From Reddit: “Do you believe Bigfoot exists? How about fairies? Vishnu? If not, how much “faith” does your disbelief require? Does one need positive evidence that these things don’t exist?”
The Context: A Christian redditer was tired of anti-christian sentiment coming from atheists online (and on Reddit). There was some sympathy in the thread, and some explanations or justifications for the hostility (Christians deserve it, one way or another), and some atheist polemic. This quote was an atheist’s response to the claim that atheist believe that God doesn’t exist without evidence.
The Point: One doesn’t need evidence to believe that God doesn’t exist because God is like Bigfoot, fairies, and Vishnu, and one doesn’t need evidence to believe they don’t exist.
Why? Because Bigfoot, fairies, and Vishnu are unlikely to exist to begin with! And God is like them.
Which God? If we are talking about Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, the God of theism.
But what is that God really like? God is an immaterial, personal being that created the universe. God is often thought to be omnipotent, omniscient, and morally good.
Is this God like really like Bigfoot then? Honestly, I don’t see the resemblance of God to a hairy, big, physical, human-like creature.
All right, what about fairies? They are tiny supernatural human beings (with wings?) with special powers. Is God like that? Not really. God isn’t a physical being, and so doesn’t have a diminutive stature, nor wings, nor a magic wand (only physical creatures could have such things). The only things they have in common with God are being supernatural and having powers. But that’s not ridiculous in itself.
What about Vishnu?
If you are thinking of a blue, magical, human-like creature with four
arms, then this being isn’t really much like the God of theism either. If you are thinking instead of the formless metaphysical concept of Brahman, then I’m not sure you can rule such a thing out without any evidence. In fact, the less you anthropomorphize Vishnu, the less you can say about its (his? her?) inherent plausibility.
The same goes for God. The supernatural, that is, what may or may not be beyond the universe as science sees it, can’t be dismissed without evidence, for that dismissal implies that we know something about its inherent probability, that we know that such things are highly unlikely in themselves. So I think the comparison of God with fairies and Vishnu doesn’t make the atheist’s point here.
Back to Bigfoot. Does this atheist wrongly assume that Bigfoot is inherently unlikely? After all, how inherently unlikely is a large, hairy humanoid, given all the humans and different species of apes on the planet? I don’t believe in Bigfoot, but I don’t rule out his existence of either. To do the latter I’d have to suppose that he desires not to be detected and is clever enough to avoid the confirmation of its existence all these years. But since Bigfoot is a physical creature, the odds of a such a creature evolving and remaining hidden from us all this time are not high. So there are decent arguments that Bigfoot is unlikely, given his unusual size and the fact that we have no real confirmation of one. But it’s arguable.
God, on the other hand, shares none of these characteristics. He is not an ape, nor even a physical being. In fact, the God of classic theism is probably more like Brahman, when considering His/Hers/It’s (no specification of gender here) inherent likelihood at least (though God differs in many other ways). We have no way of saying whether God is inherently likely or not. Evidence is required either way.
So I would say to this rather insensitive atheist redditer: “You assume God is like Big Foot, and think you then get this massive burden of proof advantage. But nobody has to grant your assumption, nor give you this advantage.”
In October of 2011, William Lane Craig squared off with Stephen Law about the existence of God (video above). Law advanced the hypothesis of an evil god, arguing that just as theodicies aimed at reconciling a good God with evil could be offered, so could “theodicies” aimed at reconciling a evil god with good be offered. This possibility is supposed to discredit theodicies for a good God. Craig accepts that the evil god theodicies are possible, and that is not unreasonable to accept the possibility of an evil god.
During the rebuttals, it seemed that both Law and Craig were talking past each other. Here’s my attempt to clarify. I think it’s yet another case of “one man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens.” (Hereafter MPMT) In this case I’ll start with modus tollens first. According to Law:
(1) If theodicies for an evil god can be reasonable, then it’s reasonable to accept the possibility of an evil god.
(2) It’s not reasonable to accept the possibility of an evil god.
(3) Therefore, theodicies for an evil god cannot be reasonable.
Then he continues:
(4) If theodicies for an evil God cannot be reasonable, theodicies for a good God cannot be reasonable.
(5) Therefore, theodicies for a good God cannot be reasonable.
(6) Therefore, it is unreasonable to believe in God.
Most of this is pretty self-explanatory, except (4). One would have to argue that the theodices for a good an evil god are similar enough to support this premise.
Craig’s modus ponens:
(1) If theodicies for an evil god can be reasonable, then it’s reasonable to accept the possibility of an evil god.
(2′) Theodicies for an evil god can be reasonable.
(3′) Therefore, it is reasonable to accept the possibility of an evil god.
And, of course, if Craig’s counter goes through, then (4-6) of Law’s argument breaks down.
Law seemed pretty frustrated with this reply, but didn’t really clearly attempt to refute it. He merely insisted that this wasn’t the way to interpret his argument.
That sort of reply isn’t acceptable. Craig offered a counter argument (on my interpretation), one that needs to be answered. And, as in any case of MPMT, it is a contest between (2) and (2′). Law assumed, and insisted on, (2), but provided no real argument for it. Craig didn’t really argue for (2′) either.
Yet, because Law was on the offence here, I think he needs to support (2). Right now it’s merely an assertion, one that carries a lot of weight in his argument. Craig doesn’t have to accept it. Unless Law supports the idea that the possibility of an evil God is unreasonable (good luck with that — even Descartes struggled with that one), there is no real force behind his argument as a whole.
Perhaps Law is thinking that belief in God in general, whether good or bad, is ridiculous. He’d be in the company of most atheists: they believe God is inherently (apart from any evidence) implausible, (note the many comparisons of God with the Flying Spaghetti Monster). But that’s just an atheist thing. You can’t just assume this in a debate about God without begging the question.
If you asked a neuroscientist or a science-oriented-person-in-general, you would probably hear, “No.” After all, the mind is the brain and when the brain dies, so does the mind. Nothing survives death. There are no “souls.” The view that the mind is distinct from the brain and can survive the death of the body is called dualism, and it is very unpopular with neuroscientists and philosophers. It is so unpopular, in fact, that well-known philosophers such as Daniel Dennett don’t even need bother with a refutation of it — they just merely say “no one believes that anymore” and dismiss it (see here) to move on to their own form of materialism.
On the other hand, the vast majority of the American public (80% in 2014) does believe in life after death. When Dennett said nobody believes in dualism anymore, he was obviously referring to academics and neuroscientists — they are the ones that matter, I suppose. Are the experts right and the American masses wrong here? Has dualism been proven false?
No. In fact, Dennett himself more or less admits this. Consider this quote regarding dualism:
This fundamentally antiscientific stance of dualism is, to my mind, its most disqualifying feature, and is the reason why in this book I adopt the apparently dogmatic rule that dualism is to be avoided at all costs. It is not that I think I can give a knock-down proof that dualism, in all its forms is false or incoherent, but that, given the way dualism wallows in mystery, accepting dualism is giving up. (Explaining Consciousness, p. 37)
So the reason Dennett rejects dualism (and life after death) because it’s “antiscientific,” because it’s “giving up.” It’s not because it has been shown to be wrong. It stops scientific enquiry. Good enough.
More could be said, of course. Scientists, by in large, follow the principle of methodological naturalism; they do not consider the supernatural in their investigations. This doesn’t rule out the supernatural per se, but when following this principle leads to all the advances the neurosciences has enjoyed, it makes one doubt that there is a supernatural thing like the soul behind it all. Much remains to be explained in the neurosciences, but the fact that so much has been explained has given materialist neuroscientists and philosophers reason to at least place a very heavy burden of proof on those who do believe in souls.
But is that all that can be said? Should all the poor, benighted masses stop going to church, believing in the afterlife, believing that loved-ones who have passed away are in heaven as part of their “educational advancement?” I think that the above reasoning could be challenged on two points. The first is the use of burden of proof among soul deniers. They require acceptable evidence for the soul. Unfortunately, this may not be possible even if there are such things as souls, for if anything were claimed to be evidence for the soul, materialists would simply say that there is a perfectly good natural explanation for it.
An example. Emotions are evidence for the soul, you say? Well, we can explain that with the activity of neurons in the hippocampus, the presence or absence of certain neurotransmitters, etc. etc. On the other hand, if there is no current neurobiological explanation for the phenomenon, then the materialist can either say that we should wait for one (give neuroscience some more time, for it has an excellent track record), or say that the phenomenon doesn’t exist. Free will (taken as most people mean it), for example, may not have a neurobiological explanation, but people like Dennett or Patricia Churchland would simply say that it doesn’t exist. The same goes for first-person experience, consciousness. Consciousness (or at least certain features of consciousness, such as the raw experiences known as qualia) is notoriously hard to explain just in terms of the brain. Those aspects of consciousness not explainable by science are deemed fictions, merely a part of a pre-scientific “folk psychology.”
Notice that these moves can be made even if there are such things as souls. And it would be nearly impossible to disprove them, given that they could keep making these same moves against any attempt to disprove them. In other words, materialism is unfalsifiable — even if it were false, there is no observation or reasons that could ever disprove it. Hence it is untestable, and ironically, unscientific.
You might say, “Ok, so it’s impossible to win an argument with a die hard materialist. So what? That doesn’t mean there are souls or that we should believe in them. ” And you would be right regarding the first point: materialism’s unfalsifiability doesn’t imply that it’s actually false, or that there are souls. But what about the second point? Maybe there might be reason to believe in souls, even if they can’t be proven to exist.
There are practical reasons. Belief in the afterlife gives people comfort. It allows them to hope for loved ones who have passed, and a hope for a reunion in the future. It also gives reason for people to “be good,” even if they can get away with being bad. They might be punished in the afterlife, or the next life. Another is that the afterlife is a central part of most religions. Abandoning it means giving up one’s religion. One other thing, it allows us to forget about death. As we get older, we start seeing the end more clearly. Belief that the end really isn’t the end allows me, at any rate, to not obsess about it as much.
Ok, I know a lot of people wouldn’t see the previous paragraph as much of a motivation. They have settled into a scientific worldview and have become comfortable with it. But I’m not speaking to them. For them, their bet has been made; they are betting on naturalism. But it is a bet; we can’t forget or deny it. Naturalism (the view that only scientific things can exist) is not known to be true. It’s a hunch, a take, a perspective. But so are worldviews that allow a place for the supernatural.
When it comes to whether or not to accept naturalism, it’s not about evidence, really. It’s about what first seems plausible to a person. She forms a worldview. Then she goes and interprets the evidence in light of this worldview. But as to deciding which worldview to take, evidence isn’t the ultimate deciding factor — it’s also about what she values, fears, and hopes for.
Given that naturalism/materialism hasn’t been proven, and that it has such a hard time with consciousness, free will, rationality, and other features of the mind, I don’t see it as the only bet a person could make. One could acknowledge all that neuroscience, as science, and not as philosophy, says, and still bet on the afterlife by believing in it. And for many people, the benefits outweigh the costs.
Just read this blog by prominent atheist Massimo Pigliucci. He makes Alvin Plantinga, one of my favorite philosophers, out to be an intellectual lightweight. He criticizes Plantinga for saying that atheism is not justified by a mere lack of evidence, for, according to Pigliucci, a-unicornism (which is close enough to atheism) is. I believe there is a misunderstanding, or perhaps dishonesty, on Pigliuicci’s part.
Pigliucci, and most of today’s atheists, define atheism differently than most theists. Atheists seem to be defining it as sort of an “a-theism”, that is, lack of belief. This grants the atheist a burden of proof advantage; it’s a non-claim, and non-claims require no support.
I don’t like this definition: most vocal atheists aren’t merely non-committal or unopinionated about God. No, they really think God doesn’t exist!! They think God is improbable, ridiculous, like a unicorn, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the Flying Teapot. They think that God needs to be opposed, eradicated. They aren’t “a-theists”, they are athe-ists.
The vocal, anti-theistic atheists (like Pigliuicci) should be more honest. They should embrace the traditional definition (athe-ism), instead of the more recent, watered-down, a-theism*; they should deny God’s existence. And this sort of atheism does have a burden of proof, for it is making a claim.
Pigliucci does bring up Plantinga’s reply that there is a disanalogy between unicorns and God in that unicorns are known to be improbable, whereas God isn’t. I agree; unicorns are improbable because they are physically complex objects. They are hence unlikely to exist just on their own, and the place most likely to have evolved them, Earth, doesn’t. Thus, they are unlikely to exist. None of this is true of God; we have no reason to think that God would be unlikely to exist on His own. He is immaterial, and not subject to the laws of physical probability/physical complexity. On my view, all we can say that God’s inherent probability is unknown, which is not the same as saying that it is low. This means that atheism, as traditionally defined, really does have just as much a burden of proof as theism, and that an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. That is, the lack of evidence argument endorsed by Dawkins and, here, unfortunately by Pigliuicci, is just another example of the argument from ignorance fallacy.
All this is missed, I think, by Pigliuicci, and other atheists, because they’re always saying, dishonestly, that they are a-theists. But it’s hard to imagine people who are so anti-God being merely a-theists. Come on guys, own up! Besides, even Dawkins, who has made the lack of evidence argument, doesn’t claim to be an a-theist anyway: he goes the whole atheist route. So should you.
*The earliest use of a-theism I am aware is Anthony Flew’s use in his 1972 paper, “The Presumption of Atheism.”
This post is mostly me just thinking aloud. It seems that much of the anger toward and rejection of Christianity by secularists is rooted in the specifics of the Bible, and not so much against beings like God in general, or the God of Classical Theism. They don’t like a lot of the things Yahweh said and did, nor do they like the creation story (as it contradicts evolution when taken literally). I get the clearest sense of this focused rejection when a Christian philosopher or apologist makes a general argument for God (in the classical theist sense) or a general criticism of naturalism, and his opponents change topics and start picking at things in the Bible (a perfect example of this is Sam Harris’s reply to the arguments William Lane Craig made against naturalizing ethics: see this debate).
I must admit, there’s a lot in the Bible that’s hard to reconcile with modern sensibility. In a previous post I argued for why this isn’t always a bad thing (in an ultimate sense). But sometimes I get the feeling that I’m really having to do a lot of intellectual, and ethical, gymnastics to make the Bible something I can accept.
One can always save a bad theory if one is willing to make enough ad hoc adjustments to it to handle evidence or reasons against it. Think about a paranoid schizophrenic: he may have paranoid delusions and delusions of grandeur, but when presented contradictory evidence, he often finds some way to explain away the evidence and keep his delusions. I could think there are aliens on Mars that are oppressing the human race, and when confronted with the lack of evidence, I simply point to some government conspiracy to hide all the evidence. You get my point.
Is this what’s happening with Christians defending the Bible? What does one do when one confronts passages in which Yahweh behaves in ways that seem deplorable to moderns? We could always explain it away, given enough creativity on our part. We can find some excuse, certainly. It really is impossible to prove that Yahweh is a bad god.
What to do? One could just “white-fist” it and hold on to the Bible, all else be damned. That is an option. Or one could liberalize the Bible: accept only parts of it, or interpret parts of it as merely symbolic, allegorical (actually, regarding the creation story, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant to be a scientific account, but one highlighting God’s power and authority). One could also come up with independent evidence for God and the Bible. It would have to be fairly powerful, though, to overcome the difficulties. One could also argue, like I did, that we judge the Bible from a modern perspective, and that the modern perspective isn’t necessarily the ground truth regarding morality or reality — we can point out what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.” Or one could do a combination of all of these. I think that’s what I’m doing at present; a little of all.
Why? Why all the work? Why not just forget about Christianity and turn secular? For me, I find myself frightened by the alternative: something akin to Bertrand Russell’s defiant atlas standing against the alter of chance and the ultimate purposeless ruin of the universe. Russell’s alternative has no appeal to me. There is also “the fear of God” that is in me. That fear is very powerful, and it won’t go away any time soon. There is also hope; hope of a better future life, if not on earth, then in heaven. And there is the peace that I sometimes feel when I do get close to God. At present, these are enough to motivate me to keep at this work. And, let’s not forget, there is a chance that the Bible really is, in some sense, true.
Add to this my dissatisfaction with naturalism. As time goes on, I’m finding the whole notion of the universe that is, ultimately, explainable by science unacceptable. Numbers, math, truths of logic, they don’t depend on science; science depends on them! The apprehension of a realm of moral truth: again, this is apart from science. The naturalist alternative: some form of subjectivism or relativism, some form of moral antirealism. That is, we accept that raping children for fun is neither right nor wrong, ultimately; we just happen to not like it very much as a people, and find limiting it useful. And what about the first person perspective, consciousness? The fact that it exists at all is something that seems beyond a science limited to the third person. So there definitely are cracks in the naturalist/materialist wall. But are they big enough to let the whole Bible through? That’s where I still struggle.
Zombies are logically possible. That is, we can conceive of them. They aren’t like square circles. Philosophical zombies are human bodies that look and act just like we do, but have no experiences, no inner world. They aren’t conscious in this sense. They will tell you they are conscious if asked, by the way. For their brain circuits are sufficient for this and any other human behavior.
A world that has complex organisms that do what we do yet lack consciousness is possible. If so, then consciousness is an added feature to a material world. All of our survival can be explained purely in terms the evolution of mechanisms, without mentioning inner experience even once. Consciousness, defined strictly as inner experience, doesn’t have a real explanatory role.
Thus the philosopher David Chalmers thinks that consciousness is a primitive. It may be a basic feature of the universe, or at least as basic as matter and energy. It doesn’t seem explainable in terms of them. (For more about zombies and materialism, see this blog post from Phillip Goff. For more about the troubles of explaining consciousness, see this blog by Bobby Azarian).
“What does this have to do with God?” you might ask. Well, if there is something more than what physics studies (the material universe), that might open the door for immaterial beings like God. Moreover, given that there is no physical explanation for consciousness, and if it also is a primitive, then consciousness could only come from consciousness. And since God is an always existing conscious being, God could be an explanation for consciousness.
This wouldn’t be enough for a case for God: for one could just say that our consciousness derives from some general consciousness woven throughout the universe, and didn’t come from a particular conscious being. There is additional evidence for God, however, this evidence is problematic to skeptics. But one reason it is problematic may be disarmed by the mystery of consciousness.
The problematic evidence: consider the Kalam Cosmological Argument: The universe had a beginning, and things with beginnings have causes. Therefore, something caused the universe. That something must be outside the universe, and that something isn’t material (otherwise it would be part of the universe). Add to this that other features of the universe, such as the fine-tuning of physical constants for life, seem designed. Perhaps the cause of the universe is an immaterial mind.
The problem with the problematic evidence: we know that many features of our minds depend on physical brains. But there was no cosmic brain existing before the universe! Postulating such a being as an explanation for the universe is ridiculous, as Richard Dawkins argues, for a God like this would have be immensely complex and improbable.
How consciousness helps: Consciousness seems inexplicable in terms of brains. This opens up the possibility of a non-physical explanation. And, for all we know, there might be non-physical ways in which to instantiate other parts of the mind. So there could be such things as minds without problematically complex brains. And these ways, even if complex, might not contribute to improbability like physical complexity does (e.g., even complex mathematical statements are no less probable than simple ones). Thus God may not be such a long shot as Dawkins and others suppose.
It is a bit speculative to speak of such things; but regarding the beginning of the universe, and the fine tuning of the physical constants, it’s no more speculative than any of the other hypotheses floating around (especially the multiverse hypothesis). This, plus the fact that perhaps the most important part of mind can’t be explained purely in terms of physics fits better with this hypothesis than with atheistic naturalism. For not only could God create matter, He can create mind as well. Not so for multiverses. All a multiverse could do is create zombies.
In recent years a moral outcry has arisen against the Bible among secularists. Many of the actions/commandments in the Bible are moral abominations to them. Three noteworthy examples (or types of example): God’s command to Abraham to burn Isaac on the alter, God’s wiping out, or commanding Israel to wipe out, entire peoples, and God’s prohibition of homosexuality.
As a Christian I might feel compelled to defend these actions of God. But I know that such defenses (e.g., God wiped out peoples because they were exceedingly evil and deserved it) would not only fail with secularists, but would make them question my own morality for offering such a defense.
Indeed, I would argue that there is no defense of the actions of Yahweh in the Old Testament that could work within a modern, secular moral framework. That is because of some of the assumptions of that framework. These assumptions have been with us for so long, and feel so right, that they seem axiomatic. Here are some of them:
All persons have the same basic rights (e.g., from the American Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, pursuit of happiness).
All of morality is to be based on these.
Things that follow:
We have the right to do whatever we want, just so long as we are not interfering with others.
We have the right to have our lives and property protected.
No one has the right to take away our lives, freedom, or property, except as a means to protect the rights of others, and in ways approved by a government formed by the people on the authority of the people.
If these are true, Israel’s wiping out groups of people at God’s command couldn’t be justified, as no one person or society could ever have that kind of authority to kill. Prohibiting homosexuality is wrong as well; we have the right to whatever lifestyle we want if no one is hurt by it.
In addition to these, there are factual (that is, non-moral) assumptions secularists make that would make the Bible unjustifiable:
There is no life after death.
There is no clear, unquestionable revelation from God.
If these last two are true, no one could have the right to kill because “God told me to,” for there is no clear revelation from God. And killing a person is the worst thing you can do to someone because there is no life after death. A dead person cannot be compensated. Given all of the above, the only possible justification for killing a person would be to prevent further killings. Thus the command for Abraham to kill Isaac (and the genocides, for that matter) has no justification at all! To kill Isaac would be merely a horrible, pointless act commanded by an imaginary divine fiend.
So, at bottom, the Bible cannot be justified within a modern, secular moral framework based on the principles of modern, liberal democracies.
What can a Christian say in reply? To start, Christians cannot accept the two factual claims. As I am focusing on moral principles, I won’t argue against them here. But it’s pretty obvious that secularists and Christians must disagree on these. On to the moral principles.
First I want to admit that the secular moral principles are correct in a human-to-human sort of way. That is, they work in providing rules regarding how human beings ought to treat each other. I also think they are grounding principles for governments: we humans ought not to govern ourselves any other way. But are they the deepest truth regarding morality?
What if they are only a special case? For example, there are also principles regarding ethical treatment of animals that aren’t like the above principles. Not all secularists are vegans or vegetarians — many eat animals. They often have pets. Some visit zoos, Sea World, and other such places. They might kill household pests. They definitely allow the killing of fetuses. That is, they would agree that not all life has the above rights, only persons do. Sure, there are some rights subpersonal life forms have; we might be okay with killing pigs for pork, but we wouldn’t be okay with torturing them for fun. Still, subpersons have less rights than persons.
What about superpersons, beings with a higher level of consciousness, ability, intelligence, emotion, and awareness than humans have? Might they be to us as we are to pigs? That is, the claim that all humans have the same basic rights might only apply to humans. If, for the sake of argument, God did exist, it seems plausible to me that He wouldn’t be at the same level of rights as human persons.
To support this idea, consider, for a moment, the source of human rights. Two basic competing notions have been offered. John Locke, the one responsible for much of the discussion of rights behind the Declaration of Independence, claimed the source was God (so does the Declaration itself). God is the granter of rights. If so, then might he also be the revoker of rights? One thing is clear, the rights God enjoys would have to be of a higher level than our rights if our rights get their authority from God.
The other notion is that of Thomas Hobbes: we humans are roughly equal in ability and intelligence. Since we know that we are not strong or smart enough to dominate everyone else and keep safe, we agree to sacrifice some of our freedom by granting basic rights to ourselves and others. That is, human rights are really a contract between completely selfish people who know the limits of their own physical and intellectual power. On this view, human rights are the result of a political process, not, as in Locke, the motivation for it. If this is the case, then if God existed, He wouldn’t need to grant any of these rights, as a self-interested being, as he in no danger from the likes of us.
If these are the only two basic kinds of options, then it seems that God would be beyond and above the rights listed above. God is not beholden to them.
But Christians insist that God is good, not merely that he isn’t violating any social contract. In other words, what would be God’s morality that would make Him this wonderful being, if He doesn’t respect our rights? From the Bible we can find two parts: a part about our relationship with God, and a part about how we humans should treat each other. Regarding the former, from what I can tell, it seems that God has both great wrath and great love. Regarding wrath, He wipes out people who deface His name in the Old Testament. He is extremely jealous when it comes to who Israel worships, and punishes them when they “cheat on” Him.
God sounds horrible here, but think of it this way: have you ever been in love? Didn’t you feel jealous when he/she flirted with (or had sex with) other people, especially when you thought you were in a committed relationship with him/her? You felt betrayed, hurt, and angry. The God of the Old Testament is a superperson in love with an unfaithful people. A jilted lover at that. Read the OT yourself with this in mind (a good example the Book of Hosea —There he promises to punish Israel for her infidelity, and then restore His relationship with her, all with rather romantic sounding poetry); it will explain a lot.
Add to this the bad things these people were doing to each other (the lack of justice we find the prophets often preaching against), and we have the reasons God punishes them so horribly.
Now as human beings, we are limited in how we may treat unfaithful lovers. Again, we have agreed to a social contract to live in a democratic society, and we need to respect each other’s basic human rights. All we can rightfully do is break off the relationship with the unfaithful partner (and maybe rant about them to a friend). As for injustice, we can point to the law, or engage in peaceful protest, or, at the very most, defend ourselves. But God isn’t limited in His rights in the way we are. He isn’t in our social contract. Democracy is for us, not for Him. God may be within His rights to destroy an unfaithful creature He brought about.
The above view of a God in love isn’t a very flattering view of God at first glance, I admit — a superperson in love with creatures so far beneath Him that He justifiably wipes them out when they are unfaithful to Him. My justification is very counterintuitive. This is because we (or those of us fortunate enough to grow up in a democracy) have been taught from early childhood that democracy is right, that all humans have basic human rights, and so forth. And I agree with this, as far as human-human relationships go. But I’m treating that as a special case here: if it is, God’s morality might be beyond this.
I maintain that God still would be a good being, nonetheless, with all of the above. The fact that God would condescend to such a relationship with us is noble. And His anger at our refusing it is justified by the fact that God is so much higher than us and worthy of us. And our infidelity is all the more punishable for this. And let’s not forget: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” God’s Son was his most beloved; he was willing to give him to us for our salvation.
What about the other part of morality: how we ought to treat each other? There are the God-given rights that Locke and the Declaration of Independence list. But God never speaks of “rights” in the Bible. Still, Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourselves.” In fact, Jesus captures the whole of morality in this same passage. From Matthew chapter 22:
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Modern democracies with their rights don’t go this far. Jesus commands us to love other people as much as ourselves, even our enemies. The key word here is, of course, love. It’s a morality of love, not rights. Modern ethical systems don’t mention it.
Back to the original problems. Regarding genocide, God has this right. God is still good, for God condescends to love the human race, despite its comparative insignificance and ubiquitous evil. And humans are pretty evil; when I look a the thoughts in my own mind, I know I have evil in me. So will you, if you are honest. God commanding Israel to kill, again God has the right. Add to that the view that clear revelation is possible, then Israel is also justified in wiping out groups of people (If the revelation is true, of course. Most of the killings in the name of God are not the result of genuine revelation.).
What about Abraham and Isaac? First, God has this right as creator. Second, there is the possibility of God raising Isaac from the dead. If God exists and life after death is possible (secularists assume neither is true), then God is justified in asking for this to test Abraham’s faithfulness. He could restore Isaac. And Abraham might have thought this too.
The prohibition of homosexuality is harder. Honestly, I don’t have an answer to this one, other than God finds it offensive. But again, we are talking about God, not us. Just because I might find it distasteful doesn’t mean I have the right to prevent others from enjoying it. I’m a citizen of the United States; so are they. We, as citizens, have a civil right to our lifestyles. But God is not a citizen of the United States (or any other democracy). He’s God. He designed humans to be a certain way, and has the right, as a superperson, to prohibit them from departing from it.
So I did try to justify God, as I said I shouldn’t do. No doubt a secularist would not accept this justification. There’s no way she can, with her assumptions about reality and morality. But if these aren’t the ground truth, and if a case could be made for God and for life after death, then I think my justifications do have some weight.
So what this amounts to is that Christianity is consistent in its own worldview regarding how it views reality and morality. So is secularism. But these views are not consistent with each other.
I did a lot of work to come to an obvious conclusion. I did it to make a related point. The the point is regarding the fact that that secularists think Christians ought to be ashamed when God doesn’t fit into their secular idea of morality, or that God’s not fitting into this morality is a legitimate objection to Christianity. My point is that of course the Bible doesn’t fit into secular morality; it’s not supposed to.
Bottom line: God cannot be justified in a secular moral framework. Nor should He be.