious from the fact that, if a person stands up in court and says, "God told me to kill that baby," even we Christians don't (or, heaven help us, shouldn't) for a moment consider the possibility that the statement is _true_. We don't think that we should investigate the nature and track-record of the defendant's voices-in-the-head to find out if maybe that really was just the delegated means by which God released the baby in question from the toils of this world and took him to heaven in his innocence! We assume that the defendant is crazy. Why? Well, obviously: Because for human beings deliberately to kill babies is wrong. Therefore we assume that God wouldn't tell a human being to kill a baby.

Everybody has been very upset by the reports (which we can hope are not true) that ISIS is beheading children. But if this response is true, then the problem with ISIS's religion isn't that it commands atrocities. The problem is that they don't happen, in this particular instance, to be _correct_ in thinking that God wants them to behead babies. Another time, maybe God really would want a group to go sweeping through the Middle East to behead babies, in which case mass baby-beheading wouldn't be an atrocity after all. It's all gotta be decided on a case-by-case basis, and nobody can make any kind of natural law argument against the religion of ISIS from the evils to which it leads them, because the true religion might just as well lead men to commit the same acts.

Lydia,

George, I find it a continual astonishment how easily some people just _leap_ over that step where they say, "If God can take a baby's life, then why can't he delegate that to me?"

The answer is so obvious: Because _my_ taking a baby's life is a paradigm case of what we call "murder."

I think two key things are being left out:

1. God revealed these commands to the authorities of Israel, not some common person claiming to act for him.
2. During that period, most of the revelations by God seem to be the Father, not the Holy Spirit, communicating directly with various leaders and prophets.

No living person today has likely ever heard the Father speak to them. I would assume that if they had, it would be both incredibly alien and awesome at the same time and his creation we'd know in the very fiber of our being who was speaking to us.

Mike, a problem with that is that it seems to allow no limits or pushback from the actual content of the putative order, even at this point, thousands of years later, where we are deciding whether or not this statement in the Bible that God ordered this is actually accurate. If that conjecture about the voice of God just takes care of the problem, couldn't you apply it to anything? Suppose that this experience, whatever it was, which is supposed to tell you "from every fiber of your being" that God the Father is speaking, seemed to contain the content, "Go and rape Canaanite children"? What about adultery? Sexual orgies? Torturing the kids? Etc., etc. There has to be some kind of reductio where we say that the true God _wouldn't_ order such a thing and that therefore we have a problem if a text tells us that He did. My line just apparently falls elsewhere from where it falls for some other people. Because I assume that you do have a line, some act so obviously vile and contrary to the character of God as revealed both in Scripture and in the natural law, that you would not bring that forward as an answer.

There has to be some kind of reductio where we say that the true God _wouldn't_ order such a thing and that therefore we have a problem if a text tells us that He did. My line just apparently falls elsewhere from where it falls for some other people...

Perhaps, but obviously the slaughter of the Canaanites isn't that line. If we are to believe the Old Testament and its extremely clear written statements, it simply can't be. So we're going to have to draw the line at another point.

On one hand: killing an innocent human being is murder.

On the other hand: Perhaps the Canaanites were not human beings. We know that the descendants of Nephilim and human women existed both before the Flood and afterward. It could be that the "Canaanites" really were giants (or some other kind of "corrupt flesh" = nonhuman intelligent life), as Joshua's spies first reported. If this is so, then killing a baby Canaanite would have been no more a case of murder than would crushing a serpent's egg, or killing the young of any other dangerous creature. "Nits make lice".

On the Gripping Hand: If the Canaanites were fully human beings, we owe Anders Breivik an apology.

During that period, most of the revelations by God seem to be the Father, not the Holy Spirit...

That's hysterical. What's the Holy spirit doing? Clapping his hands over his ears in horror while the Father issues orders to exterminate?

So we're going to have to draw the line at another point.

So you won't draw the line at the massacre of infants by adults? It's important to know how low we can go. What is it that God would not command?

That's hysterical. What's the Holy spirit doing? Clapping his hands over his ears in horror while the Father issues orders to exterminate?

God cannot order men to do evil because that's a violation of God's nature. So either God gave them an order and you philosophical types are going to have to stew in your juices dealing with an apparent contradiction or it was really Satan that ordered the Israelites to do it and they f#$ed up big time. Take your pick because the Bible doesn't leave much room for your philosophical arguments about the nature of murder.

Mike, a problem with that is that it seems to allow no limits or pushback from the actual content of the putative order, even at this point, thousands of years later, where we are deciding whether or not this statement in the Bible that God ordered this is actually accurate.

The problem with those verses is that if we believe that scripture is actually protected by the Holy Spirit, we must conclude that God did in fact give that order. This is not something that makes sense to the secular world, but we must accept it. It really is black and white like that. You can't speak of the authority of scripture and be in doubt that God did what is recorded here. I also seriously doubt that if this was a satanic suggestion or wishful thinking that God would have sat idly by as his people committed genocide in his name given the level of intervention into their affairs he'd already committed. Remember, this was not a time when God was shy about directly making his displeasure known in ways that even the dullest of Israel could dismiss as happenstance.

Obviously, there are problems with claiming "God made me do it" today, but then as I said there are key differences. One of which is that God never used the "lone wolf" in the first place. The only example of a parallel we'd have today is the President getting a vision in front of the entire national security team (them participating) of God ordering them to drop a nuclear weapon on the Ka'ba to reveal how much contempt he has for Islam. If the President experienced such a thing, he would have no choice but to obey even knowing that several million civilians on the Hajj would be wiped out. It would also not require repentance because there is never sin in obeying the will of God to the letter. Presumably, it would also be something that God would order events such that those who carried them out would face secular punishment. I don't know, as at this point we're conjecturing.

would face secular punishment

** would not face secular punishment...

The worst thing of all is that this dispute become so rancorous that, in the words of our patron, "Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room"; anathemas begin careening across the field of disputation and disputants charge each other with infidelity or heresy. Unfortunately, certain commenters on the Internet are bound and determined to take any dispute to the "fightin' words" stage immediately.

The next worst thing is that we succumb to consequentialism.

The next worst thing is that we should begin to doubt the testimony of Holy Scripture, out of a misplaced incorrigibility over these texts.

I like Lydia's formulation of the business as a mystery.

As a more conjectural matter, I find it hard to believe that anyone could wisely command war and not expect atrocity, least of all the Almighty. To command war is to permit atrocity. Probably the closest war in human history, to have achieved a status of "bereft of impiety against innocent noncombatants," is the American Civil War, where early on a general facing a siege rode out under a banner of truce, to request from his counterpart outside the city advice on its defense. But that was early on. By the end the American Civil War was mostly ruthless, cruel and pitiless.

An obverse example: Don John of Austria cut his teeth as a soldier in the savage Reformation Wars in northern Europe. Heaven help the man for what he undoubtedly participated in against those stern unbinding Dutch Calvinists.

Yet we cannot possibly imagine that God was neutral in the battle of Lepanto, can we?

So I agree with Lydia in labeling these things mysterious. I think Mike T at least has grasp of some sound insight when he gestures toward this: that God's direct communication with a particular people is not the same in the OT as in the NT, and that the OT method will never return, since the final communication came via Jesus of Nazareth and we await only its consummation.

A still further conjecture: Is it even possible that the Israelites succeeded in slaughtering every last Canaanite? Surely some escaped. After all, it was left to the 20th century to test the propositions concerning industrial slaughter of peoples wholesale; to test whether it is in the power of man to slaughter every last Jew or kulak; and still some survived even the Communists and the Nazis.

Mike, actually, we have very little idea what method, precisely, was supposed to be involved in that revelation. Moses seems to have been a pivotal point. For all we can tell from the text, the idea *is* that Moses personally and individually revealed to them that this was the will of God. In fact, one piece of evidence to that effect is that some of the verses in Deuteronomy where Moses narrates their having slaughtered all the civilians in a particular city appear to come _before_ the giving of the command in Deuteronomy 20 (unless the latter is a reiteration of something given earlier that is less explicit). Moreover, Moses "ad libs." The actions in the cities mentioned in the early chapters of Deuteronomy don't fit the pattern in Deuteronomy 20, because the women and little ones are said to have been killed while the cattle are spared as spoil. (Moses seems rather proud of these cities and seems to take their victories there as evidence of God's favor.) Deut. 20 gives an either-or in which either all three of those groups are spared or are killed. Similarly in Numbers 31, Moses _personally_ orders an ad lib whereby only the male children and the non-virgins are killed but the virgin girls and cattle are spared. As for the exact method by which the revelation in Deuteronomy 20 (and throughout Deuteronomy) was verified to the people, we don't know. It doesn't seem to have been on the tablets at Sinai, because the many chapters of the Law are too long.

Similarly, in I Samuel 15, the prophet Samuel simply comes to Saul and tells him to go and slaughter all of the Amalekites in the name of the Lord. We have no other evidence that Samuel ever got such things wrong, but the Bible definitely raises the possibility that individual prophets could prophesy falsely. It's by no means an impossibility or something ruled out by some sort of "vision in the sky" that is verified by a large number of leaders.

So you are kind of making up this idea of a multi-person verification of a vision or revelation in the case of these particular orders to slay whole populations.

Paul, Copan definitely brings up evidence from the text that they _didn't_ slaughter every last one. That's one of the arguments I address. It's probably true that they didn't, because there were definitely populations around afterwords that gave them a hard time. But that's not very comforting in terms of the deliberate targeting of children. If even a single baby's head was "dashed against the stones" and the Israelite sincerely believed he had to do that because it was commanded by God, that's where the problem lies. Conversely, if they literally killed every warrior but _only_ the warriors, and if there were no claim that anything else was ordered by God, the problem wouldn't exist.

If we are to believe the Old Testament and its extremely clear written statements, it simply can't be. So we're going to have to draw the line at another point.

MA, wow, is there anything about which you _wouldn't_ say that? I gave some examples.

Let me ask the hard-liners this: Suppose that some book of the Old Testament recorded that God sent a prophet to tell a king to have a woman seized and her unborn child aborted. You can make up your own frame story as to why this was supposedly necessary. Would you just say, "Oh, well, I guess abortion can sometimes be ordered by God. I guess we can't draw the line there"?

It does not seem to me that the "God doesn't work through lone wolves" response is very helpful. We can easily make up a modern story in which some putatively Christian nation's leader says that God has revealed to him that America is irredeemably depraved and that Americans must be killed as a judgement (or a warning, or something) and starts sending suicide bombers to the U.S. The fact that it is originating in a head of state doesn't really change anything. It's not as though, because he's the President or king of a country, and because the suicide bombers aren't lone wolves but are part of a group claiming to be God's people, we would have to take seriously the possibility that God was really sending them to blow up men, women, and children at the mall. Not to mention what we would be justified in saying if his "holy war" fighters started going around with machetes and chopping up two-year-olds on the street.

From the other side, the side where we consider the individual warriors, what better argument could one have that one's leaders were misinterpreting God's commands or that God's appointment had been withdrawn from them than that they started issuing heinous orders? It would certainly be wrong to say that a warrior, even as part of God's people, has to carry out every order in blind obedience, because "God works through groups" or some such principle. Even in the Old Testament God sometimes withdrew His hand or His spirit from leaders, so things can always change. The individual moral responsibility of a warrior doesn't just evaporate. In the end, the individual wields the sword.

Another point: It seems to me that there is a resemblance in some of the hard-liner discussion to the tension we see in pro-choicers. On the one hand, they tell us that the unborn child isn't really a person, so it's okay to kill it. On the other hand, they (sometimes) say that they want abortion to be rare. Well, pro-lifers have always asked why it should be rare if abortion doesn't kill a real person.

Similarly, George R. says above that he "doesn't see the problem." Allegedly, so goes the argument, there is *no difference* between God's taking the life of a person directly, by miraculous intervention, and God's delegating that order. So there's *no problem*. Well, if there's no problem, then why should it matter whether God delegates to a lone wolf? Why should it matter whether or not God reveals His will in this matter via a vision to a large group of people? (And I emphasize, we have no evidence that He did so concerning the slaughter of the Canaanites or the Amalekites anyway.) Why should it matter that, as Copan emphasizes at one point, this was a unique event in Israel's history? Why should it be unique or even extremely rare? After all, God could take people's lives every day of the week. Maybe He does, for all we know. So if there's no difference between that and delegating, if there's no murder concern here, why *shouldn't* God order individual people now to do it? Or why shouldn't God order groups now to do it? Etc. I'm sure if we let our ugly side loose we can all think of groups of people who are inconvenient. Why shouldn't God just tell us to kill them all and let Him sort them out afterwards?

A still further conjecture: Is it even possible that the Israelites succeeded in slaughtering every last Canaanite? Surely some escaped. After all, it was left to the 20th century to test the propositions concerning industrial slaughter of peoples wholesale; to test whether it is in the power of man to slaughter every last Jew or kulak; and still some survived even the Communists and the Nazis.

It's been a while since I've read Exodus and Deuteronomy, but my understanding is that the Israelites intentionally did not kill all of them and God took the stance that their failure to do so meant they had to live with that consequence (accept heathens in their midst). One commentary I read on this recently said as much as well.

Let me ask the hard-liners this: Suppose that some book of the Old Testament recorded that God sent a prophet to tell a king to have a woman seized and her unborn child aborted. You can make up your own frame story as to why this was supposedly necessary. Would you just say, "Oh, well, I guess abortion can sometimes be ordered by God. I guess we can't draw the line there"?

God can simultaneously prohibit a thing generally and then order someone to do that thing in a particular instance. This tells us nothing interesting about morality that should be new to us. It just reaffirms that God's will is the source of right and wrong.

Similarly, George R. says above that he "doesn't see the problem."

Presumably, like me, he sees no problem because he just accepts that all are sinners from conception, none deserve grace whatsoever and it's God's divine prerogative to put to death sinners whenever it suits him. That is a far cry removed from the pro-choice movement's logic.

God cannot order men to do evil because that's a violation of God's nature. So either God gave them an order and you philosophical types are going to have to stew in your juices dealing with an apparent contradiction or it was really Satan that ordered the Israelites to do it and they f#$ed up big time. Take your pick because the Bible doesn't leave much room for your philosophical arguments about the nature of murder.

Said the ISIS terrorists in Iraq.

God can simultaneously prohibit a thing generally and then order someone to do that thing in a particular instance. This tells us nothing interesting about morality that should be new to us. It just reaffirms that God's will is the source of right and wrong.

Translation: I'm just going to keep saying what I've said before and ignore Lydia's detailed and cogent arguments because begging the question is my favorite fallacy.

Paul,

I find it hard to believe that anyone could wisely command war and not expect atrocity, least of all the Almighty. To command war is to permit atrocity.

The problem is not that He commanded the war, but the atrocity.

I think Mike T at least has grasp of some sound insight when he gestures toward this: that God's direct communication with a particular people is not the same in the OT as in the NT, and that the OT method will never return, since the final communication came via Jesus of Nazareth and we await only its consummation.

So God is fine with our committing intrinsic evil in one age but not in the next? He would command such then but not now?

Is it even possible that the Israelites succeeded in slaughtering every last Canaanite?

Please tell me you don't seriously think this is even relevant to whether God issued the command.

There are more fundamental issues at play here than what Lydia is raising. If you weren't so committed to philosophy and could just accept scripture at face value, you might understand where some of us are coming from. God cannot be a consequentialist because God's will is what delineates right from wrong for us. God warns us that his ways are not our ways and his thoughts not our thoughts. If God actually told you to do something, who are you, William Luse, to refuse the alpha and omega?

So God is fine with our committing intrinsic evil in one age but not in the next? He would command such then but not now?

Except that it was not an act of intrinsic evil then if God decreed that it should happen. Sin is by definition disobedience to God, not failure to live up to some hypothetical "good" that exists independent of God's will and nature (which are inseparable). Intrinsic evil can only exist insofar as there are things which God's nature will never permit him to will to happen.

Mike T, it seems to me that you may be taking an extremely strong voluntarist line. All that you are saying about God's will being the source of right and wrong, etc., _sounds_ like what it means is that if God had declared rape to be right, it would then become right, that God can just switch black and white because black is black only in the sense that God calls it "black."

If that's really what you mean, then the gap between us is so profound that there's no point in trying to bridge it. Make up your own atrocity, involving rape, torture, what-have-you. Something so crazy that it can't even be described here without messing up our minds with the picture. (So don't try to describe it.) God could make that "good" simply by commanding it, because God's will is the source of the meaning of "good."

Now, that's the sort of thing that gave divine command theory a bad name, which resulted in its being revised (I learned recently that this happened sometime in the 1970's) philosophically so that it is, as anti-divine command theorists had always said, God's _nature_that makes good what it is, good is absolute, necessary, and unchanging, but God's commands still have some role to play in making the intrinsic goodness of His nature binding upon us in the form of rules for right and wrong action. I still haven't fully figured out exactly what the commands are doing in this new version of DCT. It even seems that they could be purely implicit, so that the natural law written in the heart constitutes a set of divine commands.

In any event, evidently this version of divine command theory was developed because the old voluntarism was seen to be untenable.

At the end of your last comment you suggest that there _are_ things which God's nature will never permit him to will, but as far as I can tell from all the rest of your comments, your position is that we have zero access to what these are. So this hat-tip to the role of God's nature has no content, and as far as I can see, the reductio stands.

The whole thing about everybody being a sinner from conception, etc., proves too much, as I said in the original post over at my personal blog.

If _that_ sense of "guilt" is enough to remove the "innocence" label from newborn infants (or even unborn infants), then why in the world do _we_ still have to use that "innocence" label when it comes to defining murder for the purposes of human society? Every abortionist in the world _could_ give (if he so chose) a theological defense that he did not kill an innocent human being because "there is none righteous," and all murder laws would fall to the ground.

If the innocence of the newborn infant *in the relevant sense* for purposes of the concept of murder can survive the concept of original sin, then the problem of the Canaanite slaughters remains.

You cannot just trot out the doctrine of original sin when you need it to indict every infant in the world and make us feel better about mass slaughter and then pack it back up tidily again and let us all get back to calling babies "innocents" for other purposes. Logically, it doesn't work that way.

Lydia,

Let me ask the hard-liners this: Suppose that some book of the Old Testament recorded that God sent a prophet to tell a king to have a woman seized and her unborn child aborted. You can make up your own frame story as to why this was supposedly necessary. Would you just say, "Oh, well, I guess abortion can sometimes be ordered by God. I guess we can't draw the line there"?

No, we couldn't, not if we actually believe the Prophet. That's like asking, "Suppose some book of the Old Testament recorded that God made a rock too heavy to lift. Would you just say "Oh well, I guess that's not logically inconsistent then"?

Well, no. Obviously if it is expressly recorded like that it's our logic that is off, not God's. Same here: Obviously it's our moral intuitions that are off, not God's.

You're basically saying that given that story you would simply choose to believe that the Prophet was mistaken. I'll bite the bullet.

Because there are two choices here: God made this order, and the line is indeed NOT drawn there, or the Old Testament is mistaken. I'm not even disagreeing with any of the points you made, which are perfectly valid. I'm only pointing out that genocide CAN, in fact, be ordered by God...since it was.

William Luse,

So God is fine with our committing intrinsic evil in one age but not in the next? He would command such then but not now?

You say the passages are a mystery to you. That's fine. I actually think that's a good answer. But they're there. God ordered the slaughter of the Canaanites. The print isn't even fine, it's very clear.

So you really only have a couple answers open to you:

1) The Old Testament is mistaken

2) God ordered the massacres, meaning that ordering the massacres is NOT intrinsically immoral.

I don't understand WHY it isn't intrinsically immoral, I don't understand WHY God ordered it, I don't get HOW there could be ANY possible justification...but there has to be, or we have to bite the bullet and say "The Old Testament is wrong in this aspect".

You're Catholic as well, correct? So, like me, that's not an option.

MA, I don't think I understand your 7:37 comment. At first you said that my hypothetical was like asking what if some book of the OT recorded that God made a rock too heavy to lift. I assume you mean too heavy for God Himself to lift, since that is how that phrase is usually intended.

Now, I actually like this formulation, and I actually think this is a good analogy. Or if you prefer, we could imagine some book of the OT saying that God made it to be the case that 2 + 2 = 5 or that right is wrong or black is white. Some contradiction like that.

Good analogy.

But you go on to say that in that case you _wouldn't_ conclude that that isn't logically inconsistent, yet you _would_ believe that the prophet actually ordered an abortion or that God actually did make a rock too heavy to lift.

That seems contradictory. It seems like, if you're biting the bullet, you should say, "Yes, in that case I would conclude that it is not inconsistent for God to make a rock too heavy for Him to lift." Or, if you are biting the bullet you would have to say, "Yes, I guess we can't draw the line at God's ordering an abortion, because it says that God did so, so I guess he did." Or, "I guess it isn't inconsistent to say that 2 + 2 = 5. There must be something wrong with our logic that we think that's inconsistent."

So basically, you seem to be saying that there is _nothing_ that could be in the text of the Bible as it has come down to us, attributed to God, that you would reject as inaccurately attributed to God, however crazy. Your faith in the complete accuracy of Scripture is that much stronger than your confidence in any notion of what God's goodness entails, of God's being logical (or of our having any notion of what it _means_ to say that God is logical), etc.

So presumably if it said that God ordered the rape of all the Canaanite children, you'd bite the bullet on that, as well.

I don't mean to be uncharitable, here, and maybe I'm just misunderstanding you. As I said, you seem to have one too many "nots" in there somewhere anyway. But if I'm understanding you correctly, I think you need to rethink that.

Mike T, it seems to me that you may be taking an extremely strong voluntarist line. All that you are saying about God's will being the source of right and wrong, etc., _sounds_ like what it means is that if God had declared rape to be right, it would then become right, that God can just switch black and white because black is black only in the sense that God calls it "black."

God cannot do that because God's will is bound to God's nature and God's nature is immutable unlike ours. If something is truly against God's nature, then God can never will it to be so. This is basic Protestantism 101 stuff, so I'm surprised you're acting so shocked by it. So as MarcAnthony said, these verses tell us that the deficit is with our own knowledge of good and evil, not in God. It reaffirms what God warned: our ways are lower and inferior to his ways and who but God can know the mind of God? This just tells us once again, we probably don't understand homicide as God understands it.

The whole thing about everybody being a sinner from conception, etc., proves too much, as I said in the original post over at my personal blog.

Then it sounds like you didn't address it from the traditional Protestant perspective on sin. That is to say that no one is truly innocent before God. Original sin precludes that. After the fall, no one is born outside of sin; all deserve damnation before God.

However, what we deserve before God is not the same as what God has ordered between men. It is God's prerogative to eliminate any sinner at any time for any reason except where God bound himself by covenant to do otherwise. But it's not man's prerogative at all! So if God points to a village and says to Israel, annihilate it, that is God's prerogative as holy and righteous king before all sinners. Outside of that command, it is outside of the will of God and ordinary murder.

But as I said, God cannot order men to commit evil. So this raises a simple dichotomy. Did God order it? Yes or no? If yes, then it simply cannot have been evil because God cannot order men to do evil.

And Lydia, I say that as someone who despite what Luse and a few others think, actually would not be able to obey the will of God in that scenario. I praise God that I was not born an Israelite of that period.

So basically, you seem to be saying that there is _nothing_ that could be in the text of the Bible as it has come down to us, attributed to God, that you would reject as inaccurately attributed to God, however crazy. Your faith in the complete accuracy of Scripture is that much stronger than your confidence in any notion of what God's goodness entails, of God's being logical (or of our having any notion of what it _means_ to say that God is logical), etc.

First off, thank you for attempting to interpret me in as charitable a way as possible.

My first question: Do you then think that God did NOT order the slaughter of the Canaanites? Because I think this is a bullet you're trying really hard not to bite, as is William Luse, and I think you're going to have to.

But, second: What I am saying is that I think for independent reasons that the Jews were accurately interpreting God's commands. Given this, I am forced to conclude that for some unknown reason, I am misunderstanding here. Maybe my moral intuitions are wrong, or maybe we're missing context, or maybe the words used were meant in a different sense, or maybe even the Jews interpreted God wrong even if they interpreted what He said correctly. I have no idea. But somehow or other, I must be missing something.

I would think the same with your other example about raping Cannanite babies, but luckily for all of us that's not an issue we have to deal with.

(Not to take a partisan shot, but this is one reason among others that, were I a Protestant, I would not be an inerrantist. Lewis wasn't either, after all.)

I don't need to worry, really, about

Then it sounds like you didn't address it from the traditional Protestant perspective on sin. That is to say that no one is truly innocent before God. Original sin precludes that. After the fall, no one is born outside of sin; all deserve damnation before God.

Speaking hesitantly, and open to correction, I don't think that's incompatible with Catholicism. Original sin has damned us all; Christ has redeemed us.

Now, I'm also not sure if I follow your logic on God's orders to the Israelites, but as I've said, I'm perfectly content with "I don't know" as an acceptable answer.

I do agree completely with this:

But as I said, God cannot order men to commit evil. So this raises a simple dichotomy. Did God order it? Yes or no? If yes, then it simply cannot have been evil because God cannot order men to do evil.

(By the way, I have no idea what the final sentence in my first comment was supposed to be.)

MarcAnthony,

You ask Lydia,

"My first question: Do you then think that God did NOT order the slaughter of the Canaanites? Because I think this is a bullet you're trying really hard not to bite, as is William Luse, and I think you're going to have to."

I don't know about Lydia, but based on her excellent analysis, I will certainly bite that bullet. Why can't we conclude, among many options, that the Israelis added those passages to sooth their guilty consciences? You already said you aren't an inerrantist, so can't we conclude that this is one of those places that the Bible has a mistake?

Mike T.

God cannot do that because God's will is bound to God's nature and God's nature is immutable unlike ours. If something is truly against God's nature, then God can never will it to be so. This is basic Protestantism 101 stuff, so I'm surprised you're acting so shocked by it.

I agree with those sentences, so I'm not acting shocked by them. In fact, those sentences are presumably agreed upon between Protestants and Catholics. Actually, I tend to hear Catholics say stuff like that more than Protestants, so I don't know why you're treating it as Protestant per se.

It is _because_ God cannot do something strictly against His nature that I have a problem with the passages. Shouldn't that be obvious?

So as MarcAnthony said, these verses tell us that the deficit is with our own knowledge of good and evil, not in God. It reaffirms what God warned: our ways are lower and inferior to his ways and who but God can know the mind of God? This just tells us once again, we probably don't understand homicide as God understands it.

Well, no, the "so" only follows there if one adds some premise such as that nothing can currently be present in the canon of Scripture unless God willed it to be there--in fact, a fairly strong form of inerrantism. One could just as easily take your _first_ sentences and go on with, "So, it looks like God couldn't really have ordered the slaughter of Canaanite children, because God cannot act contrary to His nature."

Part of the question here is whether we have _any_ notion of what it means to say that God is good. If literally _anything_ can be in Scripture attributed to God and we have to bite the bullet on it, then apparently we have _no_ idea what good and evil are, and we might as well not bother with the natural light at all.

In fact, it almost looks like such an inference requires as a premise that we know _better_ what belongs in Scripture than we know what right and wrong are! Why assume a thing like that?

_That_ is a lot stronger than any sort of "Protestantism 101."

Mike T., I've addressed again and again and again the idea that if God has a right to kill somebody, then it follows that it's not murder to kill an innocent if God "delegates" that right. I don't know why you just keep on ignoring that.

And you're trying to drag original sin into all of this when it really has no role to play. Think of it this way: Suppose that the Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary is/were true. (I'm going somewhere with this.) Wouldn't God also have had a right to take Mary's life even if she had no original sin? God is the giver of life even if someone doesn't have original sin. You don't _need_ original sin to argue that God has a right to take a created being's life, to separate soul from body. And dragging it in only gets you in over your head, because, as I pointed out, if original sin is relevant to the murder-non-murder issue, it's relevant in a way that eliminates all innocence and thus eliminates the concept of murder. You don't need it, and it would prove too much if you could bring it in, so you might as well just leave it out!

MA,

I would think the same with your other example about raping Cannanite babies, but luckily for all of us that's not an issue we have to deal with.

But as I said to Mike T., if you are really willing to consider that our moral intuitions about the wrongness of raping babies might just turn out to be wrong, then all natural law reasoning is o-u-t, out the window. We really have to hold that we know so little about right and wrong that there's no point in arguing against anything, from abortion to unjust war to sexual ethics to...anything, on the basis of the natural light. More or less, the natural light doesn't exist in any remotely reliable form if we could just "turn out to be wrong" about raping babies.

Yes, I'm certainly willing to consider that this portion of Scripture might be incorrect, that God didn't really order that. In fact, I'm _hoping_ God will tell me that when I get to heaven!! My only reason for not _definitely_ saying it is that I have no independent _textual_ reason for doing so. (I'd love to be handed one, though, that would stand up to independent examination.)

Why assume that we know what passages belong in Scripture better than we know what is absolutely and intrinsically evil when it comes to harming babies?

Mike T,

If you weren't so committed to philosophy and could just accept scripture at face value..

Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. I'm not a scriptural positivist if that's what you mean.

..you might understand where some of us are coming from.

I understand perfectly well where you're coming from. You're afraid that admitting the moral difficulty of these passage will have a fatal effect on scriptural inerrancy. But as far as I can tell, you're argument in defense of it goes like this: My God is the true God, and is, of course, a good God. If God commands me to do something that I would ordinarily think evil, such as massacring a few infants, it must in reality be good. People who follow other religions worship either a warped understanding of God or an outright false one. If bloodthirsty jihadists say that it is God's command that the infidel be slaughtered, beheaded, raped, or sold into slavery, he is wrong and is therefore doing evil because his God is a false God, unlike mine which is the true God. Only my God can command that innocents be murdered, which is not really murder because my God is a good God.

As an apologetical stance, the obstacles seem insurmountable.

Though you have yet to address Lydia's argument that it is always and everywhere intrinsically evil for humans to commit murder, that you really do see the moral difficulty of these passages is betrayed by this: I say that as someone who despite what Luse and a few others think, actually would not be able to obey the will of God in that scenario. I praise God that I was not born an Israelite of that period.

For the record, I never said or thought that you would carry out the command, and would certainly think the better of you if you didn't.

Marc Anthony,
Thanks for pointing out my options. But I'm not going to entertain your alternatives until you answer a question that both I and Lydia asked of you way back up in the thread: What is that God would not command, such that, if you heard that command you would say, "That is not God speaking, but some other thing, like the Deceiver of Souls."

Jeffrey S.,

You already said you aren't an inerrantist, so can't we conclude that this is one of those places that the Bible has a mistake?

I guess I was unclear. I am Catholic. I was trying to say that if I became a Protestant, I wouldn't be an inerrantist.

That said, some research (because I did want to make sure I wasn't making some fundamental error in calling myself a "Catholic inerrantist") shows me that the way the Church defines the concept of Biblical inerrancy is quite different from a lot of modern Protestant understandings. Given the definition "...the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation..." (Dei Verbum*).

Given that as the definition, I will immediately say - with relief - that I highly doubt the Canannite passages as necessary for the "sake of salvation".

But anyway, to cover my bases, Lydia:


Why assume that we know what passages belong in Scripture better than we know what is absolutely and intrinsically evil when it comes to harming babies?

My answer is, "Because I am a Catholic, and the Church says those passages belong in Scripture". Without the Church requiring of me that I take those passages as God's direct word, full stop, I will immediately concede that the odds are very, very low that God actually ordered the slaughters...and if He did it is because of some sort of relevant factor we are clearly not privy to.

*From "The Gospel According to Wikipedia"

William Luse,

What is that God would not command, such that, if you heard that command you would say, "That is not God speaking, but some other thing, like the Deceiver of Souls."

Pretty much anything I think is intrinsically immoral, from as low as lying to as high as mass genocide.

In my view an act can only be intrinsically evil if it was even evil if God would commit it. As for killing babies, if one assumes that God’s killing the firstborns in Egypt is morally acceptable then I don’t think that killing babies can be regarded as intrinsically evil. As far as I can see according to the Bible there are indeed acts that are intrinsically evil in the sense that they would even be evil if God committed them and therefore we can expect God never to commit them. Such a view seems to lie behind Biblical passages that say that there are things God would never do, such as 2 Timothy 2,13 or Hebrews 6,18.

Another act that is not intrinsically evil in the sense that it is only wrong for humans to commit it but not for God is judging people (Matthew 7,1-5, Luke 6,37-42, James 4,11-12). But if God delegated His judgement to someone or a group of people, the resulting acts of judgement certainly would not be evil.

As for killing the Canaanites and especially the infants and children among them, there obviously is the idea that if God directly killed them such an act would not have to be regarded as evil, but if people commit these acts, following a divine commandment, these acts have to be regarded as evil. However, one can even argue that there are good reasons that God didn’t kill the Canaanites directly, as He had done with respect to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah or of Egypt. Maybe it was because He wanted to give the Canaanites a chance to repent that God didn’t act like this. As one can see from Rahab (Joshua 2) or the Gibeonites (Joshua 9), it was possible for Canaanites to avoid being killed by the Israelites. As for the former, in Joshua 2,8-13 Rahab, a Canaanite woman, says: “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and so on earth below. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death.” (NIV)

So, the Canaanites were not unsuspecting victims, but they were aware of God’s power and in addition to this felt a supernatural fear. From this one can draw the conclusion that God did everything He could to bring the Canaanites to repentance. Wouldn’t it have been reasonable for them to follow Rahab’s example and to acknowledge the God of the Israelites and to follow His commands? If they had done so, they certainly would have been spared, as was the case with Rahab. Can’t one regard their failure to do so as being immoral and therefore worthy of punishment?

The answer is so obvious: Because _my_ taking a baby's life is a paradigm case of what we call "murder."

Lydia, while my initial intuitions about killing children are intensely opposed to such killing just on the ground that you speak to, I suggest that this is one of the areas where our moral intuitions are capable of running us aground if we do not inform our consciences with due reason.

The definition of murder is not simply that of taking the life of an innocent person. If it were, then we would have a problem that in warfare we would not be able to kill enemy solders, because many times enemy soldiers are in fact morally innocent people. When the regular German soldiers thought that Polish soldiers were attacking in 1939 (because special op soldiers dressed in Polish uniforms were in fact attacking), and they took the offensive against regular Polish soldiers, at an absolute minimum one set of regular soldiers were innocently killing innocent

regular soldiers of the other army.

More generally, everyone agrees that the decision to make war justly lies with the leaders, and if in a difficult case where information is problematic they plausibly but _erroneously_ think that their situation justly merits going to war, the individual soldiers tasked with the fighting are NOT MORALLY GUILTY of unjust act when obeying lawfully given orders to go to war, and on the other side, soldiers on the just side are not morally guilty of killing the innocent enemy soldiers even if some of them are, SIMPLY, innocent of moral wrongdoing. And, in fact, Christians have taught (and formulated into rules of warfare) that in killing the enemy you are not to assume that the enemy soldier is morally guilty of any wrongdoing, and instead are to assume that he is morally innocent. This is part of the basis of the POW rules.

The point is, in warfare we DON'T think that killing the enemy soldiers is due and just on account of the moral guilt of the soldiers, and we CAN kill them even if we think they are morally innocent of all wrongdoing - even if we are convinced that an individual enemy soldier is an innocent man.

To speak with absolute precision, the WRONGNESS of murder isn't simply from the innocence of the victim as its root source. The innocence is usually but not absolutely the sufficient basis for the wrongness of the act. It is that the innocence is usually the basis for the fact that this person's (the victim's) life is sacred and protected in God's eyes, because God not man is the author of life. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes it this way:

The malice discernible in the sin is primarily chargeable to the violation of the supreme ownership of God over the lives of His creatures. It arises as well from the manifest outrage upon one of the most conspicuous and cherished rights enjoyed by man, namely the right to life.

The second sentence is, clearly, a derivative basis for the outrageousness of taking a life. That derivation flows out of God's gift of life and human nature. And that derivation, that being based on something else more absolute, gives the possibility that it is subject to God's willing, in certain cases, to cease to grant an extension of life to some people, and thus putting a cap on their right to life.

The moral problem that we face in discussing the Mosaic orders to kill Amalekites or Joshua's orders to kill Canaanites is not fundamentally different from that of God's orders to Abraham to kill Isaac. There is nothing in that story for Abraham to imagine that Isaac was, or might have been, guilty of something in God's eyes. In fact, the typology of the Christ being sacrificed is more proper if Isaac was the unspotted, unblemished, innocent victim. We are not even told if Isaac was, at the time, old enough to have committed a grave sin, and his innocent questions and innocent trust in his father suggests he may have been quite young. But whether he was or not, there is nothing in the story that shows the least suggestion of Isaac's being guilty, God simply tells Abraham to make a sacrifice of him. I suggest that our moral senses of the wrongness of taking innocent life should be similar in this case as in the issue with the Canaanites.

And both should be informed by the fact that nobody has a "right" to life beyond the moment God determines and specifies, IN DETAIL, for their death. For the malice of murder is PRIMARILY chargeable as an offence against the supreme ownership of God over his creatures' lives. The innocent person's RIGHT to life is a dependent right, not an absolute.

Generically, then, God's using natural means, such as a tree falling on a car, or a flash flood, to kill some innocent person, is not an outrage against their right to life. And God's using the state's executioner to kill an erroneously (but procedurally correct) identified person charged, tried, and convicted of murder is NOT an outrage against that person's right to life. And God's telling Abraham to kill his son is not an outrage against Isaac's right to life. The circumstances God can use to intentionally bring about an (innocent) person's death can be through the instrumental causes that are apart from man, or with man, and neither need be thought an outrage against man's nature.

Why should it be unique or even extremely rare? After all, God could take people's lives every day of the week. Maybe He does, for all we know. So if there's no difference between that and delegating, if there's no murder concern here, why *shouldn't* God order individual people now to do it? Or why shouldn't God order groups now to do it? Etc. I'm sure if we let our ugly side loose we can all think of groups of people who are inconvenient.

One of the important differences between the OT and the NT is that we now have the Church to weigh and sift and reflect on God's revelation of His will for us. A person who is demonstrably mentally ill, and thinks he hears God's voice telling him to kill others, can be restrained precisely because we can discount what he is "hearing" as mental illness even apart from its specific content. Similarly, a person who lives a degraded moral life can be assumed NOT to be hearing God, (but maybe he really is hearing a demon) if he thinks God is telling him to sleep with as many women as he can, because we have a more sure guide to God's will than his interior voice, we have the Church. And, in any case, we have the obligation to act in protection of life until we are assured, within the bounds of human ability to discern, that this person's life is protected: the assumption of every person's right to life is general but can be overcome by circumstances (guilt, being an enemy soldier, erroneous court decisions) that provide that their right to life is at an end. If God really does't want us to prevent Billy's killing a person, He will make it that we either CAN'T interfere, or that we SHOULDN'T interfere and we know (through other means) that we shouldn't interfere.

Mike T., I've addressed again and again and again the idea that if God has a right to kill somebody, then it follows that it's not murder to kill an innocent if God "delegates" that right. I don't know why you just keep on ignoring that.

Because you made quite a few arguments about lone wolves, where does it end, etc.? You keep answering it from the perspective of assuming or hoping that God did not order it when MarcAnthony, George and I are saying you're not equally answering it with "what if he did order it?" This may be one of many reasons why God would order such a thing.

But as I said to Mike T., if you are really willing to consider that our moral intuitions about the wrongness of raping babies might just turn out to be wrong, then all natural law reasoning is o-u-t, out the window. We really have to hold that we know so little about right and wrong that there's no point in arguing against anything, from abortion to unjust war to sexual ethics to...anything, on the basis of the natural light. More or less, the natural light doesn't exist in any remotely reliable form if we could just "turn out to be wrong" about raping babies.

You're taking this in a direction that the facts don't support. The fact is that God cannot will what is intrinsically against his nature. God has shown no inclination to order people to commit sexual violence. The only violence at controversy here is violence which scripture reasonably shows God is in fact entitled to order which is the elimination of sinners.

But speaking of rape, I can think of at least two legal categories of rape that were not rape until about 40-50 years ago even in the West: drunken sex and marital rape. By modern standards, God quasi-raped Mary. It was obviously not a sexual act, but he forced his son on her nonetheless.

I would also add that for most of Western history it would not have been controversial to hang a woman for procuring an abortion. Even in pagan Rome, getting one against the will of the pater familias could result in execution. Try suggesting that to "pro-lifers" who say abortion is murder and watch the sparks fly.

None of this shakes my view of natural law as a reasonable guide anymore than the Physics establishment is going to commit mass suicide the next time their fundamental assumptions are questioned. You find a flaw, you go back to the drawing board, you reevaluate, pivot and move on.

For the record, I never said or thought that you would carry out the command, and would certainly think the better of you if you didn't.

Thanks. I didn't mean to imply you said it. I have a reputation, earned and unearned, for supporting violence. In one or two cases (*cough*Ita Scripta Est*cough*) it's mostly unearned. So I wanted to make that point bluntly clear.

A recent genetics discovery may also offer one of my ideas of why God would order Israel to cut off their bloodlines.

And good points, Tony.

Lydia wrote: “This is obvious from the fact that, if a person stands up in court and says, "God told me to kill that baby," even we Christians don't (or, heaven help us, shouldn't) for a moment consider the possibility that the statement is _true_. We don't think that we should investigate the nature and track-record of the defendant's voices-in-the-head to find out if maybe that really was just the delegated means by which God released the baby in question from the toils of this world and took him to heaven in his innocence! We assume that the defendant is crazy. Why? Well, obviously: Because for human beings deliberately to kill babies is wrong. Therefore we assume that God wouldn't tell a human being to kill a baby.”

If we look at the case of Abraham receiving an order from God to sacrifice his own son Isaac as well as at the case of the Israelites receiving an order from God to kill all Canaanites including infants and children, in both cases the people involved had strong evidence that the respective orders came indeed from God. As for the former case, Abraham would not even have been in a position to sacrifice Isaac if he hadn’t gotten his son by God’s miraculous intervention. As for the latter, all the signs and wonders the Israelites experienced in Egypt and during the Exodus clearly showed them that they were dealing with God.

Patrick,


Maybe it was because He wanted to give the Canaanites a chance to repent that God didn’t act like this....Can’t one regard their failure to do so as being immoral and therefore worthy of punishment?

That doesn't apply to the babies. Babies can't repent. And God could have struck them dead at any point in the process, including after giving the adults a chance to repent. Moreover, in Numbers 31, Moses condemns the women or saves them on the basis of whether they are virgins or not, not on the basis of whether or not they had repented, so you appear to be wrong about the rationale. After all, a 14-year-old girl who is a virgin can still be an unrepentant idolater.


in both cases the people involved had strong evidence that the respective orders came indeed from God.

Actually, we don't have a whole lot of evidence on this point. Look at Numbers 31. The orders were so unclear that the soldiers thought they were allowed or supposed to bring back the women and children, and Moses came out and told them otherwise and ad libbed a "kill the boys and non-virgins" idea that isn't found anywhere else even in the OT.

As for the latter, all the signs and wonders the Israelites experienced in Egypt and during the Exodus clearly showed them that they were dealing with God.

Nonsense. Over and over again in the OT we find that false prophets crop up or that God takes his hand off of a particular leader or deliverer. Why not think this had happened to Moses when he started telling them to slaughter children? Or why shouldn't Saul think it of Samuel in I Samuel 15? That he had gone off the rails? An endorsement of a person as a prophet was never automatically an endorsement for life and for every possible thing the person could say.

Mike T., that statement about the Virgin Mary is absurd. You have enough IQ points to work out for yourself why it is absurd, so I won't even bother.

But it's interesting: I notice the fudge factor--God _hasn't shown any inclination_ to order people to command sexual violence. Well, thank goodness for that. My impression is that you are saying that _if_ you found such a passage in the OT, you would just try to "correct your theory" back at the drawing board and decide that ordering sexual violence isn't against God's nature after all.

What you don't acknowledge is that, when you get to these extreme points, it really _does_ undermine all our ability to know what "good" and "evil" even mean anymore.

There are so many biblical passages that say things like, "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." "Every good gift is from above and cometh from the Father of lights." "God cannot lie." "God is love." And so on and so forth. But if "good" _could_ mean, for all we know, capable of ordering rape, then that word really has no meaning that we can understand, and all that revelation of God as intrinsically and absolutely good, the source of all goodness, good by His very nature, is undermined.

What you don't seem to understand is the intimate intertwining of epistemology and metaphysics here, and what a big deal it is to say that our very concept of what goodness means is *so far off* that there is _nothing_ that God could be said to order that we would rule out as being contrary to divine goodness and therefore, presumably, erroneously attributed to him.

When you take a theory like that, you really do, whether you realize it or not, take the position that our knowledge of what "good" means is incredibly fallible and shaky, so fallible and shaky that something utterly heinous and evil, by our standards, could turn out to be "good." That has gigantic ramifications. God _could_, on that view, turn out to be what we would call a moral monster, and could turn out to be a moral monster six ways from zero, and we would still be called upon to just redefine "goodness" so as to go on adoring and worshiping Him.

To my mind, _that_ verges on being blasphemous. You have to give more credit to human ability to know good from evil than _that_, or you end up in dark places and end up making a mockery of all the revelation of God as all-good.

Tony, let me take your points individually. May not get to them all right away.

Re. soldiers in war: The concept of innocence as applied to infants means, inter alia, that the category of "combatants" does not apply to them. I apologize if I was ever unclear on this, but a combatant, even if he is not doing something wrong or wicked in being a combatant, is nonetheless placing himself in a position of fighting with another person and therefore has nothing to complain of vis a vis the other person if he is killed in battle. In the overarching context there are questions of which side is in the right in the war, but a soldier killed by another soldier, whether he was on the right or wrong side, has no grounds for claiming that he was murdered. Each one was trying to kill the other. Hence, neither one is in the category of an "innocent" in the relevant sense that includes "not trying to kill anybody."

Re. Isaac: I knew somebody would bring up Isaac. I frankly admit that in some ways the story of Abraham and Isaac brings up the same issues I have brought up here. I have thought about it myself in those terms repeatedly. There is, however, one thing that gives us more wiggle room with Abraham and Isaac than we have in the case of the Canaanite slaughters: Abraham had a promise from God that "in Isaac shall thy seed be called" and that "thy descendants shall be as the sand of the sea" and "in thee all the nations of the world shall be blessed." Every indication in Scripture is that the promise was given with at least as much evidence that it came from God as the later order to sacrifice Isaac. They are both just things that the Lord "said" to Abraham, whatever that experience was like for Abraham. Therefore, Abraham had at least as much evidence that Isaac, who had never yet fathered a child, would somehow live on and have children and many further descendants. The Apostle Paul glosses this as Abraham's believing that God could raise Isaac from the dead. Notice, too, that Paul credits Abraham with faith *in God's promise* of many descendants from Isaac. If this is correct, then Abraham never believed that he would be killing Isaac in the same sense that one kills a person in any natural situation--where the person just stays dead. Call this the "zombie Isaac" theory if you like. We also have Abraham's own cryptic words to Isaac, "God will provide for himself a sacrifice," where Abraham seems to be holding out the possibility that God would, as God did in the end, remit the order.

More later.

Lydia,

Most of what you said is jumping to conclusions. You are taking a single edge case and concluding that the entire system is FUBAR, and basically the end is nigh if we conclude that this is a valid edge case. In reality, edge cases rarely tell us something profound about anything. They tell us there was a failure of knowledge and/or design (in the case of engineering). They say virtually nothing of significance outside of that.

Nonsense. Over and over again in the OT we find that false prophets crop up or that God takes his hand off of a particular leader or deliverer. Why not think this had happened to Moses when he started telling them to slaughter children? Or why shouldn't Saul think it of Samuel in I Samuel 15? That he had gone off the rails? An endorsement of a person as a prophet was never automatically an endorsement for life and for every possible thing the person could say.

Because it would have been mortal sin (to the nth degree) for Moses and there'd be no way for him to have appeared in the vision in the Gospels since he'd be burning in hell (as there is no evidence Moses ever repented of this alleged extremely serious sin).

Mike T,

"They tell us there was a failure of knowledge and/or design (in the case of engineering). They say virtually nothing of significance outside of that."

AND

"Because it would have been mortal sin (to the nth degree) for Moses and there'd be no way for him to have appeared in the vision in the Gospels since he'd be burning in hell (as there is no evidence Moses ever repented of this alleged extremely serious sin)."

Or there is an alternative. Those 'orders' from God are not accurate and there are places in the Bible that contain error. I think MarcAnthony actually came up with a very clever Catholic solution to this problem -- if you are worried about errors in the Bible clearly these 'orders' are not key to our salvation and what we can know from the natural law and the rest of the Bible is that it is wrong to kill babies, full stop, end of story.

Jeff,

Precisely where do the Canaanite passages contradict the natural or the rest of scripture? I don't see how it does. It is a fact that God can execute a particular judgment through agents. As Patrick pointed out, there are numerous pieces of evidence that God actually favored Moses in carrying out this assault on Canaan.

God annihilated plenty of "innocent babies" during the flood. The particulars of their innocence did not seem sufficient to God to merit them being tossed into a second ark.

Those 'orders' from God are not accurate and there are places in the Bible that contain error.

And once you start down that path, you end up like a lot of my family selectively claiming that certain things Christ said were recorded inaccurately. This is not a path that ends well for us.

Mike,

"Precisely where do the Canaanite passages contradict the natural or the rest of scripture? I don't see how it does. It is a fact that God can execute a particular judgment through agents. As Patrick pointed out, there are numerous pieces of evidence that God actually favored Moses in carrying out this assault on Canaan."

The crux of the argument is that God will not execute a judgment that contradicts his perfectly good nature. And having men kill babies -- stab them, dash their heads against rocks, what have you -- seems like a paradigmatic case of men committing murder (to answer Tony up above) without any real wiggle room to somehow justify the slaughter.

Ok, and how is that really different on a moral level from the angel of death slaughtering the first born? According to Lydia, their being human makes some sort of difference. I don't see how that works. In both cases, God delegated to a lower sentient being to commit the mass killing on his behalf. We also know that angels are actually under even tighter scrutiny than we are as there is no basis for an angel who has chosen to sin to ever come back into God's grace that has been revealed to us.

Sure, the angel of death may have been far less brutal, but so what? That's like saying that there are fundamentally different moral dimensions between the lethal injection and hanging or decapitation.

Here's the reference to what Lydia said, Jeff.

The crux of the argument is that God will not execute a judgment that contradicts his perfectly good nature. And having men kill babies -- stab them, dash their heads against rocks, what have you -- seems like a paradigmatic case of men committing murder

You and Lydia haven't answered a fundamental question. How can they be guilty of murder when God has decreed a death sentence on them and they're the appointed executioners? The Old Testament clearly shows that God is willing to annihilate "innocent children" to make a point. What do you think the flood was if not God almost literally throwing the baby out with the bathwater...

Mike,

As Paul alluded to earlier upthread, the danger with these discussion is that they can cause ill will between brothers in Christ. I just want you to know that despite our difference over this (and other theological and policy questions) I could never get seriously angry at someone who writes such great lines:

"What do you think the flood was if not God almost literally throwing the baby out with the bathwater..."

Thanks. No matter our differences, I feel much the same way.

In both cases, God delegated to a lower sentient being to commit the mass killing on his behalf. We also know that angels are actually under even tighter scrutiny than we are as there is no basis for an angel who has chosen to sin to ever come back into God's grace that has been revealed to us.

Actually, I very much doubt that "delegating" to the angel of death means anything remotely like "delegating" to human beings. And no, I'm not merely referring to brutality. For one thing, we don't actually know that the angel of death is an angel. For example, when the Bible says, "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about to deliver them," that could easily just mean that the Lord delivers them. If the angel of death is an angel, it is perfectly plausible that his power flows from God in a supernatural way that is not intermediary in the way that our choices and natural powers are intermediary. If Joshua had held up his hand and all the people of Jericho had dropped dead, that would have been clearly a supernatural act of God directly. Same with the angel of death.

Mike, I've over and over again answered and made counter-arguments against the claim that a human being's killing a child is equivalent to God's taking the child's life by supernatural means. If you don't see it, you don't see it, but I wish you'd stop speaking as if nobody has responded to you on that point.

Because it would have been mortal sin (to the nth degree) for Moses and there'd be no way for him to have appeared in the vision in the Gospels since he'd be burning in hell (as there is no evidence Moses ever repented of this alleged extremely serious sin).

Note that when I brought up the possibility that Samuel or Moses had gone off the rails, I was answering Patrick's point regarding the _Israelites'_ allegedly incontrovertible reasons for believing that Moses and/or Samuel were giving God's orders. So that argument wouldn't apply to them.

As for that argument itself, there are a number of possibilities. Maybe somehow Moses was sincerely mistaken, which wouldn't be mortal sin. Or maybe, as Jeff has suggested, what is attributed to Moses is false altogether.

Most of what you said is jumping to conclusions. You are taking a single edge case and concluding that the entire system is FUBAR, and basically the end is nigh if we conclude that this is a valid edge case. In reality, edge cases rarely tell us something profound about anything.

We are never going to agree on that point. "Edge cases" when it comes to the natural law are actually central, not edge. That's why we use them for reductios. If your theory is such that you would accept God's ordering the rape of children or pretty much *anything whatsoever* rather than conclude that the text is incorrect, then the bizarreness of the example is what gives the argument bite! It simply doesn't work in ethical argument to say, "My position leads to bizarre and heinous conclusions, but since they are so bizarre, they concern only 'edge cases' and therefore are not significant."

Mike T: According to Lydia, their being human makes some sort of difference. I don't see how that works.

Well, this is the fundamental divide that apparently cannot be bridged. I (for example) believe the moral prohibition against intentionally killing infants to admit of no exception, ever, anywhere, at any time. Others believe that, if it could be established that God told me to do it (since life is God's to take or bestow as He sees fit), my guilt would be absolved because my act is in accordance with God's will, even though it's objective nature is precisely the same.

"Being human" makes all the difference. It is the raison d'etre of the natural law, and I think people ought to take very seriously Lydia's caution that if the prohibition against massacring infants via human intermediaries is not universal, that law is no law at all. "Thou shalt not murder" becomes a code of convenience, not a prohibition, the phrase "intrinsically immoral act" is emptied of meaning, and the shared wisdom that "God is the same yesterday, today, and forever" likewise.

My answer is, "Because I am a Catholic, and the Church says those passages belong in Scripture". Without the Church requiring of me that I take those passages as God's direct word, full stop, I will immediately concede that the odds are very, very low that God actually ordered the slaughters...and if He did it is because of some sort of relevant factor we are clearly not privy to.

I have to say that I think MA here has hit the nail much more closely on the head than anyone else in pointing out the possible answers, and holding to what the Church says about it.

1. Either the Bible doesn't actually say that God told Israelites to kill children, or

2. The Bible does say it but doesn't mean it, or

3. The Bible does say it and does mean it but the Bible is wrong about that because God didn't say it, or

4. The Bible does say it and does mean it but it is God rather than the Bible that is wrong, or

5. The Bible does say it and does mean it and the Bible is right and God is right about the morals of the matter.

Of these 5 logical possibilities, the first hypothesis is blatantly nonsensical. Everyone here has one or more versions of the Bible that says it.

The second requires a Copanian thesis (or some other) that we have misinterpreted the meaning of the words to a literal sense when they were idiomatic phrases. Lydia has admirably shown that he has not supported this hypothesis with even so much as a plausible argument, and the thesis simply doesn't answer for ALL of the passages that create the "problem".

Setting aside the "oh we have misinterpreted the poor biblical writers" thesis, the third requires believing Scripture reports as coming from God something that didn't come from God - i.e. it constitutes a direct misattribution of commands to Israel on how to behave. I will come back to this.

The fourth is heinous and blasphemous and won't be mentioned again. It would mean that there is no reason to have a Bible or trust it or believe anything in it, and would undermine the whole basis for the "problem" to begin with.

The fifth requires believing that our intuitions about what is moral and immoral regarding killing a person are off.

Now, going back to number 3, that the Bible says it but is wrong, there may be some versions of Protestants who can live with this, but I don't think that it is compatible with the Catholic sense of inerrancy. Here is Pope Leo talking about it in reference to Vatican I:

For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and of Trent, and finally confirmed and more expressly formulated by the Council of the Vatican. These are the words of the last: "The Books of the Old and New Testament, whole and entire, with all their parts, as enumerated in the decree of the same Council (Trent) and in the ancient Latin Vulgate, are to be received as sacred and canonical. And the Church holds them as sacred and canonical, not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority; nor only because they contain revelation without error; but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author."(57) Hence, because the Holy Ghost employed men as His instruments, we cannot therefore say that it was these inspired instruments who, perchance, have fallen into error, and not the primary author. For, by supernatural power, He so moved and impelled them to write-He was so present to them-that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first, rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth. Otherwise, it could not be said that He was the Author of the entire Scripture. Such has always been the persuasion of the Fathers.

Pius XII in Divino Afflante Spiritu says:

In our own time the Vatican Council, with the object of condemning false doctrines regarding inspiration, declared that these same books were to be regarded by the Church as sacred and canonical "not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority, nor merely because they contain revelation without error, but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God for their author, and as such were handed down to the Church herself."[3] When, subsequently, some Catholic writers, in spite of this solemn definition of Catholic doctrine, by which such divine authority is claimed for the "entire books with all their parts" as to secure freedom from any error whatsoever, ventured to restrict the truth of Sacred Scripture solely to matters of faith and morals, and to regard other matters, whether in the domain of physical science or history, as "obiter dicta" and - as they contended - in no wise connected with faith, Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII in the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus, published on November 18 in the year 1893, justly and rightly condemned these errors and safe-guarded the studies of the Divine Books by most wise precepts and rules.

While there are ways of "reading" difficult passages to minimize or re-directing the difficulty, 3 above isn't one that Catholics can be happy with. Method 3 is, basically, saying that this passage of the Bible is wrong, and is wrong not only about history, but is wrong about morals as well. That's too big a stretch for the inerrancy principles to cover.

So we are left with 2 or 5. Now, I will heartily agree with Lydia that Copan's attempt is pretty dreadful, it is just totally inadequate. That doesn't mean that his hypothesis is actually wrong, of course, but there is virtually nothing to actually recommend it OTHER than that it isn't number 5 above. But logically, Approach 2 doesn't say Copan is right, only that some approach that uses the same principles (like idioms or other constructions of language, story-telling, etc) change the apparent meaning to really something else. We don't have to have the successful solution to propose that there might be some solution out there. But what we do have to have, in order to work here, is a better, stronger reason to think 2 is the right approach than 5.

Lydia and Bill think they have it, in the the claim that killing an innocent baby is intrinsically wrong even were it apparently commanded by God.

I put it to Bill, at least, that he should feel a bit squirmy about saying 5 is off the table at the same time he seems to think 2 is off the table, and proposing #3. For #3 would appear to defy Catholic principles of inerrancy, and rather definitively at that. If he would rather go back to #2, I have no theological problem with that - it is, at least, proposable without defiance to Catholic standards of interpreting Scripture.

Lydia claims that "killing an innocent baby" is intrinsically wrong even if God appears to command it, and that this truth is more certain in any and all possible circumstances of God's apparent commands, so that everyone from Abraham to Moses to Joshua should have known that it wasn't God saying to kill babies. I don't think she has successfully answered my arguments that the "intrinsically wrong" claim here has problems.

Regarding the military: the fact that another person is attacking you is NOT the determinative feature for whether you can attack back: if you are a criminal, and you know the cop is innocent, you do a very grave evil in attacking him in the mere knowledge "hey, he's attacking me." It does no good to remove the sphere to "combatants" for this purpose: if the other soldier is either KNOWN to be innocent, or PRESUMED to be innocent, then his innocence is the sufficient basis to make attacking him intrinsically immoral or it is not. If it is his innocence and that alone, then his being a combatant is irrelevant and you cannot kill him if the principle is rightly stated that "it is intrinsically evil to kill an innocent person". If innocence is not a full and sufficient basis for the principle to be stated that way, then some ADDITIONAL character needs to be added, beyond mere innocence alone. Lydia suggested that the additional principal is "not attacking" or "not a combatant" is the additional feature, i.e. a condition that is true of infants all by themselves: the principle properly stated would then be "it is intrinsically wrong to kill an innocent person who is not a combatant". I suggest that when you add that second feature, you start the ball rolling: We already added "innocence" to the Commandment "thou shalt not kill", and now we are adding "non-combatant", are there any MORE features we need to add that deals with the circumstances, conditions, exceptions, limitations, etc that might not have been immediately suggested to our sense of what is right or our understanding of the commandment? After all, the total pacifists, who have a long history in the Church, would say that being a combatant OR being guilty STILL isn't a basis that changes the issue: they we shouldn't kill people even if they are guilty or if they are attacking unjustly. We have had to add 2 qualifiers to the Commandment, how are you so sure you (a) have all the qualifiers to the "intrinsically evil" standard on killing, and (b) that you have correctly stated exactly the right qualifiers to it?

My suggesting is getting at how we know that those 2 qualifiers are right and appropriate. I am suggesting the ground for them that makes them consistent and conform to a single overarching standard that includes them both. But it just so happens that such a standard has its own limiting factors: e.g. whether God has chosen to put a cap to someone's "right to life". You cannot dismiss the possibility that this explanation is correct merely because it conflicts with your account of exactly 2 qualifiers without anything more rooted to explain them - I knew it conflicts and proposed it because it settles a different problem that your account does not solve. If my proposed additional qualifier to the principle is wrong, it is wrong by something more than that it conflicts with your list of qualifiers.

Therefore, Abraham had at least as much evidence that Isaac, who had never yet fathered a child, would somehow live on and have children and many further descendants. The Apostle Paul glosses this as Abraham's believing that God could raise Isaac from the dead. Notice, too, that Paul credits Abraham with faith *in God's promise* of many descendants from Isaac. If this is correct, then Abraham never believed that he would be killing Isaac in the same sense that one kills a person in any natural situation--where the person just stays dead. Call this the "zombie Isaac" theory if you like.

I submit that this hypothesis is just as bad as Copan's. If I am convinced that God will either raise up Isaac after I kill him, or (to be more cautious) will raise up descendants to Isaac somehow, even from the very stones if necessary, without necessary raising up Isaac himself, my killing him is, STILL, KILLING him, an innocent person who is not a combatant. What God might do to fix the promise is completely irrelevant to whether my killing him violates the absolute principle that it it is intrinsically wrong to kill an innocent non-combatant. If it is a violation, then it's wrong no matter how many ways God has of fixing the promise (or fixing Isaac himself).

I don't insist that #5, by way of nuancing "without God's direct command" as an addition to the general prohibition against killing an innocent non-combatant, is the only possible out for a Christian to these difficult passages. I do think that it is either #2 or #5, and that there is sufficient room to our indistinctness in our understanding the principle rightly to allow for that nuancing addition, and that for this reason #5 should not be thrown out automatically. Claiming that we need to qualify the prohibition against killing by a third notion that ties up the first and second into one standard is not suggesting that "we just don't understand anything about the moral law", not at all.

As a gloss on my third qualifier to the principle:

When Cain kills Abel, God comes along and points out his wrong. Cain protests his fears and says

I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.

Both the natural law as we know it and God in Genesis to Noah (which comes later) supports this "by man shall his (the murderer's) blood be shed."

But God modifies this in Cain't case:

"Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.

Given that God can by his will say that the natural law penalty shall not apply, saying in effect "Although by man's nature Cain has forfeited his right to life and he normally ought to be killed, I reverse my normal approval that someone should kill a murderer under the natural law, and hereby make it that in spite of that law no one shall kill Cain - that in this case killing Cain would defy My will," it seems plausible that the same authority to reverse is possible in the other direction: God as the lord of life and overseer of the Providential order could make it that He withdrew the normal prohibition in the natural law against killing someone specifically because He wanted a man dead, and wanted humans to be His instruments. If the normal prohibition in the natural law is more fruitfully stated as "It is wrong to take to yourself (by your own will) God's authority over human life", then that would as a necessary consequence prohibit killing innocent non-combatants as a secondary norm, as well as account for the malice of murder being found primarily in the offence against God. If we accept the scenario that God is not an evil God if he wants an innocent (non-combatant) dead, the malice that is the wrongness in human murder is not a factor in such a scenario. If there is no malice, and if he can restrain the workings of the natural law to limit its effect on Cain, it would seem that doing so in the reverse direction regarding another person in using a human to kill a person He wants dead is also a metaphysical possibility.

Tony,

At some point, isn't this coming down to a matter of pride? That is insisting that our moral intuition is sufficiently informed that we can make claims that maybe scripture is wrong or that God allowed Moses to become a genocidal maniac? To even believe the latter, you'd have to believe that God would sit idle when one of his most faithful leaders is being lead astray by demonic influences and sincerely believes he's doing God's work.

Lydia,

Mike, I've over and over again answered and made counter-arguments against the claim that a human being's killing a child is equivalent to God's taking the child's life by supernatural means. If you don't see it, you don't see it, but I wish you'd stop speaking as if nobody has responded to you on that point.

To reject this delegation, you have to condemn every executioner who acted under official authority as a murderer since by this logic, the sovereign cannot delegate to a subordinate to execute someone. Killing a murderer without official capacity is not an execution in a society under law; it's premeditated murder. It may not be as morally dangerous as murdering an innocent child, but it carries the sin burden of murder.

As for that argument itself, there are a number of possibilities. Maybe somehow Moses was sincerely mistaken, which wouldn't be mortal sin. Or maybe, as Jeff has suggested, what is attributed to Moses is false altogether.

I am not Catholic, but I would be very surprised if this were something that the Catholic Church would ever believe that short of debilitating mental illness you could mitigate by ignorance. If your position is correct, it's so far into the realm of the obvious that no neurotypical grown man could mistake it for anything other than what it was. Hence, Moses would have some splainin to do before the judgment seat.

Tony: The Bible says that God sometimes allows or causes pain and suffering as a form of "soul-making" for a Christian. Presumably this would apply to, say, a five-year-old child as well, since a five-year-old child could grow more patient or compassionate or something as a result of suffering. If anything that God can do himself is something that God can delegate to a human, and if causing suffering to a five-year-old child is something God can do Himself (perhaps to strengthen the child's soul), does it then follow that God can delegate to you, Tony, as His representative, the requirement that you shall tie down a five-year-old child and torture him? We're talking serious pain, here, not spanking a naughty child.

And if you say yes to that, then why is this "not at all" undermining the idea that we know anything about the natural law?

By the way, while we're at it: Both Mike T. and MarcAnthony take their view of inerrancy to mean (if I understand them correctly) that we would be forced at least to take very seriously the proposition that God ordered the Israelites to rape the Canaanite children and therefore that "our intuitions about the natural law are just wrong" on that point, if the Bible said that. Do you agree? Is there any sort of line that your view of inerrancy would not cause you to cross in this regard?

By the way, while we're at it: Both Mike T. and MarcAnthony take their view of inerrancy to mean (if I understand them correctly) that we would be forced at least to take very seriously the proposition that God ordered the Israelites to rape the Canaanite children and therefore that "our intuitions about the natural law are just wrong" on that point, if the Bible said that. Do you agree? Is there any sort of line that your view of inerrancy would not cause you to cross in this regard?

Well, my view of the inerrancy of the Bible was (so I originally thought) the view used by the Church. Knowing that the Church has a much less strict view than I had originally realized, If I were to read this in the Bible I would say that the odds of God ordering this were virtually nil, if technically non-zero.

So, going by Tony's possibilities, I would say that I hold to #2.

(Also, I revise "much less strict" to "somewhat less strict".)

To even believe the latter, you'd have to believe that God would sit idle when one of his most faithful leaders is being lead astray by demonic influences and sincerely believes he's doing God's work.

The flip side of this is that...yeah, that's a possibility. I have no idea WHY God would do that, but I do think it's possible God would do that.

This reminds me of the guy who tried to argue that God wouldn't allow a bad King if the people were faithful. How on Earth do we know what God will and won't do, or why?

Speaking of rape, in case you haven't carefully read the passages in question, I call your attention to Numbers 31:

And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle...And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest,...And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, and Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord...and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. (Num. 31:-18)

That phrase, "keep alive for yourselves", is evocative is it not? If you are a soldier in the Israeli army and you are told you can't keep the sexy Midian woman you captured as a slave (in fact you have to kill her) but her younger daughter is just fine as war booty -- what do you think is going to happen to that younger daughter? Will she be carefully and respectfully raised by each soldier and taught the loving and merciful ways of the God of Israel? One would hope, but one would also be naïve in the extreme when it comes to how things were done back then.

I do think that for the Catholics among us, Tony's quotes make option (3), which I was inclined to support, more difficult if not impossible. Like MarcAnthony, I guess I will fall behind option (2) for now.

Cane Caldo has an interesting theory behind rape in the OT. I don't know if I agree, but I don't think it's dumb or crazy either, and it's worth consideration: http://canecaldo.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/red-weddings-in-canaan/

By the way, while we're at it: Both Mike T. and MarcAnthony take their view of inerrancy to mean (if I understand them correctly) that we would be forced at least to take very seriously the proposition that God ordered the Israelites to rape the Canaanite children and therefore that "our intuitions about the natural law are just wrong" on that point, if the Bible said that. Do you agree? Is there any sort of line that your view of inerrancy would not cause you to cross in this regard?

Where we (presumably both of us) disagree is in this phrase: "are just wrong." But as for me, even as a Protestant I believe what the Catholic Church teaches here on scriptural inerrancy. That teaching is also the teaching of every Protestant church I've attended. I believe that scripture is absolutely safeguarded by the Holy Spirit and nothing was made scripture that was in error. So if scripture says God ordered the genocide of the Canaanites, I believe it is heresy to suggest to the contrary.

I won't even comment at length on that post, MA. It's revolting. And no, we're not going to argue here in this thread about whether a graphic description of forcibly, physically raping a woman, ascribed to God as a _recommended form of contracting marriage_, is revolting.

So if scripture says God ordered the genocide of the Canaanites, I believe it is heresy to suggest to the contrary.

Not to psychoanalyze too much, Mike, but I can't help being curious as to why you changed back to the original point of debate in your ringing denouncement of heresy here, when it was "raping children" that I gave in my reductio example, when that was what you had just quoted from me and were responding to, and when as far as I can tell you (unlike MA) have seemed to indicate that even that would not cross a line for you. I mean, why not just say this? "If some book designated as canonical Scripture said that God commanded raping Canaanite children, then it would be heresy to suggest to the contrary."

The problem I see with these verses is that much is left out. I couldn't find anything where Moses actually claimed that God told him to do these things, but at the same time there is ample evidence that God did not actually hold these acts against him. In fact, there is more evidence that God favored Israel with his grace in these campaigns than anything else. There is nothing showing that Moses realized he was sinning by exterminating these peoples and then repented. The nature of the actions are such that no man could claim reasonably he was unaware of the moral dimensions. I think the odds he could claim ignorance are nil. And yet there he was in the vision Christ had rather than burning in Hell which is the only place he could go to if God hadn't ordered it and he proceeded to commit so much violence.

Lydia,

The reason I refuse to go there is because we are either discussing actual scripture or discussing hypotheticals which God has given us no indication we should be entertaining. Jews could "rightly" ask you why God would encourage the church to engage in what they consider symbolic cannibalism and then use that as superficial evidence that the gospels are false revelation.

You say you see no evidence that God ordered Moses to do this or at least approved of what Moses was doing. Others here like myself and Patrick do see such evidence. For Moses to do this on his own authority without at least God's approval would make him the most evil religious leader in Judao-Christian history. To suggest he was "mistaken" is a polite way of saying he was the greatest moral idiot that ever lead the Jewish people or church.

Tony,

Can you elaborate on #2 (2. The Bible does say it but doesn't mean it, or ). If that option is possible, does that not leave us to conclude that scripture contains things which are not true? If a science book said X about the properties of matter and energy and "didn't mean that" then would proposition X be false... essentially a lie?

Lydia,

Thought that would be your response. I'll simply say I thought it had merit despite disagreement, and leave it at that.

You say you see no evidence that God ordered Moses to do this or at least approved of what Moses was doing.

Mike, if I thought that, I wouldn't consider these to be problem passages in the first place, would I? It would all be easy peasey. "Oh, look, there's no evidence that God ordered or approved of this." I wonder if you even read my initial post, to which this post links. Deuteronomy 20, though presumably revealed _through_ Moses, is put into the mouth of God, complete with "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots." For instance. So, no, I don't say that.

By the way, while we're at it: Both Mike T. and MarcAnthony take their view of inerrancy to mean (if I understand them correctly) that we would be forced at least to take very seriously the proposition that God ordered the Israelites to rape the Canaanite children and therefore that "our intuitions about the natural law are just wrong" on that point,
Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. (Num. 31:-18)

I seriously never read that passage to read that Moses was telling them that the girls not yet old enough for sex were to be kept as sex slaves while they were still children. I still don't think that's an outstanding way to read it. The women who were old enough for sex were (or may be presumed) to have been turned into degenerates by the sex-based worship of idols. Thus keeping them as sex slaves is obviously corrupting to the men of Israel. The whole point of distinguishing the younger girls is that they won't be corrupting the men, isn't it? Surely we need not presume that the men of Israel were in the habit of taking 4 year old girls and raping them. Or 8-year olds for that matter. Slaves are not JUST for that. While there is no point to presuming that slaves were treated well, rather than oppressed mightily, there is also no reason to presume that the prescription here was that the "for yourselves" was, specifically, for raping children.

Can you elaborate on #2 (2. The Bible does say it but doesn't mean it, or ). If that option is possible, does that not leave us to conclude that scripture contains things which are not true? If a science book said X about the properties of matter and energy and "didn't mean that" then would proposition X be false... essentially a lie?

Mike, all I meant was the same thing that all interpreters do when they identify a passage that has to be read as having some kind of construction that is not the straightforward literal meaning of each separate word taken by itself. When we use phrases like "jump in a lake" or "get lost" we don't ACTUALLY MEAN AND INTEND for the person to go drive to a lake or to make themselves literally lost - the phrases are idiomatic, the aggregate meaning of the whole phrase taken together (in its context) means "go away" or "go away and leave me alone". Using them is not "wrong" nor "lying", it is just the idiomatic way language accrues phrases that mean something different from what each separate word ought to mean.

The same thing was true of the Jews. To a young man, Jesus remarks:

Why do you call me good? God alone is good.

But of course angels are good, holy men are good, the plants and birds and the sun are good. So is Jesus telling a lie? No: the Jews had an idiomatic expression of using "X alone" in order to emphasize something as "very much". "God alone is good" is an idiomatic expression meaning "God is very good, the greatest good of all," not that angels are not good and so on.

Similarly, there are whole passages that don't convey properly when simply translated word for word individually. The interpreter's job is to discern them and correctly identify when that is happening. If the passages with Moses, Joshua, and Samuel were examples where phrasing sound to us like the Israelites were being told to massacre babies, but to them it meant something else, we need to know that and we wouldn't automatically know it just by seeing a word-for-word translation. Just because Copan's attempt is pitiful doesn't mean that some other attempt won't all of a sudden make the whole thing gel - maybe with the realization of some other detail of Hebrew usage that we don't at the moment know, or realize applies. I don't have to think it very likely to admit the possibility.

Alternatively, there is Jesus' own clarification of one of Moses' rules, that on divorce. The Hebrews thought Moses was giving them a green light that divorce was A-OK, but according to Jesus, what Moses was really doing was saying, "well, if you are going to do it anyway even though it is evil, here's a limiting rule for mitigating the evil." I don't know how that kind of construction can be applied to these other passages, but maybe it can. Or there might be additional methods of altering the sense of what Moses is actually telling them.

I'll go on the record as saying that I think the concept of "we must believe only things necessary for our salvation" is a concept that is not to be taken lightly. Our standard for deciding that a passage isn't "necessary for salvation" should be EXTREMELY high, and the default view should be to take the Bible at face value unless we have excellent reason not to.

It is for this reason that, even now, I won't say I'm 100% certain God didn't order the massacres. 99+%, yes. But I can always be wrong.

As far as I can tell (though it was very hard to follow), Tony's deconstruction of "innocence" pretty much abolishes the concept, and the notion of intrinsic evil along with it. And his list of "possible answers" is hardly exhaustive, such as my suggestion that these passages are a mystery best left alone, barring some further revelation. That they exist at all is a scandal to any Christian who would make his God of Love palatable to the sincere inquirer.

I am open to explanations, but no one here has offered anything near satisfactory. Explanations that drag in irrelevancies like the death penalty, or that pretend they can't distinguish between the innocent and the combatant, or between God's own acts and those of the human helpers he has conscripted, or that try to make murky the distinction between natural and moral evil - explanations, in short, that make rubbish of God's law written into the conscience of every man, rendering God's own goodness a changeable thing - will not be entertained. Not by me, at any rate.

And his list of "possible answers" is hardly exhaustive, such as my suggestion that these passages are a mystery best left alone, barring some further revelation.
Probably because that's not a possible answer.

If you don't want to discuss this, don't.

If you don't want to discuss this, don't.

Don't be an ass. If I weren't willing to discuss it, I wouldn't have participated in the thread.

Probably because that's not a possible answer.

Of course it's an answer, that being: I don't know. Defenders of the passages could have said as much, to the effect that, yes, these are problematic indeed and cannot be reconciled at present with what we believe about God's goodness, but instead come up with rationales that accomplish nothing but a corruption of the moral law.

We are never going to agree on that point. "Edge cases" when it comes to the natural law are actually central, not edge. That's why we use them for reductios. If your theory is such that you would accept God's ordering the rape of children or pretty much *anything whatsoever* rather than conclude that the text is incorrect, then the bizarreness of the example is what gives the argument bite! It simply doesn't work in ethical argument to say, "My position leads to bizarre and heinous conclusions, but since they are so bizarre, they concern only 'edge cases' and therefore are not significant."

In this edge case, you have the probability of God ordering something that is ordinarily contrary to the natural law or at least seems that way. However, you cannot draw moral conclusions that are actually applicable to ordinary situations from it because in the point where God appears to have set aside the natural law for a purpose, God limited that to a time and place.

I do believe that the Holy Spirit safeguarded scripture in its entirety. Therefore I conclude that the error must intrinsically be with us and not God. Either our moral intuition is off or we are misreading it. The possibility of scripture being wrong is simply not possible unless you believe the Holy Spirit failed in his inspiration of a writer.

Alternatively, there is Jesus' own clarification of one of Moses' rules, that on divorce. The Hebrews thought Moses was giving them a green light that divorce was A-OK, but according to Jesus, what Moses was really doing was saying, "well, if you are going to do it anyway even though it is evil, here's a limiting rule for mitigating the evil." I don't know how that kind of construction can be applied to these other passages, but maybe it can. Or there might be additional methods of altering the sense of what Moses is actually telling them.

These passages do have a lot of points where the instructions seem to be misunderstood by the Israelites. In one part, they're slaughtering, in another party taking prisoners and another part some of them are even keeping forbidden spoils of war (property).

For what is worth, I found another argument that agreed with Copan that it was hyperbole. It makes sense to a degree. Just listen to the rhetoric of some Islamic extremists at times. The level of over the top "just wait till we get done with you" is almost amusing because it's so divorced from their operational capabilities. So on some level, it makes sense that this is not at all a recent behavior by Middle Eastern military leaders.

That said, where I simply cannot agree with Lydia is her view on reductios and scriptural accuracy. To accept her premise would be implicitly to deny the doctrine of the Holy Spirit's inspiration. Suppose instead of raping Canaanite children, the Bible had some crazy passage about them getting stuck without food and water for a week in the desert and God ordered them to eat the children--and it was recorded as God ordering Moses to fire up the grill. Would we conclude that scripture is wrong or conclude that... oy vey... God did in fact order that?

It seems reasonable to me to say that there is something missing about what Moses meant and what the Israelites understood. Beyond that, I think you question scripture's integrity.

Would we conclude that scripture is wrong or conclude that... oy vey... God did in fact order that?

Mike, my understanding, correct me if I'm wrong, is that that _is_ what you have been concluding. In fact, you have repeatedly and pointedly refused to reject my hypothetical if some passage of Scripture said that God ordered rape of children. You have (unlike MA) implied that in that case we would be bound to take seriously the idea that our moral intuitions that God could never order such a thing are incorrect on that point.

Tony,

To clarify: I was not interpreting that passage, "keep them for yourselves," as God's ordering the rape of the girl children. My bringing up rape is a hypothetical. It is intended as a reductio of the view of inerrancy that holds that we *must not* question the accuracy of something in Scripture, however heinous of an act it appears to ascribe to God, and that instead we should be open to thinking that our moral intuitions are "off" concerning its never being legitimate for human beings to do that.

As for that passage, as Jeff says above, it has a very dubious ring to it, but I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt when it's nothing more than a dubious ring. I only agonize over the really explicit passages.

So, understanding that my example of child rape was a hypothetical, I reiterate my questions: Would you under those circumstances (if there were a really explicit passage appearing to say that God ordered it) even _consider_ that our moral intuitions that this would always be wrong must be "just off"? Do you have any "line" that a passage could cross such that you would continue to consider the act intrinsically evil even if the passage said explicitly that God ordered it?

And his list of "possible answers" is hardly exhaustive, such as my suggestion that these passages are a mystery best left alone, barring some further revelation. That they exist at all is a scandal to any Christian who would make his God of Love palatable to the sincere inquirer.

Bill, I really don't understand what you mean. If you think that God's revelation in this part of Scripture is wholly impenetrable without "some further revelation", that would seem to indicate that Scripture itself is either incomplete, or that it is just not meant as revelation TO US. I don't think either of those are any more palatable than anything I have suggested. Indeed, they both seem rather impious to my ears. The notion that the Old and New Testaments, with the coming of God's own Word into the world, could be incomplete as God's public revelation, is so wholly contrary to everything the Church has said about Scripture that it seems beyond the pale. The formal teaching of the Church is that the period of public revelation closed with the death of the last Apostle. The notion that God intentionally made sure that the writers of Scripture included these passages in His holy Writ, but that that they could not possibly be meant for us because they constitute an inscrutable, impenetrable mystery that not only cannot be solved by us mere humans (working with the Church, of course) but also should not be attempted seems to make out that parts of Scripture simply are't really part of God revealing Himself and His will to us. Which is oxymoronic. And the implication that our attempting to find an explanation, but coming to an erroneous solution, would be a kind of evil action on our part, would seem to preclude the attempt by any of us mere humans who - you know, since the Fall - are subject to error, i.e. would preclude an attempt by anyone not yet in heaven. Even though that is precisely how the development of doctrine works, by people making attempts at explanations, and others shooting down the 5 or 10 or 50 that don't actually succeed.

It is certainly possible that none of the answers on the table so far are perfect. A suggestion of turning the table over because none of them are perfect doesn't provide an answer to the problem of the meaning of these passages, it rejects the search for an answer. Calling "no answer is possible to us" an "answer" to the problem is to restate the problem: it is to say that the question before us is not "how are we to understand these passages" but rather "are we to understand these passages?" Well, sure, if you want to re-frame the question, then certainly your answer might be different from the answers put forward to the original question.

Explanations that drag in irrelevancies like the death penalty, or that pretend they can't distinguish between the innocent and the combatant, or between God's own acts and those of the human helpers he has conscripted, or that try to make murky the distinction between natural and moral evil - explanations, in short, that make rubbish of God's law written into the conscience of every man, rendering God's own goodness a changeable thing - will not be entertained.

I reject this gross mis-characterization of my thesis. It is one thing to think I am wrong, even horribly wrong. It is quite another to pretend that my thesis hinges in the least bit on not being able to "distinguish between the innocent and the combatant" or "between God's own acts and those of the human helpers he has conscripted." If I have argued something in the murkiness of the distinction between natural and moral evil, then I have merely left in place the murkiness of other people's arguments, I did not make it up as a part of my own. In fact I debated MAKING that distinction explicit, and decided that it would be one point too many given all the others I was making.

Bill, I notice that you don't take Lydia to task for initiating the discussion of what is the right way to read these passages to begin with, rather than asking "should we even attempt to resolve them." I notice that you don't take her to task for suggesting that we might attempt to resolve the Abraham / Isaac story by allowing that Abraham might murder Isaac because God can bring him back to life to save the promises. I also notice that instead of pointing out actual errors and defects in my argument all you can bear to do is simply say that you won't entertain the notion. Well, even if I am wrong, even if I am horribly wrong, that doesn't actually accomplish anything.

I will further note that the root problem here is not JUST the passages about God apparently telling Israel to kill children, and how that seems to fail to square with the natural moral law. That's not all the problem. It is much more extensive. We also understand via the natural moral law that it is wrong to simply walk into another people's territory and TAKE IT, while at the same time suppressing that people's unity, customs, even society, to the point of eradicating their existence as a separate people (even if you leave them alive, that is). This is contrary to what we know of the natural moral law. But this is EXACTLY the Biblical formulation of the chosen people and their presence in the Promised Land. This apparent contradiction to the moral law isn't some side-light to the Bible, it is an absolutely critical, foundational element of the meaning of the whole of salvation history as bound up in the people of Israel. We know for certain that we can't normally just dispossess a people from their ancestral land, but also know that at God's command the Israelites were supposed to do just that. That is to say, the relationship with the normal workings of the natural moral law to the behavior of the Israelites at that time and place is less than obvious in more ways than just that of killing babies. Our task of understanding these problem parts of the Bible isn't solved by throwing the baby-killing parts out. Our difficulties with God's apparent commands contrasted with what we know of the moral law don't end at that.

It is of course permissible to say "I don't know how to understand those passages." I don't think it is fair to say (or imply) of someone else who is attempting to come to know, and proposing hypotheses to see if they might work, that they are wrong to even be making the attempt. Failing in the attempt isn't evil, it is just failure to know.

By the way, I want to note an interesting dynamic: In a conversation where I hear Christians at first staunchly defending the idea that God really did order putting a bunch of children to the sword, I find psychologically that any reversion to a view like Copan's ("Maybe it really is hyperbole; maybe it doesn't mean what it appears to mean") comes as a relief. There is something so shocking and horrifying to me about people's twisting their minds into justifying the slaughter of children (all the more so when the commitment to inerrancy is such that they will admit no reductio) that one would almost rather that they accept a view like Copan's. I believe that Copan's view is _intellectually_ untenable and born of wishful thinking, and that was why I felt that I had to write refuting it. But in the grand scheme one feels in one's gut that that's better than holding a view that is morally untenable and, frankly, morally corrupting.

Actually, Tony, I don't think it is *absolutely and intrinsically wrong in all times and in all places* to engage in conquest and to wipe out a culture qua culture. (Not talking about wiping out children to wipe out a culture.) That is very much the kind of thing I would call "wrong" but not "intrinsically wrong"--in other words, prima facie wrong and not something I'm going to undertake, but not wrong in the same absolute sense that killing an infant is wrong.

Lydia,

It's not really "twisting" anything. I can relate to you something that happened to me that might explain it a little better. When I came to Christ, I was in a Presbyterian church that was staunchly Calvinist. I struggled with predestination. Something told me it was probably not true, but my mind couldn't accept it and was flirting with the idea of rejecting the uncomfortable scripture. Then I woke up one morning with an intuition. It wasn't a "voice in the head kind of thing." It was a subtle "message" without words that felt like "would you reject Me and what I have done for you if it were true?" I said "no" and then that very day I suddenly started to lose all concern for whether it was true or not and I steadily started losing any belief in it and was left with the understanding that predestination is a bad human attempt to understand God's sovereignty and how it intersects with time.

So when I see things in scripture that make less moral sense to me and that appear to come from God, I submit my own understanding and say "your ways are higher than my ways, who am I to think I know the full details of your will and law!"

Don't be an ass. If I weren't willing to discuss it, I wouldn't have participated in the thread.

Okay, your first response to a perfectly polite point I made earlier was a dismissive "Yeah, thanks, I know that, answer this question". Which, by the way, I did, directly.

If you're just going to repeat "We don't know, we don't know", what are you doing here? We're trying to work out how to explain these verses. If that's something you're not interested in doing, then go. You don't have to.

Of course it's an answer, that being: I don't know. Defenders of the passages could have said as much, to the effect that, yes, these are problematic indeed and cannot be reconciled at present with what we believe about God's goodness, but instead come up with rationales that accomplish nothing but a corruption of the moral law.

On a test:

1) What is the square root of 9?

Answer: I don't know.

If I read that, I would say that the student didn't attempt to answer the question.

You don't know. Neither do we. We've decided to see if we could figure it out. If you don't think it's a good idea to do this, don't.

Plus, as has been pointed out, you completely dismissed Tony's argument while getting it wrong besides.

For the record, I think Tony is _wrong_ when he implies that, because qualifiers are required to explain why it's okay to kill soldiers in war in a battle without concern about personal innocence or wickedness, therefore the whole notion of the intrinsic evil of killing absolutely unambiguously innocent non-aggressors (babies and small children) is called into question, or at least in such a way as to allow the slaughter of the Canaanites.

I find all of that highly problematic, as I found the response by Steve on my personal blog in which he started going down the double effect rabbit trail. Steve's point was similar: If this or that qualification is required, then the intrinsic evil of deliberately putting a child to the edge of the sword is called into question. I simply don't agree at all, and I think it is troubling to find that a technique in use is to call into question the _general_ intrinsic wrongness of unambiguously, deliberately killing a child in order to make space, as it were, for the slaughter of the Canaanites, in order to preserve inerrancy. Surely it should be obvious that such an approach has potential ramifications that go beyond just allowing the slaughter of the Canaanites.

As far as Catholic doctrine is concerned, it seems to me that there is a prima facie conflict here: The Catholic Church has _always_ taught that abortion, for example, is *intrinsically* wrong, and the arguments made in Evangelium Vitae, for example, are exactly the ones I am making here on behalf of the Canaanite children. Yet the doctrine of inerrancy being attributed here (as I understand it) to the Catholic church is allegedly such that one must take it that it wasn't wrong for Israelite soldiers to kill the Canaanite children! In some ways I can say that it is the natural law arguments of the pro-life movement, which have been (let's face it) articulated most clearly and forcefully by Catholics, as Catholics, that have brought me to this point concerning the Canaanite slaughters. "Intrinsically evil," for example, is a technical term, and I don't think it came from Protestants!

Lydia,

Actually, Tony, I don't think it is *absolutely and intrinsically wrong in all times and in all places* to engage in conquest and to wipe out a culture qua culture. (Not talking about wiping out children to wipe out a culture.) That is very much the kind of thing I would call "wrong" but not "intrinsically wrong"--in other words, prima facie wrong and not something I'm going to undertake, but not wrong in the same absolute sense that killing an infant is wrong.

I agree. Some cultures are horrible and brutal and need to be wiped out. From what I've heard the Canaanites and Amalekites were unimaginably brutal.

But in the grand scheme one feels in one's gut that that's better than holding a view that is morally untenable and, frankly, morally corrupting.

Lydia, I can't wrap my head around this. Is it morally corrupting to make an attempt to solve a problem, propose something that turns out to be wrong, and then be shown how and why it is wrong? If so, then 9/10ths of what we do in developing moral philosophy is morally corrupting.

The whole point of investigating is to seek the truth, and for us fallen humans the common mechanism for that is to propose many hypotheses and shoot down the bulk of them as wrong when you can show they are wrong. But showing a hypothesis is wrong is more than showing that it is inconsistent with another hypothesis. If we are to be counted as dabbling in moral corruption merely by proposing hypotheses, then WE CAN'T INVESTIGATE AND DEVELOP our teachings. We would, for example, never have been able to come up with the specific statement of principle as an embellishment on "Thou shalt not kill" that excepts out "the guilty", we would have had to be satisfied with just the concrete cases that God listed in the Pentateuch for the death penalty and never attempted to resolve those concrete exceptions into a principle - and we could then never apply the death penalty to any crime other than one specifically listed in these 5 books (like treason). We would never have been able to come up with the explanatory distinction of moral evil versus physical evil to develop the principle of double effect, we would simply have been left with the Biblical injunction "do not do evil that good may come of it" and never known how to parse it usefully. If a person is going to be accused of dabbling in moral corruption merely by proposing a hypothesis, you aren't going to get any of these developments.

If my merely proposing it is morally corrupting, then many if not most of the objections that St. Thomas answers in the Summa Theologica (and other works), which were proposed by earlier thinkers INCLUDING Church Fathers and Doctors, would be dabbling in moral corruption. But St. Thomas says that the reason to employ them is, precisely, to learn from the prior attempts to search out the truth, including erroneous attempts.

In a conversation where I hear Christians at first staunchly defending the idea that God really did order putting a bunch of children to the sword,

It isn't just that, there are reams and reams of apparently approved actions that seem to jump out as being in violation of the moral law. Abraham slept with Haggar, Jacob married 2 women, Rahab lied to the men of Jericho, Jacob lied to Isaac to receive Esau's blessing, and so on. Each one of these presents us with a problem, and few of them can be resolved with "the language was metaphorical or idiomatic." We have to be open to principles of Biblical interpretation that leave room for accounts of them with the apparent approval and confirmation of these acts as upright in God's eyes. If we simply start out in ALL of these cases that our familiar understanding of the natural law is the _whole_ story, we might miss something pretty important in interpreting them. Even if we end up with that understanding of the natural law unreversed, by being open to further development of that understanding, we may be forced to see it more deeply, to express it with greater precision, etc.

Actually, Tony, I don't think it is *absolutely and intrinsically wrong in all times and in all places* to engage in conquest and to wipe out a culture qua culture.

Yeah, well, if you at the same time TAKE _THEIR_ LAND, and thus either shove them out or kill them, that's the second part of the picture here I mentioned. Insofar as I understand the natural moral law regarding the rights of a people to a place, that kind of imperialistic conquest, where you simply take away their right to live where they lived (even apart from taking away their culture) that is intrinsically wrong. I mean, people have to LIVE SOMEWHERE, and the natural law says that they have a right to live where they ARE, absent their having stolen it themselves. So pretending that they have a right to "live," but not a right to live HERE and forcing upon them the choice of "either I kill you here or you try to go somewhere else and have the people there kill you for trying to horn in on their land" isn't much less offensive to the natural law than just killing them to begin with. See, for example, Gaudium et Spes and its passage about forced deportations being offenses against the dignity of man. Defending imperialistic total conquest and annihilation of the Canaanite peoples with regard to both their culture and their possession of their place to live (with their deaths being the natural consequence thereof), but to take offense at killing their children seems to strain out one camel while swallowing another.

(all the more so when the commitment to inerrancy is such that they will admit no reductio)

This is an unfair accusation, in my view. It has the same sort of feel as the accusations of the atheists to our saying that our belief in the things of faith is stronger than our belief in the things proven by science - they always say "so if the Bible (the Church, God) told you that the Earth was flat, would you believe that instead of science?" No, we are quite confident that the truths of science and the truths of faith are compatible (even when we have difficulty articulating that compatibility), and we are quite confident that the truths of morality are compatible with revelation (even when we have trouble articulating that compatibility). If we were to find a person claiming revelation from God in which God told him to worship an idol, that would be one of those reductios that you are asking for. In order for your accusation of "no reductios" to bear weight, why don't you show us numerous instances (at any time since Christ's birth) of people claiming that they heard God telling them to kill someone, where we have even a shred of doubt as to whether they might be right in claiming it. It's not like this is a common moral dilemma we are running into, now is it?

In order to resolve a question like whether option #5 is viable, you have to resort to principles or premises that both sides of the debate hold in common. I have said that I hold in common with you that the normal effect of the natural law is that killing innocent non-combatants is evil, but that I propose something else: that this normal effect comes out of something that is a deeper truth about the natural law, a relationship of creature to Creator. You have responded not that my proposal misses the truth for reason X or Y, but because it offends your sense of the rightness of the natural law forbidding the killing of innocent non-combatants always and everywhere, but without an attempt to explain that sense with anything else. And then you suggest that merely questioning that sense is tantamount to moral corruption. It's not like I came in and stated my proposal as if it were written by God in stone, a rhetorical ploy much more common to a certain Catholic blogger whose handle begins with Z than it is mine. I've admitted repeatedly that it might not be the right approach. Maybe, just possibly, if you engage the issue, you will discover some way of explaining BOTH your right sense of the universality of the rule, AND a way of explaining how my proposal almost has a thread of truth but would be better stated as Z' and this shows why God's direct commands cannot possibly reverse the normal rule on humans killing innocent non-combatants. Such an argument would be a development, a greater insight into truth. But all we have here is a rejection of something you suppose is false but no development, no greater insight, and no willingness to formulate your truth with an even better expression of it.

It is also unreasonable to push this all on some supposedly outrageous standard of inerrancy all by itself. Yes, inerrancy is indeed part of this debate, but it is not like my standard of inerrancy (or MA's) is some outlandishly horrible version that of course would land us in the foolishness of (for example) being tied to believing the Earth is flat, or that God has fists and sits on a throne, or a 1000 other simpleton goofs. The Catholic notion of inerrancy (which is all I am standing by) is not easy to state in its entirety, and is highly nuanced, and admits of multiple ways of attempting to interpret difficult passages, without (like some Protestant versions) simply chucking whole books of the Bible or simply rejecting John 6 because it seems like it is contrary to the laws of nature AND the natural moral law. If we took the exact same approach you and Bill seem to be saying is the right approach on the passages with the killing of innocents and how it connects to the natural law in trying to interpret John 6 and the Last Supper passages, we would almost certainly end up with the result that there is no Real Presence at all and the language is only symbolic / metaphorical. And maybe you have the right result on those other passages, but you can't know that you have the right of it without at least tackling the options that are proposed and showing how the wrong ones are wrong, and you certainly cannot convey your right sense of it to others whose sense is less fully developed without discussing the rights and wrongs of other hypotheses.

Also, Lydia:


Yet the doctrine of inerrancy being attributed here (as I understand it) to the Catholic church is allegedly such that one must take it that it wasn't wrong for Israelite soldiers to kill the Canaanite children!

I question this. I'd say the doctrine means we have to take that possibility very seriously, but if there is absolutely no way to square the ordered killing of the babies we can probably do away with that specific point.

Now, Tony makes the point that a lot of salvation history is bound up with the Israelites moving in on land as conquerors. This is much more difficult to be pushed aside, and probably shouldn't be. We'd have to sacrifice far too much of the Pentateuch. So, here we are trying to see if there's a way for us to figure it out.

MA, check, I've picked up on that, so I've tried to tag you as having a different view a couple of times.

Tony, I have a brief question: Why have you never answered my repeated question regarding what you would do if there were passages, just as clear as these, that _did_ say that God ordered raping children or some other similarly heinous act? Is there anything where you would say, "Whatever else we do, we should not even consider that this might sometimes be okay to do and that our moral intuitions about its wrongness are wrong, because this one is an absolute and this thing is _always_ wrong to do"? Is there any line that goes too far for you? I've asked this repeatedly. Mike (I think) has answered. MA has answered (differently from Mike, as I understand him). You haven't. I think that would be useful to have on the table.

By the way, every single one of your other examples in this latest comment--Abraham sleeping with Hagar, Jacob, Rahab, Jacob again--are descriptive in the OT rather than prescriptive. That's a fundamental principle of biblical interpretation--to distinguish what is described from what is endorsed. In fact, it's pretty easy to argue that Abraham was _wrong_ to try to conceive the child of the promise with Hagar, that this showed a wavering of faith. Regardless, the idea that it was ordered by God or recommended in Scripture is utterly unsupported. I can't believe you would even bring those examples up. I mean, they're really lame. Who ever said that everything that everybody does in Scripture is approved? These are stories about real people, but it would be a silly argument from silence to say that every time a person isn't condemned or judged for something it's tantamount to God's having approved of the act! Surely you realize that the reason these Canaanite and Amalekite passage present a special problems is *just because* the text says either that God commanded it or that someone like Samuel or Moses commanded it in the name of God. You realize that, right? You can't just drag in every tomfool thing every ancient patriarch did and act like they create similar problems! Good grief. I mean, I'm sorry, but that just looks like an attempt to raise a smokescreen.

To clarify regarding "corrupting," of course I don't mean that all casuistry, in the broad sense of that term, is corrupting. I mean that trying, specifically, to find ways to justify hacking off children's heads is morally corrupting.

MA, for the record, I have no intention of trying to ditch the entire conquest of the Promised Land. I just utterly disagree with Tony that the conquest generally is equally a "camel" with the slaughter of the children.

Tony, I have a brief question: Why have you never answered my repeated question regarding what you would do if there were passages, just as clear as these, that _did_ say that God ordered raping children or some other similarly heinous act? Is there anything where you would say, "Whatever else we do, we should not even consider that this might sometimes be okay to do and that our moral intuitions about its wrongness are wrong, because this one is an absolute and this thing is _always_ wrong to do"? Is there any line that goes too far for you? I've asked this repeatedly. Mike (I think) has answered. MA has answered (differently from Mike, as I understand him). You haven't. I think that would be useful to have on the table.

I haven't answered because I don't think it is a reasonable question. Just like the atheists asking "what if the Bible told you the Earth was flat, which would you believe?" It's not a hypothetical that is particularly helpful.

Also, interestingly for the sake of your specific example, there are specific rights and wrongs with regard to sex that are not present in killing. For instance, sex, because it depends on a SPECIFIC and UTTERLY UNIQUE relationship between the husband and wife, cannot be licit with ANYONE else. Whereas, if John is rightly convicted of murder, his killing could be licitly undertaken by any one of several individuals, there is nothing special about who has to undertake it (as long as any of them are deputized by the state). And, if a murderer is going on a rampage, ANY concerned citizen with the wherewithal can stop him with lethal force, not just Pete. There is no uniqueness to the relation of who is a licit killer of one who ought to be killed. So, as I consider the matter, imagining God telling A to rape B's wife is, roughly, like imagining God making a rock so big He cannot lift it. Or like imagining God telling someone to love the Father but hate the Son. I don't have to "resolve" where to go here, the hypothetical is nonsense.

On my other examples, I agree that the Abraham and Haggar example is, mildly, considered in an unfavorable light (though it is not laid to Abraham's door particularly). All the others, though, are reported in such a way that it is inescapable that it seems like God is rewarding the behavior. I do think that you give insufficient weight to the fact that as a general matter the patriarchs, in their lives and their behavior, are held up as being admirable and godly, and one should expect that when they have failings in their behavior that is spelled out specifically with disapproval (like Moses and the rock). The Fathers of the Church speak of recognizing in the patriarchs the models of godliness, and that we are warned NOT to lightly and readily ascribe wrongness to their behavior even with regard to matters that we later understand are not prescribed for us, such as polygamy. (I am not suggesting that polygamy is consistent with the moral law.) Certainly Rahab is not punished, nor are any of the men she protects, and God seemingly relied on her lies to accomplish his work in Jericho. We can sometimes interpret the behavior as having a figurative sense that is laudable, but that bears its own constraints.

I just utterly disagree with Tony that the conquest generally is equally a "camel" with the slaughter of the children.

My point is that the conquest is part and parcel with the slaughter of children: it hardly matters whether you kill the children themselves, or evict a whole people (with their children) and force them on a long journey with no resources - the children who die as a result of the forced eviction are your responsibility just as if you killed them. You cannot get the conquest WITHOUT the death of children.

I haven't answered because I don't think it is a reasonable question. Just like the atheists asking "what if the Bible told you the Earth was flat, which would you believe?" It's not a hypothetical that is particularly helpful.

Also, interestingly for the sake of your specific example, there are specific rights and wrongs with regard to sex that are not present in killing. For instance, sex, because it depends on a SPECIFIC and UTTERLY UNIQUE relationship between the husband and wife, cannot be licit with ANYONE else. Whereas, if John is rightly convicted of murder, his killing could be licitly undertaken by any one of several individuals, there is nothing special about who has to undertake it (as long as any of them are deputized by the state). And, if a murderer is going on a rampage, ANY concerned citizen with the wherewithal can stop him with lethal force, not just Pete. There is no uniqueness to the relation of who is a licit killer of one who ought to be killed. So, as I consider the matter, imagining God telling A to rape B's wife is, roughly, like imagining God making a rock so big He cannot lift it. Or like imagining God telling someone to love the Father but hate the Son. I don't have to "resolve" where to go here, the hypothetical is nonsense.

One might just as well have said that it is nonsense to imagine that we would have the passages before us that we are discussing, yet there they are. If you think that the example I give is like imagining that Scripture said that God made a rock so big he couldn't lift it, then you understand pretty well what I think about the Canaanite slaughter passages. Should you not therefore answer that if such a passage were in Scripture, you would conclude that the order was not, in fact, given by God? For, if God were to do so, it would be like God's making a rock so big he could not lift it--in other words, inconsistent.

I think that would be a _very_ helpful answer. And I think that an example that gets you to say that you _do_ have a line, but it just doesn't fall here (at putting innocent children to the sword) is a useful example _for that very reason_. In fact, that's what I conjectured up above. I've been more worried by people who seem not to have such a line. Or even by MA's saying that, if the Bible said that God made a contradiction in logic, we'd have to consider that our view of logic is wrong.

So, I would find your being explicit on this point quite useful, actually, and far more useful than dismissing the question and answering unclearly.


My point is that the conquest is part and parcel with the slaughter of children: it hardly matters whether you kill the children themselves, or evict a whole people (with their children) and force them on a long journey with no resources - the children who die as a result of the forced eviction are your responsibility just as if you killed them. You cannot get the conquest WITHOUT the death of children.

So are you saying that every indirect and unspecified death that results from military action, where it could be predicted in the aggregate, with no specific children in view, that some would die as such an indirect result of the action, is just as much to be laid at the door of the person who engages in or orders the military action as if he had deliberately, personally, individually chopped off that child's head? I can only say that any such conflation of deliberate and non-deliberate, direct and indirect, and personal, intended victim with collateral damage, is completely untenable as a matter of moral philosophy.

I think what Tony is saying is you cannot engage in this sort of warfare and wash your hands of the people who die in the diaspora. The idea that you could persecute an entire people out of their lands into the wilderness and say you aren't responsible for all of the ones who die on the trail is precisely the sort of thing that Andrew Jackson would have said over the Trail of Tears.

Even Andrew Jackson wasn't as responsible for the people who died on the Trail of Tears as if he'd personally and individually killed them. That should be Ethics 101.

And by the way, if your hermeneutic means that you think you prima facie have to defend every action of the ancient patriarchs unless God explicitly condemns it, then your hermeneutic is severely flawed, and you're saddling yourself with big problems quite unnecessarily. I don't care what patristic source seems to endorse it.

Many people who have commented on this thread apparently think Pr(biblical inerrancy) is much, much greater than Pr(God would not command human beings to slaughter infants in the knowledge that they would go through with it). (The Abraham-and-Isaac situation is significantly different from the Canaanite situation, for reasons that we can talk about in more depth if anyone wants to.)

Now, I do think there is a reasonable evidential case to be made for biblical inerrancy; in particular, it seems prima facie that Jesus of Nazareth endorsed Old Testament texts as divinely inspired. The trouble is that there is also a reasonable evidential case to be made for the view that God would not command human beings to slaughter infants in the knowledge that they would go through with it. I’m curious as to what the overwhelming case for biblical inerrancy actually is. It seems to me that such a case will rely on claims about the nature of God, the teachings of Jesus or His church, &c. that establish, with much greater probability, the reality that God would not command human beings to slaughter infants in the knowledge that they would go through with it.

That comment puts very well some of the points I have been making. Thanks.

In fact, that's what I conjectured up above. I've been more worried by people who seem not to have such a line.

I did say that I had such a line: an apparent order from God to worship an idol. And no, it's not the ONLY behavior I would consider for beyond the line.

And I think that my example with rape is, also, an example of my having such a line, though perhaps in a slightly different way than you are thinking of it. My approach would not be "we'd have to consider that our view of logic is wrong," I wouldn't say that. But my response on the rape is undoubtedly formed by my understanding of the natural law, and it is also true that that my understanding of the natural law is undoubtedly assisted by what the Bible shows, which both has patriarchs with polygamy and has Jesus stating a very firm line about divorce and St. Paul comparing marriage to the Church's relationship to Christ. St. Thomas teaches that the natural law about marriage includes first order principles and second order principles, and the second order principles are less accessible to the natural light of reason in this world full of fallen man, so it would not be in the least surprising to see cultures that get the first order principles and not the second - like polygamy. So, it is difficult or impossible to propose a hypothetical about sexual morals that doesn't run counter to the what the Bible already has taught us on the matter, which informs our understanding of natural law, without starting down the road of completely re-writing the Bible, which is (I thought) not the purpose of your hypotheticals. (Of use would it be to instigate a hypothetical that requires changes in parts not yet mentioned for changing?)

So are you saying that every indirect and unspecified death that results from military action, where it could be predicted in the aggregate, with no specific children in view, that some would die as such an indirect result of the action, is just as much to be laid at the door of the person who engages in or orders the military action as if he had deliberately, personally, individually chopped off that child's head? I can only say that any such conflation of deliberate and non-deliberate, direct and indirect, and personal, intended victim with collateral damage, is completely untenable as a matter of moral philosophy.

Wait. Let's tone down the rhetoric here, please? No, I am not "saying every indirect and unspecified death"... etc is the responsibility of every military commander. So, let's back off a bit and limit this to what I actually said and the natural consequences of that. But in order to make clear what I was pointing at, let me expand my comments.

When a person goes into a store for armed robbery, if the store clerk grabs for the gun and ends up getting shot even though the robber didn't even have his finger on the trigger at the time (and even if he had decided beforehand that he wouldn't shoot anyone), we ascribe the responsibility for the shooting to the robber, because it is contained within the choice to enter the store for robbery waving a gun around - it is contained in that as an implicit possible effect. If you don't want to be responsible for shooting someone, then, the rule is don't bring a gun to a robbery, because YOU are responsible for other people's reactions to that gun. My point here is that there is a form of responsibility that is real without being the immediate, direct effect of your first-level explicit choice. The robber isn't responsible for every chance happening that follows from his robbery - he isn't responsible for a second clerk coming along and stealing money from the till himself in all the ruckus, for example - but he is surely responsible for the shooting. Even if you want to ascribe that responsibility as being in some sense of lesser moral guilt because he DIDN'T want to shoot anyone (surely a direct intention of shooting someone would have made his guilt more grave), he has still some form of real responsibility, real enough to make the robbery an aggravated crime compared to an unarmed robbery, real enough to make it right for the state to charge him with the shooting.

If you lay waste to a region, kill the men capable of bearing arms (as presumptive combatants), steal all the food and everything else of value, kick the inhabitants out, and tell them they have until sundown to be miles away or their lives are forfeit, then you know that some of them - the ones who are infirm and frail, can't make it. You know that without food and water canteens some of the ones that are a little weak won't make it. You know that many new mothers with babies won't make it. You know that without the men-folk, some who make it into the wilderness won't be able to fend for themselves and won't make it. These are not absolute metaphysical certainties, but they are moral certainties. Even though you cannot predict which 60% of the infirm, the weak, the handicapped, the babies and new mothers won't make it, you have a moral certainty that large numbers of these classes will die. It is morally absurd to decry responsibility as "every indirect and unspecified death", this is not some third- or fifth-order consequence of your taking everything from them including their right to be in a place, this is something that is going to happen TODAY and TONIGHT. Although a coroner might claim most of these people died of natural causes, your responsibility for taking away from them the goods - which they owned - that would have prevented these deaths makes the deaths your own doing. It is the food that YOU stole that they needed for sustenance. It is the home that YOU took that they needed for warmth. Surely there is a moral difference between these things being destroyed during a hurricane and your grasping them after all armed violence has ceased. (Not to mention the deaths caused by mad scrambles and riots of the semi-strong over the weak for the last few bits of goods, which admittedly are somewhat less your responsibility.) These are, among other reasons, part of EXACTLY why there are modern injunctions against mass deportations that describe it as an offense against the dignity of man.

Setting aside for the moment whether taking a region away from its owners is itself contrary to the moral law (conquering and suppressing a culture doesn't require taking the land and goods away from whoever is left, it is not logically implied - we did it to Germany and Japan in a certain sense): If you are going to conquer a territory, there are logical possibilities: (1) you are going to wipe out every member of the existing society. (2) you are going to wipe out every member of the society of age to remember the old culture, so that you completely eradicate every vestige of the old culture, but leave the children up to age 3 (children over that have learned the language and many of the customs). (3) you are going to wipe out all the adults and older teens who might work under cover to undermine your victory, but leave the children up to age 12 or 13. (4) you are only going to wipe out those who actively fight against you, leaving the non-combatants intact with some of their culture. Taking a region in conquering doesn't imply any one of the four, it is neutral as to which of the four you might do. So the Israelites taking the LAND from the Canaanites is not the explanation for what they did. What does explain it is the suppression of the culture together with taking away their land.

Now, what I don't understand is the apparent proposal that the Israelites might have been RIGHT to completely eradicate the Canaanite culture, every bit of it, but leave alive (some, many, all?) of the people who had lived that culture. If the Israelites total suppression of Canaanite society was moral because the Canaanites were completely degenerate, the only plausible way to accomplish total erasure of their culture this was to wipe out the people who would remember "the old ways". Which, it seems, requires getting rid of all the young old enough to remember it. If they were young and non-combatants, we are supposed to assume they are innocent, but even 5 and 6 and 7 year-olds participate actively in a culture - though not by being fully _responsible_ for those actions that are immoral by their elders (5 year old Baalists are not responsible for their parents' Baalishness, or even their own). So if you want to stamp out every vestige in the culture, it isn't enough to kill off those who actively take up arms against you, or even to kill all those 8 and up on the assumption (which, by the way, is an assumption we are not normally allowed to make as a wholesale judgment) that they "must have" participated in a morally responsible fashion in heinous crimes worthy of death. So somewhere along the way we seem to have a disjuction: natural law forbids killing kids age 5 to 7 who are not fighting you, but destroying every vestige of Canaanite culture requires doing something with even those as young as 5 to 7. And, at the same time, outside of combat the natural law forbids assuming people are personally responsible for things without judging them case by case, wholesale judgments of personal guilt of capital evils is wrong and imposing the death penalty as if personal guilt had been established when it has not is wrong. And none of that suppressing an evil culture justifies taking away from those NOT responsible their land and goods. And none of that justifies killing the 30-year olds who are mentally diminished and who participate in the Baal worship because they are told to but who are not personally (morally) responsible because they incapable of moral responsibility.

To argue that the Israelites were right to kill not only those directly (and will full personal responsibility) engaged in evil practices, but to kill off those who might re-institute the old ways, on an assumption of guilt, and to take all the land, goods, etc of whoever might remain, just doesn't really work all that well in how we understand the natural moral law. Not, that is, how we normally understand it. It isn't just the killing of little babies that is problematic, it is the whole shebang that needs explaining. And we see no plausible way of interpreting the business to the effect that God didn't really want Israel to take Canaan away from (whoever survived) the affair of culture suppression, or that God didn't really want Israel to suppress Canaanite practices to the point that no survivors left might revive it including kids old enough to remember it and be loyal to it.

Tony,

If I follow your latest comment (which I think is quite good in detailing what might be involved in destroying an entire culture and people) then it seems like you just talked yourself into agreeing with Lydia as to the real dilemma posed by the Canaanite passages:

To argue that the Israelites were right to kill not only those directly (and will full personal responsibility) engaged in evil practices, but to kill off those who might re-institute the old ways, on an assumption of guilt, and to take all the land, goods, etc of whoever might remain, just doesn't really work all that well in how we understand the natural moral law. Not, that is, how we normally understand it. It isn't just the killing of little babies that is problematic, it is the whole shebang that needs explaining.

My italics. Of course I agree with you -- "the whole shebang" is a big problem, maybe the biggest problem in the entire Bible. I think that's why Lydia posted on the topic reluctantly but with intellectual courage.

Or even by MA's saying that, if the Bible said that God made a contradiction in logic, we'd have to consider that our view of logic is wrong.

Our view of logic qua logic (hopefully I'm using that phrase correctly), no.

But we WOULD have to consider the fact that when we thought that was a contradiction, we might have been mistaken!

Don't you at least agree that if it was expressly recorded in the Old Testament that God made a rock He couldn't lift we would have to seriously consider the idea that our original conclusion that this is impossible might be mistaken for some reason?

That was a run-on. Let me try again:

Let's say the OT said "And the LORD God made a rock, and then told Moses "Here is a rock even I cannot lift no matter how hard I tried". I, God, have made the rock but find it impossible to lift."

You wouldn't consider, after reading this, that we might have made some sort of mistake when we said that this is impossible?

..as has been pointed out, you completely dismissed Tony's argument while getting it wrong besides.

No, Marc Anthony, I can see from his subsequent exchange with Lydia that I got it exactly right. He's trying to carve out a circumstance in which, theoretically, the act of a human adult intentionally killing an infant might not be intrinsically evil, in the process depriving the word "intrinsic" of any content. With his "It isn't just the killing of little babies that is problematic, it is the whole shebang that needs explaining," he's trying to melt the baby-killing problem into the larger and much vaguer problem of exterminating a culture, when the two aren't at all the same things. Also, the babies magically transmute into "kids old enough to remember it and be loyal to it."

Tony, you are incapable of writing a reasonably concise comment, aren't you? Why does each one have to resemble an encyclopedia entry? What's the strategy involved? To wear out your opponent? To bore him to death? Well, it's working. I've engaged in this debate over what acts constitute intrinsic evil hundreds of times on various websites, and am not at all inclined to do a comprehensive reprise for your benefit.

You seem to want a pat on the back for attempting "to solve a problem," to ferret out the truth of the matter, yet at the same time want me to castigate Lydia for bringing up the question when she has no solution. So I'm to upbraid her for honesty and humility in the face of what seems to her, at present, insoluble. Furthermore, you can't solve a problem using a corrupt form of argument. That it is corrupt is made evident in your answer to Lydia (probably the most important question she's asked you):

Why have you never answered my repeated question regarding what you would do if there were passages, just as clear as these, that _did_ say that God ordered raping children or some other similarly heinous act?..Is there any line that goes too far for you?

And you:
I haven't answered because I don't think it is a reasonable question.

With that, you abdicate any claim to be taken seriously.

Of this very modern tendency in moral philosophy to discover exceptions to absolute prohibitions, Anscombe said: But if someone really thinks, in advance, that it is open to question whether such an action as procuring the judicial execution of the innocent should be quite excluded from consideration - I do not want to argue with him; he shows a corrupt mind.

And that captures my attitude precisely.

Tony, you are incapable of writing a reasonably concise comment, aren't you? Why does each one have to resemble an encyclopedia entry?

Bill, I can. But I can't simply do so when people are ignoring important distinctions that are inherently difficult to parse.

With his "It isn't just the killing of little babies that is problematic, it is the whole shebang that needs explaining," he's trying to melt the baby-killing problem into the larger and much vaguer problem of exterminating a culture, when the two aren't at all the same things. Also, the babies magically transmute into "kids old enough to remember it and be loyal to it."

Bill, classically, the expression "infants" was often used to cover all children below the age of reason, because they EQUALLY and on the very same basis occupied a single category: that of being not morally responsible for their actions. They all couldn't commit personal sins with grave (capital) responsibility. I do hope you weren't suggesting that killing a 1-year old is a morally more grave category than killing a 5-year old (all other things being equal), that WOULD be villainous. Or that killing one is intrinsically evil but not the other.

With that, you abdicate any claim to be taken seriously.

Even though I explained - quite reasonably - why it was an unreasonable question? Even though I then ANSWERED the question anyway? Gee, what does it take around here?

He's trying to carve out a circumstance in which, theoretically, the act of a human adult intentionally killing an infant might not be intrinsically evil, in the process depriving the word "intrinsic" of any content.

Bill, you seem to believe that somehow I WANT killing babies to be licit. That's just garbage. My whole purpose here is to come up with the true, godly, explanation of the passages in question. Or, to be more precise, to not kick off the table the true explanation before we discover it. I am not positive what the correct answer is. I am pretty sure that answers of the sort that say "Joshua got the whole thing wrong" is so very, extraordinarily opposed to Catholic standards of Biblical interpretation that we shouldn't be relying on that to "solve" the difficulty.

If you think "intrinsic" in the expression "intrinsically evil" means "incapable of being explained", you understand by it something that no other Catholic source understands by it. I certainly DO account some things to be intrinsically evil, as I have made clear many times over. Not just "some things", but in general the entire panoply of immoral acts that are accounted intrinsically evil. Including murder.

Do you actually DISAGREE with the Catholic Encyclopedia that the "The malice discernible in the sin [of murder] is primarily chargeable to the violation of the supreme ownership of God over the lives of His creatures."

Even Andrew Jackson wasn't as responsible for the people who died on the Trail of Tears as if he'd personally and individually killed them. That should be Ethics 101.

A leader is never that responsible unless he's on the front lines leading the troops personally. However, it doesn't change the fact that he is personally responsible for the aftermath of his orders. So if his orders are in effect to drive them from their homes into a hostile territory where many of them will die of exposure, he can't wipe his hands and disclaim any real responsibility for their deaths.

I question whether, sans divine command to remove a people from their homeland, such a war could ever be just in the first place. The Roman destruction of Carthage is a good example of what it would actually look like otherwise. In the real world, there have probably been few to no examples of a time when it was justified to wholesale destroy or drive out a culture.

Tony, you are incapable of writing a reasonably concise comment, aren't you? Why does each one have to resemble an encyclopedia entry? What's the strategy involved? To wear out your opponent? To bore him to death? Well, it's working. I've engaged in this debate over what acts constitute intrinsic evil hundreds of times on various websites, and am not at all inclined to do a comprehensive reprise for your benefit.

Clearly. Despite your claims to the contrary, you've been nothing but rude and dismissive here of people who have been nothing but polite to you the whole time. You don't want to be here. So why are you?

Like this,

With his "It isn't just the killing of little babies that is problematic, it is the whole shebang that needs explaining," he's trying to melt the baby-killing problem into the larger and much vaguer problem of exterminating a culture, when the two aren't at all the same things. Also, the babies magically transmute into "kids old enough to remember it and be loyal to it."

...Is just garbage. Obviously what Tony is doing is pointing out, "Solving just the baby problem, like narrowly defining it away as not necessary for salvation, isn't going to cut it". I might as well accuse YOU of minimizing the atrocities of the OT!

Lydia, your position obviously is that it is morally permissible for God to directly kill babies, but not for humans. Now my question is (and this is a real and not a catch question) what exactly it is that in your view makes killing babies morally permissible in the former case but not in the latter, especially if in the latter case the killing is accomplished following an order issued by God. What exactly is the natural law argument against killing babies and why doesn’t it apply to God?

Patrick, my argument is that we have to have a category of murder, and we do have a category of murder, which really is always wrong under every circumstance. Now, we already know that that category does not apply to God when God acts directly. The whole point of a category such as "murder" is that it applies to finite creatures in their interactions with one another. We wouldn't even have the category at all if we were just talking about God.

I'm willing to allow that there could be _adjustment_ in the category of murder, so that it is murder under normal circumstances for an individual to kill someone for (say) his private p*rn*gr*phy use, but under some extremely strange but imaginable circumstances, God might appoint another human being to execute him for that sin.

But that the human killing of infants is intrinsically wrong is something that I've spent twenty-five years arguing as part of the pro-life movement. I've been through all the blocks and moves, all the "what ifs," all the attempts on the part of the pro-aborts to say that there is such-and-such an exception, all the scoffing at absolute moral prohibitions, all the attempts to undermine this one. This is old hat for me. And intrinsically wrong means just what it sounds like. It means that you can *never* deliberately aim a sword, swing it, and deliberately kill that baby right there with it. (The very fact that God doesn't need to swing swords, that God is capable of exercising His will to take someone to Himself via direct, unmediated, sovereign power over His creation, is one clue that there is a huge difference between the two.) The same thing is true, by the way, of both suicide and euthanasia. In the pro-life movement we have spent all this time arguing that it is wrong to kill yourself, yet the argument given here would (as far as I can see) also license God's ordering you to perform a suicide bombing against the equivalent of the Canaanites. After all, it's just God "indirectly taking life," right? Or consider a suffering baby. We have argued that the infanticide for disabled and suffering children in Europe is an abomination. But the argument here would mean that God could order it as being *no different from* God's quietly ending the child's suffering via His own action. Of course, the whole _point_ of arguing against euthanasia is that there is a _huge_ difference between the two. There's nothing wrong even with _praying_ that God would take a suffering loved one to Himself. There's something hugely, always, directly wrong in giving the lethal injection to end the suffering. That's why God wouldn't order you to do it.

Let me point out, too, that pro-lifers believe that the horror and revulsion that people feel about abortion is a clue to the natural law. That's why we show movies like _The Silent Scream_. That's why we understand and rejoice when an abortionist like Nathanson or clinic owner like Abbey Johnson finally cannot do this anymore. We take that to be listening to the voice of conscience. I would go so far as to say that suppressing that voice of conscience is the road to damnation. Now, what some are saying in the case of the Canaanite slaughter is that it was an _obligation_ for the Israelite soldiers to suppress that horror and revulsion, that God wanted them to do so. To my mind, this is near-blasphemous, as it is saying that God was tempting man to suppress the very instinctive, conscientious revulsion which God Himself placed within man as a clue to the nature of reality. But James says that God does not tempt any man.

Then, of course, there are plenty of Bible verses against murder, as well as the biblical statement that God hates "hands that shed innocent blood." If they don't mean an absolute prohibition on killing babies, I'm not sure what they do mean.

It's interesting that Tony says above that the prohibition on rape comes from both natural law and revealed law and seems to think this is a point of _distinction_ from the prohibition on killing innocents. I would say the same about both.

MA,

Let's say the OT said "And the LORD God made a rock, and then told Moses "Here is a rock even I cannot lift no matter how hard I tried". I, God, have made the rock but find it impossible to lift."

You wouldn't consider, after reading this, that we might have made some sort of mistake when we said that this is impossible?

Nope. I definitely wouldn't. Logic at that level isn't an esoteric discipline. It's easy, direct, and knowable as directly and indubitably as one knows all sorts of other direct and indubitable things (e.g., I'm in pain right now). It is much _easier_ and _more certain_ than all the indirect arguments one has to engage in to decide that this piece of text is the Word of God.

Tony, my willingness to accept that a general conquest and expulsion of the Canaanites, who were not at that time aggressors against the Israelites, could be justified by divine command *is* my attempt to defer to the idea that some things can be right when commanded by God even if they would be wrong otherwise. I never claimed that there is *no* such category. But I refuse to be pressed into a false dichotomy--namely, that either I reject any such in-between area or else I have to put the direct killing of infants into that in-between area.

By the way, the babies and young children didn't just have to be driven out to die in the wilderness. They could have been kept and raised as adoptees.

As for where to draw the line between innocent and guilty as far as idol-worship and abominations, surely _that_ is an area where divine revelation could help. God could _know_ that everyone over a certain age was guilty of some sort of abominable practices in the service of Baal, even if we can't know that in the normal course of things.

My whole purpose here is to come up with the true, godly, explanation of the passages in question.

There is an arrogance to this sense of purpose you ought to consider. My admiration for Lydia's OP lies in its humility.

Or, to be more precise, to not kick off the table the true explanation before we discover it.

That's one of those impenetrable asides you come up with, since it's hard to see how something we have not yet discovered can be kicked anywhere.

Bill, you seem to believe that somehow I WANT killing babies to be licit. That's just garbage.

What's garbage is your pretending to think that I have any opinion of your interior life. If I'm misreading you, maybe we can solve it with a simple answer to a simple question: is there any circumstance in which an adult human being's intentionally putting an infant to the edge of the sword would not be intrinsically evil? This is a yes or no question, not an invitation to indulge a treatise.

is there any circumstance in which an adult human being's intentionally putting an infant to the edge of the sword would not be intrinsically evil?

Bill, I honestly don't understand the question the way you put it. Indulge me by allowing me just 3 (short) sentences to explain: by "intrinsically evil" we normally mean evil because the object of the act is disordered - this is what JPII re-iterated in VS. But the object of the act is the first of the 3 fonts of the morality of an act, _all_3_ of which must be good or neutral - the other 2 being the intention and the circumstances. So unless you mean by "circumstances" something other than the circumstances that constitute the 3rd of the 3 fonts of morality, it's too confused to answer.

In loose, everyday language I might be willing to take liberties with the sense and assume that you mean something loose and sloppy with "circumstance". But when we start talking "intrinsically evil" I try to avoid that.

Bill and Jeff and Lydia may be under the impression that this notion that I have presented originates with me, (or, if not me, at least with somebody equally out on the far, far edge). I want to lay that to rest: Earlier I could not remember for sure where I read it first, but after some research I re-discovered the source of this teaching:

St. Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Theologica 2-2 Question 64, citing St. Augustine on Samson:

Article 5. Whether it is lawful to kill oneself? ... Objection 4. Further, Samson killed himself, as related in Judges 16, and yet he is numbered among the saints (Hebrews 11). Therefore it is lawful for a man to kill himself...

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i, 20): "Hence it follows that the words 'Thou shalt not kill' refer to the killing of a man--not another man; therefore, not even thyself. For he who kills himself, kills nothing else than a man."

I answer that, It is altogether unlawful to kill oneself, for three reasons. First, because everything naturally loves itself, the result being that everything naturally keeps itself in being, and resists corruptions so far as it can. Wherefore suicide is contrary to the inclination of nature, and to charity whereby every man should love himself. Hence suicide is always a mortal sin, as being contrary to the natural law and to charity. Secondly, because every part, as such, belongs to the whole. Now every man is part of the community, and so, as such, he belongs to the community. Hence by killing himself he injures the community, as the Philosopher declares (Ethic. v, 11). Thirdly, because life is God's gift to man, and is subject to His power, Who kills and makes to live. Hence whoever takes his own life, sins against God, even as he who kills another's slave, sins against that slave's master, and as he who usurps to himself judgment of a matter not entrusted to him. For it belongs to God alone to pronounce sentence of death and life, according to Deuteronomy 32:39, "I will kill and I will make to live."
...
Reply to Objection 4. As Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i, 21), "not even Samson is to be excused that he crushed himself together with his enemies under the ruins of the house, except the Holy Ghost, Who had wrought many wonders through him, had secretly commanded him to do this." He assigns the same reason in the case of certain holy women, who at the time of persecution took their own lives, and who are commemorated by the Church.

And then, even more explicitly, even while confirming that it is unlawful to kill the innocent, makes room for a clarification to that rule:

Article 6. Whether it is lawful to kill the innocent?

Objection 1. It would seem that in some cases it is lawful to kill the innocent. The fear of God is never manifested by sin, since on the contrary "the fear of the Lord driveth out sin" (Sirach 1:27). Now Abraham was commended in that he feared the Lord, since he was willing to slay his innocent son. Therefore one may, without sin, kill an innocent person.

Objection 2. Further, among those sins that are committed against one's neighbor, the more grievous seem to be those whereby a more grievous injury is inflicted on the person sinned against. Now to be killed is a greater injury to a sinful than to an innocent person, because the latter, by death, passes forthwith from the unhappiness of this life to the glory of heaven. Since then it is lawful in certain cases to kill a sinful man, much more is it lawful to slay an innocent or a righteous person.

Objection 3. Further, what is done in keeping with the order of justice is not a sin. But sometimes a man is forced, according to the order of justice, to slay an innocent person: for instance, when a judge, who is bound to judge according to the evidence, condemns to death a man whom he knows to be innocent but who is convicted by false witnesses; and again the executioner, who in obedience to the judge puts to death the man who has been unjustly sentenced.

On the contrary, It is written (Exodus 23:7): "The innocent and just person thou shalt not put to death."

I answer that, An individual man may be considered in two ways: first, in himself; secondly, in relation to something else. If we consider a man in himself, it is unlawful to kill any man, since in every man though he be sinful, we ought to love the nature which God has made, and which is destroyed by slaying him. Nevertheless, as stated above (Article 2) the slaying of a sinner becomes lawful in relation to the common good, which is corrupted by sin. On the other hand the life of righteous men preserves and forwards the common good, since they are the chief part of the community. Therefore it is in no way lawful to slay the innocent.

Reply to Objection 1. God is Lord of death and life, for by His decree both the sinful and the righteous die. Hence he who at God's command kills an innocent man does not sin, as neither does God Whose behest he executes: indeed his obedience to God's commands is a proof that he fears Him.

Reply to Objection 2. In weighing the gravity of a sin we must consider the essential rather than the accidental. Wherefore he who kills a just man, sins more grievously than he who slays a sinful man: first, because he injures one whom he should love more, and so acts more in opposition to charity: secondly, because he inflicts an injury on a man who is less deserving of one, and so acts more in opposition to justice: thirdly, because he deprives the community of a greater good: fourthly, because he despises God more, according to Luke 10:16, "He that despiseth you despiseth Me." On the other hand it is accidental to the slaying that the just man whose life is taken be received by God into glory...

There is more on point in other articles of this question.

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3064.htm#article2

So, St. Thomas, that great expositor of the way in which an act which is disordered in its object is intrinsically evil (see First Part of the Second Part, Question 19), himself states the very notion I was using earlier that qualifies how that works out with murder.

Maybe St. Thomas is wrong. But to suppose that he was outrageously wrong on the basis of, say, Veritatis Splendor, when JPII used Thomas's own exposition of the morality of the act, and cited St. Thomas so frequently in it, and never once mentions taking St. Thomas with a bit of caution, strains credulity.

Maybe St. Thomas and St. Augustine and I are ALL wrong on this. But I think we at least deserve to have the notion taken seriously.

Tony, I certainly don't think any of this is original with you, so I'm not in the least suggesting that. People have been talking about these passages for a long, long time. I do know that. If anything, it's my strong hesitation that is in the minority, even in Christian history.

Bill, I honestly don't understand the question the way you put it.
Godalmighty. I knew you couldn't do it.

Yes, I am aware of the passage from St. Thomas and no, I affirm with Lydia, I am not under the illusion that any of this originated with you. I imagine most Christians believe these passages to be true expressions of God's will, however inscrutable, and just and good on that account.

Okay. One last time. By intrinsically evil acts I mean those which are prohibited by "the absolute validity of negative moral precepts, which oblige without exception." Veritatis Splendor.

By intrinsically evil acts I mean that "there are certain specific kinds of behaviour that are always wrong to choose, because choosing them involves a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil." the Catechism

By intrinsically evil acts I mean those objects of the human act which are by their nature "incapable of being ordered" to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed "intrinsically evil" (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. VS

By intrinsically evil acts I mean those of which VS asserts: Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that "there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object." VS

And that If acts are intrinsically evil, I mean those for which a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain "irremediably" evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person." VS

What I am asking is whether intentionally killing an infant, by your own hand, up close and personal, is that kind of act.

I know, this time, that you can say yes or no. I have faith.

According to Genesis 9,5-6 one shouldn’t kill a human because humans are made in the image of God. One might therefore argue that killing a human is indirectly an assault on God. However, if God allows or even orders one to kill someone, this no longer applies.

Patrick, I don't take that from the verse. Rather I take it that the verse is asserting that the murder of a human being is wrong because of the essence of man. But God cannot take away the essence of a child (say) merely by ordering that child killed, since that essence is what God created in the child. That _would_ be a contradiction, like making a rock God himself cannot lift.

I think Patrick's interpretation is actually closer than yours:

5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

6 “Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.

I read it as thought God is saying that it is not just an affront to his will, but also something akin to lese majeste. Assaulting something created in the image of the king is an assault on the majesty of the king.

For what it's worth, I've been reading some of these verses over and the conclusion I've come to is that we don't know enough to say conclusively what really happened. I also think the rhetorical hyperbole argument (not necessarily Copan's version) bears so merit as even to this day, Middle Easterners are notorious for over the top flamboyant rhetoric.

Mike, I answered the eastern hyperbole argument in the main post. Let me summarize a few points:

1) The concept of hyperbole is orthogonal to guilt and innocence. Not killing _all_ of the people or not being required to kill _all_ of the people doesn't mean making the distinction at the children vs. adults point. In fact, it doesn't even mean that prima facie.

2) Deuteronomy 20 is unequivocal that it is _precisely_ the women, little ones, and cattle who must be killed in the cities of the land in contrast to the farther cities. The text explicitly makes a distinction along those lines for purposes of ordering more killing in the cities actually in the land.

3) That women and children actually were literally killed is supported by the fact that the orders were against people groups, not against highly specific locations, and from the evident literalness of the cattle.

4) Numbers 31 is unequivocal that Moses ordered the killing of the baby boys.

A concept like hyperbole or flamboyant rhetoric is simply unhelpful here for all of these reasons. It is simply too vague to address the specifics of the passages.

Bill writes to Tony:

What I am asking is whether intentionally killing an infant, by your own hand, up close and personal, is that kind of act.

I know, this time, that you can say yes or no. I have faith.

Or, he can officially hammer the final nail into W4's coffin by posting an obfuscatory verbal avalanche of an entry on the main page entitled something like "Golly, what really is murder, anyway?"

Such theories however are not faithful to the Church's teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behaviour contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law. These theories cannot claim to be grounded in the Catholic moral tradition. Although the latter did witness the development of a casuistry which tried to assess the best ways to achieve the good in certain concrete situations, it is nonetheless true that this casuistry concerned only cases in which the law was uncertain, and thus the absolute validity of negative moral precepts, which oblige without exception, was not called into question. - Veritatis Splendour

What the Pope just didn't understand, but wise men like Tony do understand, is that all cases are cases in which the law is uncertain. Even deliberately pitchforking pre-verbal infants needs to be parsed and nuanced in order to determine when it is murder and when it isn't.

I read a similar argument and the point it made was that it was common in that period to even say "we wiped out the children" even when literally no children would be present. That Moses seems to vacillate between who and what should be killed in various places suggests to me that there is something missing. The passages are sufficiently vague that we just don't know a lot of operational details and the operational details are everything here.

My position is now that I am not sure what really happened.

Mike T:

The passages are sufficiently vague that we just don't know a lot of operational details and the operational details are everything here.

Don't press the idiom button. That will set off a chain reaction and destroy all life on earth.

Mike, I did address that in the main post. First of all, while one gets the _impression_ that it was common to say that at that period under those circumstances, it appears that there are _no_ examples to that effect. One simply comes away with that vague impression from Copan, but when one chases it down to Hess, he appears incapable of giving any actual examples! It's that poor of an argument. (I went into all of this in excruciating detail in the main post and am a bit puzzled, because I'm having to repeat it partially here, yet I assume you read my full original post, right?)

Second, as I argued there (again, see the details there), even if _some_ examples could be found of using such a phrase in that way, it would not follow that these are such examples, and there is strong evidence to the contrary in these passages.

Third, even Copan, who is the big advocate of the "stock phrases" argument, tacitly acknowledges that that _cannot_ account for Numbers 31. He justifies the killing of the boys there on the grounds that they were the future army against Israel.

I don't quite understand. I've said all of this very carefully, repeatedly, and nothing you are saying here is addressing it, Mike. Believe me, I would much _rather_ that such an answer worked: "Oh, there's just some specialized knowledge about what this all meant that we lack, and so-and-so has ferreted it out for us, so we now have reason to believe the text has a totally different meaning from what it appears to mean." But this Ancient Near Eastern hyperbole stuff cannot do the job.

I don't see Moses vacillating in the slightest. I just see him doing different things in different cases. In fact, he is *so confident* in Numbers 31 that he castigates the leaders for bringing back all the women and little ones alive.

Unfortunately, the real problem passages aren't vague at all. I wish they were. They are all too clear. That's why they are the _real_ problem passages. Believe me, I narrowed it down. Whenever a charitable interpretation could be given, I left that passage out. That's why I _don't_ insist, despite the rather unfortunate and dubious wording, that the virgin girls were being taken as objects of rape and sexual use.

I want to say up front that I actually like William. I just got frustrated by the continued response of "We'll never know". Well, maybe not, but can't we try?

But onward. Lydia wrote this:

Nope. I definitely wouldn't. Logic at that level isn't an esoteric discipline. It's easy, direct, and knowable as directly and indubitably as one knows all sorts of other direct and indubitable things (e.g., I'm in pain right now). It is much _easier_ and _more certain_ than all the indirect arguments one has to engage in to decide that this piece of text is the Word of God.

I actually find this a really interesting response, as it demarcates my (and possibly Mike T's) view of Scripture and yours rather neatly.

The way I look at things, my conscience, moral judgments, and ideas of infallibility and inerrance are all informed by the Church. If the Church declares something I think is illogical - for example, say I think that Transubstantiation is logically impossible (I don't, by the way) - my response would be, "Okay, the Church is more wise than I am. It's more likely I'm making a mistake."

So when the Church says Scripture is inerrant, I'm not going to drop that view even if certain passages are unintelligible to me. If the OT had something in it about God making a rock He can't lift, given the Church's view of inerrancy I would first explore possible solutions to the logical dilemma before finally concluding that, yeah, it's definitely a total impossibility. And even then I'd be open to the small but non-zero possibility that I am quite wrong.

I think the difference is at least partially a matter of differing views of authority.

Zippy,

Don't press the idiom button. That will set off a chain reaction and destroy all life on earth.

My only comment on that is, Ha!

Zippy,

Welcome back. What's your take on the offending passages?

Tony,

I actually have to admit that the quotes from Saint Thomas are confusing to me, but I haven't studied logic or Saint Thomas in detail so I'm quite sure the confusion resides in me. For example, take these passages which I will provide my own numbers:

(1) "Article 6. Whether it is lawful to kill the innocent? "

(2) "Objection 1. It would seem that in some cases it is lawful to kill the innocent. The fear of God is never manifested by sin, since on the contrary "the fear of the Lord driveth out sin" (Sirach 1:27). Now Abraham was commended in that he feared the Lord, since he was willing to slay his innocent son. Therefore one may, without sin, kill an innocent person."

(3) "Reply to Objection 1. God is Lord of death and life, for by His decree both the sinful and the righteous die. Hence he who at God's command kills an innocent man does not sin, as neither does God Whose behest he executes: indeed his obedience to God's commands is a proof that he fears Him."

What's confusing to me is that it seems like Objection 1 is an answer to the question "whether it is lawful to kill the innocent". And he is saying, yes, it may indeed be lawful -- look at Abraham. Then you think -- O.K., here comes the "Reply to the answer (i.e. "Objection 1") -- but instead of a "reply" in the sense of what I thought would be a counter to the answer, he basically just affirms his answer and gives the answer that folks like Lydia, Bill and I are unhappy with -- God can command someone to kill a baby.

Why call that a "Reply to Objection 1" -- is this some sort of technical term of art with Saint Thomas? Sometimes his "replies" simply reinforce what he says in his previous answer?

Anyway, if Lydia think this is going too far off topic, she can let us know; but I was interested because I'm interested in Saint Thomas' thought.

I frankly don't understand the point of the idiom--chain reaction button. I guess it's some sort of joke, but if it's directed at me, I don't get it. I have repeatedly said that I would have been happy if some sort of "idiom" response worked, but having looked into it, I've concluded that it doesn't, that the passages are just too explicit. Of course it's often legitimate to advert to idioms in interpreting Scripture.

MA, anyone who believes an authority (be it Scripture or the Church or both or something else) has presumably some reason for trusting _that_ authority. After all, one doesn't (or certainly shouldn't) put all the possible sources of authority in a hat and pull one out at random and go, "Oh, okay, I guess I'm a Catholic" or "I got the Book of Mormon in my Chinese fortune cookie, so now I trust the Book of Mormon."

My point is just that, "God cannot make a rock so heavy He can't lift it" is knowable _more_ directly, because it is a simple logical truth, than _any_ proposition to the effect that "X is the authority I must always believe." The latter, even when true, always has to be known by a somewhat more indirect means, whereas the simple logical truth can be seen as directly as "A is A" or "1 + 1 = 2."

I frankly don't understand the point of the idiom--chain reaction button.
I think he was just saying that this is a long rabbit hole to go down, unless I misunderstand him too.
MA, anyone who believes an authority (be it Scripture or the Church or both or something else) has presumably some reason for trusting _that_ authority. After all, one doesn't (or certainly shouldn't) put all the possible sources of authority in a hat and pull one out at random and go, "Oh, okay, I guess I'm a Catholic" or "I got the Book of Mormon in my Chinese fortune cookie, so now I trust the Book of Mormon."

Of course. I'm not sure how I implied otherwise.

I recall offhand (though unfortunately not by name) several Catholic Saints who said something to the effect that if the Church declared black to be white they'd believe it.

...And that would be Saint Ignatius:


That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black. For we must undoubtedly believe, that the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of the Orthodox Church His Spouse, by which Spirit we are governed and directed to Salvation, is the same;…

http://web.archive.org/web/20131023050342/http://wps.ablongman.com/long_longman_lwcdemo_1/0,9493,1532993-,00.html

So I'm certainly not alone.

Jeffrey S:

What's your take on the offending passages?

I don't have a take on them. It doesn't trouble me much -- there are all sorts of things on which I don't have a take. I don't have a fixed hermeneutical notion of how the Old Testament should be read in general, for that matter.

Jeff, I also find that a little confusing in Aquinas, but perhaps what he means by calling the third point a "reply" is that the initial "objection" might have been taken to be a more general licensing of killing the innocent than Aquinas actually wants to allow. Hence, the "reply" is not just agreeing with the "objection" but rather qualifying the conditions under which TA wants to say it is licit to kill the innocent. That's just a guess.

MA, you didn't imply otherwise. That paragraph of mine that you quote is part of an epistemological argument in the whole of my comment for the indirect nature of our knowledge of the proper authority, which I then contrast with our means of knowing very simple logical truths.

Why Zippy! I didn't know that you cared enough to swat at me.

Or, he can officially hammer the final nail into W4's coffin by posting an obfuscatory verbal avalanche of an entry on the main page entitled something like "Golly, what really is murder, anyway?"

I just knew that someone would say I was being obfuscatory.

Zippy, would you please tell me whether you think that JPII, in Veritatis Splendor, was saying something that opposes, or requires us to oppose, what St. Thomas said in the Summa about intrinsically evil acts? Was JPII saying (though not explicitly, of course), "yeah, well, St. Thomas got it wrong"?

If so, could you please tell me why JPII said in the very passages that lay out the "intrinsically evil" teaching as reflected in the object of the act,

78. The morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the "object" rationally chosen by the deliberate will, as is borne out by the insightful analysis, still valid today, made by Saint Thomas.

I think that pushing the theory that JPII was teaching something about the morality of the act being (as reflected in the object of the act) that he intended us to understand was opposed to St. Thomas's teaching on the same subject would be somewhat difficult to square with what JPII actually says - "still valid today, made by Saint Thomas".

Of course, TA teaches the morality wrapped up in the object in Question 19 of Prima Secundae, whereas this teaching on murder is in Q 64. So, maybe TA just forgot what he said in Q 19? It is theoretically possible.

Of course, if the Pope thought that TA had erred on his further conclusions that seem to say that killing an innocent man is NOT INTRINSICALLY EVIL, he might have said so given that the two main evils his encyclical were written to oppose were those of murder (abortion, euthanasia, etc) and contraceptive practices. But no, he cites St. Thomas 20 times with approval, and not once with disapproval or even caution.

Another (logical) possibility is that what TA says in Q 64 is NOT opposed to what the Pope teaches in VS, and we just need to work harder in seeing the conformity. If the options are

(1) The Pope is right in citing TA in Q 19 but TA is wrong in Q 64 even though the Pope doesn't mention that, or
(2) The Pope is right and TA is right (in both places) but I am not smart enough to see the conformity right off the bat,

I vote for trying number (2) before falling back on number (1) being right. TA is, after all, the greatest of the Doctors of the Church and is the one who first formed the explicit teaching on the "object of the act" into Christian teaching (borrowed from Aristotle). It would be strange indeed if for ALL facets of this teachings of both men, I should expect to immediately grasp the more difficult nuances.

So I am willing to grant the possibility that (2) is correct for a rather in-depth exploration, before simply writing TA off on the matter. (Notice I don't offer the option of simply writing JPII off. I absolutely adhere to the Church's teaching on intrinsically evil acts.) I think that is more humble than simply assuming without any hesitation "TA got Q 64 wrong even though the Pope cites him on Q 19" without the least caution.

Even deliberately pitchforking pre-verbal infants needs to be parsed and nuanced in order to determine when it is murder and when it isn't.

Well, the Angelic Doctor thought it was a worthwhile issue that needed to be parsed. And Pope Leo XIII (as well as Clement VI, Nicholas V, Pius V, Benedict XIII, CLement XII) advised that we should follow him and learn from him:

19. For these reasons most learned men, in former ages especially, of the highest repute in theology and philosophy, after mastering with infinite pains the immortal works of Thomas, gave themselves up not so much to be instructed in his angelic wisdom as to be nourished upon it. It is known that nearly all the founders and lawgivers of the religious orders commanded their members to study and religiously adhere to the teachings of St. Thomas, fearful least any of them should swerve even in the slightest degree from the footsteps of so great a man. To say nothing of the family of St. Dominic, which rightly claims this great teacher for its own glory, the statutes of the Benedictines, the Carmelites, the Augustinians, the Society of Jesus, and many others all testify that they are bound by this law....

while to these judgments of great Pontiffs on Thomas Aquinas comes the crowning testimony of Innocent VI: "His teaching above that of others, the canonical writings alone excepted, enjoys such a precision of language, an order of matters, a truth of conclusions, that those who hold to it are never found swerving from the path of truth, and he who dare assail it will always be suspected of error."

I would like to know, Zippy, whether you feel confident enough of exactly what TA is saying in Q 64 to declare without any doubt that TA was wrong there? Oh, and Saint Augustine, whom JPII cites 15 times in VS? And that in asserting so, you do not even suspect you might be in error?

I have to say that I think all this bears out the point I made above about a tension in Catholic teaching given that a phrase like "intrinsically evil acts" is something we Protestants have to admit we are borrowing from our Catholic brethren who have worked on that subject in some detail.

I mean, color me simple-minded, but isn't "intrinsically" supposed to mean th-th-that's all folks, it's always wrong, no ifs, ands or buts?

For that matter, Aquinas in one of the quotes in your new post, Tony, says that it's always wrong to kill oneself. But if the _rationale_ used here works, it would seem to work just as well for suicide: God is the author of life and death. God can kill anyone he wants. God can delegate this just as well as doing it himself. It's not morally wrong to kill anybody if God delegates it to you, even if it would otherwise be wrong to kill that person. Therefore, God could delegate to you to kill yourself.

I don't see a hole in that logic, given the premises, which of course is why I question the premises.

What's confusing to me is that it seems like Objection 1 is an answer to the question "whether it is lawful to kill the innocent". And he is saying, yes, it may indeed be lawful -- look at Abraham. Then you think -- O.K., here comes the "Reply to the answer (i.e. "Objection 1") -- but instead of a "reply" in the sense of what I thought would be a counter to the answer, he basically just affirms his answer and gives the answer that folks like Lydia, Bill and I are unhappy with -- God can command someone to kill a baby.

MarcAnthony, it is often the case that the replies to an objection make sense only in light of the respondeo, the "I answer that...". He says

If we consider a man in himself, it is unlawful to kill any man, since in every man though he be sinful, we ought to love the nature which God has made, and which is destroyed by slaying him.

Man, as long as he has human nature, has the image of God that we ought to love rather than want to destroy. Since this applies to ALL men regardless of condition or circumstance, insofar as man is considered in himself no man should be killed. Period.

But so far as this goes, this would even preclude the death penalty. Then he goes on to say that in addition to considering man in himself, we also consider man insofar as he is related to others:

Nevertheless, as stated above (Article 2) the slaying of a sinner becomes lawful in relation to the common good, which is corrupted by sin.

Under this consideration, certain men it is lawful to kill on account of the common good - i.e. insofar as under a relation to others.

My sense is that St. Thomas is indicating (in the reply to objection 1) that the killing of certain innocents - as Abraham and Isaac - at God's command is under the second consideration: At God's providential determination, the killing of an innocent may be ordered to the common good and therefore fall under the same rule for lawfulness as for the killing of a sinner.

Thus the conclusion of the first objection, that it is not sinful to kill an innocent person, is too general to be true: IT IS sinful to kill any man considered in himself. Further, it is also wrong to kill any innocent except insofar as ordered to the common good, and this does not (cannot) obtain except by God's direct instigation, so it is wrong to simply say it is not a sin to kill an innocent man.

I am pretty sure that Bill and Zippy will say that St. Thomas is WRONG here. And maybe they are right. But even if he is wrong, at the least it ought to be possible to make sense out of St. Thomas's reply as actually responding to the objection. It would be surprising, nay astounding if his reply didn't even deal with the objection.

Tony,

For the record, it was me expressing confusion, not MarcAnthony. And you helped clear things up considerably with this key 'decoder ring':

"the replies to an objection make sense only in light of the respondeo, the "I answer that...".

Very helpful.

Unfortunately, for us "intrinsic evil" types, it appears that Aquinas just made the natural law very hard to follow in practice when you hear God's voice and He tells you to do something that on its face appears to be wrong (i.e. kill a baby). Very troubling and I'm back to Lydia's partially unhappy state over those passages -- made better when I meditate upon Christ on the cross.

Tony wrote:

[A bunch of stuff to avoid straightforwardly answering Bill's question simply by affirming that it is always intrinsically wrong to pitchfork live infants.]

What a shock.

Jeffrey S:

...when you hear God's voice and He tells you to do something that on its face appears to be wrong...

The way this is phrased begs the question, because it assigns greater epistemic and rhetorical weight to 'hear God's voice' than to 'pitchforking live infants is intrinsically wrong'. The putatively problematic 'hearing of God's voice' in this thread involves interpretation of some text -- it isn't even a burning bush, and a burning bush itself isn't epistemically dispositive. An 'angel' came to Mohammed, after all.

Zippy,

You say,

"The putatively problematic 'hearing of God's voice' in this thread involves interpretation of some text."

I agree 100%. Unfortunately, I also agree with Lydia's OP -- it is very hard (not impossible, mind you, but very hard for me at this moment) to understand these texts as anything else but a description of the Lord telling the Israelites (via Moses or Samuel) that they should kill babies. Given what has been quoted as the Catholic position on Biblical inerrancy, the interpretation of these texts is indeed the $64K question.

Jeff, I hear you. I am not happy with the state of the question either.

I am pretty sure I understand in fair measure the argument for why killing innocents is intrinsically evil. I am also, relatively speaking, confident of the truth of that argument. Just as I am, relatively speaking, confident of the argument for why lying is intrinsically evil.

I am also, relatively speaking, somewhat confident that the Bible teaches and the Church confirms that Abraham was rewarded greatly for trying to kill Isaac, that the Israelites were rewarded for killing Canaanites (including children), (and punished when they failed to after being told to).

I am also extraordinarily confident that the Catechism of the Catholic Church told us that telling falsehoods to save the Jews in the basement was not intrinsically evil. The version of the CCC as it first came out, under JPII.

I am also confident that the Bible shows us Rahab being rewarded for helping the Israelites, though that help was by lying.

I don't know how to make these all match up consistently. But if the Church can teach that the same sort of arguments that show killing innocents is intrinsically evil also show that lying is intrinsically evil, and then represent that lying to save the Jews is not evil, I am led to think that maybe I DON'T understand everything I need to understand about the argument saying why lying or killing innocents is intrinsically evil. Maybe they are intrinsically evil but I don't understand the why of it sufficiently.

I think I could be happier with the conclusion that Israelites killing the Midianites and Amalekites and Canaanites (including children) was intrinsically wrong if we could produce the specific argument that goes "it is metaphysically impossible for God to tell humans to kill an innocent person because..." that doesn't simply run through on "it is intrinsically wrong" but rather a more explanatory set of truths - the truths that for example both show why it is intrinsically wrong and at the same time _distinctly_ account for why God could not say that. (For example, we could say "it is metaphysically impossible for God to tell us to worship the false god Baal, because...worship (latria) is the ultimate act of honor of a rational being, which ultimate honor can only be due toward its creator our ultimate end and not any lesser being, and thus it is both morally oxymoronic to knowingly give latria to a creature, and impossible that God should support our determination to any other ultimate end than to Him - no matter for what other purpose." This explains why this is something impossible for God to tell us to do. [Though even here it might be needed to include a wave at "impossible for God to deceive us about our ultimate end" as well, since the question is about what God says, not what He wants of us.)

Saying of God telling us to kill an innocent that it is oxymoronic of a divine God "because of the nature of man" is a start, but it isn't enough, because the nature of man is a complex notion and there are facets thereof that are irrelevant to that answer. WHICH facet is the one doing the work here?

Jeffrey S:

...to understand these texts as anything else but a description of the Lord telling the Israelites (via Moses or Samuel) that they should kill babies... [...and that therefore pitchforking babies isn't intrinsically immoral].

... which constitutes a reductio of the hermeneutic that got you there, given the epistemic weighting that you have already agreed applies.

It is perfectly fine to say that the hermeneutic that got you there is wrong, you just don't understand exactly how and where it is wrong. I could give people hints about where their hermeneutic has gone wrong, but it frankly isn't a particularly receptive audience and life is short. In general that should be a common experience for every morally sane person though: if you've concluded that pitchforking babies isn't always intrinsically wrong in any actually-possible rationally coherent scenario you might encounter, something in your reasoning process went haywire. I conclude that certain lines of reasoning went wrong all the time on the basis of reductio ad absurdam.

We can talk all day about, per impossible, someone who is more epistemically certain that God is speaking to him directly and personally than he is that pitchforking babies is wrong. But that is just a theoretical construct, and it isn't entirely clear that it is even a coherent theoretical construct (see earlier discussion of God telling someone 'directly' (whatever that means) that A and not-A at the same time and in the same manner).

Aquinas was notoriously wrong on abortion (believing it to be sinful-but-not-murder before quickening at 40 days or so), so it is no surprise that Tony cites Aquinas on pitchforking infants. "[My personal interpretation of] Aquinas is always right" not only isn't in the canons of Trent: it is actually materially heretical.

Not to imply that Aquinas ever actually wrote anything about pitchforking infants specifically, or claimed that his own writing was Magisterial at all let alone infallible.

The way this is phrased begs the question, because it assigns greater epistemic and rhetorical weight to 'hear God's voice' than to 'pitchforking live infants is intrinsically wrong'.

Zippy, I disagree that it "begs the question" in that way.

Such a situation begs for a person to consider what kind of epistemic weight to allow for the appearance of "hearing God's voice." He cannot decide to assign it 0 weight until he considers whether to assign it some weight or 0 weight.

Before Lumen Gentium and JPII and Veritatis Splendor, a person might well have read St. Augustine in City of God, and TA in the Summa, and concluded that this "hearing God's voice" on such a matter, though highly implausible, might be really Him, and seek further guidance (say, from a spiritual director). After Gaudium et Spes and JPII and Evangelium Vitae and Veritatis Splendor, of course, a person has more to go on to say that it wasn't God. But to assume that out of the entirety of the 2000 years of the Church (so far), the status of development of doctrine in the last 50 years represents the "standard" of what epistemic weight to assign to evidences before us on a given matter is just a little near-sighted. I think tat Jeff was speaking in general, including with reference to Israelite times, Apostolic times, etc.

It also would seem to discount St. Theresa of Avila's account of the interior life (The Interior Castle) in which she describes different stages of God's working in the soul, where in many earlier stages a person should submit their interior experience of God speaking them to the determination of the Church, and in which they do better to withhold from any personal weighing of "whether this is God speaking to me". However in the last stage of union with God, spiritual marriage, sometimes God so moves the soul that the soul simply incapable of doubting the presence and voice of God, where they don't need to go through an assignment of epistemic weight to the experience because the experience itself is incapable of being considered as to whether it should be believed or not. God Himself suspends their ability to weigh and consider it. Perhaps because they are so rapt in attention to God and so forgetful of self that it cannot occur to them. (Accounts by other saints are similar.) I do not for a moment suggest that after this experience is over they should do anything about what "God's voice" told them without ascertaining its conformity with the Church's teaching, I merely suggest that a person's sense of the believability for what "God's voice" said to them is not always some simple matter.

And, whatever really is the what happened with God and Abraham and Isaac, it seems plausible to me that because Abraham didn't have the Church, and didn't have 4000 years of Scripture and development of doctrine, this interior experience of spiritual marriage is precisely the sort of experience he had upon which he just did what God told him, and this was credited to him with great merit. Whatever it was that God actually told him.

Aquinas was notoriously wrong on abortion (believing it to be sinful-but-not-murder before quickening at 40 days or so), so it is no surprise that Tony cites Aquinas on pitchforking infants. "[My personal interpretation of] Aquinas is always right" not only isn't in the canons of Trent: it is actually materially heretical.

You know, Zippy, the reason Aquinas was "notoriously wrong on abortion" is mainly because out many, many volumes of work, until this issue of whether killing innocents came up with the Church deciding to become more definitive in response to recent (un)developments in moral philosophy, his abortion teaching was THE ONLY teaching of his that the Church had come out and said NO, he got that wrong. One teaching. That's it. That's why it is notable.

And nobody thinks that his teaching on the matter was disreputable or disrespectful of sound teaching on human nature, he is credited for making a mistake at least partly due to the inadequate biology of the times. To call that "notorious" is pushing a rhetoric that would seem to defy the pronouncements of about 10 popes on St. Thomas's reliability.

Since I don't think Aquinas is always right, to put those words in my mouth is pretty disgusting, you know. But I will leave it at that. Speaking more to the intelligible content of your commentary here: It behooves a person to go cautiously in rejecting the specific teaching of a saint and great doctor, when it is even remotely possible that his teaching can be squared with what the Church has since said. And one ought to search diligently, thoroughly, and cautiously through all possible avenues of reconciling them, before deciding that there is no reconciling. And even then, until the Church has come out and said "and this teaching contradicts that of St. Thomas, who got this one wrong" one should be willing to leave the matter of whether St. Thomas got it wrong as something probable in the mind, not certain. (Which is not the same as leaving the Church's teaching as a matter of doubt in the mind.)

When the very document that elicits the teaching most formally uses and conscripts St. Thomas's own teaching on a closely related matter, one ought to be doubly cautious and doubly wary of deciding anything about St. Thomas's position being contrary to the Church. You ought to doubt first that you understood TA, and figure out how that might be.

All of this is by way of being obedient to the Church and to the Popes who said to follow the philosophy of Thomas, and "that those who hold to it are never found swerving from the path of truth, and he who dare assail it will always be suspected of error." One cannot be disrespectful to the teaching of a pope by being respectful of the teaching of another pope.

Before the Catechism came out, I argued vociferously and publicly all that any Zippy could ask for regarding the illicitness of lying - i.e. telling deliberate untruths - as being intrinsically evil. Then when the first edition it seemed to re-define the issue to include a circumstance, that of "to a person who has a right to the truth", thus apparently taking off the table that lying might be intrinsically evil. So I spent an uncomfortable few years after that (a) eating my hat, and (b) trying to resolutely cadge and modify what I thought, from what St. Thomas had taught, with what the Catechism said so that I only thought what the Church said. Then the "edition typica" came out, which DROPPED the fateful clause about "to a person who has a right to the truth" as part of the definition, and we were all back to square one. Or were we? For, according to one way of saying it, the earlier version was still "acceptable" Church teaching, even though it defines lying differently than the later one does, and seemingly in a way that is at odds with determining whether the act is intrinsically evil or only evil by circumstance and intention.

I submit that even when a person is all gung-ho on holding just exactly what the Church says and if that means chucking St. Thomas or St. Augustine out the window because they got it wrong, so be it, it STILL may be appropriate to be slow and cautious and thorough in researching before concluding they got it wrong. And this is what I am trying to do. I believe Popes Clement, Pius, Nicholas, Benedict, Urban, Innocent on the reliability of Thomas, I believe JPII on the validity of Thomas's teaching of intrinsically evil acts, I believe St. Thomas and St. Augustine that the interpretive treatment from the earliest Church with regard to the patriarchs was to assume that the things recounted of them were upright and worthy except when the Bible expressly indicates otherwise, and I admit that a solution is not readily apparent without disbelieving some one of these

. And I consider that I RIGHTFULLY hesitate on that word "apparent". You apparently don't consider that hesitation to be rightful. That's up to you, of course, for myself I don't know how I would be honoring the instructions of all of those popes mentioned without doing so.

I'll take Tony's refusal to answer my question as an admission that not only does he not understand what an intrinsically evil act is, he doesn't understand the consequences of admitting it.

If any are curious (which they probably aren't any longer) as to why I stand so adamantly where I do, it is that I believe, must believe, that there are certain acts which by their nature carry an automatic, divinely ordained condemnation; acts which are always absolutely forbidden, the prohibition against which admits of no exception, anywhere, ever, under any circumstances. Deliberately swiping the head off an infant with a sword is among these. We call this murder. God's commanding me to do it does not make it not murder. I believe, therefore, that God would not command it. He is the author of good, not evil, of love, not malice. To assert that He could command evil - thereby making it not evil, because He commanded it - is to fancy that He could act contrary to His own nature, His own existence, that He could, in effect, annihilate Himself, the "I Am That I Am."

There is something about these passages that we cannot get to the truth of. I can live with that, but not with arguments that could be equally well-employed by devout Muslim jihadists in Iraq, who are presently busying themselves with beheading innocent Christians because God commands it.

I'll take Tony's refusal to answer my question as an admission that not only does he not understand what an intrinsically evil act is, he doesn't understand the consequences of admitting it.

I don't understand what you think is polite conversation.

PJII:

the Church teaches that "there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object".131 The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: "Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator".132

Tony:

Notice I don't offer the option of simply writing JPII off. I absolutely adhere to the Church's teaching on intrinsically evil acts.

What part of this is unclear? Why do you persist in challenging me over and over when I have answered the question? What makes it right to badger me as if you are appointed the Grand Inquisitor here and I a defendant in a court of heresy?

Why do you go around questioning my belief in what the Christians are to hold. Why don't you, Ye Grand Ferret, badger Lydia on why she doesn't believe Christ when he said "He who hears you hears me?"

But since you seem to be absolutely certain that this badgering is OK, let me use it too:

Bill, I want you to tell me, here and now without any quibbling at all whether you hold by what JPII said - that every deliberately act of killing an innocent person is intrinsically wrong - or do you reject that absolute and instead carve out of "every" the situation where a soldier kills enemy soldiers even though he hasn't a clue whether some of them are innocent or guilty?

See, it's one or the other. Every means every. Which one is it? Christians are forbidden to kill any innocent person, or Christians are forbidden to be soldiers, 'cause soldiers aren't in the business of ascertaining guilt or innocence before they kill, deliberately.

Or are you going to weasel your way out of that?

And again: JPII said (as quoted above):

there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object... whatever is offensive to human dignity, such...deportation,

So, I want an answer here and now, Bill. Do you accept that deportation is intrinsically evil, or do you reject the Church and believe that it is moral for a country to deport an illegal alien whom they don't want because he is has an unsavory past in his country?

Which one is it? Deportation is intrinsically evil, or it isn't.

Or are you going to create some encyclopedic set of wishy-washy distinctions that parse out that JPII didn't actually say that deportations were intrinsically evil, when he clearly did, and still pretend to believe what the Church says?

We have a right to know!

That Tony refuses Bill's invitation to unequivocally condemn pitchforking infants tells us everything we need to know about Tony's reasoning process.

Fortunately, deportation is not intrinsically immoral and is the natural punishment for an immigrant who has proved to be unwilling or unable to abide by the laws and customs of the host society. If it were intrinsically immoral, then the only alternative for many societies would be to either accept annihilation by mass migration or rebel against God...

And Tony's transitivity-of-bafflement diversionary tactic works on Mike T. Anything to avoid unequivocal condemnation of pitchforking infants.

No, it didn't work on me, Zippy. If I said that in person, you'd have seen me rolling my eyes and heard my voice so dripping with sarcasm that the carpet would be stained.

I am sure Tony doesn't actually support pitchforking infants. But he correctly perceives that if he concedes that pitchforking infants is always and unequivocally wrong, his entire intellectual house of cards collapses. Everything he thinks he knows about morality is corrupt, all the way down. There is something fundamentally wrong with his entire moral and epistemic worldview, including things as fundamental as his approach to text and meaning.

The problem isn't Scripture or Aquinas or JPII. The problem is you.

And if that is a consequence of conceding unequivocally that pitchforking infants is intrinsically immoral, it is a bullet that must be bitten.

Mike T:
It worked in the sense that you rewarded his transitivity-of-bafflement gambit with more discussion.

FWIW, having read the scripture, I am now not convinced that God ordered it or even that Moses and Joshua even carried things out to the extent claimed. So I lean toward the position that it is intrinsically something that God would not order to be done. My beef here has been primarily with those who would throw out scripture's integrity to prove that God couldn't do it. If scripture said unequivocally that God told the army of Israel to slaughter an entire village, I would have to conclude that it is not intrinsically immoral because God ordered it (and I have a prior commitment to trusting the integrity of scripture).

It worked in the sense that you rewarded his transitivity-of-bafflement gambit with more discussion.

Touche...

If scripture said unequivocally that God told the army of Israel to slaughter an entire village, I would have to conclude that it is not intrinsically immoral because God ordered it (and I have a prior commitment to trusting the integrity of scripture).

Well, like I said, I'd rather (in a sense) deal with Copan than with somebody who actually concludes this. But I think the texts (what I call the real problem texts, the handful I can't find a way to give a charitable interpretation to) are unequivocal. That's my difficulty.

I think the evangelicals and the "prophecy experts" have the best explanation. Satan's rebellion against God reached down to the terrestrial earth in the days of Noah and the rebels somehow found a way to corrupt the human genome, likely for the purpose of preventing the birth of a savior with human DNA and to create physical vessels without souls that they could inhabit in order to rule Earth. This corruption eventually became so extensive as to leave no one except Noah, his family and the animals called to the ark untouched. The horrors of this time were probably unimaginable, hence the lack of detail given.

However, the rebels would not cease, but God, having promised never to bring about another catastrophe like the Flood, constrained their actions to smaller territories such as Canaan for instance. The corruption having taken hold again, God ordered the Israelites to wipe it out (whether they were completely successful is debatable). My sense is that the Canaanites were probably something we don't really understand, but may come to in our lifetimes seeing the leaps and bounds the transhumanist movement has been making.

Andrew, I think that an extremely implausible scenario, which is putting it mildly. Both the women and the children are portrayed as ordinary human beings. For that matter, Rahab, who was of these tribes, is in the lineage of Jesus Christ. She engages in normal dialogue with the spies, makes a deal with them to spare her family, and apparently becomes a proselyte to Judaism and marries a Jewish man. She is a Canaanite by birth and DNA (!) but isn't some sort of soulless transhuman, subhuman, non-human, or irredeemably corrupt creature. And let it be noted: She is *in* the Promised Land itself, in Jericho, one of the very cities on which the "ban" falls. The whole idea of a race of non-humans or subhumans is contrary to various Scriptures, including the unequivocal statement after the flood that "man is made in the image of God" and also the statement in I Peter that Jesus descended into hell to preach to the very spirits of those you are implying were subhuman.

Neither Scripture nor any aspect of Christian tradition recognizes the existence of whole tribes or races that are such that they somehow are "intrinsically killable" by other human beings because their genetic makeup renders them specially corrupted or removes their human essence.

No explanation is perfect or complete. I survey the field and pick the best one.

Boy, Tony, you're really taking a beating in this thread. That's what happens when you try to maintain the true, orthodox position against the prevailing magisterium of the Zeitgeist. Just imagine how unpopular you'd be if you were orthodox with respect to all the Holy Scriptures.

Tony,

re your 5:43 comment, who's PJII? But be of good cheer, with allies like George R. ("we didn't intend to incinerate all those noncombatants at Hiroshima"), you can't but win in the end.

Lydia, you are a very bad girl for not believing that "He who hears you hears me" means that the Catholic Church with Mr. Pope at the top is the one, true and infallible voice of Christ on earth, because not believing that is exactly the same as not believing that God would command you to disembowel an infant.

Gee, George, what a comfort you are! I feel so much better knowing that I am only a heretic on some of it.

Zippy, and Bill, since you are rather DEEEEENNNNNNNNSSSSSSEEEEEE,

As I adhere to every teaching of the Catholic Church precisely as she defines them in perfect conformity with Divine Revelation and Tradition, I unequivocally adhere to exactly the Church's teaching on the intrinsically evil act of killing innocent humans. This teaching can be found in EV, for which two of the money quotes are as follows:

53. "Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves ?the creative action of God', and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can, in any circumstance, claim for himself the right to destroy directly an innocent human being"...

The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of justice and charity.

I will go further and state that pitchforking (why, precisely, THAT particular form of killing, Bill?) babies is intrinsically evil just as the Church has declared.

Now, since Zippy and Bill approve of heresy-searches, I impose upon them exactly the same burden:

Confirm for us your adherence to the Church's teaching that deportation is intrinsically evil.

Confirm for us your adherence to the necessary result that since the killing of an innocent man is intrinsically evil, doing so as a soldier killing enemy soldiers without determining their guilt is intrinsically evil.

No quibbling, or pretending that you have a right to not answer because it's a diversionary tactic. That's bullshhhoney. C'mon, guys, step up to the plate and take your medicine like a man: own up. Put your money (and integrity) where your mouth is. I want to see it in black and white. No wishy washy nonsense. Just a straight up declaration that those are intrinsically evil. If you won't, you declare yourselves puff-balls of fakery, not to be taken seriously.

That Tony refuses Bill's invitation to unequivocally condemn pitchforking infants tells us everything we need to know about Tony's reasoning process.

Zippy, what was that? Tell, me, don't be shy. What is it about my reasoning process?

If Zippy refuses my invitation to unequivocally condemn deportation and soldiering, that tells us everything we need to know about his (lack of a) reasoning process.

I think it's most odd that George thinks that holding it to be intrinsically wrong and therefore wrong under all circumstances to kill babies is "the zeitgeist." Here and all these years I've been _fighting_ the zeitgeist on this very point. Could George perhaps be living in an alternative universe?

(Bill, George is a sedevacantist, so he _doesn't_ have the Pope at the top. As far as I understand sedevacantism.)

Bill, George is a sedevacantist, so he _doesn't_ have the Pope at the top. As far as I understand sedevacantism

And why are you telling me this?

Tony:

Zippy, what was that? Tell, me, don't be shy. What is it about my reasoning process?

That is it completely broken and corrupt, all the way down, which is why you can't bring yourself to unequivocally condemn pitchforking infants as always and intrinsically immoral.

As for deportation, driving people from their established homes is always morally wrong, as a species of theft. (I am sure Mike T would support resisting would-be deporters with firearms, if they came to deport him). And soldiers don't have a moral license to kill the innocent: their license extends only to those engaged in attacking behaviors or preparations for and support of attacking behaviors. Wherever one draws the line, infants are unquestionably on the off-limits side of it.

Answering questions about clear cases isn't difficult.

Your whole approach depends on cultivating bafflement about less clear cases in order to (hey presto, transitivity of bafflement) cast doubt on all cases: exactly the approach to casuistry that JPII condemned. That's why you can't bring yourself to unequivocally condemn pitchforking infants, and your intellectual failures are apparently what lead you to lie about and mischaracterize the views of others. You've made it your Internet mission to sow and cultivate doubt where the moral law is clear: to try to create a doubtful space wherein murdering the innocent is acceptable if only because morality is just oh so baffling, so we must throw up our hands and get out the pitchforks.

As for deportation, driving people from their established homes is always morally wrong, as a species of theft. (I am sure Mike T would support resisting would-be deporters with firearms, if they came to deport him).

If the federal government came to deport me from my home, they would be turning me into a stateless person in violation of the US Constitution, federal law, probably common law and international convention. If they come to deport an illegal immigrant, that's perfectly just and reasonable. That Juan has "established himself" in the US is irrelevant to the fact that he violated the law and has no more right to maintain that establishment than a thief has a right to keep property he stole if he hides it long enough.

And that is different from squatters rights in that squatters may have a reasonable claim that they have taken over an abandoned property, in a polity in which they were already lawfully permitted to abide, and established themselves. There is no moral defense of illegal immigrants unless they are that way because of an accident like an expired visa.

Furthermore, it should be noted that most illegal immigrants already violate most of the Catholic Church's moral requirements on aliens who wish to immigrate. They don't integrate, they tend to show no loyalty to the host nation or authorities and often engage in additional crimes besides illegal immigration. They also show no repentance for their illegal immigration and even tend to engage in a very entitled claim that they are owed something because they came here. Be it welfare or a "path to citizenship."

Mike T:
Once again you play into Tony's rhetorical hands by taking his transitivity-of-bafflement gambit seriously.

Very generally speaking, there are always going to be three kinds of cases. Some cases clearly fall into an intrinsically immoral species (e.g. pitchforking infants and driving Mike T's family out of their long-established home, which is really a species of theft). Some clearly don't (e.g. ejecting a trespasser/thief). And some particular cases are more baffling.

Tony's whole approach involves (directly contrary to JPII's teaching) taking the baffling cases and spreading the bafflement around to cover all cases. That's why he can't bring himself to unequivocally condemn pitchforking infants. He attempts a tu quoque, but I have no problem condemning the deportation of Mike T and his family and the pitchforking of infants, despite the fact that I acknowledge the existence of 'hard cases'.

I said above that I was reluctant to get into the metaphysics of where this goes off the rails with a hostile audience. I'm still reluctant, because I find it doubtful that Tony in particular is even slightly open to reason on the point. The reason he is always projecting his worldview on others is because he literally can't imagine anything else.

But the reason - for those actually interested - is the influence of positivism. Verbal description is incapable of making a positive demarcation between 'the innocent' and 'those engaged in attacking behaviors' which can positively categorize every conceivable (verbal description of a) case without further clarification. That is because of the basic limitations of formal/symbolic language, meaning, etc - limitations about which positivists are blissfully unaware, and which I have discussed at my blog at at least a cursory level. Tony in particular isn't even slightly open to the idea that the problem is with the way he thinks: and it probably isn't malice, because malice implies a certain level of awareness itself, and I've personally not seen any hint of awareness on his part.

Modern people, when faced with the lack of a positive formal demarcation criteria, tend to throw up their hands and pretend that the categories thereby become so baffling that no definite conclusions are possible. This 'all is bafflement' approach we call postmodernism. Tony's basic approach is postmodern: bafflement associated with 'hard cases' for him imply that we can't reach definite conclusions about something as clear cut as deliberately pitchforking infants.

Here's some irony for you...

the Church teaches that "there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object".131 The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: "Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator".132

If China and Russia dumped their prisoners on our shores, it would be per se "hostile to life" and "always seriously wrong" to deport those prisoners back to China and Russia.

Once again you play into Tony's rhetorical hands by taking his transitivity-of-bafflement gambit seriously.

The Pope's own words don't lend themselves to the position that deportation is ever moral from a Catholic perspective. I am not a Catholic, so I just take the Pope's words at face value...

But I see no basis to support the claim that deportation is intrinsically immoral since God himself at the very least claimed he was going to expel the inhabitants of the holy lands. That part of the Canaanite verses is clear. God intended to uproot and disperse those people. So clearly, deportation is not per se immoral since God announced his intention to evict those people from their long-held lands.

e.g. pitchforking infants and driving Mike T's family out of their long-established home, which is really a species of theft

The differences between my family and an illegal immigrant are immense. I was born at citizen here, committed no crime worthy of losing my citizenship, displayed loyalty to my nation and authorities and was rewarded with theft and statelessness. That Juan may have evaded the authorities for a long period of time doesn't change the particular circumstances of his claim to being established; he had no right to be established here. Furthermore, there is an ancient principle that when one commits a crime, one may not profit from it. If one intends to become an illegal immigrant then anything profitable arising from their illegal immigration is justly forfeit. The same may not be true of children innocent brought and raised here, but for an adult it is true because they intentionally committed the justly illegal act.

And even then, you have the fact that if this generation of authorities, out of corruption, violate their duties and let a body of migrants swell in the host nation, future rulers are not morally bound to refuse to correct this situation. In our case, given the role Mexican leaders have played in encouraging de facto colonization (even making territorial claims into our borders), future US leaders would be justified in declaring war on Mexico.

Mike T:

I am not a Catholic, so I just take the Pope's words at face value...

Which from my POV means that you interpret them positivistically; which is no surprise, since you are a sola scriptura protestant. Like Tony you can't even imagine the possibility that your whole approach to language and meaning is broken.

which is why you can't bring yourself to unequivocally condemn pitchforking infants as always and intrinsically immoral.

Zippy: YOU ARE A COMPLETE IDIOT.

I already did unequivocally condemn it, see my comment of 8:03pm. What part of my statement about pitchforking is unclear to you? Can't you even read? Are you even stupider than Dunsany? Do I need to put it in blinking lights for you? Circle it and polka-dot it? Let's see, where are my crayons and magic markers...

I knew you had trouble grasping things, but I didn't realize how bad it was. No wonder you attract such negative junk around you.

As for deportation, driving people from their established homes is always morally wrong, as a species of theft.

What an idiotic thing to say. Idiotic in more ways than one: first, because "driving people from their homes" isn't identical to "deportation" and so doesn't answer the question.

Second because "driving people from their homes" is moral when there are overriding needs, such as when an army general commandeers buildings in the middle of a battle, or when fire-fighters destroy houses as a fire-break, and so on.

Third because "driving people from their homes" can include capturing a criminal and putting him in jail / prison ( / killing him if convicted of murder - which kind of takes him away from his home rather permanently).

Fourth because you can't bring yourself to unequivocally condemn deportation because you are mentally bankrupt.

(I will just mention in passing, for those who may not have noticed, that Zippy here destroys any possibility of God wanting the Israelites to have taken Canaan, something that some people thought was a much more serious problem to salvation history than the "go kill all those people" passages.)

Oops, cross-posted: Mike noticed right off that Zippy is willing to destroy the entire biblical history of Israel.

Tony:
My bad. I guess after thousands of words and days of hemming and hawwing you finally did reluctantly bring yourself, kicking and screaming, buried in an avalanche of other words, to condemn pitchforking infants; after previously claiming not to understand the question, etc.

Congratulations.

The reason you found that so difficult to do so is precisely for the reasons I just explained to Mike T.

Which from my POV means that you interpret them positivistically; which is no surprise, since you are a sola scriptura protestant. Like Tony you can't even imagine the possibility that your whole approach to language and meaning is broken.

Actually, I'm not big into sola scriptura which I've repeatedly stated here and at your blog. The problem you face here is that if I cannot take the Pope's words at face value, then their value as communication is greatly reduced.

Mike T:

The problem you face here is that if I cannot take the Pope's words at face value, then their value as communication is greatly reduced.

Agreed. Words are much more fragile carriers of meaning than positivists think. I've made the point before that in order to understand what a bunch of words are saying, almost all of the meaning has to be already in the reader/listener.

I would just ask for the rhetoric to be dialed back a bit here. Everyone will notice that I've generally taken a pretty hands-off approach up until now, so it's not like I'm jumping in willy nilly.

Bill, I mentioned that about George and sedevacantism as a humorous aside because I was confused about who had suggested that you badger me about "He who hears you hears me." I thought it was George. My error.

Since I'm in for a penny here I might as well give my thirty-thousand foot view of the actual subject of the OP. This isn't an area in which I've taken particular interest - the Levitical code and other OT stuff has never been a focus of mine - but perhaps someone might find my perspective helpful.

I'm not troubled by orders Moses gave or positive law he promulgated for much the same reason I am not troubled by the argument that the papal bull Ad Extirpanda authorized torture. If Moses' authority and 'infallibility' was roughly equivalent to that of a Pope, stipulating that he passed laws that authorized or required intrinsically immoral behaviors doesn't constitute an infallible declaration that those behaviors are morally acceptable. Moses was a mere man, he wasn't Christ. Furthermore, the fact that he refers his own authority to the Lord in the text of the OT doesn't mean that everything he said and did has to constructively be interpreted as God speaking directly from the burning bush. I'm doubtful that all of the positive law in the OT came from God directly, as in recited by the burning bush and merely copied by Moses. And we know that the entire Levitical code isn't an expression of natural law obligations: if it were, then the poofters who ask us why we eat pork would have a point.

I don't know if mine is the right take on this subject, but for a non-positivist like myself who isn't obligated to take every turn of phrase literally it isn't an unreasonable one. And if it isn't right, well, I have faith that something like it provides the 'solution' to a problem that itself seems to me to arise from excessive literalism - literalism which arises from (literally, hah) unreasonable expectations with respect to the relation between language and meaning.

Zippy, I've actually been surprised that no one has yet suggested that solution to the Numbers 31 passage.

I'm hesitant to think that the context allows it in the Deuteronomy 20 passage or in the case of Samuel and the Amalekites.

In the Deuteronomy 20 passage, the words really are put into the mouth of God, so the entire impression given would have to be wrong. Now, I'm open to that possibility. I'm just not going to consider it an interpretation of the text, because the text itself doesn't really leave that option.

In the I Samuel 15 passage, Samuel claims to be bringing orders directly from God. He says, "Thus saith the Lord of hosts..." and proceeds to order the slaughter of the Amalekites, including infants and sucklings. To make it even worse, later in the chapter, when Saul _doesn't_ slaughter the king and all the cattle, Samuel brings another message from the Lord--namely, that God has rejected Saul from being king for his disobedience in this matter. And as the history continues, of course the entire Davidic line is brought in because of Saul's being ousted as king. Saul's loss of God's approval is an important part of salvation history.

So I don't see a way allowed by the _passage_ to attribute that simply to a human being, full stop.

Again, I'm open to saying that none of this happened as recorded--i.e., ordered by God. But *as recorded* it is saying that it was indeed ordered by God Himself.

Lydia:

In the Deuteronomy 20 passage, the words really are put into the mouth of God, so the entire impression given would have to be wrong.

I agree, (that is, the impression we get given our modern prejudices would have to be wrong) having cursorily reviewed it in my DR translation - though you really have to start from the beginning of Deuteronomy and go from there. And in doing so there at a glance seem to be all sorts of detailed oddities that seem like 'managerial' or operational matters rather than the sort of thing that would be discussed in a meeting with the Big Guy.

One possibility is that Moses' two(?) encounters on Sinai were the only times God actually spoke to him directly; the rest is just Moses exercising his God-given authority, but as a man (much like a Pope: most Popes never assert anything infallibly at all). As a literary-historical matter of the recorded history Moses 'speaks with God's voice', like the Pope acting in persona Christi; as a practical matter he puts on his pants one leg at a time like the rest of us, 'infallible proclamations' are few and far between, and him doing or ordering X doesn't constitute an infallible proclamation that X is not intrinsically immoral.

I don't know if that is right, but it doesn't seem particularly troubling to me to interpret the OT (and especially Exodus through Deuteronomy) that way in general.

So if someone finds the notion that pitchforking infants is intrinsically immoral troubling (putatively based on these passages) it is either because he actually does find it troubling (the OT passages merely being a vehicle for arguing that it is troubling) - which invokes Anscombe's observation that Bill quotes above about damaged moral sense - or it means that he is trapped in a positivist or positivist-like box when it comes to his understanding of text and meaning.

Lydia:

Again, I'm open to saying that none of this happened as recorded--i.e., ordered by God. But *as recorded* it is saying that it was indeed ordered by God Himself.

What it actually says though (I think - I don't speak/write/read Hebrew, Aramaic, or Koine Greek, and again I am really out of my element on the whole subject) is that Samuel preceded his orders with "Thus saith the Lord of hosts ...". It is not unreasonable to think that this sort of formalism preceded the giving of orders in general by a prophet, whose legitimate authority in fact comes from God. I am not aware (though that may just be my own ignorance) that we know in particular precisely how and in what manner God communicated with or inspired Moses and the Prophets most of the time, beyond the giving of the ten commandments and their restoration on Sinai. Some things are obviously orders and others are principles though, and it is telling that the 'problemmatic' passages always seem to be about orders given based on practical considerations.

Taking the Bible as an inerrant historical account still leaves pretty wide room for interpretation, it seems to me.

it is telling that the 'problemmatic' passages always seem to be about orders given based on practical considerations.

In the I Samuel case it's even weirder than practical. It's putatively ordering paybacks to the Amalekites in the time of King Saul (circa 1000 B.C. or a bit before) for actions done by their ancestors circa either 1200-something B.C. or 1400-something B.C. (depending on when one dates the Exodus). I Sam. 15:2. Samuel seems to think he just got this message from God out of the blue one fine day and is passing it on to the relevant person.

The OT is just _so_ bizarre sometimes.

But yes, I take your point about what Samuel actually said.

And don't misunderstand me. Epistemologically, I approach this very much as you do. Your comment above about an angel coming to Mohammad is pertinent. In fact, I think Saul himself would have been justified in saying, "What?" (Or stronger wording.) I have emphasized repeatedly that we don't actually know (I would confirm what you are guessing there) precisely how these orders were attested. And I have also tried to make a distinction between, "Moses was attested by God in a general way via the mountain shaking at Sinai" and "Every order Moses subsequently gave in the next forty years was attested by God."

To what extent this is all compatible with inerrancy is probably the main point on which we would disagree, which is not a very large point by itself.

Lydia:

To what extent this is all compatible with inerrancy is probably the main point on which we would disagree, which is not a very large point by itself.

Inerrancy and infallibility can be squirrelly concepts. People like to feel anchored in certainty. From my POV the rise of text and the fall of liturgy has left folks feeling unmoored; they don't know why, so they keep making ever greater demands of text -- demands that it cannot fulfill. But now I've gone very far afield.

"Troubled by the OT" would be a good name for an evangelical rock band.

I think it's most odd that George thinks that holding it to be intrinsically wrong and therefore wrong under all circumstances to kill babies is "the zeitgeist." Here and all these years I've been _fighting_ the zeitgeist on this very point. Could George perhaps be living in an alternative universe?

Lydia, everybody believes they're fighting the zeitgeist. It's a delusion that follows from our fallen human nature almost invariably. Everybody believes that they know what's what; that they're a cut above the rest of the herd; that the world is insane while they're the very picture of sanity. But in reality they all belong to the zeitgeist -- lock, stock, and barrel.

There's only way to really, truly fight the zeitgeist, and it is this: to hear the Word of God and keep it... come hell, high water, or babies with pitchforks through their heads.

Jesus, George. I hope we never meet the pope you'd like to fill the empty chair with.

I will give to Mike T that he is trying very hard, and I actually got something out of the exchange between Lydia and Zippy.

Thanks?

And I have also tried to make a distinction between, "Moses was attested by God in a general way via the mountain shaking at Sinai" and "Every order Moses subsequently gave in the next forty years was attested by God."

I think that's a very good point, because we know that the patriarchs had some things where they just plain done wrong and Scripture tells us it was wrong (they are punished, God smites them, their guilt comes out, etc.) We all know some obvious ones: Moses striking the rock twice, David sleeping with Bathsheba, etc.

But there are a few cases where the "attestation" is very direct and seems very difficult to get around: Samson prayed to God for a return of supernatural strength, and that prayer was answered. Many of the options for re-interpreting that passage would have us basically undermine most or all of the supernatural events in Scripture, such as (a) he really had the natural strength to do it, (we all have amazing powers if only we would tap into them), the prayer just released his subconscious to get rid of his own internal blocks. Or (b) it was really demons that gave him the strength (my favorite). Or (c) He was an angel all along. I am sure there are others. But it is easy to see that these methods of explaining it away open the door to problems maintaining coherence to the very notion of attestation, all up and down the books and verses of the Bible.

I'm happy to assume that the hall in which Samson was displayed for sport contained (besides himself) only those who deserved to die both for their cruelty to him and for their brazen idolatry and desire to triumph over a worshiper of the true God. Women can also deserve to die. At that point we have only the problem that he is recorded to have said, "Let me die with my enemies," but I'll squirrel that one by on the grounds that it wasn't absolutely certain that he would die, and he doubtless would have crawled out of the rubble had he happened to survive, hence that even if it occurred it doesn't count as a divine endorsement of suicide.

See, I really do try not to make unnecessary difficulties, even for inerrancy.

I can't say that I would be happy to rely on that squirrel (for Samson, not for the other people). I don't think we normally credit that a risk of death being "not absolutely certain" is a sufficient basis for saying that doing it is not tantamount to killing yourself. In fact, I seem to remember a certain person vociferously arguing that very point here a year or 2 ago. I would think that Samson was morally certain that it would kill him, since he was necessarily the focal point for the destructive forces.

I don't think that we have to "make" unnecessary difficulties at all, there are enough and aplenty to go around without crafting our own.

I do rely on a "squirrel" rather like that independently for some things, such as jumping in front of a car to save a child or running into a burning building to save someone. The difficulty here, which I fully acknowledge, is the verse in which Samson says, "Let me die with my enemies," which doesn't sound like a fireman saying, "Stay with me, kid, and we'll try to get out of here together."

Perhaps God had to have a talk with him when he got to heaven.

Lydia,

What a great way to wind down this thread:

"Perhaps God had to have a talk with him when he got to heaven."

The Samson episode reminds me of this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ni8MURSwSZg

That Tony refuses Bill's invitation to unequivocally condemn pitchforking infants tells us everything we need to know about Tony's reasoning process.

But then Zippy realizes he made a mistake.

My bad. I guess after thousands of words and days of hemming and hawwing you finally did reluctantly bring yourself, kicking and screaming, buried in an avalanche of other words, to condemn pitchforking infants; after previously claiming not to understand the question, etc.

Congratulations.

The reason you found that so difficult to do so is precisely for the reasons I just explained to Mike T.

Let's see: when I "refuse", that is what tells us what my reasoning process is. Then when I do it you say that you know what that reasoning process is anyway, and it is the same as when I refuse. Isn't that sort of logic just a little resistant to counter-evidence? If a hypothesis cannot be falsified...

But the reason - for those actually interested - is the influence of positivism. Verbal description is incapable of making a positive demarcation between 'the innocent' and 'those engaged in attacking behaviors' which can positively categorize every conceivable (verbal description of a) case without further clarification. That is because of the basic limitations of formal/symbolic language, meaning, etc - limitations about which positivists are blissfully unaware, and which I have discussed at my blog at at least a cursory level.

You know, Zippy, I try and try to understand you, and sometimes I agree with you, and mostly when I disagree with you I still understand what you are claiming, but sometimes the things you say just don't cohere in my mind to something that actually _means_ something. And that might indeed be because of some great lack in me. But here, for example, I suspect that you are using the word "positivism" in some special sense that isn't the standard one in philosophy. Here are two quick definitions:

1. a philosophical system that holds that every rationally justifiable assertion can be scientifically verified or is capable of logical or mathematical proof, and that therefore rejects metaphysics and theism. another term for logical positivism. 2. the theory that laws are to be understood as social rules, valid because they are enacted by authority or derive logically from existing decisions, and that ideal or moral considerations (e.g., that a rule is unjust) should not limit the scope or operation of the law.

Here is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (about as authoritative a source of the state of the use of a word in philosophy that we have) says:

Legal positivism is the thesis that the existence and content of law depends on social facts and not on its merits. The English jurist John Austin (1790-1859) formulated it thus: “The existence of law is one thing; its merit and demerit another. Whether it be or be not is one enquiry; whether it be or be not conformable to an assumed standard, is a different enquiry.” (1832, p. 157) The positivist thesis does not say that law's merits are unintelligible, unimportant, or peripheral to the philosophy of law. It says that they do not determine whether laws or legal systems exist. Whether a society has a legal system depends on the presence of certain structures of governance, not on the extent to which it satisfies ideals of justice, democracy, or the rule of law. What laws are in force in that system depends on what social standards its officials recognize as authoritative; for example, legislative enactments, judicial decisions, or social customs. The fact that a policy would be just, wise, efficient, or prudent is never sufficient reason for thinking that it is actually the law, and the fact that it is unjust, unwise, inefficient or imprudent is never sufficient reason for doubting it.

This is so completely and utterly NOT the sort of thinking or behavior that I have, that it simply baffles my mind as to how you could be even trying to apply this to me. I have regularly pushed the metaphysics behind Church teachings, in the face of opposition from people who have no taste what they call esoteric "stuff that doesn't really have any basis in fact." I have frequently, with great gusto, argued the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts, no matter what the "law" says about the matter. I have uniformly refused to credit that a law, ANY law, can in fact produce a homosexual marriage between 2 men, and that thus no such event would ever be a marriage, and for that reason I have uniformly used the expression "marriage" in scare quotes to describe it. I have vociferously, in these pages, argued the intrinsic evil of lying, and walked with Lydia and Ed Feser up and down the line repudiating all sorts of _very_ hard cases and softening agents attempting to undermine the clarity of the basic teaching, even if it is hard to put into practice. And even if there are difficult blurry edges like using codes in warfare. And, I might add, even though it leaves me with no satisfactory solution to Rahab's story. I am willing to live with the uncertainty that causes me. I have strongly and eternally repudiated the intrinsic evil of contracepted sex, so many times in so many ways that even friends tire of hearing me spout out about it. I have argued how it is intrinsically evil, and why it is so, till I am blue in the face. II have delved into metaphysical principles that root the premises used. I have argued how it opposes the "primary end of the sexual act" as well as the "primary end of marriage" (even though - as I have suggested - the standard teaching of the primary end of marriage being children (as taught by many popes, including Pius XI in Casti Canubii) is hampered by imperfect language that is unable to readily contextualize the unitive end of marriage as integrated with that end). I have argued the horrible wrongness of so called laws (i.e. "laws" that are no laws because they defy the eternal law) that permit abortion, so thoroughly that I don't even need to look up exact quotes anymore, my fingers just type them with muscle memory. I have argued the wrongness of laws that provide for euthanasia or assisted suicide alongside Lydia and others here, "laws" that lack the character of law because they are contrary to the authority given to our lawmakers by God.

So, whether you happen to be right about something or other related to an error in my thinking, no, I have to say that your attempt to describe what is at large wrong in my thinking just doesn't come anywhere close. It doesn't pass the sniff test. It has too many counterexamples. It isn't doesn't even have a family resemblance. It is just not plausible.

So, I would like to propose to you a hatchet burying: please STOP TRYING to characterize my thinking in general, and please STOP TRYING to characterize my specific arguments as being in this vein or that. If you think my stated argument in a specific matter is wrong, PLEASE LIMIT yourself to simply saying that you think it is wrong, and why that argument is wrong, and leave it at that. If it galls you that I have repeated (yet again) an error that you think I have made in the past, well, just suffer that troublesomeness in silence, as I do your galling behavior time and time again, and just refute my errors with truer, better, more clear arguments. And I will do the same in your respect - I will limit my comments to comments about where the errors are and what would be more correct. And for the future, then, since you seem convinced that I am (at the least) a material heretic, PLEASE STOP ACTING like it is any more important to point out my supposed errors as heresy any more than you feel it necessary to point it out with non-Catholics like Lydia: you know that they DON'T think with the Church, so pointing out "hey, that isn't thinking with the Church" amounts to just wind-baggy fluff, making points for an imaginary cheering crowd instead of advancing the discussion, raising ire instead of knowledge. Just try to refute the erroneous position with better arguments whether it amounts to material heresy or is just plain wrong, since in moral philosophy even heretical opinions are always wrong for a reason that is distinct from the certainty we have of it by Scripture and Tradition through the Magisterium.

Here is an example. In the current case, a good advancement to the discussion might have been in this form: It is impossible for God to have told Moses to have the Israelites kill the women and children, because X and Y (showing precisely how that is contrary to God's nature). And St. Thomas erred in Article 6, because he collapsed 2 cases into 1, or failed to distinguish A from B, and this led to his mistake on reply to Objection 3. And furthermore, the interpretive practice of the whole Judeo-Christian tradition includes Z principle (see passage 1 from the Gospel, passage 2 from St. Augustine, and passage 3 from encyclical N), which prevents us from assuming Z' when we are lacking evidence Z-K.

Doing so does not require characterizing anyone who appears to disagree with you in any specific manner at all, other than just that they may have erred.

Tony:

So, I would like to propose to you a hatchet burying: please STOP TRYING to characterize my thinking in general, and please STOP TRYING to characterize my specific arguments as being in this vein or that. If you think my stated argument in a specific matter is wrong, PLEASE LIMIT yourself to simply saying that you think it is wrong, and why that argument is wrong, and leave it at that.

You are projecting your own worst characteristics onto others, again.

And it is ironic that you think you can dispense with positivism by citing a couple of proof texts defining it. It just goes to show that you don't get it.

Tony:

Let's see: when I "refuse", that is what tells us what my reasoning process is. Then when I do it you say that you know what that reasoning process is anyway, and it is the same as when I refuse. Isn't that sort of logic just a little resistant to counter-evidence? If a hypothesis cannot be falsified...

But it is a fact that you did refuse, for thousand of words and days of time. When Bill first asked you you claimed not to understand the question. That it took so much time and effort for you to cut through the evasiveness and concede that pitchforking infants is intrinsically immoral is a pertinent fact about your approach to the ''problem' in the OP. And I have argued that the ''problem' in the first place must arise either from a damaged moral sense or positivistic epistemology which expects more from text than it can bear and exhibits a lack of understanding about the nature of texts.

So, I would like to propose to you a hatchet burying...

FYI, it isn't burying the hatchet when you're aiming to bury it in their chest. In the same vein (or artery) it isn’t merely a word crime when a good deity orders a war crime.

Compare:

2. the theory that laws are to be understood as social rules, valid because they are enacted by authority or derive logically from existing decisions, and that ideal or moral considerations (e.g., that a rule is unjust) should not limit the scope or operation of the law.

To this:
And St. Thomas erred in Article 6, because he collapsed 2 cases into 1, or failed to distinguish A from B, and this led to his mistake on reply to Objection 3. And furthermore, the interpretive practice of the whole Judeo-Christian tradition includes Z principle (see passage 1 from the Gospel, passage 2 from St. Augustine, and passage 3 from encyclical N), which prevents us from assuming Z' when we are lacking evidence Z-K.

@zippy

Don't expect any sort of intellectual honesty form Tony. He has repeatedly shown that he doesn't have any, and his misrepresents and insults his interlocutors whenever this is pointed out to him. Lydia is the only editor on this blog with anything resembling intellectual credibility or honesty.

@willliamluse

"He is the author of good, not evil, of love, not malice. To assert that He could command evil - thereby making it not evil, because He commanded it - is to fancy that He could act contrary to His own nature, His own existence, that He could, in effect, annihilate Himself, the "I Am That I Am.""


This makes no sense. If god is the author of "good" then good is whatever he says it is. If he says it's good for the Israelites to kill all of the Canaanite children then it is. Period. It makes no sense to say that god's nature or commands are the source of the "good" and then claim that it wouldn't be moral to kill children if god said so. This is just Euthyphro all over again. If the good exists independently of god and is objectively true then he is not the source of the good. You would do better to abandon the idea that god is the source of moral truth.

Step2, I invite you to expand how those two quotes you gave (repeated) bear out your point. I am afraid it's a little too cryptic for me.

Dunsany, you seem unaware that there is an _answer_ to the Euthyphro dilemma, and it lies _precisely_ in the concept of a Being whose very nature is the Good. You elide the distinction when you say "nature or commands." That is, the distinction between an _arbitrary_ connection between God and goodness (that is, that "good" simply is a contentless word that refers to whatever God commands) and a necessary, contentful, and real connection. To say that God is necessarily good is not to bring in arbitrary divine command theory but rather to say that all of our access to the Good is access to the nature of God, whether we acknowledge it or not. That, of course, is _why_ those of us who are not voluntarists are concerned about these passages. You will notice that I condemned voluntarism far upthread.

I am now decreeing that the personal insults are going to stop. That means mere personal insults in any direction. Dunsany, I'm not so vain that your slightly backhanded compliment to me would prevent me from being consistent on that when you launch mere personal insult against a fellow contributor.

Zippy, whether I was proof-texting or not doesn't bear on whether you are willing to act like a civilized Christian in discussion with me.

Or, did I mistake your point, and are you really saying that it is not Christian behavior to limit yourself to addressing my arguments themselves rather than deciding what my philosophical genre is? Or is it that you simply don't intend to bury any hatchet between us regardless?

thousand of words

When I give "thousand of words", you and Bill complain of my prolixity. When I shorten it, you complain that I am proof-texting. I submit to ANYONE out there: was my use of the 2 definitions and a longer description an example of "proof-texting"? (Which isn't the simply same as "getting the sense of the quote wrong" by the way, proof-texting is a specific way of getting the passage wrong.)

and days of time

Given that you have refused for "days at a time" to categorically and unequivocally state that deportation is intrinsically evil, I at a loss as to see why you think you can use this as a measure of intellectual defect and fail to apply it to yourself. (By the way, Bill, we're still waiting for you do denounce deportation as intrinsically evil also. At least Zippy made a pretense of it by denouncing "driving people from their established homes" as if that was identical.)

And it is ironic that you think you can dispense with positivism by citing a couple of proof texts defining it.

So, what you seem to mean is either that positivism is an amorphous, undefinable, even undescribable category of thought that you can tell I fall into regardless of any evidential concerns for or against, or that it is indeed not amorphous, it has identifiable characteristics that are NOT the characteristics identified by 2 dictionary definitions and a 200 word description in an official peer-reviewed essay on the topic, but some other? Please, feel free to identify the things that characterize positivism the way you use the term so that we don't fall into accidental proof-texting and mistaking your meaning, because (as I said) I don't understand the sense of the term as you are using it. Or are you merely using it in the sense of "the kind of thinking that Tony does, which bugs the hell out of me?" That sense would, at least, have the merit of being entirely accurate as a characterization of my thinking, even if completely non-informational.

For the which, I don't really need any answer to if you are willing to simply engage in civilized discussion with me from here on out.

Actually, "positivism" is a topic Zippy talks a lot about elsewhere in relation to a great many groups, movements, ideas, etc. Some of which I probably endorse, so, yeah, I'm probably a "positivist" as Zippy uses the term, which is all right with me. But anyway, it's a huge topic for him and not merely directed at you, Tony. Also really too big and sideways of a topic for this thread.

Dunsany:

If god is the author of "good" then good is whatever he says it is.

That is syllogistically valid, of course. But once again, the dilemma it creates is epistemic - the 'problem' is a problem of our understanding, and it isn't a problem with our understanding of God it is a problem of the interpretation of text pitted against our understanding of the intrinsic immorality of murder and what that means.

Text always underdetermines meaning, so even if we take the biblical text to be inerrant that just means that whatever the correct interpretation(s) are, those interpretations are not contrary to truth. It doesn't mean that my interpretation (or Tony's or Lydia's, or whomever's) is not contrary to truth. Again, finite texts always underdetermine meaning, and what looks like one thing on a map is frequently something else entirely when you actually visit the territory. Words are always scribbled lines on a map, not the actual territory.

It is apodictically true that God's nature and will are coterminus with the good, given the Christian understanding of God. But it isn't the nature of God that is being pitted against pitchforking children in the 'problem' of interpreting Deuteronomy 20. It is our relative epistemic certainty that pitchforking children is intrinsically immoral pitted against certain interpretations of the text, combined with certain understandings of inerrancy. That straightforwardly falsifies those interpretations of the text and/or those concepts of inerrancy; but it doesn't 'threaten' inerrancy in general. That some interpretations are definitely false does not imply that no true interpretation exists. Inerrancy of a text at its most basic doesn't guarantee the impossibility of false interpretations: it just guarantees the existence of at least one true interpretation. Positivists, again, expect far more from language than it can deliver.

I have a 'positivism' category at my blog that may be of interest. I don't pretend it to be a rigorous treatment, but it outlines my thoughts from various different perspectives. This post might be a good place to start.

Also, I haven't followed the discussions here in general - my presence here is the result of troublemaking instigators - so it may be that others have already covered positivism and its implications here. But anyone who wants my basic take can read it at my blog.

The reason you found that so difficult to do so is precisely for the reasons I just explained to Mike T.

For your information, Zippy, you are making assumptions that are insufficiently supported by the evidence available. I often don't respond with compliance to badgering and bullying and attempts to shove me into a box, even in the cases where I am perfectly comfortable living in that box.

For example, a year or so ago on Ed Feser's blog, commentor Ben Yachov thought somehow that he had "caught me out" in some sense or other and pressed me on whether I am Catholic. He pushed and shoved and demanded over and over, and I evaded and resisted and ignored and shoved back, mainly because whether I am Catholic or not didn't change whether my ARGUMENTS were right or wrong, and because he insisted that he had a RIGHT TO KNOW regardless of whether I felt like divulging it. I finally let him off his tenterhooks after several days of Ben getting madder and madder at my refusal to just answer the question. During that time others, such as Scott, commented that is was totally ridiculous for Ben to imagine even for a moment that I might not be Catholic, and indeed I have made it clear so many separate times that it really was ridiculous, and that I am entirely comfortable declaring that I am a Catholic. Just not to bullies, and not when whether I do or not isn't something that advances the state of the discussion. Because whether I am or not doesn't tell us WHY the right answer is right or why some answer is wrong.

Lydia:
Yes, it is fair to say that I see some of your approach to some things as positivistic. I'm pretty sure I read From a Deflationary Point of View at either your or Tim's suggestion, for example. It has been a while, and I don't want to impute anything to anyone inappropriately, including the essayists in the book. But my recollection is that, while I have some sympathy for the 'cut through the postmodern BS' attitude, in the end it rhymes with the whole verificationist/positivist approach of dismissing things that can't be 'deflated' as irrelevant and/or illusory. And I think that whole approach is ultimately as incoherent as the postmodernism against which it sets itself in opposition. I see the positivist-postmodern dichotomy as an epistemological trap, a false dichotomy much like the right-liberal left-liberal false dichotomy in the political realm.

But anyone who reads my blog knows these things.

Tony:

For your information, Zippy, you are making assumptions that are insufficiently supported by the evidence available.

Not at all. You and I have years of history. Disagreeing is one thing, and is as common as rainfall. But you tell lies about and mischaracterize other peoples' positions, have done so for many years, and I'm not the only one who has noticed it. It is why I consider this blog hostile territory, even though I was a founding contributor -- that, and Lydia's knife in my back when I called you on it.

I can choose to believe that you do that because of malice, or because of incomprehension. I choose the latter, but if you insist on the former that is really the only other alternative.

Gents, please. Could we get the personalities _back_ out of it? I mean, I've tried like the dickens (or is it Dickens?) not to be heavy-handed or to stifle debate here, but...

It isn't an issue of personality, it is an issue of capacity.

Tony lacks the capacity to even have a conversation with someone who doesn't share (or at least grant) his wrongheaded view of things. You can let him beg the question, and project his own views as extrapolations onto things that you've said; you can let him act as the official interpreter of Aquinas, 'solving' underdetermination in favor of Tony's personal views since Aquinas isn't around to tell us what he really thinks. But you can't actually have a conversation wherein Tony actually comprehends what you are saying, if it doesn't fall into the narrow range of his preconceived expectations.

I could attempt to explain in more detail, if vain hope were to triumph over experience and if I had limitless free time. But suffice to say that the fact that Step2's comment sailed right over his head is another piece of evidence: it isn't about personality. He just doesn't get it: doesn't have it in him to get it.

Actually, Tony and I get along great and seem to understand each other quite well even when we disagree and even when our arguments do not change each other's minds. As here. But by "leaving personalities out of it" I meant something like "not getting personal" and "ceasing to make negative comments about other persons on the thread" since I do not think this is advancing the understanding of topics.

I myself often find Step2 cryptic, though I think I followed him here.

Anyway, I'm going to exercise the less-than-divine right of blog thread writers to make a few concluding comments, which I hope some may find valuable, and then close the comments thread.

I think there is an important apologetic aspect to this whole issue of whether God ordered the slaughter of the Canaanite infants. I don't _only_ mean that an atheist is likely to be scandalized by Christians' willingness to endorse this, though I do mean that inter alia. But I mean more: When I invite an atheist to consider Christianity, I am inviting him to consider the possibility that all his apprehensions of Goodness, Beauty, Virtue, and Charity are leading somewhere. More specifically, that they are leading to Someone, to a personal Being who is the source of all that is good in this world. By "source" I do not mean, as Dunsany insinuates, the arbitrary definer. I mean literally the source. The One from whom all blessings flow. That includes all the things we are able to understand as blessings. The source of all light. Light Itself. "God is light," says St. John, "and in Him is no darkness at all."

Everyone who is not a Christian has, I believe, somewhere in him a desire for Light. Whatever darkness he knows or even participates in, he also knows beauty. He knows the laughter of a child or the bravery of a man willing to die in a good cause. He knows that there is goodness, and he desires it.

When I invite a man to consider Christianity, I invite him to consider being lifted by the Light out of the darkness, to leave the darkness behind, to come into the light.

But as Jesus said, if the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness? How much more does this apply if we start to think that the Light of Lights that is outside of us, from which all light comes, is darkness?

We cannot invite men to the source of all goodness and then play a bait and switch. We cannot turn around and say, "Oh, by the way, I told you that God is the source of love, mercy, pity, and the laughter of children. But actually, I also believe firmly that God commanded men to be pitiless upon little children and to cut off their laughter forever by putting them to the edge of the sword. And they carried it through, too. And in the end, I'm okay with that."

That's not the message that we have to tell to the nations. It's not the invitation that we offer when we say, "Come unto Him, all ye that travail and are heavy laden--laden with your sins, laden with the things you know that you wish you didn't know, laden with your sorrows, laden with your darkness--and He will give you rest."

Which is why I cannot sit down and simply accept God's ordering the slaughter of the Canaanite children by the Israelites. If there is something I am missing or am wrong about here, I will understand it better by and by.