by Matt Slick
The following is my original written statement, which I modified while listening to David Smally present his opening statement. Our debate occured on October 1, 2016 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Is the God of the Old Testament a moral monster?
To determine whether the God of the Old Testament is morally good or bad, there must first be a standard against which judgements are made. The standard must not be subjective and should be universal.
The moral standard cannot be subjective because subjectivity means what is true for one person might not be true for another. Therefore, one person’s subjective opinion might be that the behavior of God in the Old Testament is perfectly fine, where another, based on his subjective opinion, would disagree. So which is true and how would you know? In order to determine the answer, each must appeal to a standard outside of himself. After all, subjective moral opinions do not prove that God of Scripture is moral or immoral. Opinions are not the foundation of logical proof.
Furthermore, the moral standard must be universal because it must be applicable to all cultures at all times. If it is not, then you can’t judge the moral behavior of another culture. So, Mr. Smalley can only make a cogent argument about the alleged immorality of God if he can present a non-subjective standard that is also universally valid and then compare God to that. If he can’t, all his arguments are invalid and he’s just blowing relativistic smoke.
Let’s say that all of us go outside, and we are looking at several telephone poles, and a discussion arises about whether or not the different telephone poles are vertical or crooked. One person says one is perfectly vertical were another says that it is slightly off, and so on and so on with each telephone pole. How would we determine which ones are actually vertical and which are not? To do that, we would need a consistent standard with which to compare each one. Otherwise, one person’s opinion would be no more valid or invalid than any other’s. Without a standard, in this case without a straight vertical line, we can’t ascertain which, if any of the telephone poles, are actually vertical.
Just as a proper vertical standard can be used to determine the vertical quality of multiple telephone poles, a proper moral standard can be used to judge the good or bad of various moral actions. But as I said, the moral standard cannot be subjective, lest it amount to opinions, and it must also be universally applicable. Otherwise, it cannot be applied to anything outside of our own experience and preferences.
Think about this…. Morals are abstractions. They are concepts. But concepts require a mind and so it is fair to infer that universally true concepts imply a universal true mind. But, I digress. I’m not here to argue such a case, though I think it is worth exploring at another time.
Instead, I’m here to respond to Mr. Smalley’s challenge that the God of the Old Testament is a moral monster.
In so doing, I aim to present my position using logic and evidence, not emotionally charged rants full of subjective things like outrage, appeal to “common sense”, and personal disgust. Also, I don’t plan to use misrepresentation or errors such as begging the question, the fallacy of composition, poisoning the well, etc.
You came here to hear a debate based on logic and rationality. Have we heard logic from Mr. Smalley tonight? Or, have we heard subjective opinions, natural selection (which is not a moral issue), and emotional appeals to malign the moral character of the God of the Old Testament?
……….. Evolutionary ethics is problematic because it does not do anything other than beg the question by saying that a particular behavior that leads to an evolutionary advantage is morally “good”. This isn’t ethics, it is an issue of evolutionary survivability which Mr. Smalley has used as a basis of moral development. So, if rape among primates increases evolutionary survivability, then rape is good. But, of course this kind of thinking is morally wrong………
Has he presented a non-subjective, universally true moral standard by which he can pronounce absolute moral judgements? No. He can’t, given his perspective which does not include God.
Instead, Mr. Smalley contradicts himself when it comes to determining moral truths, the very moral truths he uses when he attempts to judge God.
In his book Baptized Atheist, in chapter 3, Mr. Smalley tells us how we should obtain our ethics.
“Obtain your ethics and self-respect from your personal experiences and base them on accepted sociological norms, how you want to live, and how you want to be treated, and most importantly, make decisions based on what causes the least amount of harm. There is no black and white, wrong or right. Just be you and treat every human you meet with the utmost respect.” (Smalley, Baptized Atheist, chapter 3, Kindle Locations 844-846, underline added).
This seems rather arbitrary to me. If personal experiences and social norms are where we get ethics, then they are not absolute. They are also not universal since personal experience is subjective and social norms change. Therefore, his method of determining ethics cannot be used to judge the God of the Old Testament because it is subjective since it is based on his personal experience and sociological norms. After all, the Jews had their own personal experiences and their own social norms that are different than his. Why don’t they have the same right to condemn our society for its moral failures. Who is he to say they are wrong?
He is being inconsistent because he says to develop your own ethics from experience and social norms, and then denies the Jews of the Old Testament the right to the exact same them by allowing them to develop their own ethics from their own experience and their own social norms. He condemns them instead.
In that same book, Baptized Atheist, and in that same chapter, Mr. Smalley recounted a discussion he had with a professor of theology. The professor asked him, “Do you believe in absolute morality?” Mr. Smalley said…
“For there to be absolute morality, we would first need to have an absolute source from which that morality derived. Without that source being proven as absolute, we cannot say that any rule is for certain.” (Smalley, Baptized Atheist, chapter 3, Kindle location 792-794, underline added)
Okay, so there you have it. Mr. Smalley says we must have an absolute moral standard in order for any moral rule to be certain. Now, with this I agree. But, he doesn’t have an absolute moral standard because he tells people to develop their own ethics from their personal experience. Therefore, he has no right to make absolute and certain moral judgments about God’s alleged immorality. He has shot himself in his moralistically superior feet.
He is incredibly inconsistent. Again, let me reiterate that on the one hand, he says to be morally certain, you need an absolute source. Yet, on the other hand, he says you should “obtain your ethics and self-respect from your personal experiences and base them on accepted sociological norms.” But then, he makes absolute moral judgements.
Logically speaking, Mr. Smalley’s position is a mess. He doesn’t have all his paws in the litter box.
But again, that hasn't stopped him from making absolute moral judgments against the God of the Old Testament. Of course, if they aren’t absolute moral judgments, then they are just his emotional opinions. And, emotional opinions don’t make sound arguments. So, to appeal to them is to lose the debate.
Let me ask… Since Mr. Smalley denies absolute morals, by appealing to personal experience as the source of morals, then on what basis does he make authoritative, universal judgments, and absolute condemnations of the Old Testament God?
He cites such things as the killing of homosexuals, the existence of slavery, etc. and he uses those as issues to prove that the God of the Old Testament is morally wrong. But, those citations are not proof of anything if he has no absolute, moral standard with which to PROVE they are wrong. Instead, he is only offering various biblical scenarios to be judged with his own subjective preferences which are influenced our ever changing social constructs. He does not demonstrate his case rationally. He is has failed.
The Atheist Predicament
Now, I believe that the reason Mr. Smalley cannot present a truly good argument, is because of his atheism. In my opinion, it restricts his ability to present his case based on reason. Of course, many of you will disagree. But, in atheism there can be no transcendent, absolute moral standard by which moral judgments can be authoritatively made and his condemnations justified. And, just to clarify, saying that an objective moral standard can be developed out of society is to appeal to the logical fallacy called argumentum ad populum which is the error the saying that if the majority believe it or affirm it, then it’s true). It also is committing the logical fallacy of begging the question by assuming that objective moral standards based on society’s collective preferences are the right ones. He hasn’t proven they are and so he has failed all the more to prove his point.
Dealing With Particular Objections
Now, logically speaking, I do not have to go through and answer specific objections that he has raised from the Old Testament in order to prove he is not correct – that is, so to speak, trying to prove a negative. He needs to show he is correct. He needs to make his case by providing an objective, universal moral standard by which is criticisms can be validated. Without that, all his criticisms are reduced to a set of opinions and he is not made his case. He has failed.
However, unfortunately, proof is different than persuasion and many of you won’t be satisfied with me if I don’t at least try and address some of the issues he’s raised.
So, let me deal with a few. But, please understand that I cannot address all of them due to time constraints.
….refer to particulars here…. [This is where I inserted various responses to some of the objections he raised against the God of the Old Testament ]
I hope that you all can see that the issues he raised out of the Old Testament are not as black-and-white as Mr. Smalley would like them to appear – even though he says there are no black and white truths as I quoted him saying earlier. If we look at the cultural context, expanded textual context, and related verses, we can see that such a radically different culture in a radically different time, can’t be so easily dismissed as morally inferior to our own.
So then whose personal experience and culture is right? The ancient Jews of the Old Testament would look at our culture today and be appalled at the immorality that is rampant within our nation. They would have their own personal experiences and their own social norms with which to judge us. Remember, personal experience and accepted social norms are the very thing Mr. Smalley says ought to be used in order to develop ethics. So, he must agree that the ancient Jews should use their own personal experiences and their own social norms to judge our behavior. If he disagrees, then refutes himself.
Nevertheless, the ancient Jews would condemn the rise of sexual promiscuity so rampant in our culture. They would see America’s widespread drug use as proof of our debauchery. The prevalence of adultery and divorce would be a demonstration of moral failure. The rise of gangs, governmental corruption, and environmental disasters, wouldn’t help our case either, nor would our video games that turn killing and theft into entertainment for our impressionable youth. They would be appalled by the prevalence of pornography and the rise of pedophilia. They would be immensely saddened by the callous disregard for human life that has resulted in the death of millions upon millions of the unborn. And, they would probably wonder why God has not judged us.
Would they then say that the America is a moral Monster? Yes! Would they be right?
And yet, Mr. Smalley, who is acclimated to our American, moral culture, makes judgments against the God of the Old Testament. Really? And what right does he have to do so? Do any of us have the right to make such judgments? Remember, we’re not talking about emotional preferences. We’re not talking about clever sound bites. We’re talking about a rationally defensible moral position from which moral judgements can be made.
Let me run this by you.
Let’s say that any one of you in this room and I are having a discussion about this debate. We are outside at a park and we see a man some distance away physically assaults a woman and take her purse. Of course, we both run to her aid. But, unfortunately the assailant gets away. Is that an injustice? Yes, it is. Let’s further say that a year from now you and I are in an African country and we are at another park, discussing another debate, and we see another man physically assault another woman and take her purse. He likewise escapes. Is that also an injustice? Yes, it is, even though it is a different culture and a different time and a different place. Should that person be judged and punished according to our cultural norms? Or, should he be punished because that is what is right, irrespective of culture? If you say yes, he should be punished irrespective of culture, then you are recognizing the universal moral principle of justice that does not depend on where you are, what culture you’re in, or what year it is. You are appealing to something greater than yourself, something outside of yourself in order to judge two different assailants, in two different places, at two different times, and in two different cultures. You are appealing to a universal moral absolute. But how is that possible without God?
So let me ask you, have you gotten away with anything worthy of punishment? If so, would you also agree that is an injustice? If you say no, then you cannot condemn the two men who assaulted the women and took their purses – nor can you condemn the ancient Jewish moral system. But, if you say yes, they ought to be punished, then you realize there is such a thing as universal, moral oughts that do not depend upon your own preferences, or what day it is, or what culture it is, or where you are.
But, if you’re an atheist, you can’t have universal, independent, transcendent, moral oughts.
In addition, if as an atheist, you admit that there are many injustices in the world where people are never punished who ought to be, then you are saying that your worldview necessitates the existence of perpetual injustices.
But in a Christian worldview, every injustice will be dealt with, either by Jesus on the cross or by you facing the Ultimate Judge. But, that is a topic for another time.
I’m simply trying to illustrate that we all recognize there are universal moral truths. Otherwise, moral judgments can’t be properly maintained. But in a worldview that does not include God, there can be no universal moral truths, only inferences based on the collective, subjective experiences of people in ever-changing social constructs. But that means you have no real justification for judging the actions of another culture and that means Mr. Smalley doesn’t either and he has lost the debate.
However, to assert the universality of any moral truth is to infer an obligation to obey it across cultural lines. But to do that, you have to step into my world where God exists, where he is the necessary source of universal moral truths, where all injustices will eventually be dealt with. But, in the atheist worldview, injustices unanswered.
So, Mr. Smalley, has no right to judge the God of the Old Testament. He has no right to attack a people who developed their ethics out of their own personal experiences and sociological norms, just as he said they ought to do. But, his inconsistencies haven’t stopped him from condemning them and exposing his self-contradiction. Thus, he has failed to show that the God of the Old Testament is a moral monster.