Thursday, June 14, 2007

Killing to save others

Suppose you were a prisoner, and your captors told that you had to kill an innocent person, because if you didn’t, your captors would then kill 100 other prisoners. Would you do it?


Alex said...

Nope. In the case you mentioned the fate of the 100 is ultimately not in my hands, but in those who are setting up the dilemma. The only responsibility I would have would be towards the one I was to kill.

But then again I have a difficult time with calculating pragmatism, mainly because I don't see this life as all there is. Not only that, but I believe in One who will one day settle all scores. It's not my job.

exapologist said...

Would my wife and two-year-old daughter be among the captives that would be slaughtered?

What about a Sophie's Choice sort of dilemma: you're a Jew in Nazi Germany with two young children. The Nazi's have given you a "choice": you can either shoot one of your children, or the Nazi's will kill them both. Unfortunately, this is *exactly* the sort of world where such tragic dilemmas occur, which might make it hard to maintain that a theistic God exists.

Alex said...

"which might make it hard to maintain that a theistic God exists."

or that this truly is a fallen world and God places quite a premium on allowing our freedom to be free.

Of course, this is of little solace to those in the midst of tragedy. Personally, God's restraint is difficult for me to fully process.

Anonymous said...

I have no great moral theory to provide an answer to this difficult question. However, I'll venture a quick and pragmatic response to how I would act in the situation Victor proposes: I don't think I would kill the one person.

However, exapologist has a point. If I was given the choice to kill a random stranger in lieu of having my wife and my own two-year old daughter killed, I'd ask, "Where do you want the bullet?"

But there's also an important observation to be made here: anyone wicked enough to pose such a dilemma to me is also wicked enough to laugh at me when I expect them to uphold their end of the bargain. So if I had a high degree of confidence that they probably wouldn't hold up their end of the deal, then I would tell them to aim true at all their innocent targets. They can kill 'em all and God can sort 'em out.

David Wood said...

What are the prisoners guilty of? Are we talking political prisoners, or pedophiles and rapists?

And, for that matter, what am I in prison for in this scenario? Am I, say, guilty of preaching the Gospel in a Muslim country? Or am I a murderer or something?

Victor Reppert said...

I was thinking of Auschwitz.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Your question is rather tame, Vic. Here's one a bit more expansive and I hope more challenging:

What if you knew or suspected with relative certainty [ha, "relative certainty"--an oxymoron but which might serve for the purpose of this question] that a person whom you knew was about to write a book and host a website that would lead to thousands of people forsaking the one true religion and winding up in eternal torment, including your own children?

What would you do in such a case?

What if arguing with the potential author only convinced them even more of the certainty of their views and necessity of writing that book that you were relatively sure was going to be a sort of timebomb waiting to going off and send throngs of people down the chute of hell to surf on an ocean of eternal flames?

Given such knowledge, and given the chance to do something about it, would murdering such a person before they had a chance to ever write such an infamous tome be the more righteous alternative? Or ignoring them and letting everything happen as perhaps God intended it to, including the damnation of your own children?

It seems to me that believing one has "certain knowledge," coupled with "fear of eternal torment" for yourself and others, can lead to people tormenting each other in THIS life.

Also, can you tell me whether or not there is a particular type or amount of pain and suffering (either in this life or believed to exist in an afterlife) that all religious believers refuse to justify?

It seems to me that at least some religious believers do not hesitate in the least to justify any and all the pains of this cosmos and in an afterlife, including eternal torment, including the eternal damnation of infants. So the problem of pain, or problem of evil, has no effect on such people. It's not really perceived by such people to be a problem at all. They are equal opportunity "justifiers" of all pain, all suffering, without measure (except of course for members of their own in-group, which they are certain will not experience such things, but experience the opposite, for eternity).

As for Auschwitz and Hitler, Have you considered the rise of HITLER and NAZIISM in the light of the craving for judgmental political and religious views in post WW1 Germany? How about considering the millennial flavor and messianic aspects of Hitler's rise to power, and which attracted followers? Hitler and the Nazis did not arise in a religious vacuum. Germany was one of the most devoutly Christian nations of Europe, but the German people fell into following judgmental religious and political movements, not just Naziism. I could give examples.

To quote the Summer 2005 Wilson Quarterly, which discusses the article “Church Meets State” by Mark Lilla, in The New York Times Book Review (May 15, 2005):

"A collapse of theological liberalism occurred in Weimar Germany after the devastation of World War I. Defeated Germans abandoned the liberal-democratic religious center for a wild assortment of religious and political groups as they searched for a more authentic spiritual experience and a more judgmental God."

See also the book, Hitler's Millennial Reich: Apocalyptic Belief and the Search for Salvation by David Redles New York University Press, 2005

"David Redles has tackled one of the most sensitive subjects in millennial studies--the Nazis. He has done an extraordinarily careful and brilliant analysis of the archival material to reveal Hitler's messianic charisma, his appeal both on the ideological and psychological level, illustrating that if you can convince people that they live in apocalyptic times and you have the key to their collective salvation, you can get them to do anything. Given that we live in times that lend themselves to such interpretations, we had best understand the apocalyptic dynamics of reactionary modernism."
—Richard Landes, Director, Center for Millennial Studies, Department of History, Boston University

After World War I, German citizens sought not merely relief from the political, economic, social, and cultural upheaval which wracked Weimar Germany, but also salvation. With promises of order, prosperity, and community, Adolf Hitler fulfilled a profoundly spiritual need on behalf of those who converted to Nazism, and thus became not only Führer, but Messiah contends David Redles, who believes that millenarian sentiment was central to the rise of Nazism.

As opposed to many works which depersonalize Nazism by focusing on institutional factors, Redles offers a fresh view of the impact and potential for millenarian movements. The writings of both major and minor Nazi party figures, in which there echoes a striking religiosity and salvational faith, reveal how receptive Germans were to the notion of a millennial Reich such as that offered by Hitler. Redles illustrates how Hitler's apocalyptic prophecies of a coming "final battle" with the so-called "Jewish-Bolsheviks," one that was conceived to be a "war of annihilation," was transformed into an equally eschatological "Final Solution."

If things ever get that bad in modern day America, perhaps the people even in our own religious nation will seek out more judgmental political and religious leaders that promise them "salvation."

David Wood said...


Your question is tame. Let me ask a better one.

Suppose you were an atheist, who, like many other Internet Infidels, has convinced himself that Christianity is the source of all woe. Everything bad in history, including the Holocaust, is a direct result of the teachings of a Nazarene carpenter.

Christians are basically Nazis. Therefore, they are bad for the world.

Now, suppose atheists mutltiply over the next twenty years and end up with a majority population in the world. All of a sudden, for the first time in history, atheists have worldwide power to do whatever they want.

Given the fact that Christianity is so obviously bad for the whole world, would you use your newfound power to do whatever is necessary for the good of humanity, namely, annihilating Christians? Sure, it's not very nice. But if we are to once and for all eliminate this memetic disease for the good of future generations, hey, you can't make an omlette without breaking some eggs. You know?

Here is another question. Did you know that extremism comes in many forms?

David Wood said...

By the way, Vic. My answer to your question is yes.

Anonymous said...

In response to Edward, there's a somewhat simple answer to your question. But, first, it
appears you are asking two questions. I am answering the first. The second is quite unclear
to me. I don't know what you are asking.

"Given such knowledge, and given the chance to do something about it, would murdering such a
person before they had a chance to ever write such an infamous tome be the more righteous alternative?"

No. You have have left out free will. You have assumed that it is permissable to restrict/override free will. Can not people think for themselves? So, would murder be righteous? No. Two wrongs certainly don't make a right. I don't see how your scenario provides any "right" (or benefit) unless you assume that it's effectively ok to override people's free will.

Your second question/point... I have no idea what you're getting at. But it looks interesting.


In response to David, I don't see a problem. You say: "Sure, it's not very nice." Why do we need to be nice? Nice has no meaning. You also say, "the good of future generations" - but you've assumed there's such a thing as "good for future generations." Does life have any meaning? That's a tough one to
defend. Ultimately, an atheist doesn't need to worry about being nice or about meaning as both concepts are empty.

David Wood said...

Amanda said: "Ultimately, an atheist doesn't need to worry about being nice or about meaning as both concepts are empty."

My thoughts exactly.