05 May 2013

Because He’s God

Religious 63 Comments

A quick one: A lot of atheists / agnostics argue with me by pointing out that if humans did the sorts of things that occur in the Old Testament, I would be (rightly) horrified. Why then does this Yahweh character get a pass?

Because He’s God.

That’s not a cop out, it’s a perfectly fine answer. Consider this: When people hesitate to do something newfangled, like alter the DNA of a child in the womb, one way of expressing this is to say, “We can’t play God.” Whether or not you agree with the application of that principle in a certain instance, surely you can understand the coherence of the statement.

So another way of saying the point of the present blog post: Humans aren’t allowed to play God, but God is.

It would be immoral for me to go up to some stranger, Joe Smith, and shoot him in the head. It is not immoral for God to design a universe the internal logic of which dictates that a stranger walks up to Joe Smith and shoots him in the head. If you think that is immoral, then it’s also immoral anytime God makes anyone ever die, period. So then you are left complaining that God didn’t condemn us to this physical universe for all of eternity, instead of giving us a chance to bask with Him in paradise, which is a pretty silly complaint when you stop and think it through.

63 Responses to “Because He’s God”

  1. Yosef says:

    Bob, I am glad you point out that you think things are different when God does it. Does this mean that you would be willing to kill someone if:

    1. God commands it (say for someone picking up sticks on a Sabbath)
    2. A prophet of God (say a Samuel) commands it?
    3. A king of God’s choosing (say a David) commands it?

    If you answer is no to any of those, why not? I ask because you on many times have said that you are a pacifist.

    • Justin says:

      Exactly this has come up before on these post. Its funny how Christians claim morals are morals, but when you read the Bible for yourself morals are just as relativistic as they think an atheists moral must be. I guess your in the same boat as us but just refuse to think about your morals and lazily receive them. This seems pretty scary to me because of the implication of yosef’s comments.

    • Drigan says:

      There must be 3 things for a person to commit a mortal sin (A sin condemning the person to Hell because it completely rejects that person’s relationship with God):
      1.) It must be gravely morally wrong.
      2.) A moral agent must be aware that it is gravely morally wrong.
      3.) The moral agent must make their choice freely. (Note: this doesn’t mean that they aren’t being influenced by other forces, but those other forces can’t be what tilts the decision.)

      If someone believes that God commanded them to do something, and they do it, they *cannot* commit a mortal sin. That doesn’t mean it’s not a sin, but it’s not of the nature that breaks off the relationship with God.

      If someone believes a prophet or king is commanding something that goes against God’s other commands, then they have reason to suspect the commander is not obeying God. In this case, it could be very difficult to know the proper action, but the mere honest attempt to find and obey God’s Will in that case will cause the person to not incur mortal sin.

      This is where a well-informed conscience is critical. Knowing what God wants and *why* is part of what will allow a person to come to the correct decision in scenarios 2 and 3.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        How can a person know if God commanded them to do something, as opposed to creating that commandment themselves?

      • Yosef says:

        Darigan, I didn’t ask whether doing any of those would be a sin. Rather, I asked whether Bob would do them. Something can be a sin and still people will do it. And something can not be a sin and people will still not do it. I want to know if Bob would be willing to kill someone in any or all of those situations.

  2. Lord Keynes says:

    Is this a way of exculpating god of all the arguably immoral things he does in the Old Testament?

    E.g., if god orders mass murder (as he does in Deuteronomy 2:33-36, 3:1-11), then god can get away with it? Because — for some reason — it is not immoral of him to order mass murder?

    Taken to its logical conclusion: if one really thinks that any action is good simply, solely and only because god has done it or ordered it, this means that morality is ultimately nothing but the arbitrary whim of good. Morality has no objective basis and could in theory be constantly changing and subjectively determined by god.

    If the Christian concedes that an action is good, not because god has ordered it, but because it is good for some independent objective standard or objective criteria, one has conceded that god is not omnipotent (in the conventional sense of that word), for it follows logically that god’s actions and orders are severely limited by some external objective moral principles or standard. Morality ultimately cannot come from god.

    Either way the theist has severe problems.

    • guest says:

      The reason it’s immoral for people to kill each other without cause is because it violates their individual rights.

      God being the creator of everyone, owns everyone and has a right to kill people at any time.

      The Biblical paradigm is one in which the standard of morality is independent of God (or else it would be meaningless to say that he is good), but that’s irrelevant to the issue of him committing mass murder.

      To be sure, the same paradigm is one in which God knows enough about the circumstances to conclude that his actions conform to the standard of morality, where applicable.

      • martin says:

        The Biblical paradigm is one in which the standard of morality is independent of God (or else it would be meaningless to say that he is good)

        Tell that to this guy: http://consultingbyrpm.com/blog/2013/04/jesus-attempts-to-explain-why-god-allows-evil.html#comment-62462

      • Lord Keynes says:

        So you’re saying anything whatsoever god orders is therefore good? If so, you have not answered the question.

        If there is no objective standard independent of god, then morality is ultimately nothing but the arbitrary whim of good. Morality has no objective basis and there are no moral absolutes in even in theism.

        In fact, the Bible would confirm that, because when (according to Christian dogma) Jesus died on the cross the old Torah or Mosaic law was abolished and whole swaths of things god had commanded as forbidden and immoral now became moral.

        • martin says:

          So you’re saying anything whatsoever god orders is therefore good?

          No (s)he doesn’t, (s)he says: “The Biblical paradigm is one in which the standard of morality is independent of God”

        • Matt Tanous says:

          “In fact, the Bible would confirm that, because when (according to Christian dogma) Jesus died on the cross the old Torah or Mosaic law was abolished and whole swaths of things god had commanded as forbidden and immoral now became moral.”

          If you are in my house, and I had forbidden drinking, but now say it’s OK as I pull a couple beers out, has the fundamental level of morality changed?

          • Lord Keynes says:

            No, because there never was any objective, independent standard of morality, just your arbitrary whim, which can change, just as gods forbids people from eating certain foods in the OT, but then throws that to the wind, e.g., in Mark 7:19, where Jesus declared all foods “clean”.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              Just because one has the physical ability to choose to abide by or not abide by a particular morality, it does not imply that there is therefore no objective standard of morality, and only “personal whims”.

              Of course, *arguments* that purport to be grounded on an objective standard of morality can of course be right or wrong, but making an incorrect argument is not sufficient to disproving said objective standard.

              Objective standard of morality can be understood in detail and with complex arguments, or it can be explained simply and straightforwardly (as all true arguments can be so explained).

              The simple, straightforward explanation for the existence of objective standard of morality for human life is to consider a blanket moral claim such as “We ought to murder humans” and see it if leads to contradiction.

              So, if people did abide by that morality, then the human race would soon become extinct. Yet morality presupposes there is human life. Without human life, there can be no (human) morality to speak of. Thus, if we are to speak of a morality, then “We ought to murder humans” does not apply. Stating the same thing another wau, we know that it does not apply because there is indeed an independent standard of morality that excludes it.

              Other moral claims can be judged in the same way, but with a fuller understanding of human life, as opposed to just the trivial fact of understanding human life exists.

              Investigating which moral claims are true and false relative to independent standard of morality, and investigating the nature of human life, go hand in hand. If you don’t fully understand the latter, your moral claims will likely be false relative to the former (i.e. personal whim).

              You for example either have an extremely limited understanding of the nature of human life, or your understanding is sufficient but you consciously reject it as a valid standard because you hold your own egoism as the ultimate standard (whereby you typically couch it in democratic rhetoric when it suits you).

              Hume noted that there is no coherent link between what is and what ought to be. But that’s only true in an imaginary world of only external, non-subjective laws. In a world of individual actors on the other hand, the world of what “is” is not *only* treated as a ready made existence, simply awaiting to be understood. On the contrary, the world *also* stands as an obligation, capable of being altered through our purposeful activity.

              The alleged gap between determinism and free will collapses when it is realized through introductions of pure activity. My faculty of free will is 100% caused by prior events, *which includes my own realization of that fact*, and at the same time, it 100% causes future events. Free will and determinism are perfectly compatible.

              The reason philosophers have considered them as mutually exclusive for so long is because of a misunderstanding of the nature of their own activity, that has lead to the arbitrary conclusion that the world can only accommodate determinism or free will, but not both as reconciled in their own activity.

              • guest says:

                My faculty of free will is 100% caused by prior events, *which includes my own realization of that fact*

                That’s not a *free* will you’re describing.

                If your will is caused by prior events, then your actions and realizations will play out in a way that could not have been different.

                Whatever you ate yesterday was destined by the laws of physics.

                So was your thoughts, so it’s not ever possible for you to know whether you ever get anything right.

                You believe as the laws of physics leads you; Which would be true of everyone else, as well.

        • guest says:

          … the old Torah or Mosaic law was abolished and whole swaths of things god had commanded as forbidden and immoral now became moral.

          In the Biblical paradigm, the Law of Moses served a preparatory/forward-looking function. This is true in the Old Testament, as well (“I will make a new covenant …” etc.)

          To be sure, the Law of Moses was seen as good from the perspective of the New Testament, but it served its purpose.

          As one New Testament writer said, the sacrifices were continuous because it’s not possible that the blood of animals can atone for sin.

          The dietary laws, in my opinion, were not, in and of themselves, moral. “Clean” and “unclean” referred to sanitation (such descriptions as “cloven hoof” being used metonymically).

          The prohibition of incest is a harder one to address, but some have surmised that, as the punishments for original sin had their cumulative effects on the genetics of successive generations (within the limits permitted by DNA, to anticipate an objection), the risk of damages to offspring became sufficient (?) to warrant its abstention.

    • Bharat says:

      Why is God’s “whim” necessarily subjective? I don’t see why someone couldn’t use God as an objective basis for morality. I think you’re conflating “subjective” to God with subjective to humans.

    • Z says:

      I tend to agree with you. But how is the way many others claim they derive morality from more objective? The claim is that we have derived our morality through the course of evolution, picking those things that helped us to survive, while casting out other things that did not lead us to survive. But evolution is a biased process. It picks and chooses what emotions leads to increased survival for a person or group, and throws away things that did not help or hindered survival. So why should we trust that kind of process either?

      • Justin says:

        It isnt about trust. There is no alternative. We are all we got. We have to figure this stuff out. The bible stuff is fairy tales.

  3. Andrew says:

    Isn’t the argument re: old testament that god actively intervened as opposed to your construction via “internal logic”.

    for instance:
    It would be immoral for me to go up to some stranger, Joe Smith, and shoot him in the head. It is not immoral for God to design a universe the internal logic of which dictates that Joe Smith dies in his sleep at 100, but intervenes and shoots him in the head with a lightening bolt.

    Isn’t the stranger/ god actor distinction meaningful?

  4. martin says:

    So if someone compares some action to Nazi methods, he’s saying it’s OK when the Nazis do it?

  5. skylien says:


    I already wrote a comment, then thought it through again which caused my brain to hurt (as ususal when I start thinking about God and the necessary implications), so I finally deleted it. I really shouldn’t read your Sunday posts. They are not good for me.

    • skylien says:

      ahh.. I did it again.

  6. Tod says:

    Nice. A simple coherent justification to an annoying line of argumentation.

    Not going to be accepted as a great argument, but totally consistent nevertheless. In fact, the reception this argument gets really tells you about the implied assumption of the atheist – that death is inherently bad always. And for their belief system it would be – but arguing such is begging the question.

    • martin says:

      In fact, the reception this argument gets really tells you about the implied assumption of the atheist – that death is inherently bad always.

      First: you say it as if it’s a well kept secret among atheists.

      Second: you’re saying the victims in the old testament were being done a favor?

      Third: if someone wants to die, death is not bad (or at least not worse then living against his or her will)

      Forth: it’s a good reason not to kill anyone.

  7. Ken B says:

    “Because He’s God.”

    Which is the same trope you trot out whenever anyone presents any logical contradiction in your religious beliefs. You demand a plenary exemption from logic because He’s God. This is just a particular example of the general claim.

  8. Gamble says:

    Give me a few examples of the ” sort of things” God did in the Old testament that were not preceded by men behaving badly, breaking a covenant, violating others rights, etc.?

    • Ken B says:

      Etc as in turning around to look back, or other abominable crimes? Old Testament as in the one with Job in it?

    • Justin says:

      David murdering an officer. And what is the punishment. god kills an innocent baby. David wives being raped by his son. and god causing his son to stir up a civil war which caused the death of presumably thousands. So innocent people punished, they did not do wrong only david and they were killed and raped but the murderer repented and was spared.

  9. Jonathan Finegold says:

    Isn’t this similar to Gene’s argument with respect to morality and social roles?

  10. Egoist says:

    Because He’s God = Beyond Human Created Constraints Of Rationality = Contradiction Coming From An Egoist Human.


    Contradiction Coming From Egoist Murphy = Don’t Worry Guys It’s Beyond Narrow Rationalist Epistemology = My Ego = I’ll Call This God To Not Frighten Myself Or Others.

    • martin says:

      I have no clue as to what you are saying here.

      • Egoist says:

        That’s nice. I have no clue what your favorite food is.

        • Z says:

          I bet it’s tandoori chicken

        • martin says:

          That’s because I don’t really have a favorite food.

          Which leads me to suspect you weren’t really saying something.

          • K.P. says:

            He’s “sing[ing] as the bird sings”

          • Egoist says:

            Well that’s because I don’t really have a favorite saying.

            Which doesn’t lead me, but I lead, to the idea that you not having a clue as to what I said, isn’t saying something I would be interested in.

  11. K.P. says:

    I do think Bob has it correct, at least from an Egoist perspective, I mean, good luck challenging the all-Mighty. I don’t think that was his intention though.

  12. Rob says:

    The atheist/agnostic really isn’t arguing whether or not God is moral. That argument is completely meaningless to someone who (supposedly) doesn’t believe in the existence of God. The “point” of the argument, from the atheist’s/agnotic’s point of view, is: The Bible is crap because it’s contradictory, and anyone who believes it is stupid.

    So launching into a discussion trying to justify God’s actions to someone whose goal it is to point out that God doesn’t exist, and you are silly to believe in Him, is probably a complete waste of time.

    • guest says:

      At the end of the day, an answer to this question isn’t going to prove the Christian God, or even that God exists; but it’s good to have answers to these questions in place for when their more fundamental objections get answered.

  13. Travis says:

    Bob, I’ve read some of your theological musings before and I think you’ve got some good instincts, but I’ve got to disagree with you here. It is true that many non-Christians point to the Old Testament and use the violent passages in those books to take a moral stance against Christianity. We see the likes of Dawkins and the late Hitchens bring this up from time to time and it’s actually an ancient theological problem. In fact, early in Church history, there were some who said the Old Testament God was actually an evil deity and the New Testament God, including Jesus Christ, was a different God entirely. I tend to think the “because He’s God” approach won’t hold up in the long run, which is fine because there is a better way to approach the Old Testament. Instead of taking these stories at face value, we should remember that from a Christian perspective, we only know the Father through the Son. So we should always interpret the Old Testament in light of the New. In the OT, we don’t actually learn much about God (because God had not yet revealed Himself through the Son). We do, however, learn a great deal about man, his relationship with God and the universe, and especially his tendency to make false idols in his own image. So of course when the Hebrews saw the ancient pagans conducting human sacrifices, for example, they would likely think that it was God’s will to wipe entire cities off the map. In order to make this approach to the OT work, it is important to keep in mind that one cannot keep the idea that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, divinely dictated Word of God that is so common amongst evangelicals in the US. I’d recommend the work of Archbishop Lazar Puhalo on this issue. He has a great series of short lectures on his YouTube channel “allsaintsmonastery” titled “The Old Testament is About You”.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Travis, what did Jesus mean then when He said, “But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.”? That sounds like He was aware of the Jewish story and seemed to be confirming it.

      • Travis says:

        It is true that Christ warned people about the danger in remaining unrepentant and one device He used was the Hebrew scripture – our Old Testament. We see several instances where Christ quotes scripture for a variety of reasons, so we know He knew them well and of course He would have “seen” the destruction of those cities because He existed “before all ages”. That said, it is important to not use scripture out of context. By “proof texting”, one can make the Bible say virtually anything. In fact, one can take passages in scripture and create a view of God as one who will eternally punish – torture, even – all unbelievers for all eternity amd this is something that I’ve seen you reject. We should take Christ’s words in the context of the immediate passage and in light of the Gospel narrative as a whole.

        The verse you quote is Matthew 11:24. We see a similar verse in Ch. 10, v. 15 where Jesus tells the Apostles: “Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.” What is going on in these two chapters? At this point in Matthew’s Gospel, we see Jesus sending out the Disciples to preach repentance. Jesus instructs and encourages them, saying: “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matt. 10:7-8). He also warns them, saying in verse 16 that “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” This warning must have carried significant weight with them, as St. John the Baptist was thrown in prison around the same time. So we see this passage is meant to embolden the Apostles as they risked their lives by going out and preaching repentance and carrying out Christ’s ministry of healing. So with Christ’s reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, we see that it was used as a means to teach the Apostles – to give them an image as to what damage people (or entire towns) do to themselves when they reject the invitation to re-think their old ways and turn back to the life-giving God. A lack of repentance beings destruction, while repentance leads to healing.

    • Ken B says:

      “we don’t actually learn much about God (because God had not yet revealed Himself through the Son). ”

      The OT is full of God revealing himself. People meet him walking in the garden, bushes burn, etc. Lots of revealing.

      You can’t just wave away the stuff you don’t like if you want to rely on the stuff you do.

      • Travis says:

        I’m not saying there is no divine revelation in the OT. My point is that the OT is the ancient Hebrew scripture and we have to keep in mind the context in which they lived and the fact that the Hebrew language is exceedingly rich in metaphor. In interpreting the OT, Christians should always read it in light of the New Testament, because we believe that the process of divine revelation culminated with the Incarnation of God the Son, who was and is Jesus Christ.

        As an Orthodox Christian, I’m not bound by the fundamentalist hermeneutic of the evangelical Protestants that has been dominant in the West for many years. We always interpret the OT in light of the New and look first and foremost to the Fathers of the Church for help in interpreting the Bible.

        • Drigan says:

          *grins* I haven’t been paying much attention to the Sunday posts lately . . . perhaps you may give me cause to pay more attention. As a Catholic, I always enjoy discussions with our closest separated brethren. 🙂

          • Travis says:

            I’ve always said that we Orthodox should reach out to our Catholic brethren in Rome and only approach evangelical Protestants with extreme caution. We have so much in common and I hope and pray that the Catholic Church will be whole again in our lifetime.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              Orthodox Christianity doesn’t hold all of humanity as bretheren?

              • Travis says:

                Actually, we do. I think there are a lot of people in the West who would be surprised by the Orthodox view of humanity (theological anthropology), as we reject the notion of total depravity and original sin. But those are different issues entirely.

                That said, the Church of Rome is closest to us overall in terms of theology. We are, after all, part of the same ancient Catholic Church that split almost a thousand years ago along Eastern/Western lines.

  14. Wonks Anonymous says:

    “you are left complaining that God didn’t condemn us to this physical universe for all of eternity, instead of giving us a chance to bask with Him in paradise, which is a pretty silly complaint when you stop and think it through”
    It’s not silly in the slightest, it’s just not a complaint you can expect will be appeased.

  15. mark says:

    considering god in any way when making decisions is like considering alien life when making decisions.

  16. Collin says:

    I love your sunday posts, Bob. Thank you for them.
    If god has a monopoly of ownership over everything in the universe how then does he calculate?

  17. Edward says:

    As a Deist, I find it hard to excuse what God commands in the bible, things like genocide, , and Jesus commanding his followers to leave their families and to take no thought for the future. I think modern religious christians, as well as conservative and orthodox jews, engage in a hell of a lot of lawyering to rationalize and interpret away troubling passages. Thats ok, as long as they are aware they are doing it, taking the warm, fuzzy stuff in the bible, and leaving the barbarism where it should be, in the past.

    • Major_Freedom says:

      Just not your barbarism advocacy. That can remain.

  18. Razer says:

    The mental judo one must do to believe in this magical sky fairy that was dreamed up by our primitive ancestors. Jeez, Murphy. If you accept that it’s all made up BS, then no more mental judo needed. It all makes sense.

    Believing in gods are, to me, as silly as believing in Keynesianism. .

    • Major_Freedom says:

      Ultimately, it’s because the burning questions never quite go away.

      No matter how much of the world science has shed light on, questions about the shadows have remained. The questions that have not been adequately answered (adequately as judged by whatever criteria), are the questions that re-create God as the answer.

      • valueprax says:

        God is not an answer. It’s another question, posing as an answer. That’s what makes religious folk so comically clueless.

        • Major_Freedom says:

          “God is not an answer. It’s another question, posing as an answer.”

          Well sure, you can look at it that way. I am inclined to agree.

          But then I would hope you at least realized that most of the answers you think exist, in physics and chemistry for example, are also other questions posing as answers. For example, the typical scientific answer for why an apple falls to the Earth when released, is itself a question of why gravity exists.

          This is not in any way to denegrate science, but rather to make it clear that I treat science is a process of asking a series of more detailed questions on the basis of prior less detailed questions, as opposed to a method of discovering or providing (final) answers.

          The “reality”, the final answer(s), that science unveils is (only) the individual actor who learns about himself and his surroundings. Scientific inquiry does not, and can never, provide (final) answers “out there” in reality. For as soon as you learn an answer, you yourself change, and that compels you to asking new questions about the world after which the previous questions have been rendered insufficient.

          Scientific inquiry can only teach us the final answer of what you are, as you learn what you (through navigating in the world) are not.

          When you are learning about the science of (Newtonian) gravity, and general relativity, you are not actually finding (final) answers “out there” in the world. You’re finding answers about yourself navigating in the world (as an actor), using the world as a means, whereby you change yourself via asking newer and more detailed questions about the world on the basis of prior, less detailed questions relating to your former self.

          I wouldn’t say that belief in God as just another question posing as a solution to be sufficient for concluding what you concluded. The only reason you yourself can even recognize answers posing as questions, is because you have already accepted your own worldview as consisting of that very phenomena.

          • valueprax says:


            Did I conclude what you think I concluded? Or did you conclude that I had concluded what you think I concluded?

            Please point to me where I said “alternatives to religion provide final answers where religion does not”.

            There is a difference between “Knowing more, but not all” as one can with science, and choosing to know no more, by believing in religious fantasies.

            I’ll assume that was a gut reflex of yours because you’ve been assaulted by belligerent religionists and “rationalists” alike. In other words, an intellectual flinch.

          • Razer says:

            It is very human to want to know more than can be known. It’s why guys like Krugman believe they can plan a society better than a process that doesn’t involve a central intelligence. Just like it’s hard to fathom evolution being able to design a complex animal, and it’s human nature to think we could do better than mother nature at its own game. It’s hard to accept that there are some things we can’t know, as Austrians have accepted.

    • Z says:

      I also lean towards it being mental judo, but there’s plenty of mental judo going on on the other side as well. Trying to keep things like free will and morality itself requires a lot of mental judo on the part of secular humanists. Everyone has their own mental judo to keep constructs that make them feel secure or comforted. Let’s not pretend one side is guilty and the other side is all rational and intellectually honest.

      • Razer says:

        What mental judo must you do for free will or morality? I’m talking about the mental judo of squaring all the contradictions in the bible, like all knowing, seeing God who constantly has to act and interfere and make new plans, the father, ghost, holy spirit stuff, the God who had no problem with slavery or killing children, the God who loves us so dearly but constructs a prison of everlasting torture, the God who has to use the prophet system to get his message across (oddly enough, if you were to fake a religion, this is exactly how you’d have to do it), and the thousand other silly things you find in the bible.

        Reason is the enemy of religion. It’s not of science. But I do agree lots of concepts are difficult to understand.

        • Z says:

          Plenty of mental judo. For one, what evidence is there at all in science or otherwise that there is such a thing as free will?

          I didn’t say reason was the enemy of science. I said it was the enemy of secular humanism. Two different things.

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