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Unbelievable? Is God a Moral Monster? Paul Copan & Norman Bacrac

April 11th, 2011 by Madeleine

Paul Copan recently debated Norman Bacrac on the topic “Is God a Moral Monster?” on a recent episode of Unbelievable? on the UK station Premier Christian Radio.

Matt and I just listened to it and we both thought it was worth sharing as Copan really handled himself well and very clearly articulated his position on the hyperbolic reading of the Canaanites (a position he has co-authored with Matt on). The interaction between Copan, Bacrac and the show’s host Justin Brierly was very good too.

Unbelievable?Listen here: Unbelievable? 9 Apr 2011 – Is God a Moral Monster? Paul Copan & Norman Bacrac
[If the link will not load the Copan v Bacrac debate directly go to the Unbelievable? page then locate the 9 April 2011 episode ]

The blurb from the show is:

Richard Dawkins describes the Old Testament God as “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser” (among other things).  Paul Copan is a Christian apologist and has written a book, “Is God a Moral Monster?” aiming to show why God’s actions in the Old Testament are not immoral when taken in context.

Norman Bacrac is an atheist humanist and part ot the South place Ethical Society. He believes that Old Testament morality was barbaric and we don’t need a God to tell us how to behave.  He holds that God’s morality is called into question if we take the Old Testament literally.

So how do we interpret passages where the Israelites were commanded to wipe out whole towns including women and children?

“The blog of Matthew and Madeleine Flannagan in New Zealand” rates a mention from the host, Justin Brierly, about 38 mins in ;-)

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7 responses so far ↓

  • If not all are to be killed in Jericho, why is Rahab’s family in need of special protection and removal from the city before its destruction?

  • Matt! You interested in a written debate on TOL?

  • Email us a moot and proposed format and Matt will consider it.

  • Grant, given that later passages of Joshua and passages in Judges contradict the claims of total destruction in the earlier passages of Joshua by showing in multiple places that the Canaanites were not totally destroyed – far from it – but were numerous and still causing problems and laws needed to be passed about how the Israelites should deal with them. And given that there are around 3 times more references to the Canaanites being “driven out” in the OT as opposed to their being “totally destroyed”, the argument that the “totally destroyed” references were just bluster and grand-standing common to the style of writing at the time is very persuasive. Paul Copan points out in the linked to podcast that Adam and Eve were “driven out” of the Garden of Eden and no one surmises that that meant they were killed.

    As to your question about Rahab’s family, if all that was meant was that the Israelites drove the Canaanites out then Rahab,, who proved herself and by extension her family to be in a different ethical camp to the Canaanites, would still have required a special mention to have been made for her and her family’s protection. The act of dispossessing a culture from the land they have occupied is not a peaceable affair – most people are not going to go “oh sure, you want me to leave the land I have lived on my whole life?” Driving them out was probably a violent affair and anyone the Israelites wanted to grant a dispensation to was almost certainly better off out of there but driving a population out by force is not the same thing as genociding that population – as the textural evidence of the later passages and books proves.

  • Grant, note something about your argument. Your suggestion is that my reading is mistaken because it appears to contradict something in the text. My argument, however, is that a literal reading creates massive incoherency in the text; it puts half of the book of Joshua in contradiction with the other half and it also contradicts Judges. It also puts the “destroy” language in contradiction with the “drive out” language; it puts the account in 1 Sam 15 in contradiction with Sam 29-30.

    So even if you’re correct, it seems more sensible to me to reject a reading of the text that introduces some minor inconsistencies into a story which is supposed to be highly hyperbolised and not taken literally in all its details anyway, than it is to adopt a reading that creates massive amounts of contradictions into texts which are supposed to be affirmed as literally true in their details. If you’re worried about biblical authority and denying the truth of what the text teaches, I think the latter reading is a far more serious threat than the former.

  • Re: A debate. I will write something up tomorrow! Thanks. :)

    Re: Contradictions. Clearly I haven’t invested the study into the matter that you have, but it seems to me that there need not be the contradictions you say. In the case of Jericho, I see no difficulty with believing the entire city was wiped out (apart from Rahab’s family) and yet there still be other cities of the same nationality still alive.

  • Did I say “tomorrow”? :D

    How about something like this:

    Our understanding of God and His nature has advanced significantly since the times of the authors of the scriptures.

    I’d be with the opposition.