Monday, December 10, 2007

The Problem of Evil God Butchery

{ Podcast this essay } This kind of puts a new spin on the classic problem of evil. Occasionally, the Bible advocates some good old fashion God butchery:
According to the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), when God called forth his people out of slavery in Egypt and back to the land of their forefathers, he directed them to kill all the Canaanite clans who were living in the land (Deut. 7.1-2; Deut. 20.16-18). The destruction was to be complete: every man, woman, and child was to be killed. The book of Joshua tells the story of Israel’s carrying out God’s command in city after city throughout Canaan.[1]
Tough call by God, unless you happened to hate the people you're killing, even if not also the individuals in particular. This kind of tribe vs. tribe mentality seems to be the default mode of operating in ancient history, though the fragmentation of postmodern culture into self-selected sects of interest might simply re-define the tribe for contemporary humans. Bad things could happen once again. (Maybe geeks will decide to kill off athletes, or Windows owners vs. Apple owners, etc.) It's been argued that genocide has a biological basis, but this is a very controversial claim:
Geneticists now have produced not only fat mice, who lack a protein that tells them when to stop eating, but also hyperaggressive mice who kill and rape without inhibition. These mice lack a neurotransmitter that normally turns off attack behavior in response to signals of surrender. What are these deranged mice, other than a demonstration of raw gene power? We cannot ignore human aggression -- or what animal research can tell us about it. Despite all efforts to control it, aggression is unlikely to go away. In recent years, we have seen that atrocities can still arise in almost any corner of the world, from the Khmer Rouge in Southeast Asia, to the Hutus and the Tutsis in Africa, to the "ethnic cleansing" in the former Yugoslavia. Could it be that genocide -- rather than being a German aberration, as Lorenz's opponents were wont to imply -- is a universal human potential? The realization that this may be the case is eroding confidence in purely cultural perspectives on violence and warfare.[2]

Oddly, it would appear that advance genetic therapy might have cured those wandering Hebrews of their inclination to kill. Suppose a mad (?) scientist dropped a gene-altering virus into strategic freshwater supplies the world over. Furthermore, suppose that a gene modification is made which takes away the genocide disposition. Maybe there would still be murder -- i.e., hating and then killing of someone whom you thinks deserves it. But maybe there would no longer be racial bias -- i.e., prejudice, and hatred along skin-color/morphology lines. Perhaps as a result of the mad scientist's actions we would look at people of other "races" with as much notice as we give to people with varying hair-color within our own "race."


[image] no title. Swimming Downstream blog (Accessed 12/09/2007)

[1] "Subject: Slaughter of the Canaanites" (Accessed 12/09/2007)

[2] Frans B.M. de Waal "The Biological Basis of Behavior" The Chronicle of Higher Education June 14, 1996. (Accessed 12/09/07)


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At 9:13 AM, Anonymous Isaac said...

So should I assume from this that you might soon put that old time machine in your garage to good use?

At 9:16 AM, Anonymous Isaac said...

Also, if consequentialists are right about "the Right," then it might be that God was completely justified in having the Jews kill off the Canaanites, because He's the only one with the foresight (predictive power) to know for certain that it would tend to be good-making to do so.


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