The Atheistic Critique of the Old Testament Genocidal God

Over the last decade or so, many outspoken atheists have strongly expressed their resentment for the Old Testament God. They condemn Him as a Being they wouldn’t want to worship even if they could be convinced of His existence because of the ‘moral atrocities’ He has brought upon groups of people throughout history. Many of their complaints revolve around the Mosaic Laws and the destruction of the Canaanites because they perceive these laws and actions as being evil, genocidal, misogynistic, homophobic, hateful, and the like. In fact, all of the New Atheists have been very deliberate in their expression of disgust towards the Old Testament God. Richard Dawkins summarizes the New Atheism’s sentiment perfectly when he writes in The God Delusion,

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully

The late Christopher Hitchens remarked on the Old Testament God when he wrote God is Not Great,

The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals

Daniel Dennett writes in Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Phenomenon,

Part of what makes Jehovah such a fascinating participant in stories of the Old Testament is His kinglike jealousy and pride, and His great appetite for praise and sacrifices

Lastly, Sam Harris writes the following in Letter to a Christian Nation while attempting to use (‘misuse’ is a better description) Deuteronomy 13:7-11 to support his claim that stoning is what “God had in mind”,

One look at the book of Deuteronomy reveals that he [God] has something very specific in mind [stoning] should your son or daughter return from yoga class advocating the worship of Krishna

All of the New Atheists have gratuitously commented on their dissatisfaction with the Old Testament. If someone had nothing to go on other than the mere opinion of one of these embarrassingly confused atheists, it would be easy to see how someone could become convinced. After all, they are all brilliant wordsmiths who make a convincing case for their position on paper. It’s pretty easy to see why many youngsters who aren’t prepared to tackle these challenges become influenced by the rhetorical power of these scholars. However, as Oxford mathematician and philosopher John Lennox brilliantly observes, “Nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked by world-famous scientists.”

Does Atheism Provide an Objective Moral Foundation for Judging the Old Testament God?

Recently an atheistic group wrote their own 10 Commandments for the 21st century, which I wrote a post about because of the remarkable philosophical inconsistencies between atheism and objective morality. The sole message of the article was to express how incoherent such a project would be if the atheistic worldview is true. The same principle can be applied to their complaints about the morality of the Old Testament. An objective moral framework for moral values and duties would not exist, so how can an atheist deliver an objective moral criticism of God when a transcendent standard of morality does not exist? Richard Dawkins concedes this point in River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life,

“In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. . . . DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music”

This quote seems contradictory to the quote above where he hurls a slew of insults at God for allegedly being ‘immoral’. If there truly is “at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference”, how could Dawkins ontologically justify any of his moral critiques on God? This is the biggest philosophical inconsistency that I see among all atheists. If we are in a “universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication”, determinism is the only game in town and we have to accept that morality of any kind is completely nonexistent and all perceptions of morality are merely determined by our own chemistry and the product of all preceding events leading up to the present moment, similar to dominos falling. Morality would be completely illusory, which would totally invalidate any derogatory moral claims against the Old Testament God.

Next, atheists commonly complain about why God doesn’t intervene in His creation more frequently and stop the evil in this world if He exists. Ironically, these are the same atheists who fail to recognize that God has intervened in the past and brought judgment upon those who were evil (i.e. the Canaanites), which is the divine intervention that they’re alleging is genocide. Assuming that objectively morality could be grounded on an atheistic worldview, how could an atheist explain away this inconsistency in their argument? Do they want God to act within nature to occasionally judge evildoers (like the case with the Canaanites) or do they want to complain about God acting within nature to judge evil? Atheists are giving mixed messages on this issue.


With all the misinformed ranting and raving from the atheists about the Old Testament God, it seems to be all for nothing if atheism is true. Philosophical materialism prevents us from having the freewill to make any free choices of our own. We would be determined by all the preceding material events before us. However, no reasonable person would believe this based upon their own rational experience. Nobody has a thought and comes to the conclusion, ‘I didn’t freely think that thought. The molecules in my head determined me to have that thought.’ This is a counterintuitive way of thinking, but it is philosophically consistent with the atheistic worldview.

If we were to be charitable and be willing to dismiss the reality of philosophical materialism under an atheistic worldview, we can say with certainty that there would be no ontological basis for objective morality on an atheistic worldview. What does that mean? That means when Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, and Harris make their moral judgments of the Old Testament God, their judgments are nothing more than subjective moral complains that express their mere moral preferences. Some people like chocolate ice cream and some people like vanilla. It’s the same thing. Dawkins may think that the Old Testament God is bad while some people may think He is good but without an objective basis to measure moral actions, each person’s moral judgments are completely and utterly subjective.

Lastly, it seems like those making the moral judgments are failing to recognize the implications of their own worldview. Atheism does not allow for objective moral denouncements. Subjective moral denouncements are possible but determined by all preceding material events. At the end of the day, we all affirm (or want to at least) that our moral judgments are objective. A normal person (without cognitive defect) does not believe that torturing newborns for fun is morally good. Nobody would affirm that statement. However, atheism does not give you the ontological grounding to affirm that denouncement of torturing newborn babies. Christian theism has the resources to objectively support such a denouncement without any difficulty. Since it can be persuasively shown that moral proclamations are impossible in the absence of God, the atheistic moral critique of the Old Testament God falls drastically short of its intended target.

Below is a debate on the topic of morality between Christian philosopher William Lane Craig and atheist neuroscientist Sam Harris. I would highly encourage everyone to watch this debate who is interested in the topic of morality.


15 responses to “The Atheistic Critique of the Old Testament Genocidal God

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  4. So what you’re saying is that genocidal, misogynistic, homophobic, hateful behaviour, jealousy, pride, trafficking in humans, ethnic cleansing, slavery, bride-price, and indiscriminate massacre are actually totally and absolutely fine?

    Belatedly whining that atheists can’t judge these things seems to be simply dodging the issue.

    • Nope. That’s not what I was saying. I would suggest reading more carefully.

      Pointing out what an atheistic worldview would philosophically allow is different than “belatedly whining”. If you have a substantive philosophical argument that ontologically grounds objective morality under atheism, please present it. Otherwise, the atheist is stuck with subjective mortality.

      • I say belatedly because that horse has bolted. Many atheists have judged these activities, and found them to be immoral.

        Which standard would you prefer; one that allows “genocide, misogynism, homophobia, hateful behaviour, jealousy, pride, trafficking in humans, ethnic cleansing, slavery, bride-price, and indiscriminate massacre”, or one that does not?

        I sincerely hope it is the latter, but some theists feel they must excuse some atrocious behaviour.

      • It seems you’re addressing morals objectively without an adequate means to ground them in a transcendent foundation. Without this type of objective foundation for absolute morals, all moral assessments are subjective. So far, you haven’t give any reason for believing that any of your listed moral vices are truly objectively wrong under an atheistic worldview.

      • Not really. I can give you my opinion on a moral matter, I can give you my reasons for holding it. But I don’t expect my opinion to last beyond me, or to have existed before me.

        An atheist can hold these things to be wrong (even absolutely wrong, in their opinion). But a Christian must do a lot of gymnastics to excuse these action, some of which have been judged severe enough to have become crimes in international law.

        Nothing prevents us from judging. All that is required is a standard, and many such standards exist.

      • If atheism is true, you’re correct. Judgements can be made on a subjective basis and they cannot be considered transcendent. However, to judge moral actions as good or bad on an objective basis, you’ll need a transcendent standard by which to identify the moral worth of a particular moral idea. For example, you don’t play baseball without having rules that instruct players how to properly play the game. If someone violates the rules of baseball, as laid out by an individual that transcends the game of baseball (the MLB commissioner), then there will be consequences for violating the objective rules of the game. In the same sense, there is an objective standard of morality. You have repeatedly hinted that God is immoral, but you’ve never given the readers a persuasive reason to believe that there is an objective moral foundation to deem anything truly evil. Respectfully, your critiques are misguided and seemingly confused.

      • I’m not trying no to judge them on an objective basis, nor would I need to. I’m simply judging them by a standard that finds them immoral. A Christian may judge them by a standard that finds them moral. That’s certainly not a position I would like to argue for.

        My point is, on the one hand that an objective basis is not necessary for judgement, and on the other that most Christians must judge these actions moral. My question remains the same;

        Which standard would you prefer; one that allows “genocide, misogynism, homophobia, hateful behaviour, jealousy, pride, trafficking in humans, ethnic cleansing, slavery, bride-price, and indiscriminate massacre”, or one that does not?

        A follow up question would be; if you are forced to admit to preferring the former (as I think consistency demands), doesn’t that make you a little uncomfortable?

      • You’re totally missing the point. Under your worldview, any moral judgement is completely arbitrary. There is no moral action that is objectively better than the other under an atheistic worldview! Instead of focusing on your caricature of what you think God morally demands, it’s important to focus on whether your worldview would prohibit such actions to begin with.

      • I’m not missing the point, that is my point. That all moral statements are statements of opinion. This means everybody has a standard by which they can judge. To use the term “objectively” in regards to morality makes no sense.

        I can tell you with certainty that my standard does not allow such actions. In fact such a number of people agree (except, apparently, some theists) with this standard that those actions are crimes in most developed countries.

      • In an atheistic world, you’re correct. All morality would be subjective. From that statement however, you couldn’t logically indict someone for behavior you deem immoral because that person is living in accordance with their own subjective individual moral framework. You’re worldview removes the logical possibility of being able to objectively assess any moral concepts. While I’m sure you and I would agree on many actions being moral and immoral, my worldview is the only worldview that provides a foundation for objective moral assessment in a meaningful way.

      • Yes we can indict anyone for behaviour we deem immoral. This judgement is based on our own standards, which we hold for reasons (which are also up for analysis).

        One person (say, an atheist) can hold that the above actions are wrong at all places and times. Another (for example, a theist) can hold that these actions are immoral when we do them, but fine when performed by a god. But as no effort has been made to produce a moral object, how can we distinguish these positions from opinion?

      • Your indictment would be meaningless as it’s based on your subjective personal moral preferences. Hitler had his moral preferences and Mother Teresa had hers. Objectively, in an atheistic worldview, there can be no measurable difference because their is no transcendent standard by which to measure moral actions.

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