Responding to athiestic arguments


many times athiests will quote bible passage which seem to make God cruel such as

“Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” (Numbers 31:17)

i know a common responce to this would be “well that is part of hte old law” but for many ppl such a responce will not fly. How should we answer this?


There isn’t a pat answer to this. There is a chapter on the “evil bible” argument in my book.
Partly, as you say, the OT reflects poor theological understnading by the Jews prior to Christ. However the responses also reflect poor insight by the atheist, who thinks that because he is a comfortable American everyone should live comfortable American lives. When you are fighting to save your tribe from extermination by powerful enemies, you see passages like this with a different perspective.


I am a Buddhist. My problem with passages like this is not that the massacres happened - we know from history that massacres are all too frequent. My problem is that the God who orders the massacre is described as “just” and “merciful”. To me a God who orders the killing of pregnant women (“that hath known man”) and their unborn children is neither just nor merciful.

Justice implies punishment for a crime. What crime had those unborn children committed that they deserved the death penalty?

To me, that is the question you have to answer if you wish to convince me that the Old Testament God is just.



First, i would think that heaven is a possibility for these unborn infants.

Also, the communities around the Jewish people practiced horrible child sacrifice. There is a verse in the Old Testament which says something along the lines of not passing your child through fire. That was because the surrounding tribes would burn their children to death as a sacrifice.:eek: I’ve also read that somewhere in the Talmud is a section that deals with the fact that tearing the limb off a living animal and consuming the limb is evil. This is because the surrounding tribes apparently were doing this.

God can often see the bigger picture. Perhaps this culture was so evil that the only way to end it was by killing everyone. If not, maybe, He saw that such a culture would be influencing us this far into the future.

Can you imagine if there was a cult today that thought it was all right to burn children to death? What if they were the predominate religions were not ones that promoted tolerance and understanding as we have today. But what if most religions were influenced by these older ones that practiced such atrocious practices.

Would it have been kind of God to let these cultures exist for us to have to fight again today?

As far as killing the unborn children…Adoptive children today often want to know their heritage, especially if they are a different race from their adoptive parents. This isn’t bad, of course. But what if your heritage was truly evil?


The fallacy in this argument by the atheist is the judging of God in equality to man. It presumes that God thinks like man. “If I were God, I would have ordered the universe in a different way,” is the line of thinking by the atheist.

Also by saying God is cruel, even if he is wrong, is he not admitting the possibility of the existence of God? So the objection is following a cruel god versus the existence of a god. What kind of god would he prefer to follow? One that is just and merciful perhaps? There’s plenty of scripture to support that; so perhaps this instance of cruelty was in some way an act of justice or mercy.


Other parts of the Old Testament show that God is quite capable of taking care of that sort of thing himself (the Deluge, Sodom and Gomorrah, almost Nineveh, etc.). Why the exception for the Canaanites?


I don’t know, any more then I understand why in other parts of the Bible he allows the Israelites to take captives and not kill all the people.



I see, the problem with the atheist is that he doesn’t realize that morality is all relative. If they would only stop looking at the world in such an absolutist way, they would see the truth.

Got it. Thanks, that clears things up a lot. :whistle:


As an atheist, I can tell you that this argument would not be convincing in any way.


Perhaps the culture had become so intrinsically evil that the damage that they were doing to themselves and their neighbors “required” their distruction.

If I’m not mistaken, the israelites failed to follow the instructions in this area and they’ve been paying for it in conflicts with the descendents of the same folks ever since?



Hanging on to the “old law” (Old Testament) and not learning the “new law” (New Testament) is like watching only the first half of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” :smiley:


Interesting, difficult and fundamental question. (warning: I’m NOT a theologian, just an ordinary Catholic)

So, some passages in the Bible, apparently inspired by God, would seem to indicate that God condones cruelty.

And how do we define cruelty? It seems to boil down to the experience of suffering and death, especially when dealt by the hand of another intelligent being.

How could a good God allow this, or in this circumstance, even condone it? The atheist thinks, a truly good God could never allow this, so there must be no God. Eat, drink, play, and hope to die of a coronary in your sleep.

But what if God does exist? What if, in spite of our best efforts to discredit the Bible and the Church, the sea really was parted, or water did become wine, or water really was walked upon, or lame people really were cured, or dead people really were brought back to life? What if we then had to deal with the a reality of the existence of God, who obviously also allows suffering and death to exist? There are one of two possibilities, either God is unconcerned about our natural aversion to pain and fear of death, or maybe, just maybe, contrary to our sense of what is “good” (eg. comfort, security), there is an important, even crucial, purpose for suffering and death that is completely understood by God alone, that brings about an ultimate good.

And that’s not just Christians making up explanations to explain suffering. Jesus, in his life, showed us. The Church, in the last 2000 years, has been trying to better understand it. A lot of people in his time couldn’t handle it, why should anything be different now?



Not even in a teensy weensy way? Oh well, you atheist have never been able to convince me of anything either. Perhaps because we face in opposite directions we will never be able to see eye to eye. :slight_smile:


You’ve got it.
“Moral relativism” is something that is sometimes thrown at people. In fact what the accuser usually means is that moral precept X, which I agree with, you discard on the grounds that it is relative. Almost always the alleged relativist holds some positions to be absolute.

Eg feminists tend to criticise “moralistic” attitudes to women’s promiscuity, but are extremely judgmental when it comes to men’s sexual behaviour.

In fact morality is all relative, but it is relative to you. For a Thug, a worshipper of the Hindu goddess Kali, abduction and murder has a ritual meaning that make it entirely different, morally, from a serial killing comitted by a Westerner. However the Westerner can’t turn himself into that particular kind of Hindu. The moral law against murder is binding, relative to him.


Technically, I don’t see that it was God that said those words, but Moses. "The Lord said to Moses, ‘Avenge the Israelites on the Midianites…’ " Numbers 31:1-2. The rest apparently came from Moses.

Moses had a point, though. The women who were “saved” in the initial battle were apparently the main instigators against God. Numbers 31:15-17. Call it capital punishment?

Remember, in the end we and all creation are clay, made by God, who can do what he wishes.


No, not even a teensy weensy little bit. Luckily though, I do not have to try to justify the morality of commanding a group of people to kill pregnant women and children. :wink:

Yes, it is very likely that we have entirely different views on morality, and I bet we view each other’s with equal disdain :slight_smile:

You can be right like me
With God in the hole you’re a righteous soul
I got a halo round me, I got a halo round me
I’m not the same as you
Cos I’ve seen the light and I’m gaining in height now
I got a halo round me, I got a halo round me
I got a halo round my head
-Halo, Deadwing


I would go one step further, it clearly wasn’t God who commanded this:

31:13 And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp.

31:14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, [with] the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.

31:15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?

31:16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.

31:17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.


Even criticizing Moses here for his brutal command is weak coming from the atheist though. As one other poster pointed out, it’s a little bit presumptuous to claim to know what the conditions of war were at this time and the cultural conditions. It’s fairly easy for an atheist to Monday-morning-quarterback an ancient conflict and claim that that’s not what he would have done under the same circumstances.

An even more compelling argument against the atheist’s case is to point out that in his world view, this action commanded by Moses wouldn’t necessarily be wrong at all. I believe as a Christian you can disagree with what Moses ordered. It wasn’t commanded by God. The atheist has no room to say this was a wrong or immoral act on the part of Moses. Make him justify why under his theory of morality what Moses commanded was immoral.


Nor do I, though I imagine you believe I should; however, that’s understandable given your interpretation of scripture.

I have no feelings of contempt for you nor do I believe you are inferior. In my faith you are the result of a thought of God. You are willed by Him, loved by Him and deemed necessary by Him. As such, I can only love you as best I can. I can’t convert you. That’s God’s doing. I can share the truth with you and you can either accept it or reject it. If you reject it, that’s not a reason for me to hate, but rather love. What is it about me that causes you to have disdain for me?


I do not have disdain for your views. I probably don’t agree with you on many points but that does not automatically equal disdain.


For the two posters who actually read the verses surronding this particular text.

Normally, I look up bible verses and read them for myself. In the instance, I didn’t because I was lazy.:blush: I assumed that it was God talking to the Israelites, not Moses.

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