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Johan Appelgrein
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God's Judgment of Canaanites: Amoral? A Rebuttal

15 January 2014, 07:39

Straightaway I’m going to vindicate ‘Godwins law’  - Ouch. Godwin’s law states that the first person to bring up Hitler or the Nazi’s in a debate has lost the argument….(citation: urban dictionary). Seems like you admit defeat… J

>> The author espoused a very straightforward and heroic ‘divine command’ meta-ethical grounding. This means that he takes it that whatever God commands is right. As he said, the only moral obligation the Israelites had, in the Canaanite affair, was to follow God’s commands. As can be expected, there is no argument for this assumption, so from the start we have no reason to accept his basic premises.

– The argument for the assumption that God must exist for the argument was put forward. It was stated that the argument would be meaningless without the assumption. No one would have known of God’s actions and related justifications were it not recorded in the bible. A critique of God’s actions would not have existed without the bible. This is similar to an analysis of Macbeth (or any other literary work) where the truth of the story does not have to be proved for an argument whether or not a character acted correctly given the conditions set out in the book. If that is not accepted, English literature as a subject would be greatly diminished… In the same way, the bible is the source of the critique and necessarily also the source of the justification.

- The assumption of God’s existence is necessary for the same reason. The argument would not exist if the bible did not say that God existed. A character can only be subject to critique if the character exists. Logically then for this argument it must be assumed that God exists. To demand evidence that the bible is true and that God exist at this point is a diversionary tactic (remember Macbeth) and renders the argument meaningless. The evidence for the accuracy of the bible and the existence of God is a separate debate.

Let me paraphrase the author, substituting for various salient words. “[Germany’s]” moral duties are constituted by [Hitler’s] commands.This comparison fails the definition of DIVINE command theory as it can easily be demonstrated that Hitler is in fact human and as such not divine. To quote Mr Stanley: “I can stop here, I think”.

It would be horrific if not so laughably ineffective to defend or justify the atrocities of Nazi Germany in this wayI agree.

The same thing can be said about the author’s defense regarding the Canaanite affair. The problem is rather obvious. Whatever were the beliefs of the Nazi’s carrying out such atrocities, the mere fact that they believed or assumed what they did to be right (or sanctioned by some divine command) does not make it so. – The analogy fails as it compares a divine being with a human being. Israel did exactly what God commanded because they knew that He was Divine from experience. This can once again be demonstrated from the bible (Macbeth). They did not assume anything, they obeyed God. The Nazi’s however had no such experience of Hitler’s divinity and were victim to propaganda (not dissimilar to the atheist/evolution propaganda…)

We cannot simply assume that God (or Hitler, or Allah, or whatever else) is the ‘source of goodness’, and that people’s moral obligations are constituted by his (or their) commandments.God is not assumed to be good, the bible establishes this numerous times. I also know this from personal experience as well as testimony.

>>In accepting that one’s normative obligations are identical with God’s commandments we lose the ability to speak sensibly about what is right and wrong. ‘Right’ becomes a substitute word for ‘Gods will’. To say that something was ‘good’ is only to say that God enjoyed it. The problem with this position is well known. It means that, For the religious believer, the foundation of morality is subjective, as it springs solely from the ‘mind’ of God, and arbitrary, since its contents are decided by whatever God wills, without constraints.- The assertion fails to take into account God’s position as the judge of the standard of the Ten Commandments. This standard has never changed evidenced by the base it forms for our laws and moral standards to this day. God has judged according to the same standard in the same manner, without prejudice (Israel was punished for the same sins) right through the bible, meaning that neither the standards nor the character of God changed. This consistency in judgment as well as the standard falsifies the claim that God’s nature is arbitrary. The objectiveness of God strengthens, rather than weakens the understanding of what is right and wrong.

– An analysis of the Euthyphro debate shows that the foundation for Socrates’s judgment of godly nature as arbitrary was brought about by the pantheistic beliefs prevalent in Greece at the time. The bible shows God’s character to be constant with no other gods having opinions to make godly nature arbitrary as is the case in the Euthyphro scenario. God showed himself objective when punishing Israel for committing the same acts as the Canaanites. The kept promises attributed to God in the bible provide proof of stability and goodness.

>>One might mean, by saying that God’s nature was good, that God approved of his own nature. It is in this way that it becomes trivial to talk about the ‘goodness’ of Gods nature – because Goodness, on this view, is nothing more than what God wants. An appeal to God’s nature as justification for the goodness of his commands is – even though the author didn’t recognize it – totally circular, and thus invalid. I must be fair and admit that the author clearly didn’t intend all of that. The author, rather misguidedly, wanted to appeal to the stability of ‘Gods nature’ as an objective foundation of the goodness of Gods commandments. God’s nature typically includes, in the minds (and in the bible) of his believers, kindness, mercy, love, justice, fairness and so on. The idea here is rather simple. Since God’s nature involves these things necessarily or essentially (and, so, not arbitrarily) then God’s commandments can have some semblance of objectivity, rather than being peculiarly arbitrary. – The argument above is a fallacious depiction of the believer’s position. This is due the assertion that the goodness of God’s commands is only measured against His nature, whereas God’s goodness is also shown by His just judgment against the accepted standard of the Ten Commandments. God’s goodness is shown by the fact that He only judged according to the law in spite of His ability to indiscriminately command the killings of anyone, even righteous individuals (There are many examples of His mercy for the sake of a few righteous individuals in the bible). Thus He subjected His almighty power to a standard accepted as good. An example of God’s goodness and consistency can be found in His interaction with Abraham: God told Abram (before his name change) to move from his homeland and he obeyed. God promised him a son, which He gave him at the age of 100 as promised. All the years of obeying God and seeing fulfilled promises strengthened Abraham’s trust in God. The promise that God would make Abraham a great nation was made before God asked Abraham to offer Isaac. God knew beforehand that He would provide an alternative, but Abraham did not know. His trust in God as built up over many years made him certain that God could be trusted. Furthermore, God fulfilled His promise to Abraham of giving his descendents the land more than 400 years later by judging according the Canaanites for rejecting Him without compromising His character. Fulfilling a promise to someone that has already died shows great integrity (Humans doing the same is greatly respected). The bible has many more examples.

>>Religious folk tend to think more highly of themselvesThis is a human tendency irrespective of religion. It is dishonest and prejudiced to insinuate that religious folk has a greater tendency for it.

>>The appeal which religious folk emphasize is to Gods ‘essential’ or ‘necessary’ nature. This, they hope, results in the objective validity of God’s commandments. But what is really pulling the crazy train forward is rather the appeal to the content of Gods alleged essential or necessary nature. They appeal, in other words, to the fact that God is loving, kind, just, merciful, and so on. Were we to suppose that Gods essential nature was that of being hateful, unkind, unjust, unmerciful, and so on, we would hardly think it correct to call God ‘good’, let alone ‘infinitely good’. And anyone who characterized such a being as good could plausibly be accused of not understanding the moral terms they were using. The argument assumes a priori that the understanding of what is good would still be the same if God defined morals differently. The alternative put forward that God could have created morals differently, has not been observed.

>>Despite what the author thought he was doing, he is actually presenting an amoral picture. That is a world view in which words like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ do not have their usual significance but are, basically, catch-words for Gods desires and moods. Hopefully by this point, whatever sympathy he had from other religious folk is eroding.I agree, it would be amoral if good did not retain an exact meaning (This being the reason why relative morals are untenable). The meaning of good according to God’s word has however not changed and has been affirmed by Jesus, Moses, the biblical prophets among others. God judges according to the set standard, not according to His moods.

>>Of course, this strategy does not work. In order to get the result theists want, which is a God whose commandments are objectively valid and not arbitrary, they have to deny (one way or another) that God is the source of Goodness. >>As such, the fact that God (if it exists) has some necessary nature is irrelevant to moral considerations. What is of concern is the content of his nature, and it is the content of his nature which is morally significant. This, then, is an appeal to the intrinsic goodness of various qualities, such as ‘love’, ‘kindness’, ‘mercy’, ‘justice’, etc. So, in appealing to the (infinite) goodness of Gods natureThe assertion that God as the source of goodness has to be denied to believe that God’s commands are objective needs proof. God has not changed the Ten Commandments, meaning His standard is still the same. The claim that God arbitrarily changes the definition of good has not been observed.

>>Once the set pieces are arranged this way, then no questions need be begged regarding the existence or non-existence of God. And we have, as good as can be done in such a paradigm, a proof that divine command theory is an incorrect theory. - To prove that divine command theory is incorrect it has to be proven that God does arbitrarily change the definition of good, which according to history has not happened (Changes of standards in history are made by humans, using the free will given by God). The claim that an appeal to God’s good nature leads to moral subjectivity has not been proven. We are continually changing our laws, while God does not – Humans have therefore shown themselves more arbitrary and subjective than God.

>>Regarding the penultimate question, ‘how can we make moral judgments were God not the creator of morality?’The answer would depend on a priori views of the origins of morality. The Christian perspective is that we were created in God’s image with a conscience and free will. This means we would only have the morality that God created to judge anything by. The alternative view, where morals were not created but has evolved, has not been proven.

>>The final question is, ‘am I a better judge than the creator of everything?’ How one interprets this string of symbols depends on what conceptual machinery underlies them.The answer to the simple question would be yes or no (remember that God exists for the argument). My answer to the question is No because my God created everything, including moral standards (God’s ways are higher than our ways).Humans cannot even prove how morals formed, we can only speculate (morals by evolution has not been proven scientifically). A rejection of God would change the answer to the affirmative due to the belief that something (human opinion) is better than nothing (if God does not exist). (Not so difficult and long to answer as mentioned…..J).


The only reason divine command theory is not granted is the view that God is not good and does not exist. There is only one God (the creator) for whom divine command theory is correct. Demonstrably humans are not qualified to use divine command theory as a defense. Divine Command Theory is not a complex theory. The reduction of the theory to one sentence does not make is incoherent. William Lane Craig’s extensive version was referenced for further reading, if required. This does not make the article unacceptable or mistaken.

Ironic amorality (where nothing is good or bad) is not accepted – this would entail moral relativism, which is a failed concept. My trust in God can be compared to that of a child (as have been done to my delight – studying Jesus’ comments will enlighten the reader regarding the reason). He has shown himself to be trustworthy and not prone to changing the standard. The “overlord creator” example is therefore created because of an a priori rejection of God (finding reasons to reject something good are called rationalization).

>>The other option, more palatable, though less favorable for the author’s case, is this. That we should accept that there are various things which are good in themselves, independent of God’s desire, such as love, kindness, mercy, justice, fairness, etc. Only if this is the case can it have significance to suggest that God is ‘good’, otherwise such locutions become circular and end up signifying the banal notion that God approves of himself (which, probably, every psychopath does). This means, of course, that questions like ‘is God good?’, and ‘Did God, on that one occasion, command what is good?’, are significant questions, which can have negative answers, as many think is the case regarding the Canaanite affair.The definition of a psychopath is not only that He approves of Himself, but that he lacks the capacity of empathy, love etc. God has shown himself to be capable of all these emotions. Once again the argument is reduced to God approving of Himself, which is only part of the whole picture. His standards are good, so good in fact that with all the changes and amendments humans have made over the millennia, the six people oriented commandments are still the same (ie, honor your father and mother, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, no false witness, no coveting the neighbor’s stuff). When God is rejected the first four commandments are not followed – Note that this does not mean the commandments have changed.

>>The Israelites moral obligations were to follow the moral virtues, and there are many plausible arguments to suggest, without presupposing theism or atheism, that such activities were less than moral in that sense.My argument should rather be phrased as God commanded it because He is a just judge that does not change (justice being part of a good character). He judged many nations for the same sin. The sequence more or less goes like this (as per Israel’s history):

1.     Become wise in your own eyes;

2.     Reject God;

3.     Moral Relativism is accepted;

4.     Chaos or anarchy takes hold – the Dark Ages is an example of this – contrary to popular belief, the dark ages were not propagated by the church; the age was ended by a renewed acceptance of God.

Your preference to put moral virtue as the ideal to pursue sets human thinking above that of God.  The idea that morals are relative (do what is good for you and does not hurt others is the tame version….) is in the order of the day. This does not really place any constraint on human beings – rationalization sets in. These days it is evidenced by the acceptance of abortion as right (rationalized as pro-choice) among others. Before long people will lament the poor choices of others and try to control the poor choices or the negative effects of people on others. Pol Pot rationalized his actions as being good for the nation –in his mind all he did was stop city people from being lazy, chasing them to the country…..

>>The author’s main argument then, that the Israelites only obligation was to follow God’s commandments, and this makes what occurred good, is exposed as simply incorrect. - The argument has not been proven to be incorrect as the assertion that God’s character is arbitrary has not been proven.

>>I think it is genuinely difficult to extract a defensibly moral message from the bible. I’ve expressed before that I consider it to be a problematic book, with few factual, moral, or spiritual lessons relevant for today (Unproven claim). It is about time that we start to realize that. I don’t think the author gave a very good philosophical treatment to this issue, and I hope I have shown why that is. - This constitutes the difference of our viewpoints. My faith came about by examining the evidence and subsequently making the philosophical decision that the evidence, though not proving everything beyond doubt (As there are limitations to what can be proved by science) justifies faith in a supernatural being. Subsequent studies of faiths showed that the difference between Christianity is the salvation brought by Jesus Christ. All other religions require humans to save themselves. To answer your stated hope – No, all you did was to establish your viewpoint – We still do not have a result, because the Good Judge has not decided it is the end yet. It does not matter if I am wrong, but can have a great impact on you if you are wrong (Pascal’s wager still appeals to me, despite disdain for it in some circles….)

Ps. if the endless repeating of similar statements in different form constitutes philosophy, I actually prefer not to be classified as a philosopher….. ;-) - To paraphrase Winston Churchill: “I do not have the time to write you a one-page letter, so I am writing you a letter of two pages”….

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