The Debate on Biblical Genocide

by Luke Muehlhauser on October 10, 2010 in Resources

An anonymous reader sent me a list of articles they found to be most helpful in examining the problem of divinely commanded genocide in the Bible. Here they are, articles written both by believers and non-believers.

Author Title
Paul Copan Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?
Paul Copan Yahweh Wars and the Canaanites
Matt Flannagan Wolterstorff, the Canaanites and Hyperbole: A Response to Ken Pulliam
Matt Flannagan Sunday Study: Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part I
Matt Flannagan Sunday Study: Joshua and the Genocide of the Canaanites Part II
Matt Flannagan Contra Mundum: Did God Command Genocide in the Old Testament?
Matt Flannagan Commonsense Atheism and the Canaanite Massacre
William Craig Lane Subject: Slaughter of the Canaanites
Glenn Miller How could a God of Love order the massacre/annihilation of the Canaanites?
Glenn Miller Good question…shouldn’t the butchering of the Amalekite children be considered war crimes?
Wesley Morriston Did God Command Genocide?
Thom Stark Biblical Apologetics: A How To
Thom Stark Paul Copan: Liar or Lazy Reader?
Jeremy Pierce Copan on the Canaanite Genocide
Robert Gressis Thoughts from the Notre Dame conference ‘My Ways Are Not Your Ways’
Rational Christianity Genocide in the Old Testament
Luke Muehlhauser Matt Flannagan on the Genocide of the Canaanites
Luke Muehlhauser Matt Flannagan on the Genocide of the Canaanites (part 2)
Luke Muehlhauser God’s Atrocities in the Old Testament
Luke Muehlhauser My Ways are Not Your Ways (audio of entire conference)
Hector Avalos Paul Copan’s Moral Relativism: A Response from a Biblical Scholar of the New Atheism
Ken Pulliam Grasping at Straws Part One –Evangelicals Defend Genocide
Ken Pulliam Grasping at Straws Part Two–Evangelicals Defend Genocide
Ken Pulliam Grasping at Straws Part Three–Evangelicals Defend Genocide
Ken Pulliam Grasping at Straws Part Four–Evangelicals Defend Genocide
Ken Pulliam Grasping at Straws Part Five–Evangelicals Defend Genocide
Ken Pulliam Grasping at Straws Part Six–Evangelicals Defend Genocide
Ken Pulliam Grasping at Straws Part Seven–Evangelicals Defend Genocide
Ken Pulliam Grasping at Straws Part Eight–Evangelicals Defend Genocide
Ken Pulliam Grasping at Straws Part Nine–Evangelicals Defend Genocide
Ken Pulliam Grasping at Straws Part Ten–Evangelicals Defend Genocide
Ken Pulliam Grasping at Straws Part Eleven–Evangelicals Defend Genocide
Ken Pulliam Grasping at Straws Part Twelve–Evangelicals Defend Genocide
Ken Pulliam More on the Hyperbole Interpretation of the Genocidal Commands of Yahweh
Ken Pulliam Did the Hebrew God Intend His Commands To Kill All the Canaanites Be Taken Literally?
Randal Rauser Let Nothing that Breathes Remain Alive
John Danaher Did God Command Genocide? (Part 1) The Problem
John Danaher Did God Command Genocide? (Part 2) Copan’s Casuistry
John Danaher God Command Genocide? (Part 3) Canaanite Wickedness
John Danaher Did God Command Genocide? (Part 4) The Case for the Prosecution
Edward T. Babinski Exaggerations of Biblical Proportions, Hyperbole, Genocide and Paul Copan (hat tip: Matt Flannagan, MandM, Jeremy Pierce, to name a few)
Adam Lee Defending Genocide

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Thom Stark October 10, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Why did you put me on the side of apologetics?


Thom Stark October 10, 2010 at 8:30 pm

I am a Christian, but I am not an apologist. I am critical of Christian apologists. You need to put me in the other column.


Thomas October 10, 2010 at 9:54 pm

There’s also Hector Avalos’s book chapter in The Christian Delusion, which, if I recall correctly, is a reponse to Paul Copan. And you wrote William Lane Craig’s name wrong.


Thom Stark October 10, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Well if we’re mentioning books, I dedicated a 50-page chapter in my book (“The Human Faces of God”) to critiquing apologists for biblical genocide, primarily Bill Craig and Christopher Wright. Avalos’s book “Fighting Words” is also recommended.


Numpy October 10, 2010 at 10:19 pm

I almost feel sorry for Craig and the other apologist clowns, as debate straws go they don’t get much shorter than defending the ‘pro-genocide’ side.


lukeprog October 10, 2010 at 11:27 pm


Wasn’t my list. But thanks for your comment; I changed the category headers.


Thom Stark October 10, 2010 at 11:32 pm

I see. Well, to be honest, if you’re going to put me in the same category as Copan and Craig et al., I’d rather not be represented at all. I condemn the biblical genocide texts, and it’s misleading to group me with those who defend them. I would fit perfectly, however, under the old counter-apologetics category. Your call.


Thom Stark October 10, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Well, I just looked at Wesley Morriston’s essay, and it seems he and I are in the same boat–Christians who argue that the biblical genocide narratives are condemnable. So, whatever. You can just leave me where I am I guess and delete my comments.


Madeleine October 11, 2010 at 12:56 am

Cool chart! There are a few forthcoming books/works you may wish to consider adding to that list in the near future – see Matt’s forthcoming works on his profile page.


John D October 11, 2010 at 4:14 am

I think Randal Rauser is a Christian.

My series is just a summary of Morriston’s article. Not sure that it deserves to be listed as a contribution to the debate.


Lorkas October 11, 2010 at 4:41 am

Maybe put two categories under the “Christian” side: pro-genocide, and anti-genocide or something like that.


dh October 11, 2010 at 5:52 am


The link to Thom’s first article, Devoted to Destruction, doesn’t work.


Thom Stark October 11, 2010 at 8:19 am

lol. That’s one solution. Just delete the categories all together. I hope you’re not irritated with me, Luke.

DH, most of the contents of Devoted to Destruction can be found in my new book, particularly chapters 5 and 6.


Steven October 11, 2010 at 9:01 am

What I find interesting is that in responding to the Genocide of the Canaanites, Christians disable crucial aspects of Free Will Theodicy. That is, they portray a God that is 100% willing to interfere with “free will” in order to rid the Earth of excessive evil. This is most explicit with the story of the great flood, but God inspiring people to kill one another to stop evil is also a direct action taken to interfere with others’ free will.

More importantly, we have to wonder why God hasn’t interfered in modern times (or at least not in significant ways) to stop evil or to free an oppressed people; in fact, it’s been rather bloody, governments have been corrupt at it, and a distinct absence of a competent God in a quest to rid the world of Evil empires is shown.

And I must draw attention to William Craig’s article in particular. His version of the Divine Command Theory is interesting as it specifically says that God has no moral commands to follow.

I now introduce what I call the Moral Dilemma:

1. If God is subject to morals, then morals are, in some aspects, more powerful and sovereign than God. Needless to say, this means that everyone is subject to morals and, curiously enough, this is the very nature of objective morals.

2. If morals are a creation of God. Now, let us assume that God is a PERFECT being. This means that perfection exists outside of morality, and that morals are something inferior to God, as he is not obliged to follow them, and was perfect without them. They were also reserved for inferior beings. That is, God himself cannot act for the moral good without himself subjecting himself to morals. In this case, whenever God wants to achieve what is morally good, he must himself judge from the perspective of the morals he has commanded, and he becomes subservient to something inferior than what he is. That is, whenever God acts morally, or commands something on the basis of it being morally good, he is an INFERIOR being (a further implication is that the very condition of God changes, but the Bible explicitly says that God is a non-changing being, which poses yet another problem to the Christian). If the Christian posits that God can change the moral commands at will, then how does God determine what is good? He defines good with his commands, yet, if he is able to violate them at whim, what is the basis of his decisions?

3. Lastly, if the Theist asserts that good is an essential part of God, therefore God cannot command anything wrong, then a different problem arises: if God is perfect and the most good being, and, out of his nature, can only act in a good way, then maximum goodness can be achieved without any free will. That is, by definition, God has no free will, he must act good all of the time because by nature, he is thus. Because God can only act to create the greatest good (if we define God as the greatest being, and good as one of his properties, then His good must be the greatest good possible), he can only create one world: the world with the greatest possible good. As we have already seen, God achieves the greatest possible good without ever having evil as an option; therefore, the greatest possible world will be one where everyone is by nature good and thus, will never commit evil. This flies in the face of Free Will Theodicy AND the solution proposed by Craig that humans are capable of acting in VERY evil ways. This is not compatible with the OT or free will theodicy.

Craig’s Divine Theory of Command is extremely vulnerable to the Euthypro Dilemma, but I only touched on it because my comment is long enough already.

On a final note, on the basis of Craig’s (ironically) subjective Divine Command Theory, God didn’t have to have the Israelis kill all the children just because a previous command of his ordered that they cannot mix; that is, if God can alter a command and it immediately becomes obligatory for us humans to follow it, then God could have change the previous commandment of “not mixing” with the children and it would have been good. Also, the young children’s and baby’s minds were not finalized; the reason Craig claims the children had to be killed is because they would guide the Israelites astray, but the contrary is what is true; as adults, the Israelites would have been able to show the children and babies the power of God and raise them under the command of Jehovah. God is also willing to make exceptions to such rules (the story of Ruth), so why not make an exception for a whole generation of children?

**I know my post is long, but I think it is worth reading**


Thom Stark October 11, 2010 at 9:55 am

Luke, I just wrote a new post, called “The Flannagan Delusion.”

Some might find it to be a helpful contribution.


lukeprog October 11, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Note: I’m not editing the list anymore.


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