Blessed are the Canaanites

Matt Flannagan and I have much in common, meta-ethically speaking.

Matt, like me, accepts a divine command theory of ethics whereby an act is morally obligatory if, and only if, a loving and just God commands it, and an act is morally wrong if, and only if, a loving and just God forbids it. We agree that given that the wrongness of an action consists in its being forbidden by God, and given that God does not issue commands to himself, it follows that he has no duties; and hence, God is under no obligation not to kill anyone and is free (i.e., morally unconstrained) to do as he pleases.

Matt’s Ph.D. is in theology.

Mine is in philosophy.

The present work belongs to a tradition in meta-ethics most closely associated with the work of J L Mackie. In his Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong [Mackie (1977)], Mackie argued for the claim that there are no objective values. [Mackie (1977), p. 15.] Mackie had in mind, particularly, objective moral values.

Mackie’s thesis figures prominently in the present work. I call this thesis moral anti-realism, and state it as the claim that there are no moral facts. I do not argue for moral anti-realism directly. Instead, I argue for a more cautious, epistemic variant of moral anti-realism which I call moral eliminativism—the claim that it is reasonable to believe that there are no moral facts. (Frequently, however, I lapse back into a more straightforward, non-epistemic manner of speaking—omitting the “it is reasonable to believe that” qualifier—for the sake of economy. Below, I use the symbols *{} as shorthand to denote this epistemic qualifier and its scope.)

The central argument of the present work is this.

(1*) *{God does not exist}.

(2*) If *{God does not exist}, then *{there are no moral facts}.


(ME) *{There are no moral facts}.

There is an important preliminary point to be made regarding this argument. Moral eliminativism is merely the conclusion. The bulk of the work, and the interest, lie in establishing (2*). My real purpose in this dissertation is to draw attention to the fact that the following form an inconsistent triad

(1*) *{God does not exist}.

(2*) If *{God does not exist}, then *{there are no moral facts}.

(MR*) *{There are moral facts}.

and to argue for (2*). I then assume (1*) simply for the sake of constructing an argument. I might equally well have assumed (MR*), and constructed a very different argument, one which would amount to a moral argument for the existence of God.

(MR*) *{There are moral facts}.

(2*) If *{God does not exist}, then *{there are no moral facts}.


(3*) *{God exists}.

Thus, I hope that my argument will have almost as much appeal to theists as to moral anti-realists. Nonetheless, in this dissertation I play the devil’s advocate, and argue for and from an anti-realist perspective.

The argument for (2*) proceeds in three stages. In Part 1, I establish the general conditions which must obtain before belief in moral facts (or any sort of facts) is reasonable. In Part 2, I establish what sort of facts would count as moral facts. In Part 3, I bring the findings of Parts 1 and 2 together with one further consideration to show that belief in bona fide moral facts is reasonable only if belief in the existence of God is reasonable.

God is the source of morality. Not many atheists realise this. I was an atheist once. When I realised that God is the source of morality, I became a nihilist. But nihilism is no way to live. It is only a way to die.

Which brings us to where Matt and I part company. Matt is an apologist for the God of the Old Testament. But the God of the Old Testament is an amoral monster.

I’m a Christian. But I do not love—let alone love with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my strength and with all my mind—the (hopefully fictitious) cosmic fiend portrayed in the Old Testament.

I guess that makes me a neo-Marcionite. (See here.)

4 thoughts on “Blessed are the Canaanites”

  1. I don’t get it. There’s an argument that you don’t quite make.

    God made everyone mortal – my death and your death are certain.
    The Canaanites are nothing special.
    Yes, the Canaanites were blessed… and then they died at Gods hand. Perhaps God will bless them again. Perhaps not.

    Why do you say the OT God is a monster?
    For God to not be a moral monster do we all have to live forever?

  2. Reed, my theology is a highly fluid situation.

    You made essentially the same point one time on SOLO (on my Book of Job thread). I’ve pretty much come around to your view. It just took me a while. Patience is a virtue. 🙂

    The Canaanites are nothing special.

    Have you read How To Win Canaanite Friends and Influence People? 😉

  3. The Topic of the cannanites is one which I have argued with Matt, and also will include in my Good God Evil world series.
    What sticks out like Protrusions is the fact that your statement above in Respect to the OT God being an A moral monster…. and Matts appology whereby he seeks to deny God ordered the genocide of the Cannanites is that both your postions contradict the Divine command theory! God is completely within his right …after the fall of mankind into sin… to order the extermination of the cannanites…. to destroy the world by flood…etc. God even gives his reasoning! They were full of wickedness! Also before the Flood The Seed of mankind had been contaminated by the seed of fallen angels and had this been left to perpetuate itself, it would have made it impossible for Christ to be born. God has both the right and the reason to do what he did in the OT. He demonstrated his Soverignty, and that he is a Judging God whom will punnish sin. Yet all the while He is also rich in mercy and Love. There is no contradiction. You cannot absolutely isolate the Old testament from the New Testament. The God of Grace…. The God of Peace whom St Paul Preached is the same God as created Adam and Eve. and staright after they sinned, God promised to send Christ.
    In my Good God series I will be pointing out that you Richard, like Dawkins have as 20th century westerners have inherited the Christian morality which condemns murder, racism etc and so from this foundation, you both are judging God by a Morality which he gave you!
    Thus in reality Dawkins has *No morality* whereby he can legitimately judge the OT God to be a monster! And neither do you Richard. You have no higher morality whereby you may stand in judgement of God. You merely have your Christian sentiments. And This one of the main reasons why I have argued that Matts convoluted sophistry which attempts to say that God’s commands are merely hyperbole is a bogaus denial of Objective morality as defined by the divine Command theory. (there are plenty of other reasons why Matts arguements fail eg that he says we ought to treat the Bible like other acient middle easten texts which bristle with hyperbole.
    And then we have the fact that even if we grant the commands to be Hyperbole, this does little to reduce the fact that God Ordered Men, woman, and Children to be slaugtered… And so unless God has the divine right to give such commands, and to destroy the world by flood if he deems it to be just… his hyperbole arguement cannot redeem God from the accusation of being a imMoral monster.
    And we also may apply this truth to the Doctrine of Eternal Damnation.
    It is God whom determines what is just punnishment for sin… not us.

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