Monday, 21 December 2015

Why is Britain in the EU?

The same reason Mercia is in Britain.

This is a bit of Britain, around about 912 c.e.
Midland Map - 5 Boroughs 912 AD

There are six kingdoms and some strange Danelaw entity ("The Five Boroughs") on that map whereas now they are subsumed into one state. Mercia is now a vaguely defined region of Britain but, back then, was its own kingdom.

Way back then, though, just about everything was local.  Food, fuel and housing was all produced locally. Trade between localities was tiny; mostly restricted to some raw materials that couldn’t be produced locally and a few luxury goods that other localities specialised in. The vast majority of Mercia’s needs were produced by Mercia. Communications were similarly restricted, as was travel. The self-sufficiency of Mercia was not desired but necessary; there simply wasn’t the infrastructure to get goods from Wessex to Mercia, or an efficient means of signalling your wishes.

In such a situation you can have your little kingdom. Decisions and actions of Wessex, barring sending hordes of heavily armed Devonians to pick a fight, have no consequence for Mercia and Mercia can live in isolation. It can have its own king, its own laws, even its own system of measurement.

If it weren’t for the Vikings, it would have been lovely.

But it wouldn’t have remained so.

Let us forward the clock to a time when trade amongst the localities had developed to the point where it was not correct to say that the locality met its needs on its own; the materials for its houses or the food and fuel it needed.  Welsh slate for the roofs, York coal for the fire, and Wessex flour for the crumpets to toast on it. Could we then have had a king of Mercia, a Mercian road system, a Mercian law of contract? How would the Wessex farmers have coped with selling wheat in Mercian bushels to Mercia, hestawr to the Welsh? How would the Welsh have prepared slates to Mercian building regulations, and Northumbrian and East Anglian and all the rest? Would the road or the railway the Northumbrians used to transport their coal have been built if the building of it were an international project?

The lives of the people of Britain became so intertwined that the peoples of Mercia, Wessex, Gwynedd, Strathclyde, Kent, and all the other kingdoms were better served by a body that could act for all the diverse local kingdoms.  And so, the (early) medieval local gave way to the modern national. With that, and with much upheaval, the Local Kingdom gave way to the Nation State.

The Nation State was, in many ways, in a similar position to the Local Kingdom.  Just about everything was national. Food, fuel, housing, and manufactured goods where all produced nationally. International trade was largely limited to raw materials and luxury goods.  Decisions in one nation state could be taken without affecting other nation states and, so, you could have your nation state.

If it weren’t for the frequent wars, it would have been lovely.

But it wouldn’t remain so.

Just as early modern life transcended the locality, modern life transcends the nation. Little is produced in any single place; industry is international. Major projects, infrastructure and research, are international. Economic competition is international. Decisions are constantly taken that affect the lives of all of Europe’s people. A modern European Nation State is no longer in the position similar to that of a Local Kingdom in early medieval times.

Britain is in the EU because the lives of the British people are inextricably linked to the lives of the rest of the rest of the continent in the same way that lives of Mercians are inextricably linked to the lives of those in the rest of our island. 


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Putting flesh on Stathis Psillos’ skeleton

“Verisimilitude”, “truthlikeness”, what makes one false statement more like or closer to the truth, is a bugger of a concept.  Since Popper’s first (Popper, 1972), and failed (Miller, 1974) (Tichý, 1974) attempt to elucidate the concept many different attempts with different approaches have been made. Many have had distinct advantages but none seem to capture what we mean when we say that, though theory x is false it is “near enough” to the truth and certainly nearer than that pile of rubbish theory y. 

After a review of theories of truthlikeness (Psillos, 1999) Stathis Psillos’ put forward an “intuitive” proposal.  Psillos described his proposal as a “skeleton”, a brief sketch used to show that, yes, truthlikeness exists (and, so, realism is saved!) rather than a formalized theory, still less a way of determining judgments of relative truthlikeness. I think there is more to Psillos’ proposal than this.  Let us take Psillos’ proposal a little more seriously than Psillos, himself, seems to take it and see where we get.

Consider the following statements:
  1. The earth is flat, “FE”;
  2. The earth is a sphere, “SE”;
  3. The earth is an oblate spheroid, “OE”. (An oblate spheroid is a sphere that “bulges” at the equator.  It is a “squashed” ball; a tangerine rather than an orange).
None of the three is true. The closest description is, of course, the oblate spheroid and to describe “OE” as false appears to be an exercise in pedantry. Never-the-less, the earth is not quite an oblate spheroid.  The south pole is a little nearer the equator than the north pole and the crust “bulges” slightly more south of the equator than north of the equator. The earth is, ever so slightly, pear-shaped (Asimov, 1989).

The three statements then are false and that, as far as truth and falsity goes, is the end of the matter. The three statements, though, stand in relation to each other and to an unspoken true statement about the shape of the world. This relation can be described in terms of difference from that true statement. OE differs little from the true statement, so little that it seems “near enough” for most purposes. There is no quantification of this difference, beyond the vague predicates of “little”, “small”, “insignificant” and the like.  But the lack of quantification does not matter for describing the relation between the three statements. Whatever value of the difference between “OE” and the true statement it is smaller than the difference between “SE” and the true statement.  This, in turn, is smaller than the difference between “FE” and the true statement.  Taking the true statement to be “t” we can take the pairs of statement in brackets, indicate the difference with Δ and state: Δ(“FE”,”t”) >  Δ(“SE”,”t”) > Δ(“OE”,”t”). Alternatively, taking the arrow to indicate the relation, display it schematically:

Our task is to establish this relation a little more securely than appealing to “intuition” or just taking it to be obvious.

Psillos’ proposal is:

“A description D approximately fits a state S (i.e, D is approximately true of S) if there is another state S’ such that S and S’ are linked by specific conditions of approximation, and D fits S’ (D is true of S’).” (Psillos, 1999, p. 277)
It is a description which echoes the mathematical understanding of similarities of relations. From Russell:

“Let x and y be two terms having the relation P. Then there are to be two terms z, w, such that x has the relation S to w, y has the relation S to w, and z has the relation Q to w.” (Russell, 1920, p. 54)

Where this holds the relation P between x and y is similar to the relation Q between z and w.  Say x and y are part of a series of increasing numbers of oranges created by the relation P, which is adding one orange.  z, and w meanwhile are a series of numbers of apples with the relation S being the act of replacing oranges with apples.  It is clear that the relation Q is adding one apple.  If we add one orange (P) then replace the oranges with apples we end with the same number of apples (w) as when we convert x oranges to apples and then apply Q.  The series of increasing numbers of apples is analogous, or “mirrors” the series on increasing numbers of oranges.

In Psillos’ schema relation S is replaced by one of correspondence. 

The state that would be the case were D to be true can be denoted by removing the inverted commas from the statement.  Were “FE” true we would be presented with a flat earth: FE. Similarly “SE” describes a spherical earth (SE) and “OE” an oblate spheroid earth.  Where the true description, “t”, of the shape of the earth to be true, which it is, we would be presented with an earth the same shape, T, as it is.

By hypothesis, the relation between “FE”, “SE” and “OE” is one of decreasing difference from “t”. This suggest that a similar relation subsists between FE, SE and OE.

“Measuring” the difference
Psillos sees this relation as one of approximation and idealization.  I think the relation is more like…er...”like”.  I suggest we can see what is going on if we look at “identical” twins: a paradigm of likeness.

Tweedledum (TM), Tweedledee (TE) and Alice (AL) provide us with three pairings: (TM,TE), (TM,AL) and (TE,AL). As Tweedledum and Tweedledee are “identical” twins we can expect the differences (TM,TE) are smaller than the differences in either of the other two parings. Now Tweedledum and Tweedledee are not, actually, identical.  Close family and friends (CFF) can distinguish the two, as is usual with “identical” twins.  It is other people (OP) who have the difficulty.  OP have no difficulty distinguishing either Tweedledum or Tweedledee from Alice.  Of course CFF have no difficulty here, either.

Consider the set {CFF, OP} to be a set of distinguishers.   It is the differences in appearance that enable, were they do so enable, the members of that set to make the distinction.  The distinguishers “fire” depending on the differences within the pairings.  And they “fire” differentially.  Not only differentially but the distinguishers that “fire” when presented by Tweedledum and Tweedledee, {CFF}, is a proper subset of those that “fire” when presented with either of the other two pairings.  From the set of distinguishers {CFF, OP} the differences (TM, TE) receive a smaller response than either of the other two pairings. The differences (TM,TE) are, therefore, smaller.

What means do we have to differentiate between, say, FE and T?  From the schema we see that the relation between FE and T is similar to that between the statements “FE” and “t” and we need not worry unduly about differentiating FE and T or “FE” and “t”.  And we have a ready means to differentiate between “FE” and “t”: those things that enable us to tell that “FE” is false.  The ancients provided us with some of these:

a.      a.       The shape of the shadow cast by the earth on the moon.  This is always the same.  Were the earth a disk then, at times, the sun’s rays would hit the earth side on resulting in a line or eliptic shadow.
b.     b.       That ships masts are the last to disappear as a ship travels over the horizon and the first to appear when a ship returns.
c.       c.       Stars disappear (and appear) over the horizon at differing latitudes. (Aristotle via Azimov , 1989)

Distinguishing “SE” from the “t” required:
a.       d.       Observations of other astronomical objects and
b.       e.       The theoretical predictions of Newtonian physics
c.        f.       18th century surveying technology

Whilst distinguishing “OE” from the truth required:
g.        g.       Detailed measurements from satellites

Of course the detailed measurements from satellites (g) also showed “SE” and “FE” to be false.  And d, e and f falsified “FE” no less than it falsified “SE”.   The evidences that falsify the shape of the earth theories are, then:

FE: Set of distinguishers of (“FE”, “t”): {a, b, c, d, e, f, g}
SE: Set of distinguishers of (“SE”, “t”): {d, e, f, g}
OE: Set of distinguishers of (“OE”, “t”): {g}

Now OE is a proper subset of SE which is a proper subset of FEOE is smaller than SE, which is smaller than OE:

Now we can draw fig.1, this time supplying robust reasons, for the statements positions: place them in order of truthlikeness in inverse order of the set of distinguishers that successfully distinguish them from the truth.

Asimov, I., 1989. The Relativity of Wrong. The Skeptical Inquirer, Fall, 14(1), pp. 35-44.
Miller, D., 1974. Popper's Qualitative Theory of Verisimilitude. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, June, 25(2), pp. 166-177.
Popper, K., 1972. Conjectures and Refutations. 4th ed. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Psillos, S., 1999. Scientific Realism. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Russell, B., 1920. Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy. 2nd ed. London: George Allen and Unwin.
Tichý, P., 1974. On Popper's Definitions of Verisimilitude. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, June, 25(2), pp. 155-160.


Monday, 26 May 2014

My new purchase

Jonathan Pearce at The Tippling Philosopher draws attention to the ubiquity of UKIP's message and that their views are couched in terms that make them appear acceptable.

The National Front were openly fascist, racist and failed to appeal to anybody outside a few cranks and the skinhead movement. (The strength of the link between the NF and skinheads is the reason I took so long after going bald to cut my hair short, and still longer to actually shave it, so frightened was I to look like a racist gobshite).   The BNP were less open, less Nazi salutes, less hate speech and more hate insinuation.  Their appeal was broader, you could (at a stretch) vote BNP and claim not to be racist.  With UKIP it's quite easy: you vote UKIP because you want out of Europe.  Wanting out of Europe is perfectly acceptable, and as UKIP, the press and half the Conservative party incessantly bang on about how dreadful the EU is, anti-EU sentiment is becoming mainstream.

Worse than mainstream, there is now a real prospect of pro-EU sentiment becoming marginalised and, if not forgotton, entirely discounted.  There is a danger that we may quietly walk into a calamitous exit from the EU just because it becomes accepted "fact" that no-one wants in.

So I have bought one of these:

(I hope the shop concerned won't mind me using their picture if I give you the link to buy your own:

It's a bit like a European version of those little Stars and Stripes badges an American politician must wear on his lapel at all times on pain of being thought unpatriotic.

I also wear my EU version on my lapel.  Or, when I'm not at work, on my jumper/coat/shirt.  It doesn't "do" much.  But every so often someone will catch sight of it on the tube, the bus or in the street.  It may not consciously register but will, at least, subconsciously make the point that there is someone who is pro-EU.

Wouldn't it be great if other pro-EU people bought and wore their flag with pride (he hints)?


Saturday, 15 March 2014

Anderson and Welty reply!

Transcendental arguers for the existence of God are notorious for not actually putting forward much of an argument. So I was delighted when a scholarly article by James Anderson and Greg Welty (The Lord of Non-Contradiction: An Argumentfor God from Logic) appeared in the Evangelical Philosophical Society’s journal Philosophia Christi. So excited, in fact, that I submitted a short note for inclusion in the very next issue.
It wasn't accepted.
Oh well.
But now I find that not only was my note featured on the Evangelical Philosophical Society’s website but James and Greg have written a response (to mine and others’), also featured on the EPS website!
The original paper is here, my note is here, and the reply is here.
Right. Time to get a little more formal; switch from "James and Greg" to "Anderson and Welty" and so on:
My note refers to a ‘key lemma’ and Anderson and Welty’s reply focuses on this key lemma together with my arguments surrounding it. As this key lemma seems to be the crux of our disagreement it is worthwhile setting out why I think it key.
“The Lord of Non-Contradiction: An Argument for God from Logic” begins with the, largely, uncontroversial claim that the laws of logic are necessarily true. By the end of the paper we are invited to accept that the laws of logic are also necessarily true thoughts. There is more content in the latter than the former, content that can be argued to be contingent on God. My contention is that is mainly the claim
“(s)ince [the laws of logic] are true in every possible world, they must exist in every possible world.” (Anderson & Welty, 2011)
that allows the introduction of the excess content. Thus, it is key. (But it is not the argument, it is a step on the way, a lemma; if you will a “staging post”.)
Existence can be taken to imply possession of properties, natures, essential natures and the like together with various assumptions about what else is needed for these properties to subsist in. Or "being true" can be taken as a property in itself, entirely sufficient to establish existence of the laws of logic whether or not any other properties are held; in particular whether or not they are thought.
This is the equivocation: before the lemma discussion is limited to being true whether or not thought, after the lemma discussion surrounds a concept of "exists" that requires thought. Thought then entails a thinker, necessary thought a necessary thinker and then to God.  On the “left” we have “thought”, on the right we have “truth and thought”.  My note explored possible ways of making the link (“if thought and truth then thought” is valid, “if truth then truth and thought” is not).  Unfortunately the valid destroy Anderson and Welty’s argument whilst those that support it are invalid. This is as we should expect:
“That the laws of logic are necessarily true entails that they are true whether or not God exists.” (Lloyd, 2012)
Anderson and Welty, in their reply, claim that I offered no argument for that claim. One seems, frankly, entirely redundant. “Necessary” is “not contingent” and “P is not contingent on Q” is equivalent to “there does not exist a Q such that P is contingent on Q”: there is no need to list all the infinite non-existent Qs that P is contingent on or the existent Qs that P is not contingent on.
A reference to “impossible worlds” is then made charging that “necessary” does not entail existence in impossible worlds. I fail to see the point of this objection. Do they mean to suggest that a world without God is an impossible world? If so then (if the laws of logic are necessary) there is no possible world where God does not exist and the laws of logic do not exist.  In a footnote, presumably intended to be explanatory, they invite comparison with “(i)f the proposition God exists is necessarily true then it is true whether or not God exists” (Anderson & Welty, 2013) as if there is something problematical with this statement. What does “P whether or not Q” mean? Its logical meaning is, simply, “P”.  If we wish to emphasise the non dependence on Q: “if Q then P and if not Q then P”. Anderson and Welty’s “problematic” comparator, then, can be written:
□G entails □ (G®G) and □ (¬G®G)
"G ®G” , together with "G", entails "G". “¬G ®G” is just a long-winded way of saying “G”, as the truth table shows:

So the statement simplifies to "□G".
A further claim is that I “presuppose(d) that the laws of logic are not ontologically dependent on God”. There was, of course, no “presupposition”:“that P entails Q” is a statement of logical and linguistic analysis that takes no position, presupposed or otherwise, on the truth either of P or of Q.
(A reader interested in a proof of "that P is necessary entails P whether or not Q" is invited to consult the box at the foot of this post.)
At the end of my note I sketched out the idea that all arguments to God from logic are liable to fail. Naturally, anyone arguing that logic depends on God needs to argue that logic is contingent on God. There are plenty of people who are quite happy to accept logic's contingency, but on something much more mundane than God. Perhaps Paula thinks that the laws of logic are thought.  She is quite happy that they exist because there are beings, at least in this world, where there are minds, like Paula’s, that think them. Paula’s position is reasonable and the God-from-logic proponent requires necessity (having admitted contingency) in order to discomfit Paula’s position.  The God-from-logic proponent needs, so to speak, to place the laws logic in a world where Paula is not there to think them.  The laws of logic must be there, because they are necessary, but can’t (according to Paula) because they are contingent on her. The assumption of necessity per se though is not enough to save the argument.  Necessity removes the contingency and without contingency the laws of logic cannot be contingent on God.  So the laws of logic must be held both necessary and contingent.
Now P can be both necessary and contingent if the necessity is qualified. A proper subset of possible worlds is those possible worlds where the physical laws of our universe hold. The laws of physics could have been different, so there are possible worlds were they are different.  But we may limit our considerations to those possible worlds where the laws of physics do hold.  Something, such as the speed of light in a vacuum, which holds in all of these physically possible worlds, is physically necessary.  As the speed of light could have been different there is at least one ‘metaphysical’ world where it is.  Thus the speed of light in a vacuum is physically necessary and metaphysically contingent.
I do not think this helps the God-from-logic proponent. It rescues him from contradiction, but also rescues Paula.  She, herself, may adopt the position that the necessity of the laws of logic she has been presented with is a qualified necessity.  She may admit that the laws of logic are X-ly necessary and still maintain that they are Paula’s- mind-ly contingent.
There is much to do, should anyone wish to pursue it, in analysing the interrelations of qualified necessity.  On first sight it would seem that metaphysical contingencies can be physically necessary but metaphysical necessities cannot be physical contingencies.  What of other ways of qualifying necessity; ontological, logical, epistemological and the like?
I suspect that no argument for God from logic will succeed mostly because I suspect that no combination of qualifications will place Paula in a bind and not give her the very tools to free herself. 
There is also the feeling that logical necessity is the nearest a qualified necessity gets to necessity simpliciter.  And logical necessity appears to take a special role in the argument.  Take Anderson and Welty’s own summary of the qualification of the contingencies in their argument:
"The laws of logic are “contingent on God” only in the sense that they are metaphysically dependent on God’s existence, in precisely the way that God’s thoughts are metaphysically dependent on God’s existence. This doesn’t entail that the laws of logic exist contingently or are true contingently (where contingently is a modal operator equivalent to not necessarily)." (Anderson & Welty, 2013)

Note, in particular the status of truth.  The metaphysical contingency of the laws of logic does not mean that they are not necessarily true.  That does not sit well with:

“(O)ne can logically argue against God only if God exists” (Anderson & Welty, 2011)

Just what are Anderson and Welty to say to someone who argues against God using logic? “Yes, yes, it may be true that God does not exist but part of the logic you use to conclude that is ontologically suspect”?

Proof that □P entails □(Q®P) & □ (¬Q®P)
◊¬ (Q®P) v ◊¬ (¬Q®P)
Negation of the conclusion: “possibly not (Q®P) or possibly not (¬Q®P)”
To test the first option we need to open up a new possible world. As (by hypothesis) “possibly not (Q ® P)” there must be a world that has ¬(Q ® P)
¬(Q ® P)
And here it is.
5 is true (and thus (Q ® P) false) just when Q is true and...
P is false
But from our premise, P is in this world
Lines 7 and 8 contradict
Open up another world. As “¬(¬Q ® P)” is (by hypothesis) possible there must be a world that has ¬(¬Q ® P).This need not be the same world as before, so a new one is needed.
¬(¬Q ® P)
10 is true (and thus (¬Q ® P) false) just when ¬Q is true and...
P is false
But from our premise, P is in this world
Which, again, is a contradiction


Anderson, J. N. & Welty, G., 2011. The Lord of Non-Contradiction: An Argument for God from Logic. Philosophia Christi, 13(2).
Anderson, J. N. & Welty, G., 2013. In Defense of the Argument for God from Logic. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 3 2014].
Lloyd, T., 2012. An Equivocation in Anderson and Welty’s “Argument for God from Logic”. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 3 2014].


Monday, 6 January 2014

Review of "Cold-Case Christianity" by J. Warner Wallace

It was raining.  It always rains in England.  I don’t know why I live in the goddam country.  Maybe I’m a sap. Maybe it’s because I’m English.

I wasn’t going out in this weather, though.  I poured myself a slug of whisky (no ice) and browsed for something to read.  And here was this book by some cop.  Homicide.  Hard-nosed  and cynical.  He specialised in “cold cases”.  He cracked the ones no one else was able to.  Then he turned his attention to Christianity.  Hard-nosed atheist cop became hard-nosed Christian cop. 

This was going to be interesting.  I was going to get someone who went through the evidence and sifted what’s reliable from what’s not.  He’d knock down the easy arguments, the curve balls of the usual apologist.  So I bought the book and started to read.  There was some good stuff: interesting anecdotes about past cases here, good principles of detection there.  He’s a bit weak on his understanding of abduction.  But what did I expect? C. S. Peirce with a badge?  

But as I went on I had a creepy feeling.  It all sounded too familiar.   Why is he giving me the spiel about pre-suppositions? Where does the Kalam Cosmological Argument fit into evidence?  Or the Teleological, Axiological, or Ontological arguments?  The TRANSCENDENTAL argument?  Gimme a break.  That’s not evidence. That argument is put forward by people who think giving evidence is sinful!   Then there is Habermas’ (Gary’s, not Jurgen’s) “facts” surrounding the resurrection.  Most scholars, apparently, agree on these facts.  So this hard-nosed detective, supposedly able to really get to grips with evidence, who tests his witnesses, who takes nothing for granted just accepts these “facts” because, hell, “they say”. 

What’s going on?  Maybe I should take a tip from the author: pay as much attention to how it is said as what is said.  How is the guy arguing?  False dichotomies? Check.  Glossing over obvious difficulties? Check.  Conflation of “Christian” with “Fundamentalist Christian”? Check.  Oh and what’s this?  Misrepresentations of others statements.  Bingo!

This is a guy with the same fundie belief as the rest of the fundies.  He’s got the same set of weak arguments as the rest of them.   And he’s come to this book with those beliefs and arguments already in place.  

I don’t believe the subtitle.  I don’t believe this is a homicide detective investigating the claims of the Gospels.  I suspect this is a fundie apologist who thinks he has a gimmick.  “Hey” he thinks, “I’m a homicide cop, why don’t I use that to add some gloss to the usual spiel”.


Thursday, 2 January 2014

Review of "Is God a Moral Monster" by Paul Copan

Well, is God a moral monster?  In looking at Copan’s answer to the question I’ll draw a distinction between “factual” monstrosity and “moral” monstrosity.

A factual statement does not automatically coincide with a moral statement.  If person A clenches his fist and brings the fist, at speed, into contact with the face of person B then person A has punched person B.  This is just a plain fact. 

Whether person A, though, did wrong depends on other factors.  If person B was trying to rob person A then person A has a good case for arguing that he bears no guilt for the punch.  The fact is unavoidable, the guilt not.

Absent God and a certain view of ethics, though, there are some actions that are universally condemnable and, so, we can move straight from establishing the facts to (adversely) judging the morals of the situation.  Genocide, for example, has no excuses.  If person A attempted to wipe out a complete people, then there is no argument about whether they did so wrongly.  Establishing that person A did attempt to wipe out a complete people is enough to establish the fact of genocide and moral culpability.

Let’s call acts and characteristics where establishing the facts also establishes the moral judgement “monstrous”.    Dawkins’ characterisation of the Old Testament God gives some examples:
“(J)ealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Whether someone is jealous is a fact, as is whether they are proud, or petty or (given a concept of “justice”) unjust, and so on.  If they exhibit these characteristics we can say that they are “factually monstrous” and, as all of these (especially together) need only the fact to be established to establish moral culpability, if they are factually monstrous then they are morally monstrous.

There is a problem with this reasoning where one subscribes, as Copan does, to the idea that morality derives from God (“divine command ethics” or “DCE”).  If morality derives from God then God can do no wrong.  Were God to exhibit these characteristics then He would not be morally monstrous, under DCE the idea is absurd.  God would, though, still be factually monstrous: if He were jealous then it would be a fact that He was jealous.  
-          Ignoring DCE anyone who is factually monstrous is also morally monstrous,
-          With DCE the factual and moral monstrosity are separate issues.

As a result, without DCE, a defence of the Old Testament God requires an argument that these apparent facts are nothing of the sort.  Either that the events described did not happen, or they have been mischaracterised as jealous, proud, petty and unjust ethnic cleansing, misogyny, homophobia and so on.
DCE, though, gives Copan an alternative defence.  Yes, God may be a jealous, proud, petty and unjust….but He is morally entitled to be.  A God may be a jealous, proud, petty and unjust…. and still be good.

And this argument Copan relies on. 

Perhaps, rightly, thinking that showing that God is not a factual monster is more persuasive, Copan begins by arguing that the straightforward reading is incorrect.  Things have been misinterpreted, the Mosiac law was an “interim” measure, the laws on slavery were a great improvement on other laws in the region at the time, and so on.  But there are places where this argument fails. 

Copan seems to realise that he is not persuasive in arguing that the genocides and ethnic cleansing were not genocides and ethnic cleansing and argues, in effect, that God judged and if He judged then it’s right.  No argument is offered to persuade us that the supernatural killing of Uzzah for touching the ark in order to protect it was not petty, unjust, and vindictive other than it not being petty, unjust, and vindictive if God decides that’s what should happen.  Copan defends the death penalty for breaking the Sabbath by referencing other draconian punishments.  “Often, when first-time violations were committed in the midst of this fledgling nation, a harsh punishment came with it.” (p 89) Copan admits the facts of the monstrosity and relies on this being God’s decision for a moral defence.

The starkest example of the application of DCE comes when Copan references a study on attitudes to the destruction of Jericho.  Two versions of the story of Jericho were put to schoolchildren, the biblical story and one re-set in China without the intervention of God.  The children disapproved of the actions when in a non-theological setting but assessed the self-same facts approvingly when God was involved.  Copan approves of this difference: God could morally require factually monstrous acts because He had judged the Canaanite culture “irredeemable” and had the right so to do (p161).

This is disturbing.  That there are adherents to DCE means there is a class of person for whom nothing is so vile, so monstrous, so disgusting that, were they to believe it was commanded by God, they would give the vile, monstrous, disgusting actions their wholehearted approval.  More, we must be wary that there might be no act so vile that these people would not, on that account, refuse to believe that it was commanded by God.

Disturbing, but is the book any good?  I do not hold to DCE, but there are arguments for the view that can be made.  Following from this there is a defence of the Old Testament God that could be made: it doesn’t matter how factually monstrous He is, He is not morally monstrous.

As noted above, though, Copan does not limit himself to this defence.  Copan also seeks to remove the impression that the Old Testament God is factually monstrous. It’s a difficult task and, ironically, the attempt just makes matters worse (at least to this reader).   There is always the retort to the Dawkins-like objector that they simply misrepresent the Old Testament.  Perhaps the objector has not even read the Old Testament.  Or, if they have, they haven’t studied it.  Or if they have then they have missed out historical context, or their understanding of Hebrew is poor, or...  But here we have someone who has studied the Old Testament, who has researched the historical context, who has looked into the Hebrew behind the translations.  Reading Copan we can be confident that, no, the death penalty for dissolute sons is not a misreading.  Neither are God’s fits of rage when the Israelites flirt with other gods, or His prohibitions against intermarriage.  As one, vicariously, studies the Old Testament it seems to be better established that God really is all those things Dawkins accused him of being, not less.  Together with that, many of Copan’s defences fall well short of the mark.

Take God’s “jealousy”.  Copan points out, rightly, that some jealousy is good.  He gives the example of a woman who, hyperbolically, threatens to shoot her husband if he were ever unfaithful.  (p 35).  This would be fine for a defence of a God who emphasised His devotion to a people by, jokingly, threatening to enslave them all if they ever crossed him.  It’s not a defence of a God who actually does that (Judges 3:8).  The jealousy of God described by Copan is not the jealousy of the not-actually-trigger-happy wife.  God’s jealousy is the jealousy of the husband who slaps his wife for smiling at the waiter.  It is the jealousy of the wife who hits her husband because he went to the office Christmas party, were there were other women in a social situation.  

Misogyny?  One of Copan’s counter-arguments is that mothers are mentioned alongside fathers in a number of places! His counter to the enforced marriage of a raped woman is that was for her benefit. I find this argument rather repulsive, it’s reminiscent of slave owners and colonialists pleas that their actions were there to help the (inferior) slaves and natives. 

The nadir is Copan’s argument that the Israelites’ interactions with the Canaanites, Amorites, Perizzites, Amalekites et. al.  weren’t “ethnic cleansing”. 

There were other peoples in Canaan when the Israelites turned up.  Sometimes the Israelites moved in and intermingled, sometimes the Israelites accepted others into their lands, sometimes the Israelites had good relations with their neighbours.  But sometimes the Israelites invaded other people’s lands with the express aim of moving them off the land and the Israelites on.  

To move into a people’s territory with the express intention of removing that people from that territory so the territory can be occupied solely by another people is ethnic cleansing.  And when Israelites invaded other people’s lands with the express aim of moving them off the land and the Israelites on they ethnically cleansed.  It is as clear as forming a fist and bringing it rapidly into contact with someone’s chin is punching them.  It’s a simple fact of the matter.

Copan argues that, elsewhere in the Bible, God issues demands for racial inclusivity.  That, elsewhere in the Bible, the Israelites followed this command.  That, elsewhere in the Bible, the Israelites were pretty hard on themselves. (p 163) This is all utterly irrelevant.  It matters not whether they had a consistent policy of ethnic cleansing, whether ethnic cleansing was an aberration or whether they were otherwise really nice guys.  It matters not whether the Canaanites deserved to be ethnically cleansed (p 164): if x is an instance of justified ethnic cleansing then x is an instance of ethnic cleansing.  

Copan though, just will not have it.  We can add to the faults of the DCE adherents the tendency not just to justify the monstrous, not just to accept the monstrous as the word of God but also the willingness to deny the clear evidence of monstrosity staring them in the face.

And a simple refusal to accept the facts in front of you cannot make for a worthwhile work.