Debate on the ethics on the Canaanite "genocide":

1   Conservapedia – Robert Miller / Dr. Rhodes #121
2   Mark Newbrook #122
3   Kirk Straughen #122
4   John H Williams #122
5   Anonymous #124
6   Kirk Straughen #132
7   Anonymous #133
8   Kirk Straughen #134
9   Anonymous #135
10  Kirk Straughen #135

[The current page about Canaan presents a skirmish and the main debate, "Canaanite Apocalypse", is on a separate page. Ed. ]

Conservapedia: Atheism Question

(Investigator 121, 2008 July)

Conservapedia has created an article on Atheism which is enjoying a healthy amount of Internet traffic at around 600 views a day. Christian apologetic websites and creation science websites have started to feature the article.

I have a question for the atheists of Investigator Magazine in relation to the Conservapedia atheism article:

What are your thoughts in relation to the existence of evil and the words of Dr. Rhodes on the subject?

Robert Miller

Atheism and the Existence of Evil

Those who advocate atheism commonly state that the existence of evil is a problem for theism which holds to a good and powerful God. [70] Theodicy is the branch of study in theology and philosophy that defends the goodness of God despite the existence of evil. [71] In traditional Christianity and Judaism the book of Job is used to explain the existence of evil. [72] In recent times Christian apologists often cite Alvin Plantinga's free will defense in regards to the existence of evil. [73] [74] The work of St. Augustine is also cited in regards to theodicy. [75]

Dr. Ron Rhodes of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministry states regarding this issue regarding the existence of evil in relation to atheism:
" is impossible to distinguish evil from good unless one has an infinite reference point which is absolutely good. Otherwise one is like a boat at sea on a cloudy night without a compass (i.e., there would be no way to distinguish north from south without the absolute reference point of the compass needle).

The infinite reference point for distinguishing good from evil can only be found in the person of God, for God alone can exhaust the definition of "absolutely good." If God does not exist, then there are no moral absolutes by which one has the right to judge something (or someone) as being evil. More specifically, if God does not exist, there is no ultimate basis to judge the crimes of Hitler. Seen in this light, the reality of evil actually requires the existence of God, rather than disproving it."

Comment on
'Atheism and the Existence of Evil' #121, pp 12-14

Mark Newbrook

(Investigator 122, 2008 September)

Rhodes' comments are by no means as well-grounded as he seems to believe.  For a start, most atheists who ask why a good and powerful god would tolerate evil in the world are focusing on natural evil or on harm generally, without particular attention to the issue of whether or not human perpetrators are involved or what their character and motives might be. Rhodes focuses rather on moral evil.

Furthermore, the definition of natural evil is considerably less fraught than that of moral evil, given the relative ease of definitions in this area and the lack of focus on motive etc.  Atheists thus have a more coherent case here than Rhodes indicates.  And in any event the two issues, as should already be clear, belong to different categories.

Rhodes deals with the logical/definitional issue of how (moral) evil could be said to exist if there were no god. Atheists are dealing with the very different ethical-cum-factual issue of how a powerful god regarded as good (if any such existed) could permit (chiefly natural) evil happenings, as normally classified. The relevance of Rhodes' remarks, while not absolutely null, is thus marginal.

And even in the domain covered by Rhodes' comments his case appears inadequate. Some atheists, while accepting the existence of natural evil, simply deny the reality of objectively-defined moral good and evil (they are relativists/subjectivists). This is of course an unsettling stance, as Rhodes emphasises, but that does not itself show that it is false or invalid. More relevantly, some other non-religious thinkers such as Ayn Rand seek (successfully, as some think) to ground notions of moral good and evil objectively but not in the existence of God. (Some – not all – of these thinkers may consider that it is impossible for humans to know these specific objective moral truths; maybe we can attain only approximate or doubtful awareness of them. But they might still exist.)

Rhodes is assuming too much in stating that God is the only possible reference point for objectively-defined moral good and evil. And, in any case, many philosophers (notably Bertrand Russell) have argued cogently that the views and commands of God, if he exists, cannot form the basis for moral good and evil.

Any such definition of good and evil either is tautological (and thus subject to rational questioning or rejection by those espousing other definitions) or involves appeal to a source of ethical principles logically prior to God.  If this argument holds up, Rhodes and other believers have no better ground for their ethical positions than atheists have, even if their god does exist.

Atheism, Evil & God (Reply to Mr Miller)

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 122, 2008 September)

What follows is my own view on the subject. It is not meant to be a definitive exposition on the philosophy of atheism, nor is this an attempt to ridicule the theistic position or to convince believers to abandon their faith. Personally, I doubt that God (and by God I mean a supernatural intelligence credited with the creation of the universe) exists for the same reason that I doubt unicorns exist — namely, that there is no sound evidence that supports the affirmative contention.

Naturally, I respect the right of religionists to believe in what they think is true, but am unable to agree with them, and shall outline some of my reasons through an analysis of the Conservapedia quotation (refer to indents in italic) appearing on page 13 of Investigator No. 121.

" is impossible to distinguish evil from good unless one has an infinite reference point which is absolutely good."

This statement assumes there is in fact such a reference point — namely, God and, furthermore, that God is the ultimate source of ethical values. The problem is that there are many religions in the world claiming access to this ultimate reference point, yet many disagree on how we should behave. For example, something as seemingly innocent as a bathing costume can cause problems — swimwear that is considered acceptable by Christians in Australia would be considered extremely immodest by Muslims in Iran, and any woman caught wearing a bikini in that country would be severely punished.

Furthermore, it is yet to be demonstrated which of the world's religions is the One True Faith (if in fact there is such a thing). Indeed, most believers maintain their religion is true to the exclusion of all others. However, for the purpose of this essay I will focus on the Christian religion and the Bible on which it is based, and the implied claim that the Biblical God is the epitome of moral values. Therefore, I ask that my readers consider the following:

"Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'I will punish what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way, when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling ox and sheep, camel and ass.'" (1 Samuel 15:2 3)

Is it a good thing to commit genocide? How many people reading this article would obey God's alleged command and slit an infant's throat? Consider the following parallel, and suppose Hitler had said something like this to his fellow Nazis:

"I will punish the French for opposing me. Now go and attack them and destroy all that they have, do not spare them, but kill men, women and even children."

In both cases what we have is the commission of an atrocity, with the only difference being that in one case God is alleged to have issued the command, and in the other, a human being.

If something is right, then is it so merely because an authority commands it? But if this is the case then morality is purely arbitrary, depending as it does solely on what authority (man or God) commands.

Furthermore, in order to know if God's command to kill children is good we must have a pre existing knowledge of what goodness is. This, of course, means we have a knowledge of goodness independent of God. Therefore, no infinite reference point is needed.

If something is good or evil, then it must be so for a reason other than what God allegedly commands. In other words the definition of good and evil must be independent from the nature of God if either concept is to have any real meaning, for if we say God's actions are good no matter what, then we are merely saying that God's actions are God's actions, for if there is no independent ethical reference point to which these actions can be compared we cannot determine if they are good or evil.

In the light of God's alleged order to kill children (and its complete lack of rational justification), it becomes difficult to view this being as good, and therefore unwise to base our actions on such divine examples. If this is so where can we look for guidance as to what is good and evil? I think the solution lies in an examination as to what is conducive to the wellbeing of the individual in particular and society as a whole, and ultimately only verifiable empirical evidence can provide the answer to such questions.

Therefore, we need to ask ourselves what is the evidence that demonstrates slitting children's throats is conducive to the wellbeing of the individual in particular and society as a whole.

"If God does not exist, then there are no moral absolutes by which one has the right to judge something (or someone) as being evil."

The author of this statement is assuming that we do need moral absolutes to make such judgements. First of all, are there moral absolutes, and are they known to Mankind? My previous reference to the diversity of belief shows that the issue is far from settled.

Secondly, moral absolutes are not needed if one appeals to empirical evidence. For example, if God did not exist, would this make paedophilia suddenly acceptable? The answer is no because there is significant evidence of the harmful effects the crime has on victims in terms of psychological dysfunction. Imagine a society in which every child was subjected to sexual abuse of the most horrific kind. How long do you think such a society would last considering that all its members would be dysfunctional?

If God did not exist would that make rape and murder suddenly acceptable? Imagine a society in which rape and murder prevailed. Under such conditions do you think this hypothetical society would survive given that no one would be safe?

Clearly, good and evil are defined not by what God is alleged to have condoned or condemned, but by what is conducive to the wellbeing of the individual and society. In the end it is testable evidence, not God, to which we must appeal.

Of course it could be argued that our moral judgement is so corrupt that we must rely on God as the sole arbiter for concepts of good and evil (this, of course, would have to be proved). However, if our judgement is so corrupt, then how can we rely on it when we conclude that God is good? Indeed, we can know nothing of goodness, but must blindly and unthinkingly obey God's commands.

Consider the following: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." (Exodus 22:18)

During the European witch craze of the 16th and 17th centuries thousands of women were tortured and executed on the basis of this injunction — it was in the Bible, the Bible was thought to be the word of God, and therefore the will of God.

The needless suffering and death of so many women could have been avoided had believers investigated the existence of witches and witchcraft using their reason rather than relying on a literal and uncritical acceptance of the Bible. Clearly, blind adherence to the alleged word of God can be dangerous. Therefore, even believers must use their reason, fallible though it may be.

"...the reality of evil actually requires the existence of God, rather than disproving it."

This conclusion is not logically valid. There is no sound reason why evil and virtue cannot exist without God and therefore the claim that evil proves the existence of God is invalid. Evil is a human concept. It is a word representing an idea developed by the human mind to describe things felt not conducive to the wellbeing of the individual and/or society.

Concepts of good and evil vary from culture to culture. Ways of life, beliefs and modes of dress acceptable in one society may be unacceptable in others. In some cases evil is subjective. In other instances the belief that something is evil may be supported by sound empirical evidence. Ultimately, it is to the evidence for a thing's wrongness (in terms of the harm it is proven to do) that we must appeal, rather than the alleged word of this divinity or that.

(Re Conservapedia: Atheism in #121)

John H Williams

(Investigator 122, 2008 September)

"People of a theological bent are often chronically incapable of distinguishing what is true
from what they'd like to be true." (R. Dawkins, The God Delusion p 108)

Atheists just like religious believers don't all speak with the same voice, and one can find variation in the views of, say, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, two of the best known.

I would advise Robert Miller to peruse both best-sellers by the above-named, The God Delusion and God Is Not Great, for segments which would illuminate what seems to be some kind of theodicical/philosophical dilemma some have regarding "evil".

My Collins Concise gives many definitions (of evil) but the ones most relevant are "morally wrong or bad" and "a force or power that brings about wickedness or harm".

In Dr Ron Rhodes' Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministry statement, he uses the name "God" five times in his last paragraph quoted (p13). All atheists reject the idea of such a being, regarding it as a delusory belief. The impact of evil behaviour is real, while the supernatural deity some believe in is not so, and it thus has no credibility in any debate about evil.

We believe that a supposed being is irrelevant to any argument about "an infinite reference point for distinguishing good from evil", whether "God alone can extinguish the definition of absolute good", and whether "the reality of evil actually requires the existence of God". This pack-of-cards house rests on a genie for which there is no direct evidence.

It's annoying to often read of a god's name and its supposed existence and actions without any rationale or explanation, with the writer assuming that assertion and speculation, often accompanied by biblical quotations, are sufficient.

The believer, via delusory thinking, has convinced him/herself. The atheist is just as convinced, via the argument from improbability and that useful question, 'Who made God?', a god that "though not technically disprovable, is very improbable indeed" (Dawkins TGD, p 109).

A key question that might be asked by believers is, 'Are atheists and skeptics deluded in their unbelief?' My answer is that I doubt it.



(Investigator 124, 2009 January)

In #121 Robert Miller endorsed the argument:

•    It is impossible to distinguish evil from good unless one has an infinite reference point which is absolutely good;
•    An infinite reference point can only be found in God;
•    The reality of evil requires the existence of God.
The first two premises cannot be proven. Therefore the third, the conclusion, does not follow.

A more scientific approach is to note that biblical ethics are objective — intended to promote health, longer life, sound mind, peace and prosperity. Biblical ethics can then be assessed statistically according to whether these benefits follow.

Mr Straughen (#122), in his response to Miller, repeated again his misunderstandings regarding genocide and witch hunts that he's had for at least 10 years.

During those years Straughen never cited various biblical principles that saved hundreds of millions of lives (such as opposition to infanticide).

Regarding the Amalakites: Calling it "genocide" is silly as legislation against "genocide" did not exist for another 3,500 years. Straughen's comparing "God" to Hitler ignores context. His error is similar to asserting "democracy commands the burning and mutilating of children" because Allied bombing in WWII, acting on orders, burned and mutilated children.

Ten years should have sufficed for Straughen to think the case of the Amalakites through. I've only given a few clues on that topic over the years, preferring instead to research the scientific accuracy of the Bible, establish hundreds of points correct, and thus provide data anyone can extrapolate from.

Regarding witch hunts: History Today (Nov. 2006) shows that various prominent Christians opposed Heinrich Kramer and his book Hammer of Witches. Kramer rejected correction and looked for others more easily deceived. I commented on witch hunts in #113 and explained the misuse of Exodus 22:18 but Straughen, like Kramer, merely digs his heels in.

Reply to Anonymous on Biblical Genocide (#124)

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 132, 2010 May) 

I read Anonymous' Ethics, Genocide & Witch Hunts (Inv. 124, page 3) and am unable to agree with him.

I ask readers the following question - is it silly (as Anonymous claims) calling the massacre of the Amalakites genocide because legislation against this crime did not exist at the time? If legislation against genocide were to be abolished today would it suddenly make such acts morally acceptable? Besides, God (if such a thing exists), being all-knowing (if in fact God is), would have been well aware of the immorality of crimes against humanity, so it can't plead ignorance.

We can call this act of wanton murder anything we like. It doesn't change the fact that killing innocent children is barbarous, repugnant and immoral. How many of my readers think otherwise? Very few, I'd wager. If something is truly wrong, then it is wrong because of the harm it does, not just because legislation says it's wrong.

If we wish to achieve a worthy goal, then every act aimed at achieving that goal must be in itself morally acceptable. If we attempt to justify an atrocity on the grounds that it will lead to a morally desirable outcome, then I think we are deluding ourselves, for the outcome has been contaminated by the evil acts that have led to its achievement.

Anonymous says other biblical principles saved lives, as if this claim can negate the biblical god's barbarous command. This is simply a distraction. It's similar to a defence lawyer pointing out the virtues of his client while ignoring the fact that the man has cold bloodily murdered three people with an axe. If these events actually happened, then the biblical god has the blood of innocent children on its hands, for whoever orders the commission of an atrocity is just as culpable as those who carry it out.

WARNING: EXPLICIT, HORRIFYING IMAGES. The link below leads to a photograph of children killed by the Japanese during WWII. I challenge anyone to look upon this gruesome image and then claim killing children, even in war, is justifiable. I know this sounds terrible, but we must squarely confront Anonymous' implied claim that such actions are morally acceptable.

Am I "digging my heels in" as Anonymous suggests? If a man states the obvious - that evil is evil rather than good, then can it be fairly claimed he is digging his heels in?

The link to the photograph of slaughtered children is from documentary evidence of Japanese war crimes - specifically, the infamous "Rape of Nanjing." The URL for the website on this atrocity is given below for those desiring further information.

Nanjing Massacre: 300,000 Chinese People Killed, 20,000 Women Raped



(Investigator 133, 2010 July)

In Biblical Genocide (#132, p. 17) Mr Straughen says: "If we wish to achieve a worthy goal, then every act aimed at achieving that goal must be in itself morally acceptable."

University philosophy classes that I attended examined each ethical theory in turn and tested it by considering its consequences in various situations. One test for Straughen's statement above would be a lifeboat situation. The lifeboat is full, another few kilos would swamp it, the ocean is icy cold, and another person wants to clamber aboard. Saving this person's life will save it only for a few minutes at the cost of killing ten.

Pushing the person away from the lifeboat, even breaking his fingers if he persists, is "morally unacceptable", but saving him for only a few minutes at the cost of many lives is much more morally unacceptable. 

My article Canaanite Apocalypse (#132) gives a biblical explanation showing how the demise of the Canaanites was necessary for the good of the human race — the health, lives and prosperity of billions of people were at stake in the long run.

Only indirectly mentioned in that article is that sparing the Canaanites would have entailed Israel's extermination by the Canaanites with surviving Israelites facing enslavement, buggery and other sexual misuse, physical mutilation, and forced worship of Canaanite idols. How "morally acceptable" would that have been?

Mr Straughen needs to examine "Canaanite Apocalypse" and reconsider what is "good" and what is "evil".



Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 134, 2010 September)

I refer to Anonymous' Ethics and Canaanites (pg. 7, No. 133). It's very easy to justify atrocities on the grounds that those who are the victims of the atrocity deserve to die. For example:

The Nazi rationale behind ethnic persecution and extermination was twofold. First, according, to the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, in a speech to the SS Major Generals at Posen in 1943, the mass extermination of Jews was necessary, although it was a very difficult task, because Jews, due to their religion, were against the Nazi war efforts, acting "in every town as secret saboteurs, agitators and trouble-mongers"; and second, because of the Nazi racial theory about the existence of a pure, "superior" race, the Aryans (Europeans descended from the Saxons), which should be protected from miscegenation with non-Aryan "inferior" races, which were gradually polluting and degrading the Aryan race. Therefore, Jews in particular, and all persons having at least one Jewish grandparent, should be eliminated.
Hitler's attitude to the Jews was based on a combination of prejudice and pseudoscience, and I think Anonymous' defence of the atrocities against the Canaanites derives from similar causes. He attempts to stereotype all Canaanites as bent on homosexual rape. There may well have been homosexual rapists among these people. But how many of Investigator readers would classify a two year old child as a homosexual rapist?

Were the Canaanites as bad as Anonymous claims they were? We have only the Bible's word for it. Perhaps homosexuality was accepted among these people, as it was amongst the ancient Greeks. Does anonymous seriously maintain that homosexuals are evil people just because of their sexuality? As far as rape is concerned: That is evil, but does Anonymous seriously believe that every Canaanite was a rampaging rapist with a predilection for sodomy? If so, then what independent evidence (no Bible quotes please) can he present that they were?

In my Opinion it is more likely that the authors of scripture demonized people that they considered their enemies by attributing to them (as Hitler did to the Jews) all manner of evils.

Anonymous seems to be suggesting that the commission of an atrocity is acceptable if it leads to a greater good. But is this necessarily the case? Let us consider the medical experiments conducted on children by Josef Mengele, the notorious Nazi doctor at Auschwitz, who performed various surgeries on them without anaesthesia. These included organ removal, castration, and amputations. If Mengele's experiments resulted in discoveries that saved billions of lives would that justify them?

For further details of Mengele's horrific crimes refer to the following webpage:

Would hacking Canaanite children to death with swords save billions of lives any more than Mengele's horrific experiments? I can't help but feel that Anonymous, in his attempts to demonstrate that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, is prepared to sacrifice the morality of the deity on the altar of Biblical literalism. In my opinion this amounts to bible-idolatry, resulting from the confusion of the sacred text with the object of worship.

NOTE: My references to Nazism are not intended as a personal attack on Anonymous, and must not be construed as such.



(Investigator 135, 2010 November)

Mr Straughen (#134 Ethics & Canaanites—A Response) compares the Israel/Canaanite conflict with the "Nazi rationale" for ethnic persecution based on racism, prejudice and pseudoscience. 

I showed (#111) that the Bible teaches that all humans originate from one "mother" and (in #128) that all people everywhere fail God's standards of goodness. These two ideas are anti-racist, making the Bible an anti-racist book. That racism is a delusional ideology is now confirmed by science (i.e. genetics). Hundreds of millions of racists who ignored the Bible were, therefore, wrong.

The Israel/Canaanite conflict had nothing to do with racism. It was, from one perspective, warfare fought by the accepted standards of the time — except for Israel being under laws that precluded buggering the defeated or raping the women. The biblical perspective is that the extermination of certain Canaanite tribes was also divine judgment based on moral grounds (Leviticus 18:27; Deuteronomy 9:4-5) to prevent Canaanite depravity becoming the worldwide norm and to instead bring "blessing to all the nations of the earth". (Genesis 18:18)

Was child sexual abuse, sex between close relatives, and homosexual sex in Canaan normal and common? (Leviticus 18) Or does the Bible "demonize" Canaanites?

Consider another area of misconduct — Assyria's torture, physical mutilation and other atrocities against prisoners of war. I wrote on what the Assyrians did in this regard in #70. The Bible, however, is fairly quiet on this topic — rather than exaggeration there's restraint. I suggest the Bible shows similar restraint regarding the Canaanites.

In the 20th century child abuse, despite being illegal and punishable, afflicted about 15% of youngsters. When child abuse is not illegal, when instead it's part of normal life as in ancient Canaan, its occurrence would be greater. This is an obvious point despite Canaanites not taking surveys and keeping statistics.

Is an "atrocity" "acceptable" if it leads to greater good? That would depend on whether the target for "atrocity" approves, and demonstrates approval by having done similar things. If a killer starts killing hostages and is therefore shot dead by police that's an acceptable "atrocity". If he has his own child with him and it dies too, that's better than many hostages dying. Whether "acceptable" or not depends on the situation and who initiated it, the numbers, the probable consequences, what laws are involved, and which participants are guilty or innocent. By Straughen's logic the police would be murderers and many hostages having been saved doesn't count.

What concerns me when people misrepresent the Bible and search it for statements they can misuse to justify their atheism is the potential harm. Every day the newspapers report on ruined lives when people acted contrary to the Bible. And I wonder how many were influenced to ignore the Bible, and toward self-destruction, by Bible critics?

To fulfill the blessing to "all the nations of the earth" is one basis for charity, and I've previously listed many individuals and organizations doing great deeds of good. I wonder, however, how much is not being done because atheists misrepresent the book that inspires good deeds. Such atheists are as wrong as all the racists who had to reject, or misrepresent, the Bible to maintain their racism.

For more information readers should consult #134 & #132


(Investigator 135, 2010 November)

I was hoping that a Christian would offer some rebuttal of Anonymous' position on the "Canaanite Holocaust" since his claims seem to cast aspersions on the concept of a loving and merciful God.

I would like to think this deafening silence is not because the majority agree with what to me is a debased and evil theology.

I find the situation worrying. The world already has enough fanatical Muslims who believe people should be killed for one reason or another.

It is all very well for skeptics such as myself to point out that religious violence is wrong, but do you know of any Christian minister willing to write an article rebutting Anonymous' claims?

This isn't just a point scoring exercise. What happens if Anonymous' writings influence impressionable minds and lead them to believe God sanctions violence against children?

I'm arguing for a more balanced view that is representative of mainstream Christianity rather than that of a fanatical minority.

K Straughen

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