A friend of mine and I were having a discussion about the existence of God on facebook. And we came to the issue of the moral argument for God. Without posting our entire discussion I will post a comment of mine followed by his response.
My Facebook post: I have to also say something to my friend’s denial of the moral argument. Facebook friend stated “As for the Objective Moral Values and Duties, there is no such thing as objective moral values. There are only subjective moral values. If they were objective, they would be universal to every man, woman, and child on the planet. They are not. Therefore, false.”There are several problems with your critique. First of all you misunderstand what Objective means. To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so. It is to say this morality is universally binding on everyone whether they believe it or not. And if you argue that there are no such things then you must then be arguing for subjectivity. But there are objective morals. I can give you one. It is wrong no matter who you are or where you live whether you believe it or not to sexually abuse a 2 year old. This is objectively wrong and evil. If you are going to deny objective morality then you have to be open to the possibility that somewhere sexually molesting a 2 year old might be right. Ultimately you would have no grounds for objecting to anyone who would molest a 2 year old other than to say that it is wrong for you but it might be right for them.. No reasonable person would accept this. The reasonable man knows in his heart that there are objective morals even if he may not know all of them.
Now here is his response:
Ok, I’ve thought about it for awhile, and I will now try to present my argument. First of all, I want to say that I would love if not only child rape, but all rape was universally immoral. Unfortunately, not only in our culture in the USA, but all around the world, rape of women is somewhat acceptable. In the USA, we have a ridiculously high rate of blaming the victim or not even believing the victim. In other parts of the world, the victim is completely blamed and often times put to death. Now if morals are objective and created by God, then what is God’s (not Jesus in the New Testament) stance on rape? Here is Deuteronomy 21:10-14,”When you go out to war against your enemies and the LORD, your God, delivers them into your hand, so that you take captives, if you see a comely woman among the captives and become so enamored of her that you wish to have her as wife, you may take her home to your house. But before she may live there, she must shave her head and pare her nails and lay aside her captive’s garb. After she has mourned her father and mother for a full month, you may have relations with her, and you shall be her husband and she shall be your wife. However, if later on you lose your liking for her, you shall give her her freedom, if she wishes it; but you shall not sell her or enslave her, since she was married to you under compulsion.” While one can argue that this constitutes a marriage by God, it is still rape, and it is ordered by God. This isn’t even the worst part. There are Bible verses that claim God tells Israeli soldiers when they conquer places to throw babies off the city walls. How is that moral? This may be the Old Testament, but Christians still claim this is the inspired and perfect Word of God. Well, at one point in history, your God condoned and ordered both rape and child murder. These are not moral values you have now, and these are not moral values I have. They are your Objective Moral Values and Duties, though, since they are God’s Word and Law. Isn’t that where you said Objective Morals come from? I can’t accept the morals of a god that orders baby murder.
Because his question is a good one, I want to give it a fair response. Therefore this blog post will serve as that response.
I want to begin by first restating what I mean by objective morals. Objectivity means that it does not depend on human opinion or knowledge. It is simply valid and binding, regardless of human opinion. This means that the objective morals are not dependent upon public opinion or popularity. We also need to be careful to understand what “objective “ does not mean. One of my favorite Christian thinkers William Lane Craig describes objectivity as opposed to absolute:
“The reason I think it preferable to talk about objective moral values and duties rather than absolute moral values and duties can best be seen by considering their opposites. The opposite of “objective” is “subjective.” The opposite of “absolute” is “relative.” Now very little reflection is needed to see that “relative” does not mean “subjective.” Just because one’s moral duties are relative to one’s circumstances doesn’t in any way imply that they are subjective, that there is not an objectively right or wrong thing to do in such a situation.”
He goes on to say :
“Absolute” means “regardless of the circumstances.” “Relative” means “varying with the circumstances.” We can agree, for example, that it is not absolutely wrong to kill another person. In some circumstances killing another person may be morally justified and even obligatory. To affirm that one’s moral duty varies with the circumstances is not to say that we have no objective moral duties to fulfill.
This distinction is important to remember for the moral argument as evidence for God.
Now having said that I want to get into your objection. If I may summarize your objection I think you are saying (correct me if I am wrong) that if there are objective morals then it seems contradictory for God to be commanding the destruction of a people or nation. You would say that God himself is being immoral here. Now the first and easiest way to dismiss your argument would be to say that if you don’t believe in objective morality than you have no real case for saying that God commits an immoral act. Since morality is subjective, you have no real grounds to object to anything. Which is why in my post above I pointed out that you do not have grounds to say that child molestation is wrong. In a way your question betrays your spoken belief in subjective morality.
However, I think it would be fairer to you to say that your objection about God commanding certain things is that they may seem to go against objective morality. It would seem to be an internal contradiction to Christianity and thus based upon the coherence theory of truth, Christianity doesn’t hold up. This is where I want to devote the rest of my time.
I will not be addressing specifically your issue of rape and the legal code for punishment and protection of women. Instead I will just give you a link to a source that I think deals well with that issue. The link to that article gives a fair look at the issue from both a Christian and Jewish perspective. However, while i will not be addressing that issue specifically, what I have to say will still cover it in principle.
This leads us to what I believe to be the core of your argument. It has been called the Moral Monster argument and is often used by the likes of Richard Dawkins. We need build a solid foundation to work with when dealing with this issue. Therefore, I want to go through the Old Testament and pull out some things we can learn from it about God. This section of my argument will also address the idea that the OT God is different from the NT God. I know you didn’t bring up that objection but I might as well kill a couple of birds with one stone.
The first thing we learn from the Old Testament is that God is the creator and lawgiver. It is because God created everything that He has the right to do with His creation as He pleases and to command of it what He pleases. At first glance that could be a scary thing especially if God is this moral monster as Dawkins likes to accuse him of being. However, we learn from the Old Testament that the commands of God issue from Him as a reflection on his character. What does the character of God look like from the Old Testament?
Well, the OT points out that God is good. His goodness causes Him to create good things. In the much maligned first book of the Bible, God says of his creation, Gen. 1:31, “that it is good.” God’s creation not only showcases his awesome power but it also showcases his love for people. Psalm 8 says it like this :
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
I don’t know about you but I find it pretty amazing that the God who created the entire universe of unimaginable scope and measure still thinks of mankind as a special creation. He gives us dominion over His creation. Because of his love for us, he gave mankind such an awesome responsibility. The OT continues on describing the love of God. Here are just a handful of the verses that speak of God’s love:
The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Ex 34:6-7) “Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the LORD. (Jer 31:20)
I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul. (Jer 32:40-41)
The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” (Hos 3:1)
The LORD upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the alien
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
In particular, God’s love and concern for people who are disadvantaged is frequently mentioned throughout the OT. The law contained several rules for treating orphans, widows and foreigners fairly and providing for their needs (e.g. Dt 24:10-22).
But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
you consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless…
You hear, O LORD , the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.
(Ps 10:14, 17-18)
Craig says, “You can’t read the Old Testament prophets without a sense of God’s profound care for the poor, the oppressed, the down-trodden, the orphaned, and so on. God demands just laws and just rulers.”
God is love but there is also another aspect of God. He is just. In fact, his love demands that he be just. He must punish evil. But even in his justice he is merciful. We see in the OT that He literally pleads with people to repent of their unjust ways that He might not judge them. “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ez. 33.11).
The story of Jonah is a story of God’s mercy upon a wicked and evil people. God sent Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh that He would punish their evil ways. Jonah didn’t want to go because He knew if the people repented God would spare them.
God’s judgement is anything but whimsical or arbitrary. When God announces to Abraham his intention to destroy Sodom, God is willing to spare the cities for the sake of righteous people.
“Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18.25).
One last verse will suffice to showcase God’s patience and desire to withhold judgment. This verse comes four hundred years before the verses that you pointed out regarding God’s commands to Israel to wipe-out the Canaanites.
“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. . . . And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites [one of the Canaanite clans] is not yet complete” (Gen. 15. 13, 16).
This verse shows that God was patient with the people of Canaan and that He would not let Abraham destroy them because of his patience. But the verse also projects forward to a day when the sin or iniquity of these people would be so full that God would punish them.
To summarize all of the above, God as creator is loving, merciful, patient, and just.
This justice then is at the root of the question at hand. Gregory Koukl says this :”Those who are quick to object that God isn’t doing enough about evil in the world (“A good God wouldn’t let that happen”) are often equally quick to complain when God puts his foot down (“A loving God would never send anyone to Hell”).”
In the end of time, God will settle the ultimate judgment. God often judges people and nations here on earth in the present and in the past. God uses several means to carry out this temporal judgement:
- He uses natural disasters and other natural means. In the OT we have the flood, the plagues on Egypt, horde of locusts, famines and ect.
- God uses people. In particular, he gives government the responsibility to punish evil here on earth. God may use people who act righteously but he also uses people who act out of evil intents. God used the Assyrians and the Persian kings to punish the people of Israel. These kings were pagan and evil and often acted out of evil motives yet God uses them to seek punishment on the people of Israel for idolatry. God also promises to punish the Assyrians and Persians for their evil motives.
There is one other foundation that we must look at before we finally put all this together into an answer. That is the fact that every person born is sinful. This means we are all deserving of punishment. The fact that any person is given another breath of life is because of the absolute mercy of God. William Lane Craig says this “since God is the highest Good, we have a moral obligation to love and worship Him, and He would be evil if He did not care whether people fulfill their moral obligations or not.” This means that when we refuse to worship him or obey him we are rejecting the highest good. A just God, a good God would care about that.
Now lets put all that together and see where we stand. God is loving, good, merciful, patient, and just. People are sinful deserving of punishment. God passes over a lot of suffering but his patience does not last forever. He then will punish people. He warns people. He gives them time and then he punishes those who did not heed the warning. This is what happened with the Canaanites. In fact we see this pattern again and again in the OT. Robin Schumaker describes the pattern :
1. God declares an annihilation form of judgment to stamp out a cancer.
2 .The judgments are for public recognition of extreme sin.
3. Judgment is preceded by warning and/or long periods of exposure to the truth and time to repent.
4. Any and all ‘innocent’ adults are given a way of escape with their families; sometimes all given a way to avoid judgment via repentance or leaving a particular region. It should also be noted that expulsion from a land was the most common judgment, not extermination. This pattern goes all the way back to the ejection of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (cf. Gen. 3:24).
5. Someone is almost always saved (redeemed) from the evil culture.
6. The judgment of God falls.
What do we know about the Canaanites. They were evil. They would often attack the rear of the Israelite’s caravan where the poor, sick, eldery and children were located . Deut. 25:17-19 These same nations and tribes were rampant with child sacrifice to pagan idols, homosexuality, prostitution as a religion, bestiality, theft, and murder. God put up with this for 400 years before finally commanding the Israelites to wipe them off the map and out of the land. But before this God told the people to warn the local tribes and nations of this judgment.
So this brings us right up to your objection. Is God being objectively immoral in commanding the slaughter of a group of people including their children? The answer is firmly no. I have explained that God has the right to do with his creation as he wishes. God also is loving and merciful and patient. God also gives a warning of judgment and time to repent. God then acts upon his judgment.
Schumaker further addresses this aspect in regard to the children :
“First, the typical Israeli rules of engagement included a warning and declaration period of the coming, impeding war. Women, children, the elderly, and others who wished could easily flee far ahead of the fully announced military attack. Only those who (or whose parents) stubbornly remained would face war and its outcome.Second, in the case of Amalek, it has already been shown that the entire culture had been corrupted by the sin of the adults. From the perspective of eternity, there was no hope for any child who was left behind. Scripture implies that young children who die go to be with the Lord (cf. 2 Sam. 12:23), so while some children may have been killed in war, they were ultimately saved by God from becoming what their parents were.Last, socially and physically, the fate of children throughout history has always rested with their parents, whether they were in good hands (in the case of Noah) or bad (Amalek). The actions of the parents were the final determinant in the temporal/earthly well-being of the children.”
I feel the weight of your objection in this matter and I would agree that if any human were to command the slaughter of a group of people then that human would be wrong. We even have a phrase that we say when people do this thing. We say that “they are playing God.” They are playing God because ultimately life and death are God’s prerogative. No human has the perfect knowledge or wisdom of God, so if the Israelites acted apart from a divine command then they would be wrong.
But God does have perfect knowledge. Traditionally we have divided this knowledge into categories. God has a perfect knowledge of the present. This means that he knows ever minute detail with complete understanding of its cause and purpose. God knows all of the facts in the present condition. But God’s knowledge doesn’t stop with the present. It goes backwards into history but also forward. This is often called God’s foreknowledge. This means God knows everything that will come to pass exactly as it will come to pass. A third category is what we call middle knowledge. This is a knowledge of all possible worlds and all possible outcomes. This means God knows every possible outcome of every possible decision or action in the universe. God’s present knowledge, fore knowledge, and middle knowledge means that God has a complete picture of all things. It is this knowledge along with a perfect wisdom that understands what to do with the knowledge that gives God the ability and the right to determine life and death. It gives God the right to issue forth the command to the Israelites to kill the people of Canaan.
Now I have tried to address your objection. I think that far from being a problem for the idea of objective morality, God’s judgment is just and underlines not only the existence of objective morality but the seriousness of it too.
I lastly want to put this into the larger context of the Bible and to explain why these stories are in the Bible. I think this will ultimately give a small glimpse of another reason why God would issue this command then and why it would not be appropriate today. Christians often described how the Bible came together as “progressive revelation“. This means that unlike Muslims which believe the Koran was revealed at once, the Bible was written over a period of years by many different authors. I think this characteristic alone speaks volumes for how awesome the Bible is. One of the last great presidents of Princeton, Charles Hodge described progressive revelation this way, ” What at first is only obscurely intimated is gradually unfolded in subsequent parts of the sacred volume, until the truth is revealed in its fulness.” This means that God revealed his truth to humans through the course of history leading up the time of Jesus in which the revelation would reach its completion. God did this because Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection are really the focal point of history and the entire Bible.
God revealed this truth first to Adam and Eve in only a small way after they sinned. This occurred in Gen 3:15 and is called the protoevangelium. This verse reveals that one day the child of woman would one day destroy the serpent. When Adam and Eve sinned, God put into motion the plan to redeem mankind from its sin. The Bible would then progressively reveal the unfolding of this plan. God would make promises to Noah and then Abraham. Theses promises would foretell of a day when a messiah would come from the offspring of Abraham to save the people from their sins. This leads us up to the nation of Israel. The nation of Israel was to be the nation and people group that Jesus would come from. God intended for these people to remain separate and to be committed to Him. Thus many of the Old Testament laws are set up to maintain this distinction from the other pagan nations. This explains the dietary and ceremonial requirements of the Israelites. This also explains why the Bible has legal code meant for the nation of Israel including the verses protecting conquered women from rape that you posted about above. Finally because it is because of God’s promise and commitment to send Jesus to be the savior for the entire world that God strictly commands exact obedience to the Israelites. It is to preserve his promise and commitment. This is another reason on top of the one mentioned above for why God would command the Israelites to remove from Canaan the pagan people there. God knew that those people would either try to destroy the Israelites(and they did try) or that they would bring the people of Israel to accept sinful and evil practices. Ultimately it is for the sake of our salvation that God worked in the way that He did.
I am aware however that his answer may not be satisfactory for you. I will add this objection is not a problem for me because I trust that character of God. I know that his judgments are just and good. I also know that ultimately I am just a creation lacking the perfect knowledge or wisdom of God. Therefor there are decisions of God that I may not like but I know that as his word says that all things work to good for those who trust him. This trust I think is completely founded in evidence. I also think that the Cosmological argument along with the fine tuning argument, the moral argument, the ontological argument, the evidence for the resurrection, and the evidence from the lives of Christians throughout history including my own are more than enough to prove the existence of God and to give me basis for my faith.
The following sources also may provide a little more help with this issue:
Is God Immoral for Killing Children
Is Yahweh a Moral Monster
You will also notice that throughout the blog post I have included links to give articles and other sources that also provide valuable insight.