William Lane Craig and Divine Genocides

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William Lane Craig is arguably the most popular defender of the Evangelical faith out there. Whilst he certainly tends to overstate his case about the resurrection of Christ, he is far more rational and rigorous in his approach than folks like McDowell (or your local pastor or evangelist for that matter).

At the end of the day, I don’t believe that his attempts to prove God’s existence through the cosmological argument are in any way, shape or form more fallacious than atheistic attempts to show that everything has to be as simple as possible.

I do believe, however, that he is completely misguided in his willingness to stick to the dogma of Biblical inerrancy at all costs.

Defense of atrocities attributed to God

One of the most disgusting consequence is undoubtedly his endorsement of Biblical genocides, or should I say, genocidal myths.

According to the beliefs of Dr. Craig, those events undoubtedly occurred as reported in the pages of his inerrant book, whereby God allegedly ordered soldiers to kill babies and pregnant women alike.
Regardless of their historicity, the tales have been rightly called terror texts due to the theology they convey.

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Unlike many fundamentalists, he recognizes to his credit it is possible to be a Jew or a Christian while rejecting them:

First, let me commend you for seeing that this issue is an in-house debate among Jews and Christians. If it is the case that God could not have issued the commands in question, that goes no distance toward proving atheism or undermining the moral argument for God; it at most implies a liberal doctrine of biblical inspiration, such that inspiration does not imply inerrancy.“

But I was really stunned by his first sentence:

It’s wonderful to read a rational response to my defense of the historicity of the conquest narratives, Daniel! The typical response has been just heated emotional denunciations with no rational interaction with the moral theory I defended in QoWs”

It demands a huge effort for me to believe that Craig is not aware of the numerous blog posts Randal Rauser spent dealing with his lame attempts to whitewash such horrors. He clearly expressed his feelings, but does Craig really expect someone to callously think about atrocities attributed to the Supreme Being of all universes?

He further said:

But it’s worth remembering that the reason the conquest narratives are so puzzling is that God’s character in the Old Testament is so morally elevated that it’s hard to understand how He could issue such commands, especially after the story of Abraham’s bargaining with God over Sodom and Gomorrah. He is not the villain that the new atheists make Him out to be.“

This statement is certainly hugely debatable, but I can agree with it in so far that by and large the writers of the OT had more elevated human thoughts about God than those expressed in the genocidal passages.


“2. I’m very gratified that you agree with me on my Divine Command Theory of ethics. I think this goes a very long way toward resolving the problem. God does nothing morally wrong in issuing these commands. Rather the whole question devolves, as you note, to this: has God failed to act in accordance with His perfect moral character? The task of the biblical believer is now to show that in issuing these commands God does nothing out of character with a perfectly just and loving being.“

I am unwilling to argue about the validity of DCT here and am going to accept this for the sake of the discussion, provided the character of a perfectly just and loving being can be recognized by our moral intuitions, what Calvinists (for instance) usually deny.

Alleged wickedness of the Canaanites.

You apparently agree with me that God’s judgment of the Canaanite adults is consistent with God’s being perfectly just and loving, given how unspeakably debased these people were..“

Well I certainly cannot agree with this anymore than with the proposition that the entire human race except Noah and his family was literally rife for utter destruction by the flood.

This stems from the simple empirical fact that even in the most wicked cultures, you’re always going to find a substantial set of (relatively) virtuous individuals not deserving such a judgment. And the whole concept that the place of one’s birth is going to have a huge impact on one’s ethical behavior certainly mitigates one’s personal responsibility.

Is taking their lives consistent with the character of a perfectly just and loving being? Well, why not? My claim is that in taking these children home early, God does them no wrong. Indeed, He may actually prevent their eternal damnation by snatching them out of a depraved Canaanite culture.“

WLC looks completely confused here and I hardly know where to begin with. If he agrees that the genocide of the Jews or the Armenians was an atrocity for God, then it makes no sense He would commend such a horror given the wrong message it would send. The expression „taking them home“ sounds extremely cynical (to say the least) in such a context, if one tries imagining a soldier cutting the throat of the toddler of a terrified housewife.

But this passage made me realize that divine genocide isn’t the weakest point of Professor Craig’s theology.

No, the hugest problem is certainly his belief in conscious eternal punishment. If he believes that babies and toddlers automatically escape this fate by dying and that we can be glad about the Canaanite ones leaving this earthly life in this way, then it seems inevitable we should also praise God for every abortion.

More than that, conservative Christian parents believing that most humans end up in hell would express their love for their children in the most perfect way by practicing infanticide.

But your question is easy to answer. The reason we should withhold such a reward is that God has issued a command “Thou shalt not kill,” so that we have a moral prohibition against killing the innocent. We have no right to play God; it is He and He alone who has the prerogative to give and take life. Yes, the death of a child brings great good to that child. That’s why we are comforted at funerals of children. But there’s nothing in my moral theory that implies that we should bring about this great good (I’m not a utilitarian!). In fact, my moral theory entails that we have a moral duty not to take the life of a child or of any innocent person. God has forbidden us doing so, and anyone who presumes to do so commits a great evil. This is right in line with the teaching of the New Testament, as well as the Old.„

The problem is that God gives us strong commands against inflicting a temporary pain to our fellow human beings while he’s going to allow them being tortured forever.

Progressive Christian perspective: faith forward.

To conclude, let me give my take on the Biblical terror texts. I view the things contained within the Biblical Canon in the same way I see religious texts outside the Canon, that is to say as the fallible description of human thoughts and experiences with God. In the same way people can get facts about mathematics, logic, and physics wrong, they can get God wrong, sometimes in quite a guilty and sinful way.

Our reflection about God shouldn’t start from any allegedly inspired holy scripture, but from the concept He has to be perfect in order for Him to be God, that is infinitely better than any one of us can dream to be. From this basis, we can evaluate if the religious thoughts and experiences of anyone are genuine, illusory, or both at the same time.

Certainly, developing a coherent theology on this foundation cannot be achieved with some lines of a blog entry.

9 responses to “”

  1. Andrew Ryan says :

    This is the problem with Craig’s argument from morality for the existence of God – he’s forced into the position that if God did it, it cannot by definition be immoral.

    • lotharson says :

      Yep!

      But as I will argue in a future post, many forms of ethical naturalism face the same challenge, for they teach that if Evolution hardwired a certain morality within a creature, it cannot by definition be immoral.

  2. Andrew Ryan says :

    To clarify, my point is that, bible innerantist or not, or Craig cannot say “We know God would not order such acts, as they are immoral”, because one of his key arguments rests on the notion that it is nonsensical to judge the morality of any of God’s acts, for His own nature is the only standard that makes logical sense.

    He does elsewhere contradict his own argument though on his website when answering the question of whether he would become a Muslim if it turned out Allah was the creator. He replied that in theory he would, but that it was logically impossible for Allah to be the supreme being as The Koran made it clear He did not possess qualities such as compassion, love and forgiveness – as these are ‘great-making properties’, Craig argues, a supreme would have to possess them.

    However this sounds like either:
    a) Craig is simply saying his own God has those properties, and so he judges them to be great-making, which ignores that whatever properties ANY supreme being had would have to be great-making ones, regardless of what they were (in other words, they’re great-making because the being has them – the being isn’t supreme because he has those particular properties); or
    b) Craig is admitting those properties are simply great by a standard that exists apart from God, which undermine’s Craig’s whole attempt to defeat Euthryphro’s Dilemma.

    • lotharson says :

      Thanks Andrew for this long thoughtful comment.

      I certainly believe that Craig’s position is untenable in many respects.

      That said, I am not sure we should conclude that great-maximizing properties are completely independent of God for there might be a kind of closed loop going on, so that in a godless universe these properties are NOT great-making.

      If I were to make up an example:

      if God does not exist and the universe is doomed to oblivion, neither love nor hate ultimately matter.

      But if there is a God and an eternal purpose for the universe, love and hate do matter, but only love can be great-making.
      Thus God has necessarily to be loving.

      Whilst such kinds of reasoning is not free of problems, this might be a way for Craig to make his position more rational.

      Of course, I’m not convinced this would ultimately work.

      • Andrew Ryan says :

        Good stuff, Lothar.

      • lotharson says :

        Oh thanks!

        I think I will write a post on the future about the possibility of such a self-closing loop.

        I could not find that until now in the philosophical literature, tough I’m sure someone else has already come up with a similar idea.

      • Andrew Ryan says :

        You’re right – I’m sure he’d offer some kind of answer!

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Be Christian: Kill Babies | findingdoubt - October 5, 2013
  2. lotharlorraine - February 7, 2014

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