Friday, October 21, 2011

Why Richard Dawkins won't debate William Lane Craig

Richard Dawkins has a column in The Guardian explaining why he won't debate William Lane Craig, the Christian apologist:
For some years now, Craig has been increasingly importunate in his efforts to cajole, harass or defame me into a debate with him. I have consistently refused, in the spirit, if not the letter, of a famous retort by the then president of the Royal Society: "That would look great on your CV, not so good on mine". ...

But Craig is not just a figure of fun. He has a dark side, and that is putting it kindly. Most churchmen these days wisely disown the horrific genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament. Anyone who criticises the divine bloodlust is loudly accused of unfairly ignoring the historical context, and of naive literalism towards what was never more than metaphor or myth. You would search far to find a modern preacher willing to defend God's commandment, in Deuteronomy 20: 13-15, to kill all the men in a conquered city and to seize the women, children and livestock as plunder. And verses 16 and 17 are even worse:
"But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them"

You might say that such a call to genocide could never have come from a good and loving God. Any decent bishop, priest, vicar or rabbi would agree. But listen to Craig. He begins by arguing that the Canaanites were debauched and sinful and therefore deserved to be slaughtered. He then notices the plight of the Canaanite children.
"But why take the lives of innocent children? The terrible totality of the destruction was undoubtedly related to the prohibition of assimilation to pagan nations on Israel's part. In commanding complete destruction of the Canaanites, the Lord says, 'You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons, or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods' (Deut 7.3-4). […] God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel. […] Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God's grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven's incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives."

Do not plead that I have taken these revolting words out of context. What context could possibly justify them? ...

A later post by Craig is – if possible – even more shocking. Referring to his earlier article (above) he says:
"I have come to appreciate as a result of a closer reading of the biblical text that God's command to Israel was not primarily to exterminate the Canaanites but to drive them out of the land.[…] Canaan was being given over to Israel, whom God had now brought out of Egypt. If the Canaanite tribes, seeing the armies of Israel, had simply chosen to flee, no one would have been killed at all. There was no command to pursue and hunt down the Canaanite peoples.

It is therefore completely misleading to characterise God's command to Israel as a command to commit genocide. Rather it was first and foremost a command to drive the tribes out of the land and to occupy it. Only those who remained behind were to be utterly exterminated. No one had to die in this whole affair."

So, apparently it was the Canaanites' own fault for not running away. Right.

Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn't, and I won't.

Yeah, it's OK to murder children, because they're better off for it. Think about that. What kind of insane maniac would believe something like that?

And it's not really murder, because if your home is invaded, you can always just run away, right? If you stay to try to defend your home and protect your family from losing everything, instead of running off to die of starvation and exposure in the wilderness, well, it's your own fault, huh?

Once before, I blogged about William Lane Craig's appalling beliefs. That post got quite a few comments from believers. Oddly enough, none tried to defend Craig, though. Apparently, that was too difficult to even attempt.

Let's face it, there's only one reason why Craig attempts to justify such things, anyway. As a Christian, he believes that the Bible is the word of God. Therefore, he must either ignore or explain away the really disgusting parts of it (just as believers either ignore or explain away those parts of the Bible that are flat out wrong in a scientific sense, too).

A rational person would just note that the Bible was written - and rewritten - by scores of rather primitive people, people who didn't know as much as we do about the world and whose ethical beliefs were deplorable. They were simply wrong. No problem.

But a believer starts out with certain Truths that he won't question and can't abandon. To a Christian, the Bible isn't just some book. A believer isn't trying to determine the truth, since he thinks he already knows it. Instead, he's just trying to justify that belief.

Anyone can be wrong, but it takes religion to believe really crazy stuff like this. Without religion, this wouldn't be difficult at all. Any of us would understand how wrong it is.

William Lane Craig desperately wants to be noticed, but I'd say he doesn't deserve to be taken seriously. Besides, he already debated Christopher Hitchens, at Biola University two years ago. If you're curious about how that went, here's the whole thing.

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