Joel Furches looks at the impact of Paul Copan’s book Is God a Moral Monster?, written in response to Richard Dawkins’ accusation that “the God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction”

Over ten years ago, author and scholar Paul Copan wrote a book inspired by the words of Richard Dawkins in his famous book God is Not Great. Copan’s book, Is God a Moral Monster?, rocketed him into the spotlight of ministry, apologetics and into the sites of sceptics who picked his book apart to challenge each of his points. 

The attention the book received set the trajectory of Copan’s ministry thereafter, and he wrote several followup books including Is God a Vindictive Bully? (also borrowing words from Dawkins) and Did God Really Command Genocide? All of these books share a common theme: they look at the words and actions of God as portrayed in the Old Testament, and examine the many things which raise objections of cruelty or immorality on God’s part.

I spoke to Copan about how his writing has set the course for his ministry.


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Copan’s background

Dr Copan has had a fairly long and distinguished career in Christian ministry. He began his career on the pastoral staff of a large church in Schenectady, NY. After transitioning from preaching to apologetics, Copan joined the staff of the apologetics ministry RZIM. From there, his career took an academic turn, and Copan served as a professor in the fields of theology, philosophy and ethics. 

With all of this work in ministry, apologetics and academics, Copan has done a great deal of writing and speaking in defence of the belief in God and of the Christian worldview. However, in 2010, Copan put pen to paper with his book Is God a Moral Monster?, and a great shift occurred in his public positioning.

Moral monster? 

The book was written in response to a mounting assault levelled against Christians: the accusation that the God of the Bible acted contrary to all of the best moral teachings. This sentiment is possibly best summed up in the now-famous words of Richard Dawkins

“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.”  

In his book, Copan dissected the more controversial Old Testament passages to see how they fare under the light of inspection to show that they are, in fact, consistent with the character of a just and moral God. The book proved to be not just timely, but overwhelmingly popular, and Copan’s name quickly became associated with defending and clarifying ancient passages that are often confusing to modern eyes. 

This proved to be a defining work in Copan’s career. He said: “[Since the publication of the book] It seems like I’m the go-to guy for these types of questions which are pressing upon people’s minds: how could God command genocide? Does the Bible promote slavery? Whether I go to Denmark, or Sweden, or somewhere here in the United States, that seems to be the topic. Either I’m speaking on it the entire conference, or it is a significant portion of that conference, it seems.” 

Copan sees this as evidence of a pressing need in the evangelical community that too few are addressing head-on.  

What about the genocide passages?

Partly due to this intense interest, Copan followed up Moral Monster with another book on the subject, zeroing in on the supposed genocide in the Old Testament. Co-authored by Matt Flannagan, Did God Really Command Genocide? looks at instances in the Old Testament when the battles roil intensely and the blood begins to flow to see how the sometimes excessively violent prose of the Bible square with the God that Christians worship. 

In our interview, Copan pointed out that the co-author to Did God Really Command Genocide? has also begun to speak on the subject of Old Testament atrocities, helping to fill the apparent need. 

While Copan’s first book, Moral Monster, did deal with the subject of genocide in the Old Testament, Copan felt the need to go into greater depth with the second book, since this topic is a complex and controversial one. Copan says that the resulting book has received accolades from the likes of noted Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright, who praised it as being the most comprehensive treatment to violence in the Old Testament that he’s seen. 


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However, there is more to Copan than Old Testament atrocities. Following Moral Monster and Genocide, Copan turned his attention to his underlying interest in philosophy, making the topic accessible to a lay audience in his book A Little Book for New Philosophers. Copan also co-edited several books, including the Zondervan Dictionary of Christianity and Science, the second edition of Apologetics Study Bible, an anthology on the Kalam Cosmological Argument – co-edited along with William Lane Craig, and a book with Charles Tolliver on how theistic belief is the natural and most consistent belief system versus the inconsistent and sometimes self-contradictory stance of naturalism.  

Copan returned to his work on Bible atrocities in 2022, however, with the release of his book Is God a Vindictive Bully?, and his legacy as the go-to scholar for questions about the cruelty of the Biblical God continues to this day.

At heart, Copan is a philosopher, and one can see this philosophical bent not just in the larger body of work he has published, but even in his books on Old Testament atrocities as he lays out ethical philosophy while building his arguments.

The thirst to respond to the question of biblical atrocities has remained strong in Christian circles, likely because it is these atrocities that form the bulk of the criticisms against Christianity. For now, Copan remains the name to which people turn for these answers.


Joel Furches is an apologist, journalist and researcher on conversion and deconversion, based in the USA.