The Penalty For Apostasy According to Islam

Tariq Ramadan, an Islamic scholar and writer, wants us to believe that Islam does not demand a death penalty for apostasy. Although he concedes that the ahadith reports Muhammad to have said  “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him,” (Sahih Al-Bukhari volume 9, book 84, no. 57) and other words to similar effect, Ramadan argues that such a penalty was to be applied only in cases of hostile or subversive attacks against the Muslim community, where perhaps an apostate would join the enemies of Islam, thereby committing treason. Ramadan concedes that his view that a Muslim is free to change his religion has been rejected by the vast majority of Muslim scholars throughout Islamic history.

Ramadan also issues a challenge to provide an example of Muhammad ordering a person’s death as a consequence of apostasy. Providing such an example is not difficult.

gallowsThe Case of Abdullah ibn Sa’d

The first extant biography of Muhammad, Sirat Rasul Allah, was alleged to have been written in the middle of the eighth century by a man named Ibn Ishaq. We don’t in fact have Ibn Ishaq’s biography as it was originally penned. It was edited by Ibn Ishaq’s student, al-Bakka’i and later underwent further editing by Ibn Hisham in the ninth century. Since Ibn Ishaq is the earliest substantive source concerning Muhammad, it can probably be regarded as our best source of information about his life. That is not to say it is necessarily a reliable source. Indeed, it is my contention that the sources concerning Muhammad’s life enshroud him so thoroughly in legend that it is difficult to really say anything confidently about him. In this sort of discussion, however, we can work only with what is available, and Ramadan’s challenge assumes that we can look to these sources for information concerning Muhammad’s life. Tariq Ramadan, moreover, appears to take Ibn Ishaq seriously, since in his book In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad he refers to the works of Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham as being among the “classical sources”.

Had Tariq Ramadan opened up Sirat Rasul Allah 818, he would have read the following account pertaining to Muhammad’s conquering of Mecca:

The apostle had instructed his commanders when they entered Mecca only to fight those who resisted them, except a small number who were to be killed even if they were found beneath the curtains of the Ka’ba. Among them was Abdullah b. Sa’d, brother of the B. Amir b. Lu’ayy. The reason he ordered him to be killed was that he had been a Muslim and used to write down revelation; then he apostasized and returned to Quraysh and fled to Uthman b. Affan whose foster-brother he was. The latter hid him until he brought him to the apostle after the situation in Mecca was tranquil, and asked that he might be granted immunity. They allege that the apostle remained silent for a long time till finally he said yes. When Uthman had left he said to his companions who were sitting around him ‘I kept silent so that one of you might get up and strike off his head!” One of the Ansar said, “Then why didn’t you give me a sign, O apostle of God?” He answered that a prophet does not kill by pointing.

Ultimately, Abdullah ibn Sa’d was not executed for his apostasy, but Muhammad is certainly portrayed here as having given the order for his death. Uthman ibn Affan was a companion of Muhammad’s, and Uthman’s intercession was a major contributing factor to Ibn Sa’d being granted immunity. But even though Muhammad granted immunity to Ibn Sa’d, he did so reluctantly, and was evidently also hoping that one of his companions would “get up and strike off his head.”

If one continues reading, it is also clear that the deaths of others were also ordered for the crime of apostasy. Muhammad even ordered the deaths of two girls for singing satirical songs about him. One of them was killed and the other was granted immunity.

One can scarcely envision the role models of Christianity — Jesus, Paul, Peter — behaving in this way. Indeed, Jesus said to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44).

Tariq Ramadan’s Handling of the Hadith Is Also Questionable

What about Tariq Ramadan’s interpretation of the hadith sources? Does it hold water? Ramadan only mentioned one of the ahadith that addresses this issue, but there are various others. In Sahih al-Bukhari volume 9 book 83 no. 17, for example, we read:

Narrated Abdullah: Allah’s Messenger said, “The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshiped but Allah and that I am His Messenger, cannot be shed except in three cases: in Qisas (equality in punishment) for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (Apostate) and leaves the Muslims.

We also read in Sahih al-Bukhari volume 9 book 84 no. 58,

Narrated Abu Burda, “Abu Musa said…..Behold there was a fettered man beside Abu Musa. Muadh asked, “Who is this (man)?” Abu Musa said, “He was a Jew and became a Muslim and then reverted back to Judaism.” Then Abu Musa requested Muadh to sit down but Muadh said, “I will not sit down till he has been killed. This is the judgment of Allah and his messenger,” and repeated it thrice. Then Abu Musa ordered that the man be killed, and he was killed.

There are other ahadith which could be cited, and such traditions are not by any means limited to Bukhari. The death penalty for apostasy is also spelled out by Ibn Majah, An-Nasai, Malik, Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi. It seems to me to be a stretch, to say the very least, to contend that Muhammad only ordered the deaths of apostates who sided with the enemies of the Muslim community. There is nothing in the text to indicate this — there are no qualifications or caveats given.

The Apostasy Wars

Muhammad had coerced various tribes into joining Islam. Following his death, many of these tribes no longer wanted to be under Islamic rule, and apostatized from Islam. The first of the rightly-guided Caliphs, Abu Bakr, waged war upon them (what has become known as the apostasy wars). I invite any interested person to read Al-Tabari’s History volume 10, which details the numerous attacks the Muslims made upon the apostates.

Conclusion

In summary, the view taken by the vast majority of Islamic scholars throughout history can be demonstrated from the earliest sources. Execution of apostates was something that Muhammad both taught and practiced, and was a tradition continued after his death by those who succeeded him.

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48 replies
  1. Greg says:

    I’m just happy for the moral progress we see between the bible’s first conception of God as Yahweh and the current Christian conception of him in Jesus. I say this because the old testament penalty for apostasy, was in many cases, exactly the same as the one condemned in your article. Some of the acts of Moses and the Josianic reforms come to mind. When you condemn this barbarity in Islam and then make excuses for it in your own sacred text you show yourself a hypocrite. Be consistent and condemn it in both.

    Reply
  2. Terry L says:

    Greg, you refer to “moral progress” in your post.

    By what standard of morality are you judging? What do you mean by moral “progress”? To what are we progressing?

    Reply
  3. Greg says:

    And thus begins the typical line of questioning that ultimately leads to you asserting that only from the god of the bible can we claim to know any objective morality. I could buy that argument if Yahweh articulated a consistent, moral law then abided by it, but he does neither in the old testament.

    Reply
    • Terry L says:

      You didn’t answer my question.

      “Moral progress” was YOUR words, not mine. You implied the destination. It’s only natural to ask, progress towards WHAT?

      Until we define what the moral standard is, all of your questions about God’s actions in the Old Testament are meaningless–therefore they’re Red Herrings. You can’t say that Yahweh was immoral unless you know the standard of morality.

      So I’ll ask again… By what standard of morality are you judging?

      Reply
      • Greg says:

        Terry L, I assume you are familiar with honor killings. Killings that we see today primarily among the Muslim countries of the world. Where family members defend the honor of their family by killing a member of the family, usually female, who has dishonored the family by some immoral behavior. Also perpetrated against male members of Muslim society for homosexual acts. Do you condemn such killings as immoral? And if so, by what moral standard or law?

        Reply
      • Greg says:

        Terry, I assume that you believe that in the bible one can find the only source of absolute truth. If I agree, for the sake of discussion, to concede this point would you be interested in further discussion?

        Reply
      • Stephen B says:

        Terry, it’s not a red herring. We can question the internal consistency of the ‘morality comes from the biblical God’ claim by pointing out the acts of the OT God conflicts with the both His views expanded elsewhere in the bible, and views of modern Christians. Further, if we’re told that our ‘moral intuitions’ are evidence for God, there is certainly a conflict if people are repulsed by scenes of God-ordered genocide and God-ordered slaughter of pregnant women.

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      • Terry L says:

        Do you condemn such killings as immoral? And if so, by what moral standard or law?

        You still didn’t answer my question. It was you who implied the existence of an absolute moral standard, and then claimed that the Bible’s concept of morality fell short. I’m asking you to defend your claim. I haven’t made any representation of what I believe to you… yet.

        My beliefs have nothing to do with what you claimed. You’re trying to shift the focus from the claim you made, to my beliefs. Let’s clarify your assertion, then we’ll discuss what I believe.

        Terry, I assume that you believe that in the bible one can find the only source of absolute truth.

        Not at all. Neither do I believe that science is the “only source of absolute truth.”

        I do believe that truth by its nature is consistent with truth. You can’t have two true statements that actually contradict each other. You can have two true statements that seem to contradict each other.

        Stephen:

        We can question the internal consistency of the ‘morality comes from the biblical God’ claim by pointing out the acts of the OT God conflicts with the both His views expanded elsewhere in the bible, and views of modern Christians.

        The question isn’t about whether what one (i.e. “modern Christians”) believe… but rather about what is real.

        Further, Greg’s comments were not about “internal consistency”. He made a claim of moral progress, implying an absolute, objective morality. I just want to know what this standard is before we continue the discussion.

        Further, if we’re told that our ‘moral intuitions’ are evidence for God, there is certainly a conflict if people are repulsed by scenes of God-ordered genocide and God-ordered slaughter of pregnant women.

        By what standard do “people” find these scenes repulsive? One still have to have a standard if they are going to make a judgment. Otherwise, it’s just opinion.

        It’s a simple question guys… both of you seem to believe that something is wrong. I’m simply asking you to explain why it’s wrong, as you’ve made this claim without justification.

        Reply
        • Greg says:

          How about the standard of suffering? Let me give you an example of an injustice that I don’t think we need revelation from god to condemn. If I subdue you, skin you alive and pour chili powder all over you to watch you scream in agony are you willing to assert that the only way someone could call this wrong is if god shows up to tell us it is wrong. What if we just said causing human suffering for selfish reasons is wrong? That’s not that hard to figure out is it. But you want to make any appeal to right and wrong proof of a moral law giver. I don’t think that is necessary. But Terry, if Stephen and I are still way off base please spell it out for us. I’m getting bored with this dance. Please tell us the answer.

          Reply
          • Terry L says:

            How about the standard of suffering? Let me give you an example of an injustice that I don’t think we need revelation from god to condemn. If I subdue you, skin you alive and pour chili powder all over you to watch you scream in agony are you willing to assert that the only way someone could call this wrong is if god shows up to tell us it is wrong.

            Well, let’s talk about it. I certainly hope that your standard would not allow you to do this to me should we ever meet! But let’s examine why the standard of suffering should make your action wrong…

            The simplistic answer is that any action that causes pain to another should be condemned. But why is pain given this special privilege? And some pain of course is inevitable. Bob and Mary fall in love and are getting married. This causes pain to Joe, who is also in love with Mary. Should they refrain from marrying? (Yes, this is emotional pain, but why should that be different than physical pain?)

            Surely it must be more complex than that! I won’t insult you by pointing out that, as I’m sure you are aware, pain sometimes must be inflicted for the good of the one being injured (such as setting a broken bone). But perhaps we can learn from that… is causing pain prohibited only if it causes more harm than good?

            Let’s say you derive more pleasure from your exquisite torture above than the pain it causes me… is it ok then? The net pleasure in the universe increased… is that a good thing or a bad thing. And who keeps score… it seems that you still need God to quantify the amount of pleasure and/or pain caused by each person.

            Furthermore, what about intent? If you occidentally run over me with your car and break my leg, I hold no hard feelings toward you even though you’ve caused me pain. If you take a swing at me for no reason and miss, I’m going to be angry, even though you did me no harm. Doesn’t the intent of the person matter here?

            You must think so, because you then say, “What if we just said causing human suffering for selfish reasons is wrong? That’s not that hard to figure out is it.

            Oh, but it is! You’ve brought God back into it! Who else knows the hearts of men to say whether your action was selfish? Apart from God, no one else truly knows your mind to say what your intention was and whether it was selfish or not.

            But assume that God does not exist; do you then get to be your own standard of selfishness? If I get to be your standard because I am the victim, then I could easily misunderstand your motives. Are you then in the wrong because I thought you were being selfish when you truly weren’t? With no authority to which you can appeal, the selfish question is a moot point. It’s your opinion against mine.

            On the surface, it doesn’t seem that this standard works, without additional qualifications. I’ll be happy to consider any clarifications you can add to my questions above.

          • Stephen B says:

            Terry L, you’re bringing up the most basic of objections to utilitarianism. Why not read up on the standard answers rather than waste Greg’s time in explaining utilitarianism 101? Perhaps start with JS Mill.

          • Terry L says:

            Stephen, you’re still going to have to explain why the idea that the goal of morality is to provide the highest good for the highest number of persons is the goal that we should shoot for. Additionally, I don’t see how utilitarianism is compatible with the dignity of the individual. And you seem quite adamant about the validity of that principle.

            Mill’s Creed: “The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest-Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.”

            So, in a slave-owning society where slave owners outnumber slaves 3 to 1, is it moral or just to keep those men and women in slavery because it provides pleasure to the greater number of persons?

            On an island where three men are shipwrecked with one woman, should she be forced to submit to rape by all of them simply because they outnumber her?

            Under utilitarianism, it would seem so.

            If I’ve misunderstood something, feel free to enlighten me.

          • Stephen B says:

            “Stephen, you’re still going to have to explain why the idea that the goal of morality is to provide the highest good for the highest number of persons is the goal that we should shoot for.”

            You’re still going to have to explain why ‘pleasing a God’ is a goal to shoot for, other than for selfish ‘not wanting to get squished by God’ reasons.

            “And some pain of course is inevitable.”
            Right, but that’s not really relevant to the example Greg gives above, so I don’t see why you bring it up. Obviously no-one thinks it’s immoral to, say, cause someone a bit of pain by pushing them hard out of the way of a speeding train.

            Regarding slavery, if you could choose to live in a slaving society (such as those condoned in the bible) or a non-slaving society (such as ours), but didn’t know in advance whether you’d be a slave or a slaver, which would you prefer to live in?

          • Terry L says:

            You’re still going to have to explain why ‘pleasing a God’ is a goal to shoot for, other than for selfish ‘not wanting to get squished by God’ reasons.

            Who said that ‘pleasing a God’ was the actual goal? Did you never hear “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”? “Be good for goodness sake!”

            What do we do when putting together a child’s toy that has so many pieces that it’s not obvious how they should go together? Obviously, one should follow the directions. They are the standard for the construction of that item, delivered by a competent and qualified authority (the manufacturer) who knows better than anyone else how that task should be done. You don’t follow the directions to please the manufacturer… you do it because they are the directions!

            Should you choose not to do so, then you’re probably going to end up with a less-than-desirable result. (Been there, done that!)

            If right and wrong, good and evil truly exist, then you should be good, simply because it’s good. It would seem to necessarily follow that the best life would be lived by doing what is right and good; but that’s not necessarily the reason you do so. You should do right because it’s right. You should refrain from wrong because it’s wrong. By definition!

            The problem with Utilitarianism is that you’re told to put the toy together without directions… because there (supposedly) is no manufacturer to give the directions. You’re just supposed to do whatever it takes to make the toy as good as it can be (ends justifies the means). But how do you have any idea of what that means? How much worse when it comes to morality and human interactions!

            “And some pain of course is inevitable.”
            Right, but that’s not really relevant to the example Greg gives above…

            This was an acknowledgement of exactly the point you make… no more, no less… so we wouldn’t have to discuss what I was certain we already agree on. And here we are discussing it….

            Regarding slavery, if you could choose to live in a slaving society (such as those condoned in the bible) or a non-slaving society (such as ours), but didn’t know in advance whether you’d be a slave or a slaver, which would you prefer to live in?

            Ok, in the first place, let’s leave the Bible out of it for the moment. We could hit a very large rabbit trail here, but that’s best left until after we’ve discussed why something is right or wrong.

            Secondly, my answer would (of course) be the non-slaveholding society. But what I want is completely irrelevant, according to Utilitarianism. According to Mill, everyone’s happiness counts equally. However, per that great font of truth, Wikipedia (removing tongue from cheek), “it is not the agent’s own greatest happiness that matters ‘but the greatest amount of happiness altogether.'”

            If this society prospers as a whole in a way that it could not without the institution of slavery, then slavery, it seems would be moral under Utilitarianism. In this society, the slave would be noble and honorable to continue as a slave, as that resulted in the highest good for society.

            From what I understand, Mill himself endorsed granting the university-educated minority of his day two votes in general elections because they supposedly knew better how society should work. He didn’t mind disenfranchising even the majority for the good of society; why should he consider our society above any different, so long as the result was a general increase in happiness?

          • Stephen B says:

            “Be good for goodness sake!””

            Now you’re talking my kind of language! Sure, good for its own sake, regardless of whether a God exists or not.

          • Terry L says:

            Now you’re talking my kind of language! Sure, good for its own sake, regardless of whether a God exists or not.

            Now the question is, what is Good?

            You’ve admitted that it exists… otherwise the statement “good for its own sake” makes no sense at all. But what is it, and where does it come from?

        • Greg says:

          Terry you say: “I do believe that truth by its nature is consistent with truth. You can’t have two true statements that actually contradict each other. You can have two true statements that seem to contradict each other.” I like how you try to stack the apologetic deck in advance (“two statements that SEEM to contradict each other”) because you know we can point to countless inconsistencies in the biblical record. So you have to begin the apologetic spin doctoring in an attempt to convince us that “apparent” contradictions are not really contradictions at all. This is an example of the moral relativity that Christians are constantly bemoaning while their scriptures are filled with examples of it.

          Reply
          • Terry L says:

            Why don’t we cross this bridge when we come to it. At this point, we haven’t even got to the Bible…

  4. Greg says:

    You also miss the point of my argument. Why, when you see evil in the bible, won’t you condemn it as such? Is your standard for morality based on a logical approach to the bible or dogma?

    Reply
  5. Robert says:

    For most of its existence Christianity has been a very violent and blood thirsty religion.What made the Christians stop harassing unbelievers, burning suspected witches and other people who studied Nature, burning books and entire libraries, going on crusades for the purpose of killing people of other religions and committing other various crimes against humanity? Did the Christians all of a sudden get an attack of conscience? Sure. It was the rise of secular humanism, skepticism, atheism, deism and science that made the Christians act civilized for the first time in history. We unbelievers have given Christianity its modern morals and ethics. The Muslims are exactly like the Christians used to be. This is because unbelief has not spread to and infected Islam the way it did Christianity. However feminism, you know that thing ALL Christian preachers hate and preach against is rising in Muslim nations. Women are driving without permission and thumbing their noses at authority. That is what it takes. That is what brought Christianity to its knees and made the Christians finally behave.

    Reply
  6. Robert says:

    It’s interesting to note that the name of the Muslim group that kidnapped those Nigerian school girls is Boko Haram. That means, “Western education is sinful.” This is exactly what Frank Turek preaches, that the teaching of evolutionary theory, Big Bang Cosmology (which says the universe did not have a beginning), critical thinking and values clarification is sinful. Frank thinks all of these things should be replaced with the teaching of Christian creationism and Christian young universe cosmology. Frank Turek thinks children should be taught to keep their thoughts in captivity rather than be taught critical thinking skills. Frank thinks values clarification should be replaced with the teaching of biblical values. Frank isn’t alone, all the other apologists feel the same way. All Christian apologists think western education is sinful. So as I’ve always said there is no difference between the Christians and the Muslims. They all hate science, they all hate free thought and free speech, they all hate and fear any value system other than their own twisted ideology. The Christians only wish they could deal with unbelievers the way the Muslims still can. Anybody who has heard the way Frank Turek bad-mouth and lie about atheists and atheism has to know this is true.

    Reply
    • Frank Turek says:

      Hi Robert,

      As I have said before, please keep your comments to arguments and evidence not personal attacks. What you say above is not true.

      Thanks,

      Frank

      Reply
    • Louie says:

      Robert:
      Doesn’t Frank push more for both sides of the story to be taught rather than complete replacement of one by the other? Perhaps, laying out indisputable FACTS and letting people make up their minds for themselves which path is true? I’ve watched his shows a time or two, and Frank does not follow the islamic extremists view of “join us or die”. That would be an act of murder, which is against what the bible teaches.

      Reply
  7. Stephen B says:

    Terry L: “How do you mean?”
    Goodness that comes from God isn’t axiomatic – it’s dependent on Him, subject to Him. It suggests it could have been another way – a different God might have had a nature such that torture was good etc.

    Morality is either a brute fact of reality, like the laws of logic, in which case it would be so with or without God, or it’s dependent on something else (God, societal whims, the way we happened to have evolved etc), in which case you have relativism.

    “According to Mill, everyone’s happiness counts equally”

    Mill also argued against slavery.

    Can you answer Greg’s question: “If I subdue you, skin you alive and pour chili powder all over you to watch you scream in agony are you willing to assert that the only way someone could call this wrong is if god shows up to tell us it is wrong?”

    Reply
    • Terry L says:

      Stephen:

      Thanks for the pointer… I didn’t see this post until today.

      Can you answer Greg’s question: “If I subdue you, skin you alive and pour chili powder all over you to watch you scream in agony are you willing to assert that the only way someone could call this wrong is if god shows up to tell us it is wrong?”

      Obviously, not in one sentence! 😉 Please bear with me and read the whole post; it’s necessary to understand my answer.

      The bigger question is, “why is anything wrong with anything?”

      If right and wrong, good and evil do not truly exist as categories, then obviously NONE of those labels can apply to this action, or any action. Therefore, the only way that one can say any action is wrong is if these categories truly exist. So for the purpose of the question, we’ll assert that they exist–if they don’t then the question itself is meaningless and has no answer.

      The question then becomes, “how do the categories of right, wrong, good, and evil exist?”

      You seem to agree that these categories cannot be based in anything mutable or changeable. If morality is based on societal whims, then it follows that as these whims change, morality must necessarily change with them. If that is the case, then the answer to the above is easy; you can’t say it’s wrong, because society might just say it’s right! Given a society of only three persons where both Greg and his brother have a grudge against me, societal morality could easily condone this action!

      I’ll skip any other mutable sources such as personal preference, morality as the product of evolution, etc. They simply are not stable enough to ground morality.

      So we’re left with only immutable sources; and I can’t see that there are many immutable sources to consider. In fact, I only know of two possibilities:

      Brute-Fact Morality

      You said that, “Goodness that comes from God isn’t axiomatic”. (Axiomatic (adj) : taken for granted, self-evident). I’m assuming that by this, you’re claiming that morality might be, as you put it, “a brute fact of reality, like the laws of logic”. This leads to an interesting problem for a purely materialistic worldview….

      Why do the laws of logic exist? If materialism is true and nothing exists except matter and energy, then where do these laws reside? What grounds their being?

      One can claim that these laws don’t really exist… they’re just useful conventions that we’ve come up with to help us understand the universe. But if this is true, then neither does morality exist, and the question above becomes meaningless. Also, one would have to use these “non-existent laws” of logic to argue that they do not exist… that hardly makes for a convincing argument!

      It seems that if all of the matter and energy suddenly vanished from the universe, the laws of logic must still apply. This would indicate that these laws somehow exist beyond matter and energy; thus their grounding… the reason for their existence… cannot be material. But the pure materialist’s worldview denies the even the possibility of the existence of such an entity!

      Additionally, morality is a standard of behavior; it tells us what we “ought” to do in a given situation. But a standard must possess the quality which it measures. If you would measure the moral quality of an action, it seems that there must be a morally-perfect actor to be the standard by which that quality is judged. It is illogical to think that the universe itself could be this standard; nor could the universe approve or disapprove of his actions. Brute-Fact Morality requires a universe that somehow “cares” about what we do. I see no reason to believe this is so.

      Furthermore, Brute-Fact Morality would be an unbelievably strong indicator that the universe was designed for moral beings from the beginning! Why would these brute-force facts exist at all in a universe populated with only amoral agents such as hydrogen molecules? The only reason for morality to exist is the existence of moral beings. However, it is impossible for inanimate matter to “know” billions of years in advance that such beings would arise! Therefore, Brute-Fact Morality seems to require a designer that front-loaded moral laws into the universe at its beginning; a God who cared at the origin of the universe about the actions of beings who wouldn’t exist for billions of years, and thus, created a moral universe for its moral inhabitants.

      And finally, consider the question, “if all moral beings disappeared from the universe, would morality still exist”? I see no reason to say yes. This would indicate that morality cannot be grounded in the universe itself, but in a being or beings in that universe. But which being(s)? You? Me? As humans, we’re given at most about a century here before we’re gone, and neither our coming nor our passing seems to impact the existence of morality in the slightest. Therefore, it is not possible for any single human to be the source of morality.

      But what of humanity as a race? We’ve already explored how societal pressures are inadequate to ground morality. But what other moral being is left? The atheist has no one to whom he can turn, but the theist has an answer!

      The immutable, eternal, infinite God is a moral being. The removal of ALL moral beings would remove God from the universe as well, resulting in the loss of morality. As God cannot die, his eternal presence in the universe provides a permanent moral standard to humanity. And because he is unchanging, the standard is immutable. Therefore God, as classically defined, is capable and qualified to ground morality throughout the ages. Let’s explore this a little more….

      God

      You made the claim that morality based in God “suggests it could have been another way”. And perhaps this is true… but it has no impact at all on the argument. Had God’s personality and nature been different, then the entire universe might have been different. I don’t dispute that. In any endeavor, if you start with a different unit of measure, your outcome will certainly be different.

      Regardless, this is an argument from presumption, not evidence, and has no bearing on reality. One can imagine hypothetical universes with alternate qualities all day long; this doesn’t alter the qualities of our own universe.

      But you made the further claim that morality based on God would lead to relativism. This can only be true IF this “god” is a mutable, changeable being. This is NOT the God revealed in nature or scripture. God is an infinite being, and it is provable that only one infinite being can possibly exist. If it were possible for God to change, then he could not be infinite; were he not infinite, he could not be God.

      A moral standard must be immutable; the character of an immutable God is immutable. A moral standard must possess the quality of behavior; God is a person and can act and interact with other moral agents. So given an immutable, infinite God, it is logical that his nature is the standard by which all other moral actions are judged. The question above then becomes, “Is Greg’s torture of me something that God would do, if he were in the same situation with the same circumstances?” If the answer is “yes”, then the action is moral; if the answer is “no”, the action is immoral.

      Conclusion

      Bottom line: Yes, I completely stand behind the statement that if an immutable, eternal, infinite God does not exist, then my torture by Greg cannot be called wrong in any meaningful way, regardless of any pain it causes me. Having considered the alternatives, I think I’m quite justified in this conclusion.

      If God designed us, then he knows how we are intended to work. Like the toymaker I alluded to in an earlier post, he gave us the instructions to follow. We should follow the instructions because it’s right to do so. If we do not follow the instructions, then we are wrong, and the end result is quite likely to be less than optimal.

      When one doesn’t follow the toymaker’s instructions and their child’s toy ends up with wheels where the wings are supposed to be, that is not the toymaker’s fault. The toymaker provided the instructions; but they were ignored. Any consequence from that is on the user. But some toymaker’s are forgiving; they make a way to fix the problems caused by the user’s failure to follow the instructions.

      This is what we see in God’s character; justice tempered with mercy. God will punish sin; that’s why Israel was commanded to clean house during the conquest. After more than 400 years of evil, the Canaanites had pushed past the point of God’s mercy and he was visiting justice on them. Had they repented of their evil, God would have forgiven them. We see this in the book of Jonah; Nineveh was in the same position and was about to be destroyed, but they repented and God forgave them.

      But if their sin went simply unpunished, then that would not be just to those that they harmed. God’s just character demands that sin be punished. Jesus came to bear that punishment; every sin that God forgives, Jesus paid for on the cross. In this way, Jesus met God’s requirement of justice, which allows God to show mercy toward those who repent and ask his forgiveness.

      Reply
      • Greg says:

        Sorry I haven’t replied in a while. I started a new job. Stephen and Terry, you guys are light years ahead of me in your understanding of logic, philosophy, etc. so kudos. I’m pretty new at this game. But Terry, it seems to me in your God and Conclusion sections above you make some sizable logical leaps that are unsubstantiated. In fact, they are repeatedly contradicted in the bible. You say: “If it were possible for God to change, then he could not be infinite; were he not infinite, he could not be God.” I don’t see how anyone can read the old and new testaments and conclude that god is immutable. That somehow Jesus and Yahweh are the same. When something gets better, when it goes from exceptionally brutal to less brutal then you say it changed. So if your contention is that in the bible we find, from beginning to end, a perfectly harmonious representation of Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit I have to say that in my opinion you are self-deluded. Do you really believe that the same god inspired Numbers 15:32-36 and 1 Sam 21:6?

        Reply
      • Terry L says:

        Greg,

        Good questions! And one’s that I’m happy to try to answer for you; but I warn you, it could take some time. I’m game if you are.

        I can’t start right now (at work), but I’ll try to give you at least a high level explanation later today.

        -tl

        Reply
        • Greg says:

          Terry, why will it take so much time? If it’s because you will have to trudge through some drawn out, convoluted apologetic argument that essentially reclassifies the word “change” into “dispensation” then I don’t know if I’m game. That sort of argumentation seems dishonest to me and very frustrating. You would never employ such an arguments to defend the evil actions of another religious group. Why can’t you just say that the old testament condones evil things? Misogyny, slavery, genocide, children suffering (mostly dying) for the sins or their parents, honor killings, excessive brutality, racism and child sacrifice are all endorsed or condoned in the old testament. Most are even codified and supported by Yahweh speaking through Moses.

          Reply
  8. Robert says:

    Louie,
    There aren’t two sides to the story. There is only one explanation for the diversity of life on this planet. Supernatural explanations are not now and never will be considered by science. “Join us or die” is what the Old Testament is all about, or haven’t you bothered to read it. The Bible is so absurd. God writes a book, gets it all wrong and so he writes another that supposedly makes things right.

    Reply
    • Louie says:

      Robert:
      At least your open minded about there being two sides. Anyway, yes I’ve read the Old Testament, and yes, it is a blood bath. Thou shalt not kill, old and New Testament both state this. Above all else, you are to do Gods will, if God orders life to be taken, you take it. According to the bible, all life comes from God, and he has the right to take it away.

      Reply
      • Greg says:

        Louie you say: “Above all else, you are to do Gods will, if God orders life to be taken, you take it.” But Louie, what if the god in question is named Allah? Tell me how you can condemn the 9/11 massacres and condone the Canaanite genocides? The only possible rebuttal is, “Well, we have the right god”. How do you know? What if God told you to kill today Louie? Would you do it? The Crusaders thought god was telling them to kill too. Were they correct?

        Reply
        • Louie says:

          You pose interesting questions, but no, that is not the only possible rebuttal. I get a little confused about islam, since one passage tells people to follow the bible and another reads to kill off the infidels. How can I judge with these two opposites? If I were told to kill in a dream or something, and I was a christian, I would not do it. Since after the new testament, the orders are to forgive. As far as the Canaanites and 9/11 people, I don’t know. Based on what I’ve read, the Canaanites were sacrificing their children, but Americans are butchering their children at roughly 3500 a day also. So maybe they are no different.

          Reply
          • Stephen B says:

            The Canaanites are sacrificing their children, so that means we should kill them all, including their children? Great logic.

          • Louie says:

            To you and I, it seems drastic. But neither your nor I gave them life to begin with. According to the bible, God gave them life, so he can take it away.

          • Stephen B says:

            “To you and I, it seems drastic. ”

            It’s not that it’s drastic, it’s not it makes no sense. Because they’re sacrificing some of their children, that means we have to kill ALL of their children? If some of the kids dying was a bad thing, then ALL of the kids dying is even worse.

            “But neither your nor I gave them life to begin with”
            Well the kids’ parents ‘gave them life’, so by your logic they CAN take their kids’ lives away.

            Are you saying the parents didn’t REALLY create the kids, and that it was really God who did? In that case, not only are you saying the parents in fact did NOT have free will to produce their own children, but you completely contradict your other post of the past few minutes:

            Louie: “Using your rational, God created the cotton gin as well? When it all reality, he did not, he placed all the materials and mind power to make the decisions to create the cotton gin.”

            So he didn’t create the cotton gin, but he did create the children?

          • Louie says:

            Stephen:
            According to the bible, God is the ultimate judge; if he is that, then his act must be justified. Biblically speaking, God is the giver of all life. He does it through parents, but all life is his. Same with cotton gin, he provides the material, but did not actually create the cotton gin.

          • Stephen B says:

            “According to the bible, God is the ultimate judge; if he is that, then his act must be justified.”

            Sounds like a circular argument to me. Whatever God must be just, not because it’s intrinsically just, but because he’s God, so it must be OK.

            Pretty similar to Nixon’s “A President can’t break the law – if he does it then by definition it isn’t illegal!”.

          • Stephen B says:

            “Nixon is not an all knowing God”

            So what? What difference does the amount you know make? Unless someone is mentally retarded, we don’t tend to judge someone’s crimes by how smart they are.

          • Louie says:

            It makes all the difference. If there is a God, and he is making rules and judgements, he’d better be an all knowing God. Able to read the heart and fairly judge. Otherwise, as you point out, he could be a complete invalid and nobody would have any hope of justice.

  9. Greg says:

    Louie, if you will look at the bible critically you will discover that child sacrifice was part of ancient Israelite religion also. Not just misguided, unorthodox Israelite folk religious practice but mainstream, book religion. The book of Joshua is nation building, propagandistic, historical fiction. Not an even handed historical account of how things actually were.

    Reply
    • Louie says:

      I do not recall the isrealites performing child sacfrice. Where is this written? The book of Joshua is one sided, of course. Was that your point?

      Reply
      • Greg says:

        Louie, may I recommend to you a book by Thom Stark, “The Human Faces of God: What The Bible Says When It Gets God Wrong and How Inerrancy Tries To Hide It?”. He makes a much better case for Mosaic Law endorsed child sacrifice and many other problematic issues in the bible than I can make. If you have the time or interest I would like to hear what you think. You too Terry.

        Reply

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