A Philosopher's Blog

Isis & Rape

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on August 21, 2015

Looked at in the abstract, ISIS seems to be another experiment in the limits of human evil, addressing the question of how bad people can become before they are unable to function as social beings. While ISIS is well known for its theologically justified murder and destruction, it has now become known for its theologically justified slavery and rape.

While I am not a scholar of religion, it is quite evident that scriptural justifications of slavery and rape exist and require little in the way of interpretation. In this, Islamic scripture is similar to the bible—this book also contains rules about the practice of slavery and guidelines regarding the proper practice of rape. Not surprisingly, mainstream religious scholars of Islam and Christianity tend to argue that these aspects of scripture no longer apply or that they can be interpreted in ways that do not warrant slavery or rape. Opponents of these faiths tend to argue that the mainstream scholars are mistaken and that the wicked behavior enjoined in such specific passages express the true principles of the faith.

Disputes over specific passages lead to the broader debate about the true tenets of a faith and what it is to be a true member of that faith. To use a current example, opponents of Islam often claim that Islam is inherently violent and that the terrorists exemplify the true members of Islam. Likewise, some who are hostile to Christianity claim that it is a hateful religion and point to Christian extremists, such as God Hates Fags, as exemplars of true Christianity. This is a rather difficult and controversial matter and one I have addressed in other essays.

A reasonable case can be made that slavery and rape are not in accord with Islam, just as a reasonable case can be made that slavery and rape are not in accord with Christianity. As noted above, it can argued that times have changed, that the texts do not truly justify the practices and so on. However, these passages remain and can be pointed to as theological evidence in favor of the religious legitimacy of these practices. The practice of being selective about scripture is indeed a common one and people routinely focus on passages they like while ignoring passages that they do not like. This selectivity is, not surprisingly, most often used to “justify” prejudice, hatred and misdeeds. Horribly, ISIS does indeed have textual support, however controversial it might be with mainstream Islamic thinkers. That, I think, cannot be disputed.

ISIS members not only claim that slavery and rape are acceptable, they go so far as to claim that rape is pleasing to God. According to Rukmini Callimachi’s article in the New York Times, ISIS rapists pray before raping, rape, and then pray after raping. They are not praying for forgiveness—the rape is part of the religious ritual that is supposed to please God.

The vast majority of monotheists would certainly be horrified by this and would assert that God is not pleased by rape (despite textual support to the contrary). Being in favor of rape is certainly inconsistent with the philosophical conception of God as an all good being. However, there is the general problem of sorting out what God finds pleasing and what He condemns. In the case of human authorities it is generally easy to sort out what pleases them and what they condemn: they act to support and encourage what pleases them and act to discourage, prevent and punish what they condemn. If God exists, He certainly is allowing ISIS to do as it will—He never acts to stop them or even to send a clear sign that He condemns their deeds. But, of course, God seems to share the same policy as Star Fleet’s Prime Directive now: He never interferes or makes His presence known.

The ISIS horror is yet another series of examples in the long standing problem of evil—if God is all powerful, all-knowing and good, then there should be no evil. But, since ISIS is freely doing what it does it would seem to follow that God is lacking in some respect, He does not exist or He, as ISIS claims, is pleased by the rape of children.

Not surprisingly, religion is not particularly helpful here—while scripture and interpretations of scripture can be used to condemn ISIS, scripture can also be used to support them in their wickedness. God, as usual, is not getting involved, so we do not know what He really thinks. So, it would seem to be up human morality to settle this matter.

While there is considerable dispute about morality, the evil of rape and slavery certainly seem to be well-established. It can be noted that moral arguments have been advanced in favor of slavery, usually on the grounds of alleged superiority. However, these moral arguments certainly seem to have been adequately refuted. There are far fewer moral arguments in defense of rape, which is hardly surprising. However, these also seem to have been effectively refuted. In any case, I would contend that the burden of proof rests on those who would claim that slavery or rape are morally acceptable and invite readers to advance such arguments for due consideration.

Moving away from morality, there are also practical matters. ISIS does have a clear reason to embrace its theology of rape: as was argued by Rukmini Callimachi, it is a powerful recruiting tool. ISIS offers men a group in which killing, destruction and rape are not only tolerated but praised as being pleasing to God—the ultimate endorsement. While there are people who do not feel any need to justify their evil, even very wicked people often still want to believe that their terrible crimes are warranted or even laudable. As such, ISIS has considerable attraction to those who wish to do evil.

Accepting this theology of slavery and rape is not without negative consequences for recruiting—while there are many who find it appealing, there are certainly many more who find it appalling. Some ISIS supporters have endeavored to deny that ISIS has embraced this theology of rape and slavery—even they recognize some moral limits. Other supporters have not been dismayed by these revelations and perhaps even approve. Whether this theology of rape and slavery benefits ISIS more than it harms it will depend largely on the moral character of its potential recruits and supporters. I certainly hope that this is a line that many are not willing to cross, thus cutting into ISIS’ potential manpower and financial support. What impact this has on ISIS’ support will certainly reveal much about the character of their supporters—do they have some moral limits?


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The Fourth King’s Game

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on January 3, 2010
The classical definition of probability works ...
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My gaming group normally has a Christmas party, but this year events conspired to prevent us from gathering. However, we will be gaming again tomorrow, thus creating a need for a post Christmas event.

One of the reasons we did not get together earlier was due the fact that some of us travelled for the holidays. In my case, I went to Puerto Rico. While there I learned of a post Christmas holiday that inspired me to a solution to the post-Christmas problem.

As the story goes, three wise men or kings (not the same thing at all, of course) brought the baby Jesus some gifts. While this served as the theological foundation for the massive commercialization of Christmas, it also gave rise to Three Kings Day, which is celebrated in Puerto Rico. The gist of the holiday is that children put out grass and water for the Kings’ camels and they get small gifts in return. This holiday is on January 6th, which is too late for the post-Christmas event.

Fortunately, a little research revealed that there was a 4th king, King Bob. Unlike the Three Kings, Bob was not great with directions and ended up arriving at the wrong city, albeit a few days before the other kings arrived in the proper destination.

Since King Bob could not find the baby Jesus, he decided to give away the gifts via a game, which is now known as King Bob’s game. Alternatively, it can be called The Game of the 4th King.

Here is how the game is played.

What You Will Need

Gifts: At least 1 wrapped gift per player, preferably more. Cheap gifts are best.

Dice: Ideally you should have a D20 and some D6s, but for non gamers six sided dice will do.

The Roles

There are two roles in the game: King Bob’s stand in and player. King Bob supervises the game but does not play. He also does not get any gifts. Optionally, King Bob can also play and get gifts, but that is bad theology.

Everyone other than King Bob’s stand in is a player.

Setting Up the Game

King Bob sets up the game by creating a pile of the wrapped gifts and defending them from the greasy hands of the players until the game starts. Each player should have a die (or dice) and a board or piece of paper is needed to keep track of the order of play.


Gamers will be familiar with this, but non-gamers will not. For the non-gamers, this is how you determine the order in which the players take their turns. To determine this, each player rolls a die (preferably the standard D20). The player with the highest roll goes first, the player with the second highest goes second and so on. In the case of a tie, reroll until it is settled.

Starting the Game

The game starts with the player who has the highest initiative. S/he selects one gift from the pile and DOES NOT open it. Shaking and such is allowed. The second player then has his/her turn and so on for each player until it is back to the first player. After the first player has selected his gift, the other players will have more options and the first player will also have these options on his/her second turn.

Playing the Game

After the first player has a gift, the second player has his turn and so on until everyone has had a turn. The first player then has his second turn and so on. During play, a player has options. Only ONE option may be taken each turn. A player can take a different option each turn, but is not required to do so.

  • Pick a Gift: the player selects a gift from the pile but DOES NOT open it. The next player then takes his/her turn.
  • Open a Gift: the player opens one gift that s/he has in his/her possession and opens it. The next player then takes his/her turn.
  • Steal a Gift: the player attempts to take a gift from another player. The player who is trying to steal the gift is the thief and the player who has the gift is the defender. The defender has the option of allowing the theft or resisting. If the defender allows the theft, the thief gets the gift and adds it to his/her collection. If the defender decides to resist, then the thief and the defender each roll a six sided die. If the defender matches or exceeds the thief’s roll, then s/he keeps the gift. If not, the thief adds the gift to his/her collection. The next player then takes his/her turn. Defender does not count as the defending player’s turn and s/he can defend as often as needed.
  • Inflict a Gift: the player attempts to give a gift to another player. The player who is trying to give the gift is the giver and the player who has the gift is the defender. The defender has the option of allowing the giving or resisting. If the defender allows the giving, the defender gets the gift and adds it to his/her collection. If the defender decides to resist, then the giver and the defender each roll a six sided die. If the defender matches or exceeds the giver’s roll, then the gift remains with the giver. If not, the defender adds the gift to his/her collection. The next player then takes his/her turn. Defender does not count as the defending player’s turn and s/he can defend as often as needed.

Ending the Game

The game ends as soon as no more gifts remain in the gift pile (that is, the players possess all the gifts). Players must take their gifts with them when the game ends, mainly because the game is often played with the intention of getting rid of bad gifts or items that King Bob no longer wants.

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Archeology, Evidence & God

Posted in Philosophy, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on September 6, 2009
So-called “Zeus of Otricoli”. Marble, Roman co...
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Two factors have merged to inspire this blog. The first is my seemingly endless debates about God’s existence. The second is the History Channel‘s series Clash of the Gods.

In a recent discussion of God‘s existence, the arguments turned to the matter of whether or not archeological finds can serve as evidence for God’s existence. For example, if a place that is mentioned in the bible is found to be real, does this help support the claim that God exists?

My position on this matter has been and remains that such findings do not provide such support. Naturally, folks have objected that such findings would help show that the bible makes credible claims about historical places and this adds to its credibility. While I am quite willing to agree that such findings would help add to the credibility of the bible as a source for historical information, this is quite a distinct matter from providing evidence that God exists.

My first argument in support of my view is a very simple and perhaps even a silly one. However, I think that it is rather effective in its simplicity. Suppose I give you a call and claim to have seen a ghost in my kitchen. Sensing your doubt, I assure you that I have evidence that supports my claim and I invite you over to see it. Intrigued (and perhaps worried about my sanity), you head on over to see this evidence. I lead you to my kitchen and say “here is my proof. As you can see, my kitchen is quite real!”

Naturally, you would think that I had either gone off my rocker (once again) or that I was pulling some sort of odd prank (once again). After all, showing you that I have a kitchen just proves that my kitchen exists (well, for practical if not philosophical purposes) and does not establish anything about ghosts. What is wanting is a bit of evidence relevant to spirits of the ghostly sort rather than a view of where I keep my mundane spirits.

Likewise, showing that a place where a supernatural biblical supernatural event took place exists merely proves that the place exists. Without further evidence of this alleged event, such a find does nothing to support a claim of divine activity. For example, finding the city of Sodom does not prove that God destroyed the city. What would be needed would be signs that the city was destroyed via means available only to God.

My second argument for my view is more or less an extension of the first one, but it adds in the stuff relating to the Clash of the Gods.

In the episode on Medusa, the program presented both the mythology and discussions about the possible facts behind the myths. Also, the real places where the events where said to have taken place are presented. For example, in the myth Medusa is raped by Poseidon in the temple of Athena. This temple still exists to this day. As another example, the birthplace of the hero Perseus is also quite real.

In various other episodes, the same sort of approach is taken. The possible historical facts that inspired the myths are presented (such as the maze like palace that probably inspired the infamous maze of the minotaur) and the places where the events allegedly took place are often revealed as real places.

While the places mention in the Greek myths are often real, it would not be inferred that finding such places establishes the truth of the supernatural (or extraordinary) aspects of the myths. For example, the fact that the temple of Athena is real does nothing to prove that Medusa was raped there by Poseidon and transformed by Athena into a Gorgon. Likewise, finding places mentioned in the bible are real does nothing to show that any alleged supernatural events really took place.

To use a final example, consider another book about the supernatural and great events: Homer’s Iliad. This book tells tales of the supernatural: the doings of the gods, the existence of demigods and so on.

In a nice parallel, the city of Troy was long believed to be a legend. It was not until Schliemann found Troy did people accept that the story had some basis in historical fact. However, no reasonable person believes that the re-discovery of Troy proves that the Greek gods really exist (or existed).  After all, it is one thing to find evidence of a legendary city and quite another to infer the existence of divine beings.

The same would seem to be true of the bible. Even if every earthly place in the bible is found, this would not provide a single piece of evidence for God’s existence. What would be needed would be evidence of the allegedly supernatural events that took place.

Naturally, some folks might object that certain findings would seem to show that God exists. For example, it might be claimed that finding Noah’s ark would do the trick. However, this is not the case.

Finding the ark would certainly be an amazing discovery, but it would not prove that God exists. After all, men can build huge vessels without any divine intervention (just consider some of the huge vessels built in ancient days). Also, we know that serious flooding occurs naturally. As such, finding such a ship would not show that God destroyed humanity in a vast flood.

Of course, I do accept that finding archeological evidence that the entire earth was flooded and all humans (aside from Noah’s folks) perished would point towards an event that would seem to be beyond natural explanation. After all, a natural event that could flood the entire earth (putting the mountains under water) during the time that humanity has been around does not seem to be geologically possible.  Of course, there seems to be no indication of such a massive event, despite the fact that it should have left a significant amount of evidence.

In light of the above discussion, archeological findings that do not contain actual evidence of divine activity cannot be considered as evidence for God’s existence.

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What Do Dogs Eat in Heaven?

Posted in Religion by Michael LaBossiere on August 7, 2009

A while ago I was at a pot luck event and was surprised to learn that the hostess’s dog is a vegetarian. This led to a conversation about what dogs could eat and one question that stuck in my mind was “what do dogs eat in heaven?”

Naturally, this question assumes two key claims: dogs can go to heaven and that dogs will need to eat in heaven.

There has been considerable philosophical and theological debate about whether dogs (or animals in general) have souls. While Descartes denied that dogs have souls, I am inclinded to go with David Hume on this point: we seem to have as much evidence that dogs have souls as we do that humans have souls. That is, none, really.

But, let it be granted that dogs have souls. If humans have souls, then I would be willingly to say that dogs have them as well. If dogs do have souls, then, in theory, they could go to heaven (assuming it exists). Dogs are presumably not subject to original sin and hence don’t have to worry about that. Although I have met some bad dogs, it is not clear that dogs are even capable of sin. If so, they could not justly be sent to hell. Then again, they might not be capable of having faith or belief and that might keep them from heaven. However, it would seem unjust of God to seperate humans and their beloved dogs, so presumably dogs would go to heaven as well.

So, let it be assumed that dogs get to go to heaven. What then would they eat there?

My thought would be that since they would not have bodies in heaven (after all, the original body died) then they would not eat anything. After all, the soul does not seem to be the sort of thing that has a stomach and mouth nor does it seem to be the sort of entity that would require food.

But, then again, the soul would presumably need to be sustained so perhaps the souls have to “eat” in heaven. If so, dog souls would need to “eat.” Perhaps they would have a special divine chow on which to munch, or maybe they’d eat what human souls eat as well. After all, maybe there would just be one sort of perfect soul food.

This, of course, leads to the next obvious questions: do dogs poop in heaven?

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Can God Be Perfect if We Exist?

Posted in Metaphysics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on February 3, 2009

As I do every Spring Semester, I am teaching my Modern Philosophy class. While the Modern era was marked by the rise of what is regarded as modern science, it was also a time of great faith. Philosophers such as Descartes and scientists such as Newton advanced arguments for God’s existence and considered the impact of science on religion.

Currently, we are discussing Spinoza in class. Spinoza presents a rather interesting view of God in that he, Spinoza, is a pantheist. On his view, everything is God. This view contrasts sharply with the usual monotheistic view in which God exists apart from His creation (and, of course, us). For Spinoza, there is no such distinction-there is but one substance and this is God.

Having thought about his view and his argument for years, I still find it interesting and fairly powerful. In fact, his arguments seem to indicate that if we exist independently of God, then God cannot be perfect. The argument, which is so easy that it must be suspected, is as follows:

God is supposed to infinitely perfect and lacking in nothing. But, suppose that I exist apart from God. If so, God is lacking all that I am. In other words, my existence apart from God diminishes what He has and thus entails He is less than infinitely perfect. However, if I am part of God, then this would lead to pantheism. But that seems like madness.

One might object and  say that God is perfect even if I exist apart from Him because all his qualities are so much greater than mine. While he does not have what I am, what He has is infinitely greater. To use an analogy, one might say that my wealthy makes Bill Gates less rich because he does not have my meager wealth. Obviously, Gates is still vastly wealthy.

In reply, while God would be vastly more than I, he would still lack all that I am, because I am not a part of Him. Going with the wealthy analogy, Gates is super wealthy, but as long as I have even one penny that he lacks, his wealth is still diminished (even if only by one cent).

Another obvious tactic would be to define “perfection” in such a way that God could still be perfect and yet I (and the rest of you) can exist apart from him. In this case, perfection would be having all qualities to perfection-excluding those qualities that God lacks because we are not part of Him.

Yet another tactic would be to use the idea of eminent containment (having a quality in what we would call a “virtual” manner today as opposed to having the quality “for real”). On this view, God would have all our qualities without being us. Naturally, this might then lead someone to wonder why we would exist apart from God if He has all our qualities as well.

In any case, this is just a bit of rambling inspired by Spinoza…and that half marathon I ran Sunday (and presumably God did too).

(Dis)Proving God

Posted in Philosophy, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on August 22, 2007

Debating about the existence of God has been a popular philosophical pastime for centuries. One often overlooked part of the debate focuses on the possibility of even being able to address the question.

Pascal, in his famous Wager, presents a brief argument as to why God’s existence cannot be proven. The gist of it is that God, if He exists, is nothing like us. He has no parts and no limits and is hence infinitely incomprehensible. Because of this, Pascal proposes his alternative: although we cannot argue for God’s existence, we can approach the matter as a gambler would. He, not surprisingly, argues that God is the best bet.

In their writings on religion David Hume and Immanuel Kant both present skeptical arguments. Oversimplifying things a bit, there arguments center on the idea that God is, by hypothesis, beyond the realm of empirical human experience. In short, since God is beyond our experience we have no adequate evidence for His existence. Of course, as Hume and Kant make clear, we also have no adequate evidence for His non-existence.

While atheism is the popular intellectual view and theism is the popular view, a philosopher is obligated to go beyond the fads of the masses and the intellectuals. I find Pascal, Hume and Kant’s arguments persuasive and believe that they need to be very seriously considered. I incorporate this belief into my teaching. To be specific, when I teach the section in my Intro class on philosophy & religion I always begin by making it clear that the first question that needs to be addressed when talking about God is this: what does “God” mean? Atheists and theists toss the word around as if they know exactly of what they speak. However, no one seems to have a very clear account of God that is philosophically adequate. Using terms such as “the supreme being”, “that which nothing can be conceived” and so on helps a bit, but mostly it helps confuse things even more. So, when people ask me if I believe in God, I always ask them what they mean. While I am a smart ass, my question is an honest one. To answer their question fairly I need to know what they are asking. Also, I really do want to know what “God” truly means.

Some people say they can avoid all this by faith. They just know God exists because of their faith in Him. But, I must ask, what do they have faith in exactly? If they do not know what they believe in, then what do they believe? Again, this view might make me appear to be a smart ass atheist. But this is not the case-my goal, as always, is to find the truth. I am usually sadly disappointed when I ask people about what they believe. The God they think about is all too often a mysterious being who heartily endorses their hatreds, prejudices and biases. I don’t think God is all about hate and prejudice.


The best account I have heard of God is in St. Augustine: God is love. I find that very appealing and I like that much more than I like the idea that God is something to be feared. Or, worse yet, the view that God is full of hate and rage. But, “love” is also a tough word. Not as tough as “God”, but still very difficult. Ah, nothing like trying to clear up an obscurity with a mystery. 🙂