09 Aug 2015

Atheist Libertarians Like Homesteading, Except for God (Redux)

Religious 44 Comments

I came across this interesting passage (Jeremiah 27:5):

“With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please.”

What’s very interesting is that some of the same people:

(1) Consider themselves staunch libertarians.

(2) Think it is obvious that “pro-choice” is the correct libertarian position, because it’s a woman’s body to do with as she pleases, and therefore abortion isn’t murder, whether or not we consider the fetus a human being.

(3) Think the God of the Old Testament is a murderer and that no self-respecting libertarian could possibly respect such a Being, putting aside the question of whether He exists or is a fairy tale.

I am merely going to point out that (2) and (3) above are mutually inconsistent.

44 Responses to “Atheist Libertarians Like Homesteading, Except for God (Redux)”

  1. rob says:

    Is the implied logic here here that if its OK for a woman to choose to abort a fetus then its OK for God to commit genocide , since in both cases the things being killed are created by the entities doing the killing?

    To take an extreme Rothbardian position: Isn’t it OK for a woman to have an abortion because even if the fetus is human as it’s occupying her property (her body) and she has the right to evict it ?

    Was God, in the numerous genocides he commits in the bible, just evicting humans on his property , or going beyond that and killing them without any reason based in property rights?

    Does God have the right to commit genocide just because he created the things he is killing ?

    Whatever the answer: Why would this persuade anyone to choose religion, beyond a fear that God may punish them for not doing so ?

    • Mike says:

      If you invite someone to take a ride in your private jet and then get bored of their company and decide to ‘evict’ them mid-flight, do you have the right to do this? Because that’s sort of like what abortion is. The fetus didn’t put itself there you put it there.

  2. E. Harding says:

    God’s like a parent having boatloads of children, letting them grow into adults, and then drowning them for no clear reason. Abortion is not equivalent because fetuses are no more competent than chimpanzees.

    • E. Harding says:

      So the points aren’t mutually inconsistent.

      The more I read and re-read Bob and the more I learn, the less I trust him. The more I read and re-read Sumner, the more I am wowed by his wisdom. His discussions of philosophy are sorta shaky, though.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      You know E. Harding, for someone to make a really strong accusation like that, it would be nice if you were accurate.

      I didn’t say, “You can’t be pro-choice and think the God of the Old Testament is bad.”

      Rather, I said that *the specific libertarian property rights argument* defense of abortion that I have seen, would also apply (times infinity) to the God of the Old Testament.

      Your point about chimpanzees is utterly irrelevant. The people I have in mind openly say, “It doesn’t matter when life begins.” They even make analogies to a person waking up and finding her body attached to a world-class cello player (or something like that).

      You say “the more I learn” the less you trust me. Well, if you learned more about libertarian theory and the defense of abortion that some libertarians make, you might trust me more.

      • Bob Murphy says:

        Actually it was a violinist.

        • rob says:


          Can you clarify how the violinist example is relevant or analogous to the apparently arbitrary killings of humans by god that are described in the bible ?

          Its not like god says “you must leave my property and if you don’t then I reserve the right to use force to make you”. He just goes right ahead and smites people because he feels like it, doesn’t he ?

        • E. Harding says:

          I wonder if Judith Thomson supported single-payer medical care. If she did, she was a massive hypocrite.

      • E. Harding says:

        Bob, do you seriously think these people are okay with parents killing their children when they’re like ten or twelve? I don’t think that’s what these people are arguing for.

        By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.” Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. “Tough luck. I agree. but now you’ve got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person’s right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him.” I imagine you would regard this as outrageous, which suggests that something really is wrong with that plausible-sounding argument I mentioned a moment ago.

        -I don’t regard this as outrageous at all.

        BTW, the blockquoted pro-abortion argument above is not about ownership, but about burden. Since God can feel no burden, the argument doesn’t apply to God.

  3. Bob Murphy says:

    To avoid confusion: If you think abortion is not murder because a woman owns her body and can do whatever she wants with it, then you can’t think the God of the Bible is a murderer.

    • skylien says:

      I am not sure so I am asking:

      Do those people really think that this is even true until one day before birth?

      And on the other hand do you think it is already murder on the first day of being pregnant?

    • Jon Gunnarsson says:

      That doesn’t follow. One could without contradiction believe that persons own themselves (and that therefore women may kill fetuses growing inside them) and that God doesn’t own the universe. He may own himself (whatever that’s supposed to mean in the case of God), but it doesn’t follow from this or the assumed fact of his creation that he owns all of the universe.

      • Dan says:

        Why does the woman own her body, and how do you determine who is the just owner of a piece of property?

    • Major.Freedom says:

      Do you believe that we humans are mere fetuses in God’s womb? That we are merely a part of a larger being, God, and that God can do what he wants with us and not be called a murderer for ending our (partial) existence before we are truly “born”?

      Take what you said and invert it.

      IF you are going to say that God cannot be considered a murderer, since we are still fetuses and God can do what he wants with his fetuses, then by that logic, you killing me or me killing you cannot be considered murder either, because we are both fetuses inside God’s womb.

  4. Jim O'Connor says:

    I like the juxtaposition.

  5. Peter Šurda says:

    Well, it looks like you’re assuming that god is acting (in the sense of human action). That would mean that for him there is a distinction between means and ends, and that he makes choices. I think that contradicts the definition of god. Omnipotent/omniscient beings are not subject to economics or morality. They behave deterministically.

    Now to the more finer aspects of the argument. Are you familiar with Block’s approach to abortion (evictionism)? What you’re doing is conflating two things:
    – causing death by refusing to provide for someone
    – causing death by attacking someone

    Block distinguishes between the two (and I think that he is correct with respect to libertarian position).

    • Matt S says:

      The God of the Bible is the provider of all things and sustains all life.

      So taking away someone’s Earthly life could simply be seen as “refusing to provide” them that life any longer.

      • Peter Šurda says:

        In a way I agree, but that would just mean that god is not really a god, but a giant prick. You can’t have it both ways. Either god is omnipotent and omniscient, and then he behaves deterministically and is not subject to moral or economic evaluation. Or, he is not omniscient/omnipotent, he acts and has to make decisions, but then he’s a real asshole.

        • Matt S says:

          I don’t try to have it both ways. Not sure what you mean by that.

          You say God may be an asshole but why? and according to what standard?

          God isn’t a robot or a machine. So I don’t see why he would need to act “deterministically” to be moral.

  6. W. Peden says:

    Isn’t there a difference between an extreme homesteading “my house, my rules” view, and a bodily integrity defence of abortion? You can plausibly endorse the latter but not the former: if Eve and I discover planet Earth and set up a family, then there are still limits on what we can do to our children, even if (as Peter Surda points out) we’re not obliged to look after them.

    You’re right that there is an inconsistency between someone who (a) has an ultra “my house, my rules” libertarian view of morality and thinks that this is the be-all and end-all of all libertarian morality, AND (b) says that the Old Testament God’s behaviour violates this moral system. I’m not sure if anyone exists who has that view, but you’re right that it’s inconsistent. I suspect it’s more a reductio ad absurdum of someone who claims that the owner of private property has a right to do literally anything on that private property.

  7. W. Peden says:

    Which means that your title is very misleading: it’s not about homesteading, it’s not about atheist libertarians, and in fact nothing we’re discussing here involves atheism, since whether or not the Old Testament God is moral or immoral is entirely independent of his existence, or the existence of any other being. I don’t think that Mussolini was a moral person, but I’m pretty sure he existed.

    That “If God existed, would he be moral or immoral?” is so often tied up with “Does God exist?” makes me suspicious of the motivations of both atheist and theist debaters on the subject. You have to make the implausible claim that God’s goodness is part of the definition of his existence, but even then I could consistently believe in an all-powerful creator God who demands active worship but who is morally imperfect. Given that I don’t know of any morally perfect beings in the entirety of human history, that kind of deity is a particularly plausible sort to believe in; it’s just not a relatively comforting idea.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      W. Peden I don’t understand why you’re saying my title is misleading. It perfectly applies to the argument I’m making in this post.

      It sounds like maybe you think I’m saying, “God by definition is good.”

      But no, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that the Being described in the Bible created the entire physical universe de novo. He was the only conscious Being who existed beforehand. So according to standard libertarian principles, clearly God owns everything.

      So, any libertarian who makes a case for abortion on the grounds that a woman owns her body and can choose to evict a fetus, even if the fetus is a human and even if the fetus will thus die, cannot then go on to argue that God is a murderer. He has the right to withhold oxygen from everyone’s lungs. Indeed, He owns your lungs. It’s not even as if you showed up in the universe with your body, and are walking around on God’s real estate. Your body itself is made of matter that He clearly owned.

      • W. Peden says:

        The title is misleading, because atheism isn’t at issue here.

        Say someone clones a human using materials they own. Does the cloner have a right to enslave the clone? Not by any “standard libertarian principles” I know. Standard libertarian principles, as far as I know, don’t allow for ownership of people, period.

        I think that the key here is whether

        “If you think abortion is not murder because a woman owns her body and can do whatever she wants with it”

        – is actually a common libertarian defence a pro-choice position, rather than the real work being done by diminished personhood.

        Still, let’s try and see where this goes. If I was shrunk down to microscopic size by a mad scientist and transported into your body, and then slowly began to resize in your body, during which time I consume your resources but somehow I’m unlikely to kill you and even fairly unlikely to do any significant lasting harm, and getting me out of there safely was impossible, do you have a right to kill me? If not, do you have a right to kill squatters if eviction is not possible?

  8. Bob Murphy says:

    Also, yes, some of you are bringing up a distinction between attack and evict. I think in standard libertarian theory that would make sense because if someone walks onto my property, I don’t become the owner of that person’s body. But:

    (A) Actual abortion procedures–at least some of them–are clearly attack and not just evict. Yet the pro-choice libertarians who are rushing to the defense of Planned Parenthood lately don’t seem to be losing sleep over this fine subtlety.

    (B) In contrast to a human mother who doesn’t own her children (and there are reasons why that is), God has a much better case to owning every atom in the universe, including any that form your body.

    • Andrew_FL says:

      God killing people is eviction. He’s evicting you from the material world, he’s not attacking your immortal soul.

      • W. Peden says:

        You don’t to kill someone to attack them.

        • Andrew_FL says:

          No, and I didn’t say you did.

    • E. Harding says:

      Agree with (A),(B) only with qualifications.

    • Tel says:

      Babies don’t just “walk onto your property” Bob, they appear as a result of human actions (and presumably God’s action as well if you believe in that).

    • Peter Šurda says:

      I tend to agree, you just have to remember that the current law does not support trading children, so a potential peaceful incentive for the mother to not abort is absent.

  9. anon says:

    The goal of abortion is to remove the unwanted person from another person’s body. It’s unfortunate that a fetus would die in the process of eviction, but the same is true if I evict a squatter I find in my garage in the middle of a heat wave. The way abortion is practiced today–namely the casual destruction of life and then referring to the dead fetus as “tissue”–is distinct from the evictionist argument.

    The bit about OT God being moral for choosing what to do with his creation is standard Sunday School apology. Either God is moral *in the same sense that other people are* (God’s a person, right?) or he can’t be said to be moral at all. If God runs around killing people in arbitrary floods because he’s having a bad day or having people sacrifice their daughters to him on a whim, he can’t be said to be moral in any meaningful sense of the word.

    All you’re doing is reiterating the argument that since God gets to make the rules, he can never break them. That’s true, if there were a being somewhere out there who arbitrarily does horrible things but then climbs through the Escape Hatch of Ultimate Divinity, but then he can’t be said to be moral, because morality consists of abiding by the rule of moral law in the manner of a person.

    Otherwise, God could just be lying to you about heaven and hell, because lying’s only bad when humans do it, not when it’s practiced by the creator of the very notion of truth.

    • Mike says:

      The only way a fetus would be like an unwanted squatter is if it was the product of a rape.

  10. Major.Freedom says:

    Murphy, there is a problem in the quote from Jeremiah.

    If you believe the quote is accurate, that God can give the universe to “anyone he pleases”, then that means you must believe the universe is alienable from God.

    But if we are all merely fetuses in God’s womb, then we cannot be alienable from God. A fetus is a fetus and not a baby because of inalienability.

    So are we alienable from God? If the quote is accurate, then we must be alienable. But then if we are alienable from God, then it means it must be possible for God to murder people, as long as he has actually ” given” us to someone else.

    But then who could he give us to? A king? A tyrant on Earth? If he can’t give us to anyone, if he is always owner of us, then the quote is incoherent. If he can give us to someone else, then by what criteria can we know we were given away?


    If so, then me dying of old age, versus me getting murdered by God after I declare my sovereignty from God, seems nothing but a semantics point.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      MF I’m sure this won’t do anything, but: In that passage Jeremiah is warning his countrymen that they are going to be conquered by a foreign power. God is telling them (through Jeremiah) that this is in accordance with His plan, because they have abandoned Him and are worshipping other gods. So He’s saying something to the effect of, “Yes, I promised you a bountiful land of milk and honey, but you broke the covenant so now I’m going to give it to some other humans. I can do that; I made everything. However, don’t fret, after 70 years I will bring some of you back.”

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        Bob, are you saying that God actually granted title to Israel to the conquering power? Does that mean the conquering power wasn’t violating the non-aggression principle?

        • Bob Murphy says:

          That gets murky Keshav so I’m confessing I’m not confident boating in these waters. I don’t think the foreign rulers believed they were obeying God, I think it was “statists gonna state.”

          For a different example, nailing Jesus to the cross was clearly murder and a crime, even though God planned on it.

          But what about Joshua conquering the Promised Land, with express orders from God? That gets tricky, I grant you.

          • Major.Freedom says:

            Keshav touched on the very point I was making that you said is tricky and murky.

            Is it though? Do we not have enough information here?

            Of God can alienate what he created, then all the labels associated with action in a world of separation in ownership titles, applies, including respect for other owners, and disrespect for other owners such as murder.

            Why was nailing Jesus to a cross “clearly murder”? How can people who are not separated from God, murder anyone, if God doesn’t murder? If by being human we are separated from God, then ” clearly” he could murder us.

            • Major.Freedom says:

              The same way parents can murder their children.

              The homesteading principle does not seem to apply to humans absolutely now does it?

              I don’t think the argument “If you believe abortion is not murder then you can’t think of God as a murderer” works.

              I think it is better to say “If you think parents can be murderers of their children, then you must think God is a murderer.”

  11. Jim says:

    I’m a bit late to this over-commented topic but isn’t this, in itself, inconsistent:

    > (2) Think it is obvious that “pro-choice” is the correct libertarian
    > position, because it’s a woman’s body to do with as she pleases,
    > and therefore abortion isn’t murder, whether or not we consider
    > the fetus a human being

    The “homestead” argument couldn’t apply if I CAUSE the person to be in such a situation that evicting them kills them. For example, would anyone here think that moving someone onto my hot-air balloon while they’re sleeping, taking off, then waking them up and demanding they LEAVE at the point of a gun, isn’t a violation of the NAP worthy of my guest’s reaction with leathal force?

    • Keshav Srinivasan says:

      That case is different because you violated the non-aggression principle by moving them. In this case you’re not violating the non-aggression principle by conceiving the child in the first place, are you?

      • skylien says:

        I think you missed Jim’s point. The main point of Jim stands. You are getting it into the situation in the first place, you are causing the child, which needs support to stay alive, to be where it is. So you cannot just evict it like you could with a trespasser on your property. I don’t know if you can call this aggression against the child, it is more like you invited someone to be in your hot-air balloon, and in the middle of the air you find out that you don’t enjoy his presence anymore..

        As a side note: Obviously if the person has hidden himself in my hot-air balloon instead without my permission, I still would have no right to evict him at 10000 feet in the air.

        • Jim says:

          Actually, I purposely didn’t include an “invitation” in the analogy because the actual situation is even worse than that. There is NOTHING voluntary about the situation the baby is in.

          If the COMBINATION of my CAUSING the individual to be in a situation where I can cause her death through eviction, with the eviction, can’t be considered illegitimate aggression, (even if neither of the individual acts are)I can easily commit what any reasonable person would consider murder under the NAP in which case it’s completely useless.

          Also, you may think this doesn’t apply in the case of rape – and you’d be correct, since the person evicting didn’t have anything to do with CAUSING the baby to be in that position. But it WOULD be the SAME thing as evicting someone from my balloon that was magically transported there by an evil demon. I personally do not believe a true peaceful anarchy could ever evolve from a society of people that would personally act that way AND I think the kind of person that would is actually rare.

          This tells me that abortion is really only committed by people that are either psychopaths (again – I think these people are rare) or people that can dehumanize the baby to rationalize their actions – which is what really happens most of the time.

          • skylien says:

            I think the (or my) point is that it was the mother who invited the baby voluntary by risking getting pregnant. That it wasn’t voluntary for the baby is clear.

            And as you say even in case it was rape, like someone else putting that person into my hot-air balloon, you are not going to make him jump right?

            The point regarding anarchy is that there would be law and enforcement just like now, only the process how to get law and enforcement was different if I understand that correctly. It is not like everyone can enforce his own morality as he likes.

            The basic problem of course is when is it a baby. On the day of conception? If yes then what is with in vitro fertilization where many eggs are fertilized only to be thrown away?…

            • Jim says:

              Thanks for the response. I can’t really answer your questions. I don’t know.

              If we could only get to the point where those were the questions we were asking imagine how peaceful a people we’d be.

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