Archive | Paul Copan

Paul Copan on Christian Doubt

I have asked a few respected Evangelical scholars and authors to contribute one paragraph each on the issue of Christians and doubt. I am grateful to each one of these men for not only contributing here, but being the type of scholar who deals with such issues with openness. I am posting them one at a time over the next couple of weeks.

Most of you know Paul, but let me give you some information anyway. Paul is a Christian philosopher, apologist, and author. Copan holds the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University. More about Paul below.

Paul, if you were talking to someone who is having significant problems with their faith, doubting whether or not Christianity is true for whatever reason, what would you say to them if you only had one minute?


Paul, if you were talking to someone who is having significant problems with their faith, doubting whether or not Christianity is true for whatever reason, what would you say to them if you only had one minute?

Sometimes doubts stem from a personal or relational insecurity that manifests itself in the wrong-headed insistence of having only 100% certainty in order to believe.

Knowledge can be defined as warranted true belief, but one can have knowledge without having 100% certainty.  For those who question that “knowledge” does not always equal “100% certainty,” we ask: “How can one know with 100% certainty that knowledge requires 100% certainty?”  Indeed, we can know various true things that rise to the level of “very plausible” or “highly probable” in our minds.  (Isn’t it logically possible that my typing right now is just an illusion?  It doesn’t follow from being logically possible, however, that this illusion is therefore likely true—far from it.)

One doubter with whom I’ve recently engaged acknowledged that his “100% certainty requirement” was really a defense mechanism that enabled him to feel comfortable in a state of neutrality—to justify his insecurity and lack of persisting in the hard work of committed belief.  He confessed to his own insecurity about relationships and his own inability to commit to anything.  He pointed to something from my book How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong? that helped him:  “Skepticism—like relativism—tends to eliminate personal or moral responsibility since truth (which is crucial to knowledge) is systematically being ignored or evaded….We should consider the personal, motivational questions which, while not being an argument against skepticism, raise important issues that may be driving the skeptical enterprise.  Blanket skepticism is an affliction of the mind that needs curing” (pp. 28-29).  I rejoice that God has been very evidently at work in this young man’s life.

Paul Copan


Paul has a Ph.D.from Marquette University (Philosophy), a M.Div. from Trinity International University (Divinity), a M.A. from Trinity International University (Philosophy of Religion), and a B.A. from Columbia International University (Biblical Studies).

You can find out much more about Paul by visiting his website:

Matthew Flannagan’s Interactions with Thom Stark

A note from Paul Copan:

New Zealand theologian and philosopher of religion Matthew Flannagan is a good friend of mine.  He and his wife host an excellent blogsite—MandM.  Knowing that the kinds of comments Stark made in reply to me sounded much like what Matt had experienced, I asked Matt to comment on his previous exchanges with Thom Stark.  This is what he wrote. 

Hi Paul,

I still have not yet read Stark’s lengthy “review” of your book, but I do plan to respond. I have dipped in a bit, and it looks like more of the same stuff he wrote on his blog and in his emails to me. What you have written [in response to Stark] looks good, and it will be great read alongside Richard Hess’s response. 

Here is a brief overview of my interchange with him.

Sometime after I wrote a post on the Canaanite issue I was made aware of a post called “The Flannagan Delusion” by Thom Stark. The post not only called me “deluded,” but it contained nasty vitriol, speculated on and dissected my alleged motives, and distorted my position significantly. Stark did not respond to the line of argument I had made in the article he was responding to.  Instead he had put together a series of statements I had made in comments boxes on other issues and tied them together and presented them as my position on the Canaanite issue.

The post was part of a series with snarky titles in the same vein as “The Flannagan Delusion”; “Attack of the Clowns” was one.  In each case Stark speculated as to what other positions I held and attacked my basis for holding them even though I have never written on these issues. He continued to ignore my central argument.  He attacked my scholarly credentials; he stated I was not an Old Testament scholar and that my ideas were such that anyone in the field would recognise them as terrible.  The problem was I was not doing Old Testament Studies in the piece he was responding to; I had engaged in Old Testament Ethics—these fields overlap, but they are not the same.  I have a PhD in Theology specialising in Ethics. Stark, at the time, had a Bachelor of Divinity; so this ad hominem argument cuts both way. Continue Reading →

Richard Hess’s Response to Thom Stark

Note from Paul Copan:

This is an e-mail (dated 7 May 2011) to me from Richard Hess (Denver Seminary) in response to Thom Stark’s criticisms of Hess in Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? (Baker).

The entire letter is by Richard Hess, but it is divided into Stark’s charges/arguments (which I have italicized) with Hess’s full responses (which I begin with the capitalized “HESS:”)

Dear Paul:

Thanks for sharing this with me and for inviting me to respond.  I have chosen to address here most of the places where Stark actually cites me and criticizes me, and to address the problems with his points.  Surprisingly, the total wordage came to about 4500.  It was difficult to stop!  But I hope it is of help.

Best wishes,
Rick Hess

– – – – – –


In his first criticism of me, Mr. Stark quotes my reference to herem in the Mesha stele on p. 25 of my “War in the Hebrew Bible: An Overview.” He goes on to critique me as follows:
“This is Hess’s critique of Niditch. A two-sentence dismissal of a book-length argument!”  

HESS: Mr. Stark’s claim is false.  I devote pp. 25-27 of my article to summarizing the approach of Niditch and spend most of it approving of her work. Indeed, I largely use her categories as a useful means to understand the subject of warfare.  I never dismiss them.

“The problem is, contrary to Hess’s claim here, there is ample evidence in the early texts for human sacrifice to Yahweh, and good evidence that Israelites in the pre- monarchical period believed that a human sacrifice could be offered to Yahweh in exchange for victory in battle. Niditch spends numerous pages pouring [sic] over the evidence and discussing it in detail; Hess’s response is just to deny that any such evidence exists, with no argument offered. But we’ll just cite two examples.” 

HESS: This is false.  The denial of human sacrifice as “an approved form of Yahweh worship” is my concern throughout this discussion and that phrase appears at the end of the same paragraph on the same page where Stark cites my Mesha of Moab discussion.  Stark’s decision to ignore this point distorts my statements and my understanding of the absence of human sacrifice as “approved.”

The examples Stark cites to prove that human sacrifice was given to Yahweh and approved by early Israel come from Judges 11 and Numbers 21.  Judges 11 is irrelevant because (1) there is no reference to herem anywhere in the chapter; and (2) there is no evidence that this practice of Jephthah’s was “an approved form of Yahweh worship” in the sense that the biblical text endorses it.  Numbers 21 is irrelevant because it does not deal with human sacrifice.  Line 17 of the Mesha inscription does indeed discuss the herem.  However, it simply uses the causative verbal form of this root with the Moabite god as the direction toward which the herem was made.  This follows king Mesha’s slaughter of 7,000 inhabitants of the city.  However, in the context of war it is nowhere clear that this has to do with human sacrifice. It has to do with defeat of the enemy.  We do not know what the religious beliefs of the Moabite king were in respect to the practice of the herem; only that he practiced some form of it.  Beyond that, there is insufficient evidence on the basis of this one citation.  To attempt an identity of the use of this term in the 9th century Moabite stele with that of the herem in Israel’s wars, in a different culture and at times centuries removed from the Moabite text, is incorrect method. Continue Reading →

Is God a Moral Monster Revisited: Preliminary Replies to Thom Stark

(by Paul Copan)

Thom Stark has offered a lengthy response to my book Is God a Moral Monster?  His online book is entitled:  Is God a Moral Compromiser? When a book is laden with sarcasm, distortions, and ad hominem attacks, genuine dialogue and cordial exchange—the stuff of genuine scholarship—become difficult, if not preempted.

My good friend Matt Flannagan, with whom I have collaborated on various projects, has extensively engaged with Stark in the past.  (Note: I have posted his response alongside my posting.)  I’ve held off on commenting on Stark for this very reason, as the experience of others shows that engaging with Stark on such topics tends to be unproductive.

Let me make some preliminary comments on Stark.  

First, Stark accuses me of ignoring the critical scholars.  Keep in mind that I am writing for a popular audience—a group that isn’t going to read at a scholarly level but who are reading the New Atheists.  Mentioning these critics is simply a springboard to launch into the topic of Old Testament ethical issues; these men are hardly legitimate sources of critique, even if they raise points discussed by critical scholars. 

Second, it’s disappointing that Stark simply writes off Old Testament scholars who have endorsed my book, calling them “Little Leaguers.”  These include Christopher Wright (Ph.D. Cambridge), Gordon Wenham (Ph.D. Cambridge), and Tremper Longman (Ph.D. Yale).  They have earned their stripes at leading academic institutions.  Stark’s demeaning talk strikes me as disrespectful and unprofessional.  One gets the impression from reading Stark that those who agree with him are the “real” scholars. 

Third , Stark assumes I have no background in biblical studies.  Not so.  I’d imagine that I’ve probably logged the same number formal academic hours (if not more) in biblical/theological studies than Stark—though Stark would no doubt dismiss such training as “Little League.”  I have a B.A. in Biblical Studies as well as an M.Div. (Having studied Greek and Hebrew)—in addition to an M.A. in philosophy and a Ph.D. in philosophy (in which I also took courses in theology).  I’m also a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, and I have presented at SBL as well as the American Academy of Religion.  Furthermore, I am a Fellow of the Institute for Biblical Research.   Continue Reading →

Morality and Naturalism’s Counterintuitive Claims: Response to Dawkins, Part V

(by Paul Copan)

We’ve been engaging the thinking of Richard Dawkins, and more recently we’ve touched on the counterintuitive nature of (Dawkins’) naturalism.  I’ll be looking at the topic of naturalism’s counterintuitive claims regarding morality, but first the historical question of naturalism’s alleged link to human rights.

Dawkins, Human Rights, and Historical Connections

When Dawkins spoke Nova Southeastern relatively recently, he talked about how Enlightenment secularism gave rise to human rights.  This is a common claim made be naturalists, but it is simply false.  As human rights scholar Max Stackhouse of Princeton writes:  “intellectual honesty demands recognition of the fact that what passes as ‘secular,’ ‘Western’ principles of basic human rights developed nowhere else than out of key strands of the biblically-rooted religion.”[1]   These rights are rooted in the biblical language of the “image of God”—and natural law (in the Middle Ages) and natural rights (in the modern world).  The two leading documents of the eighteenth century refer to God as the basis for human rights: the Declaration of Independence (which speaks of humans being “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”) and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (affirming human rights “in the presence and under the auspices” of God, “the Supreme Being”). 

More recently, the chief movers establishing a Universal Declaration on Human Rights of 1948 (which speaks of humans being “endowed with reason and conscience”) were primarily church coalitions and individual Christian leaders who worked closely with some Jewish rabbis to create a “new world order” of human rights.[2]

Jürgen Habermas is one of Europe’s most prominent philosophers today.  Another fact about Habermas: he’s a dyed-in-the-wool atheist.  Yet he highlights the inescapable historical fact that the biblical faith has had a profound influence in shaping civilization.  Consider carefully his assessment:

“Christianity has functioned for the normative self-understanding of modernity as more than just a precursor or a catalyst. Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and a social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love.  This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation.  To this day, there is no alternative to it.  And in light of current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage.  Everything else is just idle postmodern talk.”[3]

Even non-Westerners have come recognized the remarkable impact of the Christian faith in the West.  TIME magazine’s well-respected correspondent David Aikman reported the summary of one Chinese scholar’s lecture to a group of eighteen American tourists: 

“One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world,” he said.  “We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective.  At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had.  Then we thought it was because you had the best political system.  Next we focused on your economic system.  But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion:  Christianity.  That is why the West has been so powerful.  The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics.  We don’t have any doubt about this.”[4] Continue Reading →

Reason, Personal Responsibility, and Naturalism’s Counterintuitive Claims: Response to Dawkins, Part IV

Naturalism takes for granted the following tenets:

  • Nature is all there is.
  • All reality is comprised of or rooted in matter.
  • There is no supernatural—no Creator, no miracles, no souls,
    no angels, no life after death.
  • Science becomes the only (or best) means of knowledge. 

Richard Dawkins is a four-point naturalist.  Such a position, however, defies our most basic intuitions and assumptions about human experience. Naturalism’s logically leads to:

  • the impossibility of knowledge;
  • the unreliability of reason;
  • the denial of free will and personal responsibility;
  • the undermining of human rights and dignity

I’ve already touched on the first two points (on the impossibility of knowledge and reliable reason) in a previous post, but let me review before addressing the matter of free will/personal responsibility.

Knowledge is warranted true belief.  It’s not enough to have true belief, since you can believe something that’s true but in a totally fluky way.  And Dawkins is right—that we just dance to the music of our DNA—then he himself is dancing to his own DNA.  Dawkins has accidental true belief, but that’s not knowledge. If our beliefs are determined and we believe that determinism is true, then this is just a lucky coincidence—again, not knowledge.  Those who reject determinism are still determined to believe what they do.  Yet Dawkins claims to know his view is true and that he is more rational than the theist.

Naturalistic evolution is interested in survival, not truth. As naturalistic philosopher of mind Patricia Churchland puts it:  Continue Reading →

Richard Dawkins: Advocate of Science or Self-Refuting Scientism? – Response to Dawkins, Part III

In his book River Out of Eden, Richard Dawkins writes: “Scientific beliefs are supported by evidence, and they get results.  Myths and faiths are not and do not.”[1] This is akin to what Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin asserts:  the “social and intellectual apparatus, Science, [is] the only begetter of truth.”[2] Such comments remind me of the kangaroo in Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who.  She insists that Horton’s conviction—that life can exist on a tiny speck of dust—is delusional.  Exasperated, she exclaims: “If you can’t see, hear, or feel something, it doesn’t exist!”

Continue Reading →