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By James Rothwell
Christian apologist William Lane Craig addressed a packed Sheldonian theatre this week, in the absence of Richard Dawkins.
Organisers left an empty chair for Dawkins, who has consistently refused to debate Craig and branded him a “deplorable apologist for Genocide” in his Guardian column last week. Members of
During his speech Craig tackled what he perceived as logical flaws in Dawkins’ 2006 book “The God Delusion”, as well as discussing his view of the cosmological argument for the existence of God.
In lieu of Dawkins, Craig was instead pitted against a panel of three Oxford academics including Daniel Came, who has publicly criticized the controversial atheist for refusing to attend the debate. Also among them was Philosophy senior research fellow Stephen Priest, who declared that philosophy “had committed suicide,” much to the amusement of the predominantly religious audience.
However, in a question and answer session near the end of the debate, Craig’s response to the accusation that he approves of Biblical genocide provoked murmurs of disapproval from parts of the audience, and a loud boo from the upper wings.
“There was no racial war here, no command to kill them all,” he initially said, referring to extermination of the Canaanites in the Old Testament, “the command was to drive them out.”
Then Craig said: “But, how could God command that the children be killed, as they are innocent?”
“I would say that God has the right to give and take life as he sees fit. Children die all the time! If you believe in the salvation, as I do, of children, who die, what that meant is that the death of these children meant their salvation. People look at this [genocide] and think life ends at the grave but in fact this was the salvation of these children, who were far better dead…than being raised in this Canaanite culture. “
One attendee, who wished not be named, called Craig’s argument “alarming”: “I’m a Christian who generally agrees with Craig’s ideas but what he said for the last question was simply disturbing. He completely contradicted himself, one minute saying that, effectively, no children were killed in the genocide, only to say later on that it was OK that children died, that it was God’s will, and that they were saved from a debauched culture.”
He added: “I believe in a benevolent God, but that didn’t sound very benevolent at all.”
Others were generally satisfied with the quality and contents of the debate.
“It was a very interesting and stimulating debate – I actually saw Craig speak in Southampton as well, but I did find a lot of inspiration in this event in particular,” said one Philosophy graduate in the audience.
Members of Oxford Atheists, Secularists and Humanists society distributed copies of Dawkins’ Guardian article outside the Shledonian. Their President, Ben Krishna, said: “I think it’s a horrendous view to hold, both because of its moral repugnance and that it justifies inaction in the face of infanticide. His view is, however, completely justified by his beliefs. It shows what religious belief can (for some people) lead to.”
But Atheist Daniel Came, who was a panellist in the debate, defended Craig’s argument, writing in the Guardian: “I am disinclined to defend the God of the Old Testament’s infanticide policy. But as a matter of logic, Craig is probably right: if an infinite good is made possible by a finite evil, then it might reasonably be said that that evil has been offset. However, I doubt whether Craig would be guided by logic himself in this regard and conduct infanticide. I doubt, that is, that he would wish it to be adopted as a general moral principle that we should massacre children because they will receive immediate salvation.”
Oxford Inter-collegiate Christian Union President Robbie Strachan, who introduced the debate, joking that Professor Dawkins “couldn’t make it.” After the debate, Strachan praised Craig’s speech as “convincing,” with” some solid philosophical arguments for the existence of a creator God.”
“The next step after establishing that the existence of God is a possibility is obviously to find out what that God might be like. Christians believe in a good and loving God, which is why the ‘problem of evil’ question came up last night.”