Apologetics and morality- Why did God Command the Deaths of Every Canaanite et al?

Recommended Posts

While researching on different thoughts of morality I came across this blog with classic level 10 apologetics on the Israelites destroying the Canaanites and the justification for it.




Essentially the writer boils down to divine command theory - whatever God commands is good.



"Where the Bible makes us uncomfortable is precisely where we need to slow down. It is compelling evidence of a specific weakness. When our thoughts or feelings bristle under God’s Word, He is right and we wrong."


All this got me thinking about morality, and the terms absolute, relative, objective and subjective. Some Christians do try and claim morality is absolute and objective. However I would say that the line of thinking what whatever God says is good puts something of a hole in the idea of absolute objective morality. If the Christian wishes to postulate such, then that morality must be independent of God. If it's wrong to kill, then to be truly morally absolute and objective it must be independent of any supreme being or else whatever the supreme being says is moral - and as we can see in the bible that changes on a whim.


Many Christian apologists back off from from the term absolute and instead focus on relative objective morality. That is moral action in a particular circumstance can be said to be objectively right or wrong. WLC expounds on the way he defines the terms and I don't have a problem with them. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/objective-or-absolute-moral-values/ 


In fact I don't even have a problem with relative objective morality. I just don't think you need a God for something to be objectively good or bad in a particular circumstance. That's not to say every circumstance will have an objective moral truth - most are probably subjective depending on how you weight the factors.


I was thinking of a thought experiment to try and rely this idea to Christians. You've probably heard of or even undertaken similar experiments before.


WARNING - to challenge myself I picked what I considered the nastiest moral action I could think of to test these ideas of morality. They might be disturbing to some - you've been warned.




The scenario:  - lets say you were captured by an evil psychopath. He had a whole bunch of people hostage and he tells you he is going to kill them all very painfully unless you molest a baby. If you do this he will let everyone go including the baby. If you don't he will brutally kill everyone including the baby. Assume that you know he will do as he says in both cases. (In reality the decision would be harder because you'd have to weigh up the chances of him not keeping his word) Do you molest the baby to save the people in the following different variations?


- If there there is only one person?

- To save Two people?

100 people?

2,000 people?

50,000 people?

1 million people?


Myself I can categorically rule out ever doing that for saving 1 or 2 people.


Questions I am pondering:

Is it absolute that it is never right to molest babies regardless of circumstances? (Absolute objective morality)

Or is it right in the above case in order to stop the suffering and death of many people? (Relative objective morality)

And at what point can we decide (If indeed we can) that it's objectively better?

Is the reason for not doing the action which results in people dying in this case justified by the fact its not you doing the killing? I.e. you can wash your conscience clean by doing nothing because you are not accountable for another's actions?


And a side question - does the fact that this is highly unlikely scenario make it unuseful as a thought experiment?


What are your thoughts?

Thanks for your input.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Keeping this site online isn't free, so we need your support! Make a one-time donation or choose one of the recurrent patron options by clicking here.

     The answer to your hypothetical question is: It depends on the baby. ;)😛




Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Basically that's the plot device from Dark Knight Rises and also from Saw.  Let's use threats to motivate you to do evil.


But in really, all you need to do to motivate otherwise good people to commit evil acts is brainwash them into thinking God approves.  See Christopher Hitchens vids for the details.  Also see the Crusades.


Furthermore objective morality is mutually exclusive to God being sovereign.  If killing babies (molesting them wasn't covered in the Bible, oops) is objectively wrong then God didn't get to decide.  If God did decide then morality is arbitrary (and molesting babies isn't covered in the Bible so slave owners have God's blessing).  



This is why the very concept of God is dangerous and immoral.





Now back when I was a Christian I believed that God was sovereign and that morality is objective.  The way I constructed that in my mind is that God choose the rules and then God made those rules undeniably self evident.  But that was being propped up by my beliefs - God is good therefore all God does is good and also the Bible is the truth and the Bible says . . . etc, so on and so forth.


But for the people living in native tribes in South America or on isolated islands in the Pacific there is no objective reason to think the days should be divided into weeks of seven.  Nor was there a reason to think that sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday should be spent remembering the Hebrew God but only until the year 33 AD.  Nor was there a reason to think that after 33 AD. we should devote Sunday morning to remembering and worshiping Jesus.  Most of the rules in the Bible can't be figured out unless you read the Bible.  So it's not objective.  You need to have a prophet write down God's word and a priest or pastor motivate you to follow it.  And then invariably we wind up with different pastors having different interpretations of the same Bible.  


When we step back religion is completely subjective.  Morality is subjective as well.


The puzzle from the OP:

"The scenario:  - lets say you were captured by an evil psychopath. He had a whole bunch of people hostage and he tells you he is going to kill them all very painfully unless you molest a baby."


Personally, I find the correct response to somebody trying to force me to harm others is to tell them to "go to hell".  But that is a personal choice.  If you find yourself facing a real life Jigsaw or Joker they might double cross you after they trick you into doing evil.  It wouldn't be easy but generally when evil people threaten violence it's to further a plan that gets even worse so I wouldn't trust a criminal.



  • Like 1

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Jesus, that's a fucked up scenario.  Reminds me of a Black Mirror episode where the Prime Minister had to have sex with a pig, or the kidnapper would kill the princess.  And he had to do it on TV.  I think this is one of those scenarios outside of which you would claim to never do, but feeling the weight of all those lives you would end up doing and would likely leave you messed up for life.


Also, when I was a Christian I held to a more sophisticated version of Divine Command Theory, and would be more like Divine Character Theory.  That what we see as good in the world is not something separate from god, but a manifestation of his goodness in creation, that all goodness and morality is based on his character and not some arbitrary law outside of him or based upon any particular utterance or command.  There are even instances of relativity in the Bible, such as Jesus' claim that divorce was okay under the mosaic law, but under the new covenant there would no longer be a get out of jail free card for marriage, like the certificate of divorce in the old.  He said such was given for their hardness of hearts, implying that he didn't give them the most moral command, but a command that was functional for where they were at.  Paul elaborates that the purpose of the law was supposed to be a guardian or even baby sitter, keeping the people in line until the promise could be fulfilled in the Messiah. So while their is an absolute morality in the Bible there are strategic moments where relativity is employed I guess you could say.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Divine command theory remains, in my opinion, the only way to make sense of Christianity from a moral perspective.


Regarding your scenario, my own view of morality dictates that the rational decision would be to molest the baby. I'm not at all sure that I could actually go through with it, but I would say that I think that is what I should do, disgusting as it may be. This remains true even if my action would save only one person.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

To be honest, I've had various views of morality over the years, but fundy Christianity dictated the idea of a morality that was determined purely by what god defined as good (not that he ever provided me with a dictionary).


Now I doubt the very concept of morality.  Rather, I consider that the only question is one of responsibility.  You face up to the consequences of your own actions and accept that you, and only you, carry the can for them, whatever they may be.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now