RD Extra: Debating the Amalekite Genocide

not_very_nice_yahwehWhen Richard Dawkins wrote “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”, he was spot on. Many Jews and Christians recognize the deep problems these texts present to their views on the most basic moral questions. Unfortunately, it’s become commonplace for some christian apologists to claim they ‘wrestle’ with these difficult passages when, in reality, they are rewriting them. Recently, Justin Schieber was invited to debate God’s command to slaughter the Amalekites on the popular christian radio show, ‘Unbelievable’ against apologist John Allister. In this episode, we give you the debate, response emails and closing commentary.

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Episode Links:

‘Unbelievable’ podcast

John Allister’s blog


  1. Jon says

    The “Unbelievable” radio show and its associated podcast has a really distinguished past guest list including Craig, Platinga and Swindburne. Bart Ehrman also features regularly although the standard of sceptical opponenets can be a little variable. Justin’s performance was very impressive and has caused all manner of consternation amongst some listeners. I’m sure that Justin Brierly (the shows host) would welcome interaction from Jeremy or the gang.

  2. Jon says

    Talking of opponents, the show also often features a Scottish apologist called David Robertson who is always keen to engage in debates on morality and its origins.

  3. Jason Goertzen says

    The single most disturbing argument made in this debate was the suggestion that “the amalekites could have fled!” This is the worst kind of victim blaming. God gets off the hook because the people he’s ordered to be killed *could have tried harder to escape*?!

    Imagine a war criminal on trial who tried to argue that, really, though he ordered his soldiers to massacre the men, women and children of city X… really it’s their own fault for not fleeing when they knew my army was coming. It’s essentially a problem of bad parenting…

    What an unbelievable dodge.

  4. Pete says

    My word that Allister is bad, what a load of s**t ! I had to shout out loud at the 45 minute mark “god knows, he lost a son” FFS!

  5. Justin Schieber says

    Quick correction: during the last few minutes of the episode I claimed God had told Saul that he values obedience over sacrifices. (Remember Saul had saved some livestock and king Agag to sacrifice to The Lord)
    I was wrong. It was SAMUEL who made that statement. Though, It makes very little difference to the point I was actually making which was that Saul was not saving the sheep and oxen for his own benefit as John argued. Rather. Saul saved them to offer to The Lord. Samuel, having learned Saul’s reasons still condemns him though because The Lord values obedience over sacrifices.
    Here is the relevant text…
    20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”
    22 But Samuel replied:
    “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
    To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
    23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
    and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
    Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has rejected you as king.”
    24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. 25 Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.”
    Normally, I wouldn’t care to make such an insignificant correction but apologists often use small, insignificant errors against their opponents to accuse them of being ignorant of the bible.

  6. says

    Jon’s argument: God has multiple personality disorder. So because we’re lucky enough to living during the covenant of the hippie God, all is peachy! What’s that about genocide? Oh that was the other God – the old cranky God. Also, victims of genocide could have just ran away. And probably didn’t even happen. … … Jesus!

    I feel sick.

  7. says

    At about 14:00 John stated he is ‘committed to the authority of scripture.’ This saves everybody a lot of time, because it cuts directly to the chase: ultimately, regardless of any argument RD Justin presents, John argues presupposition. The next time I hear an apologist argument that does not finally reduce to presupposition will be the first time, and the podcast debate presented today on RD unfortunately brings no exciting originality.

    Any presupposition argument is an argument from authority. The authority supporting any such argument is always based upon historically dodgy scripture (whether — just to name three — ancient [Bible], Middle Ages [Koran], or the relatively recent Book of Mormon), authority claims that by the nature of the source relied upon constitute, at best, hearsay “evidence” (cough, cough), and all too often prove to be “creation” only in the sense that unverifiable sources (exception: Joseph Smith) concocted narratives of ‘… myths, fairy stories, revisionist Jewish history, and dietary guidelines for people without ice’ [my thanks to a someone who posted that definition of the Bible on Jerry Coyne’s blog WEIT].

    The debate may be divided into three parts, or arcs. John commits to scriptural authority early in the podcast debate, as noted in para 1, which concludes the opening of the debate, Story Arc One.

    Following this Arc is a discussion between John & the Justin’s regarding the Samuel text, where John primarily occupies himself with impeaching what scripture in the Samuel reference actually states, and replacing it with what John wants and needs it to say to support his Just Creator premise. This middle part is Story Arc Two.

    Story Arc Three commences at around the 52:00 mark. For the better part of half an hour John attempts to debunk what the Bible says God ordered His People to do to the Amalekites and replace it with a revisionist interpretation of his own. John states that he ‘is confident that his faith informs his judgement’, a claim I certainly do not dispute. John also states that ‘God knows hearts’ … ‘and will get it right in the end.’

    Recognizing that things are not going well for the home side, the host attempts to help John out, asking: ‘Does Jesus bring a different sort of moral framework to Samuel?’ RD Justin instantly spots an inerrant-authority error here, and fatally torpedoes their ship by pointing out “covenant moral relativism.” The apologists begin to settle in their murky water instantly, although they don’t seem to realize this. Before their ship finally goes down, though, they have time to make matters even worse.

    From the 58:00 mark until the conclusion, host Justin and apologist John try to wriggle out from under relativism. In the process, all they manage is to make any appeal to Biblical text as an authority source completely indefensible. Over the next three minutes both agree that a Christian must filter any Biblical moral stricture (particularly Old Testament scripture) through the teachings of Jesus.

    Well then, what about direct, moment-by-moment Divine instructions? When asked how he responds to concerns that a Christian, or any follower of a supernatural agent, makes authority claims for one’s own decisions/actions based on some sort of supernatural communication, John says “… humble, when we claim we’ve heard from God. … if I think I have heard God tell me to do something I will check it out with other people.” What could possibly go wrong with this course of action?

    John continues (@58:24): “… we know God is consistent, and that, after Jesus, God isn’t going to command us to do these things” — presumably meaning actions of uncertain moral veracity. But immediately John returns to the supposed moral authority of the entire Good Book: “… if we read our Bibles …”. At this point, program host Justin tries to clarify: “… based on what [John is claiming] Jesus says, then what John is saying is that if a believer thinks he hears God give him a command, then’ … the criteria the believer must use to verify validity of the command is the teachings of Jesus, not any prior Biblical text relating to actions/dictates of God [I paraphrase].

    Well. So much for any notions of divinely inspired inerrant Biblical text.

    RD Justin points out (1:01:00) , in his final exchange with John, that insofar as Divine justification is concerned God can get away with any moral justifications offered, regardless of whether we humans understand them or not. John, in response: ‘… we do our best to understand what God is saying, the context, and what we understand in light of all that.”

    RD Justin: “But you can never be sure.”

    Apologist John: “I think I can.”

    Yikes. Based on the entirety of the podcast debate, I’m pretty sure John is not someone who should be so confident in his discernment capability.

  8. Fast Eddie B. says

    Just finished the interview portion.

    I think Justin did a fine job. Some of the apologetics reminded me of “Pretzel Logic” and were quite bizarre.

    One additional point: If God is omnipotent AND benevolent AND merciful, why would he condemn the Amalekites to such a painful end? A sword to the belly of anyone, much less a child or and infant, must really hurt.

    If God wanted to rid the planet of the Amalekites, could he have not just blinked and had them all just painlessly keel over? Or just vanish? This is a God capable of miracles, right? That sort of thing should be easy.

    I was born a Jew, and the stories of Noah’s Flood and Passover led me to believe that the God put forth in those stories was sadistic in the methods he chose to invoke his will. Led me away from Judaism and religion in general.

    But then again, maybe God doesn’t think like me!

  9. says

    Astonishing. The apologist states explicitly that the victims should have tried harder to get away!! Apparently it isn’t Gods fault the he directly orders the gutting of children and infants.

    If this is the best the apologist can offer, I’m glad I’m on this side of the fence.

  10. Camels_with_Mjolnirs says

    You could hear the argument drain out of the vicar’s voice after Justin’s first comment about soldiers stabbing babies with broad swords – it was like he suddenly realised the reality of what he was trying to defend.

  11. Fast Eddie B. says

    >>New rule: If your argument can be used to excuse Nazis, your argument sucks.<<

    I had EXACTLY the same thought, but was shy of Godwin!

    I thought of Sophie's Choice – clearly all the children murdered by the Nazis were the parent's fault for not fleeing Germany in time!

  12. grumpyoldfart says

    When the apologist got into strife the moderator stepped in to nudge him back on track or to change the subject. Whenever the atheist was making a point the moderator said we are running out of time, or we’ll get back to it later, or first we should look at such and such. It’s as if the apologists have got a script that shows them how to avoid a debate whenever they are having a debate.

  13. senor says

    I don’t really get how only having some instead of all of the Amelekites eradicated was a useful distinction. Even if some survived, God still picks one group of people over many and orders them to kill the rest. I think JJ Abrams must have written God’s plan for it to be so convoluted with such an unsatisfying conclusion.

  14. sumdum says

    Those Jews were asking for it, staying in Germany when Hitler was in power…

    And they totally deserved to be slaughtered anyway. I mean, nazi propaganda clearly shows they are out to destroy the country. *barf*

  15. sumdum says

    He also says if they got caught up in the war because the parents couldn’t get away, and got killed, it’s tragic and horrible. As if it’s an accident, a mistake. Instead of a specific deliberate command! What a lying sack of shit.

  16. Matthew Hodson says

    (#6. Matt Coddington)

    Jon’s argument: God has multiple personality disorder. So because we’re lucky enough to living during the covenant of the hippie God, all is peachy! What’s that about genocide? Oh that was the other God – the old cranky God.

    Multiple personality disorder is a common condition for deities who’s worship successfully supplants a polytheistic culture, especially when that deity is later co-opted by new religious movements. At this point the Christian god is like a flesh golem made not only by Dr Frankenstein but by the whole town.

  17. Christiaan says

    My jaw dropped when Jon said that it was not God’s fault that the children were killed, but their parents for not protecting them. This is a disgusting moral position to take and I actually believe that Jon is actually more moral than this (in fact most Christian’s are more moral than their biblical god, but fail to see it), but is forced into immoral contortions by his presuppositionalist approach.

  18. worldslaziestbusker says

    Well done Justin. A solid response to an attempt to rationalise the unjustifiable.
    I wish more people of faith would pay attention to who it was painted them into the corners they try to extract themselves from with the torturous thinking in evidence in the broadcast and subsequent correspondence. They can look to their own hand for the brush.

  19. nyati55 says

    Well done Justin. I thought you did a great job in this debate. Your positions were well argued and well supported. Your opponent did score a lot of own goals though!

  20. FactoidJunkie says

    Justin – thanks for finding venues to apply your skills against mystical and superstitious thinking. You represent us well.

    It occurs to me that during this debate the argument bounced between two different levels of analysis. The very focused level of the actual events, commandments, and justifications of the battle and the the very broad course of history, eternal plan level of analysis. In both cases it seems to me that at any time it is shown that God is wrong, then complicated illogic is applied to demonstrate it’s actually man that is wrong.

    During the reading of the comments on the broadcast I was struck by the well worn argument that different covenants allowed different actions. My own thought has always been, if God is able to view and intervene in history, create a method for rectifying problems (sin), why wait for centuries of misery to ensue before applying the remedy? (And that doesn’t include why God doesn’t use alternate remedies than the ones we debate today. Like why not send a plague on the Amalekites, why not let Adam and Eve drink some yummy juice and restore their “innocence,” etc.)

  21. Barefoot Bree says

    Thanks for that excellent analysis abandonwoo!

    I would have wished for just one addition: to pin Jon to the wall on the difference between “erasing the Amalekite ‘corporate brand’ ” [what an unconscionably ugly phrase when used to mean people!] and, er…. what’s that word? Oh, yes: genocide.

    There ain’t none. Especially when the “erasure” contains killing every man, woman, child, infant, and animal.

  22. Rob says

    I couldn’t believe my ears… “they should have run away”… amazing the contortions a Christian’s mind can twist itself into…

    “Is a child dying the fault of the invading army or the fault of the parent who should have taken them away?” This man should be ashamed of himself!


  23. Que says

    The only thing I can think of is, that this, and many parts of the bible, seem like “winner’s write the history” propaganda rahter than the word of god.

    Anyone who takes a political science course can easily compare this to a number of propaganda campaigns used, even in the modern era. I’m not sure how this is any different than “godless communist” campagins of the cold war going overboard, or indeed any number of antisemetic texts. Other than the context/loctation these accounts are made, i’m not sure of the difference.

    As for god getting saul to do his dirty work rather than just simply striking the ancient enemies down, it just hilights that god is nothing more than morle justification of mortal actions. More than a few warlords, and indeed modern politictians have used god as their justisfier, and most of the time we’re smart enough to not buy it over the course of history. I think the bible is just the first example of this trend, and only its age, and generation indocterination makes seem real.

    Of course one of my favorite psudo-ideas could also show that god gets weaker over time and therefore needs humans to do his work…despite giving us free will and act as we choose in exchange for sin.

  24. johnwolforth says

    In the follow-up comments, a few people point out that the problem was the defender of the Bible was coming from an inerrant/historical Bible point of view. They blame this for his inability to win the debate, not Justin’s excellent skills and ability to stay on task. I was one of these liberal apologists 20 years ago and I set out to develop a counter narrative. I failed. I am an atheist now and still looking for that counter narrative. I’m pretty sure there isn’t one. You can analyze what appears in the Bible as history. You can analyze the history of a culture. You can’t reconcile the genocidal God with the loving Christ. You can’t reconcile the apocalyptic, “separate the wheat from the chaff” Christ with the loving Christ. I wish those people would either produce their alternative narrative that they are claiming or shut up.

  25. FurryFingers says

    It’s a bit strange that I was excited to read the words “Debating the Amalekite Genocide” as I prepared to listen to my morning podcast – as if the “Summer Genocide Series” last year just wasn’t enough…

    I realize that what I’m keen to hear, is whether or not it’s possible to justify believing in God & his seemingly obvious immoral character, who orders infant slaughter, and all-the-while maintain that he is loving & just. John hits a low-point defending God, that I also heard from “Is God a Moral Monster”, which amounts to what Arnold Schwarzenegger said when asked if he killed people: “Yes, but they were all bad”.

    So John’s arguments were no better than I thought they could be. Probably worse – “it’s the mother’s fault, they didn’t run away”.

    Justin stumbled for words a tiny bit, but was altogether perfectly succinct (as he needed to be with all the waffle). Thank you Justin, for representing the side of unblinkered thought, so well.

  26. Paul Harridge says

    Hi guys love the show, have you stop doing the podcasts.i hope not .many thanks for all the great shows please come back.

  27. johnwolforth says

    I listened to the Greg Boyd sermon recommended in the follow-up. Ouch. Boyd is a heavy hitter among liberal theologians. He promotes “Open Theism”, which answers Euthyphro’s dilemma by reducing the powers of God. In the sermon, he compares God’s OT actions to missionaries of today. They must go into these cultures and gently introduce Christ, not immediately demand conformance to Christian laws. If they did that, they would be rejected. God had to act similarly in OT times, i.e. promoting nationalism. If he hadn’t, they wouldn’t have listened to Him. I’m not making this up.

    Boyd says we must look at “cross-like love” where God “bears our sin” and appears as a broken criminal, and use that as our guide to choosing the good laws we should follow. In other words, he gives you a guide for how to cherry pick the OT. He actually says Jesus is the “real God”, and that this limited old God had to let those ignorant Jews act violently to “break their addiction” to violence. He does not explain how commanding them to kill accomplishes that. He says later, Jesus says the opposite, and that’s the “real” law. He claims this is something new in his introduction, and he’s written a 600 page book about it. I heard nothing new at all.

  28. Drone Fodder says

    Well debated Justin. I think the bottom line might be… in a world with an omnipotent caring god it doesn’t have to be that way. Slaughter is slaughter and an all powerful being could get around that.

  29. gogogo says

    It always amuses me to hear about biblical genocide from a group of people that exist as a nation through continental genocide. If you were really this concerned about the slaughtering of a few hundred people in Bible times you would have donated your property and assets to the nearest tribe and have moved back to the old world and changed your citizenship.

    The reality is, you’ve got nothing. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that this lifetime is our inherent right. God created beings with free-will under conditions:

    – You did not come to exist on your own. I made you.
    – You can continue to have existence if you abide by certain conditions.
    – You are not the only being in existence and, if you want life then you must abide by rules that assure the welfare of everyone not just you.
    – You have the ability to reject these rules but you will forfeit your right to exist in the process.

    The human race has already forfeited its right to life and, if out of the goodness of his heart, God gave us another chance, it’s not so we can have a few decades of life ourselves before we die. God has no interest whatsoever in sustaining a race of beings for the sole purpose of giving them a chance to live out their crazy lifespan any way they please. The only purpose of this second chance is to provide an opportunity for people to realize they were wrong and change. That’s it.

    If I decided to help someone and gave them a few thousand dollars to feed themselves over the next few months but they immediately spent it all on gambling; yet I felt sorry for them realizing that they would starve soon and decided to give them another chance and offered them yet another hundred dollars. If however I noticed that they were about to waste that money as well so I went and took my money back, what kind of moron would you have to be to accuse ME of steeling?

    If you’re going to judge a Bible story, then judge it in its own context not some context you made up for it yourself.

  30. Clifford Baines says

    The slaughter of the Native Americans was committed before I was born by people who are dead now. Renouncing my American citizenship because of them would be beyond pointless. The biblical genocides were ordered by a deity who I’m supposed to believe not only still exists but deserves my active and undying love. This would be like if Andrew Jackson were still President, and he wanted me to pledge personal fealty to him not just in spite of the Trail of Tears, but actually in acknowledgement that the Trail of Tears was an expression of his perfect, unchanging justice.

    And I by no means buy that the average human’s sins in any way justify the notion that their “right to life” has been forfeited. James 2:10 is one of the most horrible forms of jurisprudence I’ve ever heard. Even accepting for the moment that God has the right to bring death at any time that he chooses, the choice of such a brutal, violent method – both for the victims and their killers – is questionable in the extreme.

    This isn’t me making up context. This is me framing the genocides in the Biblical context of an all-powerful deity who deals in perfect justice and whom I am called to love eternally. “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit,” the Bible says, and when I look at the fruit of the God of the Israelites, it looks pretty bad indeed. Or, more to the point, it looks like the average fruit of humanity at the time – perhaps even on the good side relative to other bronze-age horrors – made out to be the Platonic ideal of fruitdom by propagandists willing to twist their morality through any contortions for the cause.

  31. Amazing Graze says

    It’s funny how some Christians try to defend the horrible passages in the Bible by saying “Yes, God did say that but what he really means is..”!! They try to play God’s psychiatrist and in doing so change the meaning of what is supposed to be the actual Word of God…and of course he isn’t around to defend himself.

  32. Andybaby says

    “When the apologist got into strife the moderator stepped in to nudge him back on track or to change the subject. Whenever the atheist was making a point the moderator said we are running out of time, or we’ll get back to it later, or first we should look at such and such. It’s as if the apologists have got a script that shows them how to avoid a debate whenever they are having a debate.”

    Regular listeners to Unbelievable? would recognise this as a repeat pattern of behaviour.

  33. gogogo says

    “And I by no means buy that the average human’s sins in any way justify the notion that their “right to life” has been forfeited.”

    I am not talking about the average human’s sins, I am talking about the race as a whole. Adam and Eve forfeited their right to existence and god would have been perfectly justified to take it away then and there (in which case they would have had no children and you and I would not be having this conversation today.)

    If he allowed them to live (and us to come into existence), it was only to give them a second chance and us an opportunity to make the right choice. This sense of entitlement you have that somehow god is obligated to honor your 80 years on this planet has no basis in scripture. God has no interest whatsoever in you having a chance to do your own thing un-bothered for a few decades. The only thing he is concerned with is giving people that second chance.

    Listen, I am not claiming that any of this proves God exists or that the Bible is true. I am just saying that if you are going to evaluate a narrative you need to be true to the context of the narrative.

    I am going to revise my previous analogy a little to bring the point home. If I let you borrow my credit card because you need help getting by and you waste all the funds.. and then I again feel sorry for you and add more funds to the card but you start wasting this as well; there is no possible version of this where I could possibly look bad if I suddenly put a block on the card and stopped letting you use it. I was under no obligation to help you initially and I was definitely under no obligation to give you another chance. So if I stop you short of letting you waste all the money a second time, how in the world could anyone find blame in that?

  34. gitgonegit says

    @ gogogo

    [I am just saying that if you are going to evaluate a narrative you need to be true to the context of the narrative.]

    That’s the opposite of what John Allister did in this debate.

  35. theignored says

    Jason Goertzen at #3

    Astonishing. The apologist states explicitly that the victims should have tried harder to get away!! Apparently it isn’t Gods fault the he directly orders the gutting of children and infants.

    If this is the best the apologist can offer, I’m glad I’m on this side of the fence.

    Ok, I have a hard time believing all this. This is bloody insane! Talk about blaming the victim. They should have tried harder to get away? The parents should have protected them better?

    Holy crap. I got in a debate with an apologist once on a similar topic, and he was no where as nuts!

  36. Que says

    to gogogo, if god had truely given us free will to chooe what we should do at the point of Adam and Eve, and we as species has to work for our “second chance” than the old testment should have stopped there, or turned into a different type of book. In this case, instead of the narrtive say Saul was told by god to commit to the sneak attack, it really should say Saul chose do this on his own free will, and was than judge by god, with no other interaction between the two. Its the context of how it states the actions that is the sticking point for many.

    Even in the narrative voice used in the story of the 10 commandments, which is usually interpreted as if you choose not to follow these, you will be punished. Though it could be agrued that these are reigning back some of the freem to act out side of his influence within our mortal coil. Throughout the bible, god is clearly interested in our mortal world, to the point of even mundane daily activities.

    However, if you are saying that the old testment does not support the modern interpretation of a loving personal god, regardless if he exists or not, I’d agree with that. Looking back at more fundmental christian beliefs show that they didnot interpret the bible in same way we do.

    If the bible isnt a historical propaganda piece (which I still think it is), than I have a goofer anology just for lols.
    Think of god as as a host of a Japanese game show, you have to compete in; you told you can choose to start or nor, but guys behind you prod you with foam sticks into the water if you don’t move. No matter which route through the obsticle course you choose, you are bound to fail, all the while host yelling out to go go go. He than gives the winners a somewhat doubious “sercert” prize as the credits roll.

  37. John Morse says

    I think Justin fell into a bit of a bind with the way the argument was structured. The Vicar tried to set the context in away that presupposes the existence of God as the motivating factor then sought to avoid responsibility by avoiding the question of the morality of the command. Rather it should have been examined initially from what historically was probably happening from a non theistic perspective.

    You have a small tribe/nation of people, the Hebrews, who decide they have had enough of the raiding and warfare with another neighboring tribe, The Amalekites. They send out an expedition to punish them (analogous perhaps to Rome’s destruction of Carthage in the 3rd Punic War) to put and end to it once and for all. The Romans even went so far to salt the earth to render it uninhabitable. It was the very human way people did things like that in those times. As is common in history, Religion is often used to justify and excuse horrific behavior, ex post facto. Always nice to know that God is on your side, especially as you wipe out even non combatants, let alone the animals. So to the story’s theme is not about not profiting, it is used to justify obeying God, no matter the circumstances.

    The Good Vicar, stuck with justifying an immoral act seeks to explain it away with the specious argument “well, it wasn’t that bad, they could have run away and therefore it was really about not profiting.” His reliance on ancient warfare was misplaced and incorrect. First off, the Bible is notorious about inflating numbers. It is unlikely that these political units were as large as claimed or as numerous. However, the cities that were there were walled cities to protect the citizens. After all, Jericho, like other fortified cities had walls because the standard defensive practice was to withdraw within them. The city would have had surrounding farmlands and fields. When an attacking army shows up, it surrounds the city, whose troops or defenders pull back within the walls, and lays waste or uses them for it’s own ends) the surrounding countryside. The Farmers and Peasants, having lived through millennia of raids and war do what is natural, they also seek the protection of the cities’ walls. The city is either besieged and starved into surrender or attacked and destroyed. The attackers here did what often happened to the “enemy”, they killed them and since this was a war to end the problem, they killed everyone they found. Even innocent women, children and ox and cow, utterly.

    But that does not square with the “loving God” Christians are so found of. So they have to twist and turn to excuse the behavior that the “ends are justified” because God sought to bring forth the redemption of mankind. I am sorry but I had to shake my head when the Vicar pulled the false equivalency of God losing his child to the intentional murder of innocent children due to “sins of the fathers” I guess.

  38. Clifford Baines says

    gogogo, I’m mildly amused that you chose to focus entirely on the one point that I’d already shown willingness to concede for the sake of argument, as I think there are larger problems beyond it. But whatever, I’ll bite:

    The concept of hereditary guilt – which the Bible certainly supports – is plainly unjust. Life isn’t a “second chance” for me because I never had a first one. I’m no more responsible for Adam’s sins than I am for yours. And just to keep this within the “context,” I think the contradiction shows itself in Jesus, who was said to be sinless despite being Adam’s descendant. The Catholics address the problem by saying that God simply allowed him (and Mary too) to be born within the stain of original sin, but that only creates the new problem of why he doesn’t do that for everyone.

    But that’s getting into the weeds – I actually see no need to limit the principles I invoke to those found in the Bible. If the Bible were absolutely consistent in its endorsement of hereditary guilt, it would be no less monstrous a concept. The “context” of the Bible, taken as actual divine writ meant to be applied to our lives right now, is the whole world as we’ve experienced it. If I’m told that this book depicts the acts of a perfectly just and loving deity, I have nothing to test that claim against BUT my real-world understanding of justice and morality. Which isn’t to say that I believe my ideas on that front to be perfect by any means, but rather that when I find differences between the two, God’s version should be clearly an improvement, in the same way that a perfectly straight line is instantly recognizable in contrast to most hand-drawn lines. After all, when Paul addressed the issue of passing judgement upon “Gentiles, who do not have the law,” he wrote, “the work of the law is written of their hearts.”

    But what I actually see when I read the Bible is a rough bronze-age morality rooted in tribalism dressed up as divine command. If the laws of the Pentateuch hadn’t been presented as the dictates of God, would you have honestly seen their supposed eternal perfection shine through? I know I certainly can’t get past the slave-beating, forced marriages, selling of children into servitude, trial by ordeal, etc., etc. And from that perspective, accepting that this nation’s acts of brutal warfare were ALSO divinely ordained is an even more insurmountably tall order.

  39. gogogo says

    to gitgonegit – I wasn’t trying to defend John Allister but was addressing the debate topic directly.

    to Que – Free will is not meant to say that we can do anything we want without god ever expecting or commanding us to do anything. Free will simply means we were not created to be automated such that everything we did just followed some internal programing like a computer.

    to Clifford Baines – this conversation seems like it’s going to require a lot more writing and, if I’m going to write, I rather produce content for my own blog which I just started and at the moment has none. You can find my response here:


    You are welcome to respond there, here or not at all.


  40. Jason Gabler says

    The argument that “‘if you can run away’ is an unacceptable excuse because it could be used to excuse the Nazis” has a very big flaw: the Nazis were not offering anyone the chance to run away.

    Some tidbits to get in line before responding: At times, God told the the armies of Israel to pursue its enemies after a decisively won battle. God does not do this against the Amalekites. Also, note that Saul gives the Kenites the opportunity to flee. Do you think that many Amalekites did not go with them? Why doesn’t God instruct the Israelites to inspect the refugees? Doesn’t this seem odd? Why would God be OK with that? What might happen to those who do escape? Are they still Amalekites?

    Here’s why it makes sense, at least to me.

    As we heard in the podcast, the Amalekites were the antithesis of God’s purposes. For hundreds of years this people had create an anti-Israelite culture, and in effect, an anti-Yahweh culture. Imagine, then, that God’s concern is not wiping out a group of human beings so much as it is wiping out this culture, this continuum of intentional threat to his purposes. The identity of “Amalekite” is the threat, not the individual human beings.

    If you sum up all the previously given laws for rules of engagement, the warfare practices and capabilities of the time and place, and then add the set of oddball things going on in this story, I don’t think its hard to imagine that the intent here is to scatter those who are not so committed to being anti-Yahweh as to sacrifice their own lives. Those that want to defy Yahweh, to their own destruction will perish, but they will end up rejecting an obvious offer of escape. The escape is not so much form death but from a life dedicated to an anti-Yahweh culture. For when the armies of Israel destroy their towns and livelihoods. those who have escaped, where will they go? To the Kenites with whom they are fleeing! Those people who “showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.” These Amalekites are being given the opportunity to be re-oriented as part of a people who respect Yahweh. If they choose to fight Yahweh, he is ready to engage them.

    Note that Yahweh is not the instigator in this centuries old conflict. He’s only bringing it to their doorstep once and for all *and he’s supplied them with a way out*. If that makes God less than a pacifist, well, that’s another topic. But its difficult for me to see this as an all-out, mindless slaughter.

  41. Goldstein Squad Member says

    When Dawkins is talking about the Old Testament God he is talking about the Jewish God.

    And, implicitly, arguing that the JEWS made it all up.

    Its another form of anti semitism…Dawkins, the British Elitist, reeks of it. His mutliple references to the NOTORIOUS JEWISH LOBBY (an anti semtic fiction) in his Delusinal Book give his prejudice away.

    This is not about a fictional character in ancient literature.

    It is about present day Hatred Of Jews.

  42. N. Nescio says

    If I decided to help someone and gave them a few thousand dollars to feed themselves over the next few months but they immediately spent it all on gambling; yet I felt sorry for them realizing that they would starve soon and decided to give them another chance and offered them yet another hundred dollars. If however I noticed that they were about to waste that money as well so I went and took my money back, what kind of moron would you have to be to accuse ME of steeling?

    Unless you’re going to try and argue that your God’s love is finite, your crappy analogy missed being omni-wealthy – you could offer an infinite number of “chances” without any loss to yourself. Do you have anything better than half-assed apologetic?

  43. N. Nescio says

    “God’s concern is not wiping out a group of human beings so much as it is wiping out this culture, this continuum of intentional threat to his purposes. The identity of “Amalekite” is the threat, not the individual human beings.”

    What could possibly threaten an all-powerful deity?

  44. says

    I am only halfway through the debate, so apologies if off the pace. However, some points to note, many of which have been well made already.

    1) Justin. good job.
    2) Presupposition. It was a shame you let that comment go – “committed to the authority of scripture”. This anti-evidentialist stance is somewhat telling. If his exegesis only serves to cohere with that preconceived ideal, then of course he will read all sorts of nonsense into it.
    3) Jon claims that the words of God do not mean what the words of God say. I would love to have heard him admit those words. You nailed him pretty well on this point. It was just painful to hear him squirm in an untenable position. The ad hoc nature of his defence was incredible.
    4) the context argument. Maybe you address this later, Justin, but this argument REALLY pisses me off. It is the same for slavery etc. It goes like this: “God cannot introduce morally correct rules and orders because the people in that historical context just wouldn’t get it.” There are so many issues with this that I barely need to mention them. From a philosophical point of view, it is a very explicit step away from categorical imperatives and towards consequentialism and contextually driven morality. I have written an essay on this: http://skepticink.com/tippling/2012/12/18/god-is-a-consequentialist/

    Well done Justin for debating on what is a prominent stage, and (so far) doing a great job!

  45. says


    Wow. That portion dealing with babies’ bellies, swords and God being ‘sick’ was brilliant. Jon Allister and Justin Brierley stumbled and stuttered to make their own beliefs not seem callous; to make their own omnibenevolent God not seem like a vicious despot.

    They failed. That moment alone defines the debate as a win to Schieber.

    Allister just didn’t know what to say to make his position not sound ridiculous.

  46. andrewviceroy says

    Justin did such a great job. This was my favorite debate of his yet.

    If we are expected to “step back and look at where this [inconceivably unethical action] fits in to the big picture,” then why can’t Yahweh do the same for the general non-believer who doesn’t commit anything close to that kind of atrocity in their lives? Why should Yahweh get a consequentialist pass that wouldn’t apply to the generally fairly ethical (in comparison) modern person?

    Are we really being asked to tolerate Yahweh’s lack of mercy more than we would tolerate this kind of mercilessness in ourselves, regardless of any qualifying ethical evaluation?

    What I want to know is: could it even matter to them *how atrocious the action was*?

    Then there’s the standard arguments from hyperbole and the progressive “context of warfare at the time” (both of which, literally render theology undiscernable and ethics incoherent). There is also this notion that the threat, which they absolutely planned to make good on, was not so bad, because it actually gave the enemy a chance to change cultural identity. I wonder of Hitler ever (acceptably) thought like that about the Jews.

    I LOVE the vicar’s notion that “we need to understand God’s command to Saul the way Saul understood it.” Wow. What a concession. And he knows how Saul understood it? This is when you really see how fast and loose the church is willing to go, and yet, somehow, they are confident enough about the finest parameters of the theology. Worse, this is supposed to be behavior for ethical application, as Jesus said, comprehensible to a child, yet only the snakiest slithering can compartmentalize this enough to carry on believing. It’s the kind of faux-nuance that undermines everything.

  47. Jason Filak says

    Loved the debate… My favorite part being where Justin started getting aggravated at Allister and told him to take these stories seriously and stop putting words in your God’s mouth. Sick how Allister also blames the parents for the small children being killed. I’m excited for the next podcast with Benedict resigning… Tenessee continuing to push anti-gay laws into school… Same senator Stacey Campfield is trying to connect welfare benefits with children’s grades in school (essentially if the children don’t meet standard grades their parents could receive a reduction in welfare benefits of up to 20%). Lots going on!!!

  48. other_eric says

    Finally listened to this and I share the horrified disgust at the victim blaming, holding Amalekite parents responsible for the slaughter of their infants at the hands of the Israelites, but I also think that John Allister, in making this point, contradicts his earlier points about the Biblical rules of warfare wherein women and children, after all the men have been killed, are meant to be preserved as trophies of war. By this law the parents could have expected at worst that their children would be taken as slaves or whatnot, but could not have predicted their murder. So I think even his godawful victim blaming is flawed using his own logic.

  49. says

    Is everything under control?He found my lecture interesting.You asked for it!We should make good use of our time.Be quiet!Would you please go to a dancing party with me? Would you please go to a dancing party with me? I get up at six o’clock.I’m very glad to hear that.No wonder people say that computers are taking over the world.

  50. Dr. Barton says

    Very nice debate. I stopped listening to Unbelievable a while back because very few of the debates actually said anything. I can’t say that I learned much from the debate (except not to expect revolutionary insights from Dr. Allister) but it was quite enjoyable hearing the atheist arguing the “literal” view and the apologist arguing the “interpreted” view. I thought that you more than held your own in this debate. Of course, when your opponent starts arguing that “it was the victim’s fault”, then you’re already well on your way to presenting the more reasoned argument as the follow-up comments showed.
    I reflect the view of many commentors to this argument, Dr. Allister obviously has no idea what warfare, ancient or modern, is like. If he did, then he would have retracted his paper and burned it in shame.
    On a slight side-note, I believe that both of you made a distinction between herem and the death order against the Amelakites. I would argue that the distinction might be an artificial distinction, that death under a herem order was a sacrifice to Yahoweh. The Tanakh sites several acceptable (in Yahoweh’s view) incidents of human sacrifice and there are other more subtle clues that it was more common that generally accepted. I’m not sure how well-written it is but I can send you a copy of my unpublished article on human sacrifice in the OT should you want to look at it.

  51. says

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