I have written several posts so far regarding the Amalekite genocide debate on the Reasonable Doubts blog. In this article I will try to summarize everything and come to a conclusion. My intention in writing about this is not primarily to engage in the debate but to outline a process for addressing this topic fairly.
I want to start with the assumption that both parties in the debate are sincerely looking to grow in understanding rather than just come out on top. That being the case, here are a few points to consider before the debate begins.
1) Clarify the nature of the debate. Typically, when atheists bring up objections against Christianity, they have to do with arguments against the existence of God or against the validity of the Bible. The Amalekite argument is somewhat different in that it argues that the Biblical God is immoral. For this argument to work, the assumption is that the story as described in the Bible is accurate. The atheist cannot change gears in the middle of the debate and argue for example that historically the event probably never happened. If it never happened then there no longer is anything to blame God for. Either the discussion is about the morality of God in the story or it is about the accuracy of the story. It can’t be both.
2) Break the discussion into parts. The Amalekite argument claims the following:
i) It is unfair for God to kill people
ii) But even if it were fair, it is unfair for him to kill them in groups
iii) But even if it were fair, it is unfair to use PEOPLE to do the killing
If the apologist tries to respond to everything at once, no matter which point he addresses, there will always be two other points left unaddressed. Instead the discussion should start with the first point and move to the second only once a consensus has been reached. Then, that point is considered resolved and not brought up again.
3) Take into account the background of the story. The Bible God has certain attributes, certain abilities and restrictions. The Bible also has a certain view of man; mainly that he is fallen and under condemnation. Now I realize that the atheist might reject many of those notions. But if he wants to argue that the Bible God is unfair he needs to make an argument against the BIBLE’S God and not some other god he made up that falls more in line with his own notion of what a god should be. So, if there is any background element about the Bible story that the atheist rejects, then, the Amalekite debate should be set aside and that element should be debated first. For example, if the atheist has a problem with the Biblical concept of sin, then that needs to be addressed prior to an Amalekite debate as that concept is essential to the story. Or the atheist could choose to concede that point for the duration of the debate but then this means he can no longer bring that up as an objection.
Here are some of the elements the Bible introduces to explain God’s relation to humanity:
- there are certain limits to what God WILL do regardless of whether he COULD do it
- God is not only trying to do what is best for humanity but for all the beings He has created.
- God holds Himself accountable to the beings He has created
- Sin is a threat to the well-being of all created beings
- Man has a sinful nature
All in all, if done properly, this will be a very long discussion. But doing any less than this just means that no opportunity was afforded for a proper defense. There are many difficult topics that cannot be explained in a few words and this in itself is not an argument against them.
I want to end this article by spending a little time on the rights and responsibilities of a creator when it comes to taking back the life of the beings He has created. This is basically addressing point number “2i” as described above. I consider this point essential to the discussion since if you have not first defined what IS moral for a Creator to do, how can you determine that He was immoral in any given situation?
As human beings we make allowance for certain types of killing:
- Capital punishment
- Killing in combat (National self-defense)
Should a creator be bound by these same restrictions? After all, if He commands us not to kill, shouldn’t he abide by that same law as well?
When it comes to following the rules we generally make some allowance for persons in authority. A parent might forbid a child to use matches but is not considered hypocritical when using them himself. A teacher can ask the students to be quiet while he continues to talk. A policeman might break the speed limit in order to catch someone who is speeding without needing to write himself a ticket as well.
Of course, although we make allowance for such situations, there are also limitations to authority and going beyond these limits is considered abuse.
So how does all this apply to God as creator? Is He bound by the same restrictions we are or does He have additional rights?
My argument is simply this: a creator has certain obligations and His rights stem from those obligations. In essence a creator is bound to protect His creation. If one created being becomes a threat to the others and if there is no way to reform this being, he must protect the innocent even at the cost of taking a life. Even in situations were other created beings might not want to interfere, God still has a duty to offer that protection. It is this obligation that puts him in a unique position over created beings.
Again, I am not at this point talking about the Amalekites or even the human race in general so the above statement is not meant to be an answer to why he would kill women and children. I already explained that this debate must be broken into several parts and I am only addressing the first part. I believe this is essential as the rest of the debate depends on what assumptions we start with here.
I will end this article with several thought questions:
- If a creator has the ability to create beings that live indefinitely, is it moral for Him to instead create them so that after a few decades they start deteriorating and eventually dying?
- Because our lifespan is limited, we can take someone who is a threat to society and, instead of capital punishment, we can keep them locked up until they die of natural causes. Would that be an option for beings that live indefinitely? Is it more moral to keep them locked up forever or to take their life?
- If a created being no longer wishes to live, should a creator take their life or allow them to take their own lives?
- If a created being deteriorates into some form of madness, what is the moral thing for a creator to do?