You may remember that an editorial by Richard Dawkins in which he explains why he won’t debate William Lane Craig, has caused a bit of a tempest in the religious teapot. At issue is the fact that Craig has defended divinely-commanded genocide in the Bible, not just once but twice, and Dawkins doesn’t want anything to do with a man who can espouse such odious views. Picky, picky.
Just as a reminder, here’s some of what Craig wrote:
So the problem isn’t that God ended the Canaanites’ lives. The problem is that He commanded the Israeli soldiers to end them. Isn’t that like commanding someone to commit murder? No, it’s not. Rather, since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder. The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.
On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command.
In other words, killing hundreds or thousands of men, women, and children is murder. Unless God commands it, in which case it’s not just okay, but mandatory.
By setting such strong, harsh dichotomies God taught Israel that any assimilation to pagan idolatry is intolerable. It was His way of preserving Israel’s spiritual health and posterity. God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel. The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God.
These children had to die because their parents worshiped the wrong gods and were thus impure.
So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.
This part is so disgusting that I can’t even muster the snark to make fun of Craig. It’s like saying that we should shed a tear for the poor Nazis who were ordered to gas Jews.
It seems to me that when an otherwise-respected person says something stupid or reprehensible, the right thing to do is to denounce the stupid idea, even while acknowledging the person’s other accomplishments. See for instance the firestorm that erupted over Dawkins’s comment about elevatorgate, or when PZ Myers criticized the idea of humanist chaplains.
So how have Christians responded to Craig’s abhorrent rationalization of mass murder? I haven’t seen any of them repudiate his views. Instead, I see comments like Tim Stanley’s at the Telegraph:
Dawkins writes that he is so disgusted with Craig’s thesis that he cannot possibly agree to meet him in person. “Do not plead that I have taken these revolting words out of context,” he adds. “What context could possibly justify them?”
Actually, the context is called “Christian apologetics”, and it’s been around for centuries.
Ergo, Craig’s purpose in writing this piece is to unravel the paradox of a moral Bible that also includes lashings of apparently random violence. Craig stresses that these passages of the Bible are difficult for us to read because we are not of the age in which they are written – they are just as alien to us as Beowulf or the Iliad. That’s because Christian society has been shaped by the rules of life outlined in the New Testament, not in the section of The Bible in which this massacre occurs. Far from using this passage to celebrate the slaughter of heathen, Craig is making the point that the revelation of God’s justice has changed over time. The horrors of the Old Testament have been rendered unnecessary by Christ’s ultimate sacrifice. That’s why the idiots who protest the funerals of gay soldiers or blow up abortion clinics aren’t just cruel, they’re bad theologians.
See? It was the Old Testament god, not the New Testament god, who’s much nicer. Which is not to say that it was wrong of the Old Testament god to have thousands of people killed. That’s just par for the course.
And jbarham at TheBestSchools.org Blog:
Now, I do not mean to defend the book of Deuteronomy, or even to defend Professor Craig’s defense of that recalcitrant book. But I do think it is a little rich that Dawkins should seize on Craig’s more or less unexceptionable exercise in Christian apologetics as a means of wriggling out of what had clearly become for him a very disagreeable situation.
Really? Excusing mass murder is “unexceptionable […] apologetics”?
This is also cited without comment (and therefore, I assume, tacit approval) at Uncommon Descent by “News” (whom I strongly suspect of being Denyse O’Leary).
And Christians have the gall to accuse atheists of having no morals? As some guy once said, take the plank out of your own eye before complaining about the speck in your brother’s eye.