Appraising Doubt

Anthony Weber —  June 12, 2012 — 11 Comments
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In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic, by Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld, is an ambitious work aiming to alleviate some of the hostility between differing world views. As odd as the title may sound, it provides some ways of understanding how doubt is not always a bad thing.  But while offering some helpful ideas, it fails to lay a foundation that transcends the very problems it critiques (more on that at the end).

The book begins by noting the role of reason and science in eroding faith over the past 250 years.  Voltaire’s writings and the French Revolution ( which actually enthroned the goddess of Reason in a church in Paris) serve as iconic markers for the beginning of the Enlightenment.  Auguste Comte soon paved the way for a very influential empiricist science, as seen in the later philosophies of Mark, Durkheim, and Weber. The modern path to secularization seemed inevitable. When Neitzsche finally declared God was dead, many believed this would be the final nail in the religious coffin.

But “secularization theory” turned out to be just that – a theory.  Two World Wars brought about a disillusionment in the ability of science and reason to bring about a better world. A global explosion of religious movements revealed a world that was not so enamored by the promises of a godless Enlightenment as had been expected.The rise of the technology and a rapidly expanding communication network exposed people to a tremendous range of worldviews. Modernity did not, in fact, secularize the world.  Modernity pluralized the world.

Modernity has also heightened the desire for choice.  As people learned that life offered a buffet in the realm of ideas, ideologies, religion, and personal values, they increasingly rejected the power of tradition and institutions and began to find their own way through life. This kind of shift does not happen without consequence. German social philosopher Arnold Gehlen explained how this modern shift toward choice changed the West:.

“The area of life in which choices are allowed Gehlen called the foreground, while the area in which choices are preempted he called the background.  Both areas are anthropologically necessary.”  

Modernity moves the background to the foreground.  In other words, it takes what we accept as normative and makes it subjective. Berger and Zijderveld go on to note:

“A society consisting of foreground only, with every issue a matter of individual choice, couldn’t sustain itself for any length of time; it would lapse into chaos….a society consisting of background only wouldn’t be a human society at all, but a collectivity of robots…”

Before, people went about their daily routine without too much reflection (self-aware choice), as the background institutions in society brought predictability and normalized structure to their lives.  Since modernity has brought about an increasing amount of foreground reflection, we increasingly reject the power of institutions and embrace what Gehlen called secondary institutions, which “offer entire packages of beliefs, norms, and identities to individuals.”

On the one hand, this seems compelling way. There are times in American and church history when the background was not something people should have just absorbed. On the other hand, too much foreground can bring paradoxically tyrannical choice.  The Paradox of Choice has noted that more choice does not equal more happiness.  Too many choices may, in fact, lead to a restlessness and unhappiness that is perhaps unique to modernity in the history of the world. Here’s how it works in the realm of ideas:

    “Because [institutions] are chosen, not given or taken for granted, the memory of the choice will persist in the individual’s mind – and with it the awareness, though dim, that sometime in the future this choice could be reversed and replaced by a different choice.”

This dynamic of reversal and replacement results in fewer “cognitive and normative definitions – that is, assertions as to what the world is, and what the world should be.”   Modernization first pluralized, the deinstitutionalized, then relativized. As the authors note:

“Relativism…is an invitation to nihilism…the norms of society have been hollowed out, have become illusionary and likely risable, and (most importantly) have undermined the trust that other people will behave in accordance with collectively shared norms.”

If you would like to read more about how this has impacted our society, as well as the authors’ proposed solution, you can go here to read more details.  (The book looks at the rise of fundamentalism and explains why  a healthy doubt offers a means to alleviate some cultural hostility between fundamentalism and modernism. It’s an intriguing discussion, but not the point of this particular review).

The authors conclude with a section entitled, “How can we arrive at moral certainty?” They note four ways by which moral certainty has traditionally been found: divine commandmentnatural law, sociological functionality, and biological functionality. The authors dismiss all four as insufficient:

  •  Divine Command: If it is true, it can be too easily misunderstood and distorted. Multiple religions claim incongruous messages from God.
  • Natural Law:  It is hard find confidence here because of the many different ways cultures and eras have defined and understood this term and its application.
  • Sociological functionality: It merely says norms are necessary for cultural stability. That is hardly groundbreaking.
  • Biological functionality: It might tell us what “is,” but not what ought to “be.”

The authors do not believe there has been an empirically demonstrable ethical progress throughout human history. However, there has been specific progress at certain times and in certain places because of a built-in reciprocity we all have that allows us to engage within boundaries in our societies. In the end, they prescribe a solution they believe generates a moral certainty that allows for healthy doubt without caving in to relativism or fundamentalism:

“The meaning of the dignity of humankind comes to be perceived at certain moments of history; however, once perceived, it transcends these moments and is assumed to be intrinsic to human beings always and everywhere.”

_____________________________________________________________

As much as I found the book thought provoking, I was frustrated at the end.

First, if the authors are correct that there has been no empirically demonstrable ethical progress throughout human history, I wonder what the point is of working toward moral betterment?  Sure, there have been pockets of success, but that’s like going for cancer treatments and taking solace in the fact that my biceps and calves are growing.  There is an apparent sickness in the world, an inability of the human race to pull itself up by its own bootstraps and actually get somewhere better.  That’s a problem.  And I don’t see this book offering a true solution.

Here’s why: the authors’ principle of reciprocity limits itself to the cultures in which the reciprocity occurs.  Though they claim that a morality for us all, their context for reciprocal ethics is merely cultural, and they provide no mechanism with which to make a local ethic a universal one. That’s relativism.  That’s moving basic moral principles from global background to global foreground.

In addition, they begin with pockets of success and culturally contextualized reciprocity and end with something intrinsic to human beings always and everywhere. Now, I agree that there are transcendent ethical norms for all people, but there reasoning process is not solid.  One cannot (or should not) move from a particular claim (“Here is something right for but limited to these people in this area at this time”) to a universal one (“So…everybody should do it!).  The conclusion simply does not follow.

The authors left at least one option for moral certainty off their list: ethical essentialism.  The Christian claim is that  the Good is that which aligns itself with God’s character.  God does not simply will it or choose it; ethics flow from His very nature. It transcends sociology and biology, and is the foundation from which Natural Law can be understood.  I see no other consistent way for  individual or cultural ethics to become global and normative.

The authors want an ever present doubt  to keep us humble and open to new ideas.  The idea is that if we all agree to not believe anything too strongly, we can get along.  While peace and humility are noble goals, attaining them at the expense of a certain truth is not.  When people clash over ideology, truth is not the culprit, and universal doubt is not a savior.  As G.K Chesterton once said, “Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”

Anthony Weber

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Anthony graduated from Cedarville University in 1995 with a degree in English Education, and from Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana in 2004 with a Master's Degree in Theology and Philosophy. Anthony is a husband and father of three, an author ("Learning to Jump Again"), high school and college teacher, pastor, blogger (tcapologetics.org, empiresandmangers.blogspot.com), and co-founder of etcetera, a "street-level philosophy group" in Traverse City, Michigan.
  • Steve Ruble

    I’m curious about the claim that “there has been no empirically demonstrable ethical progress throughout human history”. I’m having a hard time thinking of a domain in which there has *not* been empirically demonstrable ethical progress over the last few millennia. Rates of murder, rape, and slavery have dropped throughout history; equality between races and genders has improved; charity and the social safety net have improved; the fraction of people who care for the environment and support rights for human and non-human animals has increased… what kind of ethical progress are the authors referring to, if it excludes all these things?

    Also: In what respect do you think that ethical essentialism avoids the pragmatic criticisms of divine command theory and natural law theory which you summarize above? Whether goodness is decreed by a god or essential to the nature of a god, surely it can still be misunderstood and distorted; and it’s obvious that many cultures have come to many different conclusions about the essential nature of their gods. What is special about your (or Geisler’s) ethical essentialism?

  • Anthonyweber

    Steve, great question in paragraph one.  The authors were not clear, at least in this book. That was one of my frustrations (though I enjoyed the majority of the book).
         As for your second question, I’m not sure other religions (other than perhaps Judaism) actually believe in essentialism in the sense that moral goodness is grounded in the very nature of God – His decrees are not arbitrary Divine Commands, but the inevitable outworking of His very nature.  Islam believes Allah simply chose the good arbitrarily; eastern religions have some difficulty making a distinction between good and evil. In Hinduism, all individual Atman partake in the universal Brahman  – just like their gods.  Buddhism has many branches, but its foundational premises do not require a god at all. (If I have misrepresented any of these religions, please correct me!)
        So, yes, the Judeo/Christian view is unique.  It can certainly be misunderstood, but building imperfectly on a firm foundation is better than building imperfectly on a shaky one, I think.  And the fact that we don’t always see something clearly does not strike me as a reason to jettison the idea in principle. 
       Wow, there’s a lot more to be said on this, as I’m sure you will note in your reply :)  I am probably out of the loop until Monday, as I am leaving in the morning for a trip.  
       I look forward to hearing your reply, and I’ll get back to you with more as soon as I can.
       Thanks for weighing in!    

    • Steve Ruble

      Hi Anthony,

      To me the most important distinction between divine command theory and natural law theory is that divine command theory argues that moral principles must be founded in actual divine commands – known by way of revelation, usually – while natural law theory argues that moral principles can be deduced from the nature of things we observe in the world, without a need for revelation.  Ethical essentialism seems to fit somewhere in between: it seems to argue that moral principles can be deduced from the nature of things we see in the revealed text of the Bible. Is that fair? Perhaps there is a way to formulate ethical essentialism without premising it on a revealed text, and I’m just not seeing it.

      Assuming I’m correct about that, it seems to me that ethical essentialism is inevitably going to be plagued with the practical problems which arise for both divine command theory and natural law theory. There will always be many people who reject any given revelation, which undercuts a fundamental premise of essentialism, and there will always be differences – often very large ones – between the interpretations of the things observed in the revealed text. Many of these differences in interpretation of the nature of the God or Gods (for example!) of the Bible appear to be irreconcilable – at least, they have not been reconciled or resolved after millenia of disputation, so it seems likely that they will continue to be unresolved. This seems to make essentialism a unpromising candidate for the role of shared moral foundation in a pluralist society.

      (Note that I’m not really trying to argue for the truth or falsity of essentialism here; rather, following what I take to be the goal of the authors of “In Praise of Doubt”, I’m pointing out the pragmatic issues I see with attempting to bring essentialism to the table as a source of “moral certainty”. It seems to me that there are other moral systems that would be more useful sources of “moral certainty” when we are trying to make decisions about public policy and the like.)

      • Anthonyweber

        Steve, those are great points. I don’t think we can get around the fact that in every system, people are going to bring a flawed analysis to some degree.  We both agree on that point. 
             I would hold that Natural Law theory intersects with a form of Divine Command Theory. In other words, God commanded things that were reflection of His essential nature and are embedded in the world He created. The “good” is are  not merely arbitrarily chosen.  So the safeguard to human frailty is that revelation, reason, and experience should all point to the essential nature of God, thus revealing His commands more clearly.
          Obviously, the history of the church shows the human capacity to distort morality. I don’t think it follows that an objective base does not exist, or that we should not attempt to find it. It just means we have to very careful, and very humble.
           The difficulty I have with the more subjective forms of moral grounding is that there does not seem to be a hope that a perspective uncluttered by human frailty will lead to to a clear, objective morality.  It appears to be sourced in the individual or in cultural norms.  While that often leads to decent human boundaries, it does not appear to provide an “ought” that carries moral weight.
           Thoughts….?

        • Steve Ruble

          Anthony, all morality is sourced in the individual or in cultural norms. There simply isn’t anywhere else for it to come from: even those who claim that their morality is founded on something transcendent are choosing – implicitly or explicitly – to call that transcendent thing “good’. The problem is that when two people who think that morality is based on different transcendent things disagree about what is moral, there is very little that can be done to come to a mutually acceptable compromise. On the other hand, if two people agree to use an objective way of making moral judgments (note, that’s quite different than a source of objective morality), whether it’s the Bill of Rights, or Utilitarianism, or the veil of ignorance, then there are a large number of empirical facts and observations that can be used to refine and adjust competing desires and opinions about what should be done.

          To take a concrete example: if someone has a word from god that homosexuals should not be allowed to marry one another. then for em to compromise is for tem to betray the transcendent power which gives meaning to eir life. In other words, ev’re probably not going to do it. no matter what. But if someone thinks that public policy should be based on what gives the greatest freedom while harming the fewest people, or that marriage law should be based on what best furthers the interests of children, or whatever, then there can an argument about what the actual facts are, and what course of action will truly satisfy eir moral desires: and even if that can’t be worked out, ey, may be able to compromise with regard to one policy in exchange for getting something more in line with their moral principles in a different policy decision.

          What I want to emphasize is that morality which is based on human desires, concerns. and values is something that humans can work within together to make things work in the world, even when we disagree. On the opposite hand. morality based on a transcendent revelation cannot compromise and keep its nature. Such morality reduces the give-and-take of civilization to a competition over who has enough power to impose their morality on those who do not share it.

          • Anthonyweber

            Steve, your position runs into the same dilemma you accuse mine of facing. You are choosing to call something good; so am I. you say that my morality will reduce civilization to a competition based on who has the power to impose their morality on others.  That’s true of your theory too. Gay marriage is an interesting example – one side will impose its view on the others who do not share it.  You can’t exempt yourself from that.  
               I’m not sure how you have read what I said as lacking a concern for actual human beings. If you read the Old Testament carefully, you will see that the Mosaic Law was not imposed on Israel’s neighbors.  Read the latest research: The Amalekites were not destroyed as a people group at all, but their cultural and political centers were.  This wasn’t because they didn’t obey the Sabbath, or ate the wrong food. 
                The Amalekites were know for (among other things) burning live children on the molten hot metal arms of their gods.  Other cultures at that time record that the Amalekites were widely hated because they were cowardly and cruel in many ways. I’m sure they thought they were bringing about the greatest freedom while harming the fewest people, and their desires, concerns and values clearly allowed for this.
                 The fact that the Hebrew God thought that kind of civilization ought not continue strikes me as a point in God’s favor.  The Amalekites were not judged because they disobeyed the Mosaic Law; every nation around Israel did that.  But if you can’t agree that a culture that burns children alive ought to have someone stop them, I’m not sure what to say. 
               You say you reference objective morality, then reference the Bill of Rights and utilitarianism. I’m not sure those are the best examples.  The terms “good” and “pleasure” in utilitarianism are open to a vast amount of interpretation, and the Bill of Rights is not a universally accepted document (as good as it is). 
                Just about any nation on earth could claim to fulfill utilitarian standards based on their interpretation.  Saudi Arabia thinks making everybody Muslim is the greatest good for the greatest number.  Kony thinks it means brainwashing children and killing people.  Who will adjudicate what human values, concerns, and desire will take the day?  
               You don’t like that I reference God as a transcendent standard that at some point will not compromise, and thus at some point I cannot compromise.  I understand why that can be bothersome, based on times in Christian history when Christians have done a lousy job emulating Christ’s ideal.
                But you reference a human standard that uses “desires and concerns” and apparently must compromise to keep its nature.   I fail to find comfort in that. 
               By this standard, those pesky Amalekites were just fine, and neither you nor I can say anything too emphatically about roasting children alive.  We would merely be “adjusting competing desires and opinions about what should be done.” 
               Are you sure that’s where you want to be?

          • Steve Ruble

            Anthony,It’s not a dilemma for me, because I don’t claim that my moral principles are anything other than those things which make sense and feel right to me. I just don’t feel much compulsion to pretend that they are grounded in some external objective reality; they are my convictions, and that’s that. I think suffering and pain and privation are bad, and that being able to flourish as you reasonably choose is usually good. If you disagree with me, I can’t do much except point out that no, actually, you probably do agree with me. If you really disagree with me, I can’t do much except hope that you die soon. It’s not like reason is going to have much impact on a person who thinks that suffering, pain, and privation are intrinsically good.

            Moving on: I think it’s interesting that the examples you give of people doing bad things while thinking that those things are good to do – the Amalekites’ child sacrifices, Saudi Arabia promoting Islam, Kony’s abuse of children – are actually all examples of people doing the things they believe to be the will of their gods. In other words, they are doing things which would – if they were right about which kinds of gods exist – perhaps be the right things to do. Similarly, if Hitler had been right (obviously, he wasn’t), and the Jews had been nonhuman demon-spawn bent on the extermination of all good things, the Holocaust wouldn’t have been a bad thing. In fact, it probably would have been more moral than the genocide of the Amalekites, because at least the Amalekites were conceded to be humans, even if they were very naughty ones. There’s an interesting interplay between ethical claims and factual claims that is often overlooked when people try to compare different moral systems. 

            In the case of the Amalekites, it must be obvious to you that the biblical position cannot be that the reason sacrificing children was wrong was because children were being killed, because there are several places where the killing of children is sanctioned or indeed commanded by YHWH. In the Bible, killing children only wrong if you’re doing it in the wrong way, or for the wrong reasons, in service to the wrong god. If you have the right reasons – e.g., the children are Amalekite children, or you accidentally promised YHWH you’d sacrifice the child, or the child is you and you’re sacrificing him to yourself – then killing them or sacrificing them is quite the right thing to do, based on the immutable transcendent nature of YHWH. Do you think you can make the case that the Bible universally condemns the killing of children?

            (Incidentally, in your claim that the Amalekites were not destroyed “as a people group”, are you saying that 1 Chronicles 4:43 is in error?)

            You write, “By [your] standard, those pesky Amalekites were just fine…”. But that’s nonsense, obviously. There wasn’t any god Moloch, or any other god, and any sacrifice to any god is a waste of the thing sacrificed. Pretty much every moral system I’ve ever heard of would agree that sacrificing children to an entity which doesn’t exist is a wrong thing to do. (Remember, there’s a difference between moral claims and factual claims.) In any case, it is always the case that a real person is more likely to be a real person than a supposed god is likely to be a real person, so it’ll always be more reasonable to refrain from serving the interests of the god over the interests of the person. Actually, that reasoning applies to pretty much any “moral” claim that privileges the imperceptible over the manifestly real: a god may or may not actually exist or care about any given action, but the people it affects do exist, and probably do care. It seems mad to prioritize the desires you attribute to a god over the desires that an actual person standing in front of you can actually articulate.

            How would you, if you were an ancient Israelite, go about explaining to a young Amalekite woman that really, it is moral for you to kill her and her child? Or maybe you can figure out a way to explain to a  young Midianite woman that you have killed her father, mother, and brothers at YHWH’s command, but she is now going to be your wife, whether she likes it or not. Can you imagine feeling like that would be the moral, objectively right thing to do? Within your ethical framework, you must be able to commend those  who did such things, because they were right to do so by your lights. 

            Are you sure that’s where you want to be?

          • Anthonyweber

            Steve, I’m pleased
            to say that you do not need to wish for my imminent demise :)  I too “think suffering and pain and privation
            are bad, and that being able to flourish as you reasonably choose is usually
            good.”

             

            You noted:
            “I don’t claim that my moral principles are anything other than those things
            which make sense and feel right to me.” 
            Fair enough. So how do you arrive at a place from which you can criticize
            God as you perceive Him in the Old Testament?   What God did doesn’t make sense or feel right to you.  So? 
            Why should your feelings have any relevance? 
            If it felt right to the Israelites and made sense to them, what puts you
            in a position to judge that?  You don’t
            like what happened to the Amalekites, but by your own admission your moral
            principles are based on your feelings. 

                As for what happened with the
            Amalekites/the question of killing children, I am working on a post that will
            address how to properly understand issues like violence and the Law in the Old Testament.  Stay tuned :)  In the
            meantime, I recommend a book by Paul Copan called “Is God a Moral
            Monster?”  You can also find a number of his debates on youtube (there is a great one with Norman Bacrac).  

                The bottom line: it’s important to
            understand the language, the context, and the culture.  I  believe that God as you perceive him (and as
            Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens have popularized Him) is a straw man, not the
            genuine article. But I will save more thoughts for the later post…

               Here’s where we are at, if I understand the
            conversation so far:  I believe morality
            is grounded in God’s nature; that God’s nature is worthy of being emulated; and
            that in spite of our inability to see or live objective morality perfectly, reason and
            experience help us to clarify the Big Picture given to us through revelation.

               You believe morality is a thing that feels
            right or makes sense to cultures or individuals, and as such can and does shift
            throughout human history and among people groups.  Anyone who claims a transcendent ethic (such
            as God) is deluded and perhaps dangerous because their beliefs have the force
            of divine authority behind them.

               If I have captured our differences
            accurately (once again, feel free to correct me), I have to ask: 

            1)  
            Are we
            arguing because you want to convince me that you and your moral positions are
            objectively right, or do you just want me to think and feel like you think and
            feel?
            2)    Why are you so upset about what other people groups have done throughout history?  Whether they cited a god or not, they agreed as cultures about what felt good and seemed right to them.  What puts you in  a position to argue with that?

                 Steve, it strikes me that you and I both believe we actually have found something that has an “oughtness” for the world.  I’m glad we live in a nation where we can both boldly express our differences.  You know why I believe you ought to agree with me – I believe there is a moral ethic that transcends us all and to which we all ought to personally adhere.  
               
            H    Here’s  a questions: Why ought I agree with you (if you think I should)?  

  • Steve Ruble

    Anthony,

    You asked, in your second paragraph, “What God did doesn’t make sense or feel right to you.  So? Why should your feelings have any relevance?” Well, they have relevence to me, because they’re my feelings (and thoughts, too); you must be asking something else. You think – and, I assume, feel – that your god is the foundation of all moral good; what is the relevence of that? I suppose the relevence will differ amoung different people; there may be (although I strongly doubt it) people who will say to themselves, “Steve Ruble has these moral convictions, therefore I will adopt them also,” but it’s somewhat more likely that there are people who will be influenced by my thoughts and feelings about morality – and the behaviors those thoughts feelings inspire – and who will perhaps shape their own moral systems differently because of me. That’s relevence, I think. Of course, your moral system probably has more relevence – in that sense – because you have more of a platform and serve as a role model to more people than do I. 

    That idea provides the answer to your first numbered question: because I know that you have the ability to influence the moral choices of many people, I want to increase the likelyhood that you will influence those people in a humanitarian – as opposed to theocentric – direction. I think you probably already do this to a great extent, much more so than many devout Christians, but I also know that there are morally important issues on which we disagree. I want to nudge you in the direction of caring about what your fellow humans actually think and feel over what you imagine that God thinks and feels.
    ———————-
    I think I need to clarify your summary of my position. Your wrote, “You believe morality is a thing that feels right or makes sense to cultures or individuals, and as such can and does shift
    throughout human history and among people groups.” This is, I think, an indisputable claim, unless you’re willing to say that anyone who disagrees with your moral system doesn’t have a “morality” at all! I really like Philip Kitcher’s conception of morality as a social technology we’ve developed to help us prosper in communities too large and complicated for informal understandings and natural altruism to handle. But I do agree with the rest of your summary. 😛
    ———————–

    With regard to your second numbered question: I’m saddened or disappointed by the many bad things people have done (and continue to do) for much the same reason that I’m saddened and disapointed by the black plague: so many of these things didn’t need to happen, and maybe wouldn’t have happened if people had just known some simple things we know now. Simple things: ideas like sanitation, and that ethnic groups are a social construct, and that capitalism leads to prosperity, and that women are as intelligent as men, and that there aren’t any demons, and that gods don’t speak to your peers and put them in charge of you. These are things that almost every educated person in the modern industrialized world understands, and they’ve led to more people having more fulfilling lives than any time in history. But! Which groups have recently endangered this prosperity or prevented people from sharing in it? It’s those groups which derive their morality from something outside of the everyday pragmatic world where we all work to make things a little better every day: the Nazis, the Communists, the Islamists… and to a much lesser extent, the Roman Catholic, Evangelical, and Pentacostal churches. 

    It really comes down to fairness: I think it’s just not fair that so many people must do without good things that I take for granted simply because some dude imagines that he knows what God/Allah/History/Whatever wants everyone to do. It’s just not fair that people are made to feel guilty all the time simply because some dude told them that he imagines that God/Allah/History/Whatever thinks they’re bad. And the reason it’s not fair is that even if one of the dudes who speaks on behalf of the transcendent were right, there wouldn’t be any way to tell, and most people would choose the wrong dude to believe. Even if you think that you are one of the dudes who’s got it right, you must be able to recognize that this situation is desperately unfair. 

    And that’s why you ought to agree with me. It’s only fair. (And also: because I’m right. ;])

  • Steve Ruble

    Hi Anthony,

    Sadly, the library doesn’t have a copy of “Is God a Moral Monster?”. However, I did find online a very extensive review/response by Thom Stark (http://bit.ly/LKDqp5), which I’ve now read. There are a number of points of criticism in the review which I am unable to evaluate – not being a scholar of ANE languages or archaeology – but if even a tenth of Stark’s criticisms are accurate I would be reluctant to rely on Copan’s book as a source of reliable arguments about the behavior of YHWH in the OT. 

    • Anthonyweber

      Steve, I’m impressed you looked it up.  Most people wouldn’t.  I appreciate it :)   I’m sure reviews vary – I have read the book and read a number of review that affirm his scholarship.  It’s tough to wade through so many voices…. If you want to hear him yourself, here is a link to a radio debate he did with an atheist named Norman Bacrac about the issue of God and the Old Testament.  If you have time, check it out and tell me what you think.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idCch7fjO1k