In the introduction to this compelling read, Richard Dawkins is quoted from his famous volume The God Delusion as saying “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction…a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak.” Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan cogently and humbly correct Dawkins, and his “New Atheist” cohorts, in Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God.
The authors waste no time jumping into the philosophical deep-end. They present the principles which are asserted against biblical theism without creating straw-man arguments from them. The first proposition they present comes from the pen of philosopher Raymond Bradley.
“Is it morally wrong to deliberately and mercilessly slaughter men, women, and children who are innocent of any serious wrongdoing?”
Bradley is quick to turn to his philosophical toolbox and attempts to reduce, in this specific case, biblical theism to absurdity. This tactic is termed a reductio ad absudrum argument against theism. Without claiming to know too much about this type of argument Copan clearly draws a picture of how Bradley gets to this point from his proposition that The author of the Bible commands us to perform acts that violate the Crucial Moral Principle.
“The author of the Bible commands us to perform acts that violate the Crucial Moral Principal”: does Bradley mean the human author(s) of the books in question, or the divine author?”
In an attempt to equip the reader for an answer to that specific proposition the authors employ the help of those who have studied the subject in-depth and over a series of years. Names like William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga, both extraordinary philosophers, are quoted against the arguments that Bradley is raising at this point.
Not leaving the argument without an answer, Copan and Flannagan build a cumulative case against those who want to shut down biblical theism. They explore the doctrine of revelation and discuss the differences between the divine and human authorship of the scriptures.
After completing a succinct three chapters on the Problem of Scriptural Authority we are thrust into Occasional Commands, Hyperbolic Texts, and Genocidal Massacres described in a good-sized chunk of the Old Testament. Here two arguments are raised against Bradley with great force and clarity;
“First, these commands were given specifically to Israel in particular historical context and not to all peoples everywhere, second, even when occasional commands were given to Israel in specific circumstances, we should understand that those are not general rules to be applied in future situations.”
One great facet of this volume is that the authors are careful to construct the arguments which Atheist philosophers are asserting in a way that does not detract from them or change them entirely. They deal fairly with the objections and are not quick to give a canned answer. They employ a variety of tactics and authors in order to create a comprehensive answer, and while those reading may have to slog through to get the reward, it is well worth it.
The sections continue in the same vein exploring in order the question, Is It Always Wrong to Kill Innocent People? and then moves into a very helpful discussion on Religion and Violence. In this last section the authors compare and contrast the religion of Islam with that of Christianity.
“Challenges to divine command theory are, more often than not, misunderstandings and misrepresentations. God’s issuing difficult (though not intrinsically evil) divine commands is not an incoherent notion; divine commands are neither arbitrary nor without content but can be philosophically, theologically, and ethically defended.”
At the end of this compelling volume the chips fall on the side of truth and we can clearly see that, as Copan has been quoted above, we have an argument that can be defended on several fronts. The arguments of Atheists, if followed to their logical endpoints, will lead them to an incoherent set of values that are not so easily defended.
As of late the Atheists have rallied against Christianity with great fervor and heat. They make much noise but their claims fall short of creating a thriving reality which allows the free-thinking individuals to believe in a Creator God whose image we are made in. They fail to see that all reality is God’s reality and, as the author of truth, it is He that we should depend on to shape our worldviews.
Did God Really Command Genocide? helps us to see that from a new viewpoint. If you’re out there engaging the skeptic or outright atheist, then you would do well to read this volume. If you’re a blogger engaging in apologetics and you are looking for a solid resource to deepen your understanding of the arguments, look no further.
Download Chapter One Here