Contributors to this discussion include: Wesley Morriston, Randal Rauser, Joseph Buijs, Clay Jones and Paul Copan.
This discussion was originally prompted by Copan’s Philosophia Christi 10:1 (Summer 2008) article, “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster? The New Atheists and Old Testament Ethics.”
Here is a snapshot of each of the contributions in 11:1 (Summer 2009).
Did God Command Genocide? A Challenge to the Biblical Inerrantist
by Wesley Morriston
Abstract: Thoughtful Christians who hold the Old Testament in high regard must at some point come to terms with those passages in which God is said to command what appear (to us) to be moral atrocities. In the present paper, I argue that the genocide passages in the Old Testament provide us with a strong prima facie reason to reject biblical inerrancy—that in the absence of better reasons for thinking that the Bible is inerrant, a Christian should conclude that God did not in fact command genocide. I shall also consider and reject the attempts of two prominent Christian philosophers to show that God had morally sufficient reasons for commanding the Israelites to engage in genocidal attacks against foreign peoples.
“Let Nothing that Breathes Remain Alive”: On the Problem of Divinely Commanded Genocide
by Randal Rauser
Abstract: In this essay I argue that God did not command the Canaanite genocide. I begin by critiquing Paul Copan’s defense of Canaanite genocide. Next, I develop four counter-arguments. First, we know intuitively that it is always wrong to bludgeon babies. Second, even if killing babies were morally praiseworthy, the soul-destroying effect these actions would have on the perpetrators would constitute a moral atrocity. Third, I develop an undercutting defeater to the claim that Yahweh commanded genocide. Finally, I argue that we ought to repudiate divinely commanded genocide given the justification this provides for ongoing moral atrocities.
Atheism and the Argument from Harm by Joseph Buijs
Abstract: One line of argument commonly lodged against religion is that it is usually or alway sharmful, individually and socially, and for that reason should be abolished from our cultural landscape. I consider two variations of the argument: one that appeals to direct harm caused by religion and another that appeals to indirect harm on the basis of attitudes instilled by religion. Both versions, I contend, are seriously flawed. Hence, this so-called harm argument fails, both as a critique of theism and as a defense of atheism.
We Don’t Hate Sin So We Don’t Understand What Happened to the Canaanites: An Addendum to “Divine Genocide” Arguments
by Clay Jones
Abstract: Skeptics challenge God’s fairness for ordering Israel to destroy the Canaanites, but a close look at the horror of Canaanite sinfulness, the corruptive and seductive power of their sin as seen in the Canaanization of Israel, and God’s subsequently instituting Israel’s own destruction because of Israel’s committing Canaanite sin reveals that God was just in His ordering the Canaanite’s destruction. But Western culture’s embrace of “Canaanite sin” inoculates it against the seriousness of that sin and so renders it incapable of responding to Canaanite sin with the appropriate moral outrage.
Yahweh Wars and the Canaanites: Divinely-Mandated Genocide or Corporate Capital Punishment? Response to Critics
by Paul Copan
Abstract: The divine command to kill the Canaanites is the most problematic of all Old Testament ethical issues. This article responds to challenges raised by Wes Morriston and Randal Rauser. It argues that biblical and extrabiblical evidence suggests that the Canaanites who were killed were combatants rather than noncombatants (“Scenario 1”) and that, given the profound moral corruption of Canaan, this divinely-directed act was just. Even if it turns out that noncombatants were directly targeted (“Scenario 2”), the overarching Old Testament narrative is directed toward the salvation of all nations—including the Canaanites.