Craig strikes back at genocide smear

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.”

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20 Responses to "Craig strikes back at genocide smear"

  1. Pingback: Richard Dawkins and the empty chair « Be informed

  2. Peter Byrom  27/10/2011 at 23:23

    Three things to point out:

    1. I’m sure there were some murmurs and boos from some people after Dr Craig’s answer to the Canaanite question… but most people actually applauded, because they found Dr Craig’s answer sufficient for clarifying a) why it was not genocide, b) the extreme and unique circumstances which necessitated the command, and c) the fact that, Biblically, this sort of action is prohibited from ever happening again.

    2. It’s not a contradiction to say:

    A) God gave an order

    B) It eventuated that the order was not carried out

    That is to say God could have instructed even the deaths of the children if encountered but, as Dr Craig pointed out, in the actual chain of events it may not have actually happened (no children to be found)?

    3) As for Dawkins using this as an excuse, Dr Came is right to call his bluff and accuse him of “smoke-screening”. Dr Craig’s views on the Canaanite question are completely separate from the criticisms of Dawkins’ arguments in The God Delusion. To argue “I feel offended by Craig’s views on (X) therefore he can’t be right about the invalidity of my (Y) and I don’t need to listen to him” is itself an ad hominem fallacy, not a good objection given that Dawkins is being criticised for logical fallacies in the first place!

    Lastly, Dawkins’ inconsistencies INCLUDE his having no ontological moral basis for how anything can be evil (he denies evil exists, yet describes things as evil when it suits him) and even Dawkins thinks there are circumstances where infanticide is okay (Peter Singer).

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  3. ABit Upset  28/10/2011 at 04:10

    OMG Did he say that? That’s terrible.

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  4. Steven Carr  28/10/2011 at 05:00

    ‘. 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. “

    Wow! Did Craig really say this?

    Just how fast could those toddlers have toddled when running away from the soldiers Craig sent to kill them?

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  5. Steven Carr  28/10/2011 at 05:37

    Apologies. That should read ‘the soldiers that Craig’s god sent to kill them’

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  6. Peter Byrom  28/10/2011 at 09:53

    Steven, do you believe the arguments in The God Delusion are sound? You can be guaranteed to talk about this subject in every forum you visit, but I’ve never heard you say whether or not you think Dawkins’ central argument, and his responses to theistic arguments, carry water?

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  7. Steven carr  28/10/2011 at 11:07

    ‘Steven, do you believe the arguments in The God Delusion are sound?’

    Some are. Some aren’t.

    Amazingly, many books have errors in them.

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  8. J.Jonah.Jameson  28/10/2011 at 18:01

    Godamnit Mr “Rothwell”, why do you have to go and call out all these crazy religious nuts, talking about genocide and shit, when you could be doing something more important, like getting me pictures of spider-man, OR going and getting some real stories like a real goddamn journalist, you batshit hack

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  9. Cathy Cooper  29/10/2011 at 13:11

    I addressed the issue of Dawkins’ unwillingness to debate Craig on my blog–and I agree that his using the excuse of Craig’s defense of the genocide of the Canaanites is a “smokescreen.” Dawkins has already debated other theologians who must also defend the genocide of the Canaanites–or they could not be Christian. Because if they can dismiss the “nasty bits” of the bible, then the bible looses its authority.

    Craig’s defense of genocide illustrates how perverse and detrimental the Abrahamic religions are to the one and only “real world” we know of. Men have been killing and torturing in God’s name for centuries, and according to Craig, they can and should continue to do so. A very scary thought indeed.

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  10. Jon Hodge  29/10/2011 at 20:38

    The depravity of the Canaanites and the evil in that culture needs to be studied to be believed. As well as incest, idolatory, adultery and beastiality. They even sacrificed their own children!….

    Molech was a Canaanite underworld deity represented as an upright, bullheaded idol with a human body in whose belly a fire was stoked and in whose outstretched arms a child was placed that would be burned to death. The victims were not only infants; children as old as four were sacrificed.Kleitarchos reported that “as the flame burning the child surrounded the body, the limbs would shrivel up and the mouth would appear to grin as if laughing, until it was shrunk enough to slip into the cauldron.”

    Here we see just how incredibly evil and corrupt an entire culture became.

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  11. Dennis  30/10/2011 at 14:12

    This is really nothing new or surprising. These passages have been in the Bible ever since it was assembled and have been pointed to by agnostics and atheist for decades, perhaps even centuries. Anything except a repudiation of the passages is an endorsement and one cannot hold to the inspired, inerrant nature of the Bible AND the goodness of God by such an endorsement.

    Frankly, to believe the God of the Bible is who Christian theology has made him out to be AND endorse the inerrantcy of the Bible one has no other choice but to argue for the absolute aseity of God in all things including morality. This is nothing new.

    It was abominable, it is abominable and always has been abominable. The only thing that is new is that a Christian apologist has finally bitten the bullet and openly and unapologetically endorsed the argument. After all, if you are honest, it is the only game in town however horrific a game it may be.

    This is the conclusion of Craig’s Divine Command Theory. God is the ground of what is good therefore anything and everything God does and commands is BY DEFINITION good. You cannot retain the supremacy of Craig’s God without it.

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  12. John White  30/10/2011 at 14:47

    Let’s get back to basics, please – albeit within a conflict situation not totally unrelated to the one in the Old Testament that Dawkins / Craig dealt with.

    Marlene Dietrich was the c.20, German-born mega media star who lived through both World Wars.

    She moved to the US after Hitler came to power, and later served with the US forces in Western Europe and North Africa.

    Her battlefront work, as an entertainer / wartime fighter against the Nazis, led to her being awarded the US Medal of Freedom AND the French Legion d’Honneur.

    With friends and relatives on both sides of the conflict, her revulsion – at seeing preachers from each side invoking the same God to defeat the other – led to her loss of faith.

    As a “practicing” Humanist for the past 50 years, I find her simple statement “If there is a supreme being, he’s crazy” really sums up an awful lot of what Prof Craig seems to belive.

    Frankly, if a supernatural being seems to favour actions which need ‘way beyond imagination’ explanations, we’d all be more effective when trying to work things out for ourselves . . .

    . . . provided that, like most trained scientists, you are always prepared to modify your thinking if something more water-tight is brought to your attention.

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  13. Dan Rodger  30/10/2011 at 21:56

    Is anywhere on the internet free from Steven Carr??

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  14. Dan Ventress  30/10/2011 at 22:02

    I find it ironic that Dawkins criticises Craig for endorsing Genocide, even though Dawkins himself has said on numerous occasions how there is no such thing as good or evil, and has himself endorsed infanticide. Sam Harris, in his book The End of Faith, said that one day it may be ethical to kill religious people in pre-emptive self defence. Dawkins’ comments about the mass murders of Stalin, et al., left a lot to be desired as well. I keep forgetting the new atheist special pleading escape clause: any misdeed up to and including multiple mass genocide is acceptable providing it was carried out by an atheist.

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  15. godlesstheist  30/10/2011 at 23:52

    I’m sorry, but as an agnostic/atheist, I don’t see why infanticide is “morally” wrong. If the culture, regardless of whatever the reason, thought that it was their moral obligation to kill babies to further the prosperity of their own such as the Spartans, then it was right for them. There are no absolute morals, we are all evolved primates, animals and animals kill other animals all the time. Personally I don’t think Craig’s arguments hold water but who are we to say that it was “immoral” for one culture to try and kill off another, such is the way of life, red tooth and claw. Our current culture holds a different view but definitely not a better or more moral one. We can’t judge those people, we didn’t live in their culture and era.

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  16. Ray Dobson  31/10/2011 at 21:13

    The bible is an ignorant, bloodthirsty screed written by barbaric savages to glorify themselves, demonize their enemies, justify their genocide and other atrocities, and suppress independent thought. The fact that some people in the 21st century are still blind to its horrors shows how religious belief stultifies rather than developing the human moral sense.

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  17. Ray Dobson  01/11/2011 at 00:12

    Still wondering how you can “smear” someone by quoting his own words, at length and in context…

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  18. randomagnostic  01/11/2011 at 04:23

    What should have happened to the children? I’d imagine most people back then had a hard time already caring for their families.

    I often here people say “If you want to outlaw abortion, I hope you are going to pay for and raise all those unwanted babies!”

    Why can’t the same reasoning here? The baby’s parents are dead. They are too young to be able to work or pull their weight. It is unreasonable to force others to sacrifice the chances of survival of their existing family to care for these babies (we don’t force soldiers to take home war orphans, especially ones that don’t have the financial means to). What other logical option is there other than to swiftly kill them? Should they have left the babies to starve to death? I can’t imagine a lot of people back then would have willingly wanted to adopt someone else’s baby.

    “I’m sorry, but as an agnostic/atheist, I don’t see why infanticide is “morally” wrong. If the culture, regardless of whatever the reason, thought that it was their moral obligation to kill babies to further the prosperity of their own such as the Spartans, then it was right for them. There are no absolute morals, we are all evolved primates, animals and animals kill other animals all the time. Personally I don’t think Craig’s arguments hold water but who are we to say that it was “immoral” for one culture to try and kill off another, such is the way of life, red tooth and claw. Our current culture holds a different view but definitely not a better or more moral one. We can’t judge those people, we didn’t live in their culture and era.”

    Good points. Unfortunately, it seems rare for other atheists to come to terms that this is how it is. I often wonder if many people state they are atheists so that they can feel morally superior to religious people, so they self-delude themselves to think their morals are “better” or “more correct,” and those that disagree with them are “evil.” Atheists like this remind me of my vegan friend, who thinks anyone who kills animals for food when they don’t need to is “evil.” I can admit, however, that my disdain for killing babies is no different than his disdain for eating meat. They’re both just personal opinions based on our emotions.

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  19. Steven carr  02/11/2011 at 09:37

    RANDOMAGNOSTIC
    Our current culture holds a different view but definitely not a better or more moral one. We can’t judge those people, we didn’t live in their culture and era.”

    CARR
    I don’t live in 1930′s Germany either. Perhaps I can’t judge the Nazis genocide of Jews, just as I can’t judge Craig’s claim that murder is morally obligatory if his god commands it.

    CRAIG
    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.

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  20. frances  03/11/2011 at 23:40

    I forget who it was who said “I will call no being ‘good’ who is not what i mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow humans, and if the being sends me to Hell for not so calling him, then to Hell I will go”.

    That to my mind is real moral objectivity, whilst Craig’s acceptance of child murder as being defensible as long as God commands it is the ultimate subjective moral stance.

    Incidentally, I was at the lecture with my husband & 2 daughters. We were the ones booing from the gallery.

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