Is God a moral monster?
A Christian apologist and philosopher has responded to attacks made by New Atheists like Richard Dawkins who argue that the God of the Old Testament is a "moral monster".
"It seems that there has been a rising tide of criticism launched particularly against the Old Testament conception of God, seeing that as somehow inconsistent with the New Testament conception of God and immoral," said Paul Copan, author of Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Baker Jan. 2011), during an interview last week on Credo House Ministries' "Converse with Scholars."
New Atheists, and in some cases Christians, accuse God of ethnic cleansing for commanding to killing of the Canaanites, approving polygamy since many biblical heroes of the Old Testament had more than one wife, and endorsing slavery.
"Look at the Bible more closely and you will see that is not what is going on at all," said Copan, a professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The evangelical scholar argues in his book that the killing of the Canaanites was not a racially motivated act. Rather, he writes, it was theologically and morally motivated via divine mandate to bring corporate capital punishment to a people whose religious practices encouraged incest, bestiality, adultery, and other deviant acts. He also references several texts that show the Canaanite population was far from being annihilated.
On the issue of polygamy, Copan points to Leviticus 18:18 to show Mosaic Law prohibited polygamy. He contends that God "puts up with" some things that are inferior, while moving people toward the moral ideal.
"God brings Adam and Eve together and the two become one flesh," said Copan in the interview with host Michael Patton.
"The ideal is life-long flesh, monogamous union between husband and wife.
"God himself models His covenant love for His people through expressing it in the ideal union of marital faithfulness between husband and wife without any outside competition."
He also cited biblical writers who say that polygamy was permitted because monogamy would have been difficult to enforce during that time.
Without a proper understanding of the context, according to Copan, many critics often fall into "is-ought" fallacy.
"Just because something is done in Israel that doesn't mean that therefore there is divine permission from God for this to be carried out. 'Is' does not equal 'ought'. Just because something is described doesn't mean it is being prescribed as well," he said.
Is God a Moral Monster tackles other issues that question God's divine character, including God's jealousy, harsh punishments, kosher laws, and whether religion causes violence.
Copan said he wrote the book after hearing a lot of flawed arguments from New Atheist best-selling authors, such as Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. These authors tend to appeal to the public with "emotional barbs" rather than philosophical and intellectual substance, he said.
The ultimate goal of the book is to show "how God is paving the way for the redeemer of humankind, Jesus Christ the Messiah, the one who is to come to bring to fulfillment all the things in the Old Testament", said Copan.
"I hope this book will point people to Jesus Christ who really puts all these things into proper perspective."
Copan is president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society and author of nine other books, including When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics.