Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why Dawkins won't debate Craig

I read Richard Dawkins' article today on why he won't debate William Lane Craig and I still find his answer(s) unsatisfactory. Should he change his answer to meet my need for a satisfactory answer? Not at all. Why does he not debate Craig? He refuses to debate Craig because, "The Christian philosopher is an apologist for genocide." After insulting Craig and bringing up the supposed genocide of the Canaanites he then says, "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. Even if I were not engaged to be in London on the day in question, I would be proud to leave that chair in Oxford eloquently empty." 

The article is much longer than that, but I only pasted Dawkins' answer for not debating Craig. So it seems he won't debate Craig because Craig doesn't shy away from giving an answer to the "genocide" account in the bible. I might be wrong, but wouldn't the debate be on the existence of God? How does arguing for or against the existence of God have anything at all to do with the account in Deuteronomy? I think Dawkins' answer is lousy. I know he has arguments against the existence of God so he should use them in a debate against Craig to show why his arguments dismantle Craig's arguments for the existence of God. His answer of Craig being an apologist for genocide is ridiculous. 

Come on Dawkins! You're better than that....aren't you?  

I think Paul Copan has a much better answer to the Canaanite problem in Deuteronomy. 

"We should carefully note the language of "driving out" and "thrusting out" the Canaanites (Exod. 23:28; Lev. 18:24; Num. 33:52: Deut. 6:19; 7:1; 9:4; 18:12; Josh. 10:28, 30, 32, 35, 37, 39; 11:11, 14) or "dispossessing" them of their land (Num. 21:32). "Driving out" is not at all the same as the "wiping out" or "destroying" passages found in these same contexts. Upon examination, the former references are three times as numerous as the latter.[52]  When a foreign army might pose a threat in the ANE, women and children would be the first to remove themselves from harm's way?not to mention the population at large: "When a city is in danger of falling," observes Goldingay, "people do not simply wait there to be killed; they get out. . . . Only people who do not get out, such as the city's defenders, get killed."[53]  Jeremiah 4:29 suggests this:

At the sound of the horseman and bowman every city flees; They go into the thickets and climb among the rocks; Every city is forsaken, and no man dwells in them.

Hess draws the following conclusions: "There is no indication in the text of any specific noncombatants who were put to death." Indeed, the "justified wars" of Joshua "were against combatants."[54]  We read in Joshua (and Judges) that, despite the "obliteration" language, there are plenty of Canaanite inhabitants who are not "driven out" but rather are living in the areas where Israel has settled. Joshua himself refers to "these [nations] which remain among you" (Josh. 23:12?13; cp. Josh. 15:63; 16:10; 17:13; Judg. 2:10?13). The process of driving them out would be a gradual one, as even Deuteronomy 7:22 anticipates and is reaffirmed in Judges 2:20?23.[55]  

Israel's occupation of Canaan involved not simply military activity, but also infiltration and internal struggle.[56]  In my previous article, I note that the text of Deuteronomy 7:2?5, Joshua, and Judges suggests that we have the language of (i) obliteration as well as (ii) acknowledgment of Canaanites as future neighbors. Goldingay comments that Israel knew how to read Torah: "It knew it was not to assume a literalistic understanding" of destroying the Canaanites. That is, Moses did not mean for this to be taken literally. Rather, as Goldingay notes, "Israel was to dispossess the Canaanites and destroy their forms of religion and have nothing to do with them." That is, Israel took this "totally destroy" command metaphorically or hyperbolically?which reflected the ANE language of bravado and exaggeration in warfare.[57] 

To summarize, we should distinguish between two central aspects of the Canaanite question. On the one hand, herem includes stereotypical language of "all" and "young and old" and "man and woman"?even if women and children are not present. So far as we can see, herem is carried out in particular military/combatant settings (with "cities" and "kings"); this specific combatant scenario could well apply in the Amalekite case (1 Sam. 15). In these limited settings, herem is thoroughly carried out (involving even livestock [for example, 1 Sam. 15:9, 14])?though it allows, and hopes for, exceptions (for example, Rahab). The sweeping language which appears to involve only combatants is truly all-inclusive here. On the other hand, evident in Deuteronomy?Judges is the clearly exaggerated ANE language of utter obliteration and total destruction. These hyperbolic references to "totally destroy[ing]" run on parallel tracks with regular mention of many remaining Canaanite inhabitants after the "total destruction" (for example, Judg. 1). Additionally, we should take seriously the many references of "driving out" the Canaanites, to clear away the land for habitation, which does not require killing. Civilians would flee when their military strongholds were destroyed and no longer capable of protecting them."

Read the whole article by clicking here. 

Update: WK responds to Dawkins' article

"His entire column is easily dispatched using Dawkins’ own words against him, because he contradicts himself.

Dawkins has previously written this:

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.
(“God’s Utility Function,” Scientific American, November, 1995, p. 85)

Meanwhile, in his column, Dawkins claimed that God’s command to destroy the Canaanites was an instance of evil:

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.

So, in one statement, there’s no good or evil, and in the next statement, there’s evil. That’s a contradiction, and it undermines his entire column, Q.E.D. You can’t claim that there is no standard of good and evil in one breath, and then make judgments of good and evil in the next. It’s self-refuting. Dawkins didn’t even try to respond to any of Craig’s standard arguments for God’s existence in the editorial, he just went off on a tangent about a few Bible verses that, even if true, might only defeat Judaism and Christianity in particular, but not the existence of God in general. And the debate “Does God Exist?” is about the latter." 

Read the rest of his post here.



"In his latest undignified rant, Dawkins claims that it is because Craig is "an apologist for genocide" that he won't share a platform with him. Dawkins is referring to Craig's defence of God's commandment in Deuteronomy 20: 15-17 to wipe out the Canannites. Here is Craig's offending passage:
"[If] God's grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of [the Canannite] 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."
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.
But whatever you make of Craig's view on this issue, it is irrelevant to the question of whether or not God exists. Hence it is quite obvious that Dawkins is opportunistically using these remarks as a smokescreen to hide the real reasons for his refusal to debate with Craig – which has a history that long predates Craig's comments on the Canaanites.

As a sceptic, I tend to agree with Dawkins's conclusion regarding the falsehood of theism, but the tactics deployed by him and the other New Atheists, it seems to me, are fundamentally ignoble and potentially harmful to public intellectual life. For there is something cynical, ominously patronising, and anti-intellectualist in their modus operandi, with its implicit assumption that hurling insults is an effective way to influence people's beliefs about religion. The presumption is that their largely non-academic readership doesn't care about, or is incapable of, thinking things through; that passion prevails over reason. On the contrary, people's attitudes towards religious belief can and should be shaped by reason, not bile and invective. By ignoring this, the New Atheists seek to replace one form of irrationality with another."


  1. I dunno, Dr. Craig's analysis of the passage I find far less problematic. God has the right to call for the death of whomever He pleases, and one who has a divine command to kill has a justified reason to kill. This bypasses a bazillion historical issues that may play into the issue. Fact is, even if God's intent was to wipe out the entire civilization, it poses no contradiction with a loving all good God.

    While I do think that Copan is probably correct in his assessment, I don't know that it's necessary to go that route.

  2. "When you're looking at moral questions, so-called moral questions, like
    abortion or euthanasia, you can show that people who take a very strong absolutist line may be being inconsistent with themselves because they are taking a strong line on one thing while at the same time inconsistently not taking a similarly strong line on another?"

    Who said the above?

  3. Boss,

    Divine command theory is a simple approach to the problem. I believe I first heard the DC answer in Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul and honestly, I wasn't satisfied with Sproul's answer, but that is my own problem, not a problem with the theory. As I was looking at both sides of the problem (atheist and theist), I came across Copan's approach and things made more sense. The language used for the war accounts is exaggerated language like we use today in our games and even wrestling matches, e.g., "Brock Lesnar destroyed Jeff Hardy in that match!" Did Lesnar destroy Jeff Hardy? Certainly not! Hardy is still alive today and the Canaanites are on the scene again after the "wiping out" that happened to them. So, that's why Copan's answer seems to be the best answer to what really happened. Is it the only answer? No because like you said "...if God's intent was to wipe out the entire civilization, it poses no contradiction with a loving all good God," so DC theory is a good answer too, but honestly it took me a while to cede to such a theory.

  4. WK hit the nail on the end at the end of the post. In my watching and listening to Dawkins present his arguments, he either refuses to respond to a point (don't answer if God exists, just jump to the Canaanite problem!) or completely contradicts himself (say there's no good and evil, then say God's evil). I know William Lane Craig called out Sam Harris on the same thing during their debate.

    Unfortunately, that's a common thing with a lot of "New Atheists," or modern atheists in general. They deny there are absolute truths or good and evil, but then they'll call something they personally dislike evil. As James White once said, "Wait a minute, you can't borrow from my world view whenever you want!" A fine example of Paul's words regarding those who know God's existence but "by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (Rom 1:18).

    Just my two cents on the Canaanite problem: I agree that there might be some exaggeration in the language, and it's right to point out that, after the Jews supposedly "genocided" all the inhabitants, there were still inhabitants left over - however, I might add that it is also a matter of judgment. All the people in the land were committing idolatry, and God can, when He so desires, bring judgment upon a people. We see this in the chapter Dawkins's referred to: shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the LORD your God. [Deu 20:17-18; emphasis mine]

    So part of the reason for the destruction of those in Canaan was: 1) judgment against their idolatry; 2) to protect the Jewish people from the temptations of that idolatry, since (in the old covenant) it was a matter of national purity. Many people refuse to deal with this - for them, it's a matter of emotional argumentation, a bit similar to those who argue against hell by going on and on about how evil it would be to eternally torture people.

  5. Yeah once one declares morality is subjective or not objective, then he or she cannot make moral judgments on anything. It's over. Kaput. get the idea. :)

    I think we as Christians definitely need to think and work through things like the account in Deuteronomy. Some people don't and kind of say, "Well, you know that probably didn't really happen. What God is saying there is to obey him or else! It's a moral story is all." I don't think so. It happened and we have two ways to look at it: Copan's view and then DC theory. Both are great ways to solve the "problem."

  6. Yeah, I can't say I really fall into the "What does the story say to you?" camp. Guys like Rob Bell try to do that with accounts from scripture that just don't work out well like that, and it shows. Although interestingly enough, some of the monastic fathers did interpret those verses that way. That is, they would say things like: "What the passage is really saying is we need to drive out the Canaanites of our heart..."


  7. lol, oh wow that is just sad. I like what John Macarthur wrote, "Don't spiritualize the text . The first sermon I ever preached was really bad. My text was, "The angel rolled the stone away" from Matthew 28. I entitled my sermon, "Rolling Away the Stones in Your Life." I talked about the stone of doubt, the stone of fear, and the stone of anger. Doubt, fear, and anger are all legitimate topics, but they have nothing to do with that verse! I call that "Little Bo Peep Preaching" because you don't need the Bible; you can use anything--even "Little Bo Peep."

    Picture a preacher saying this: "Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep. All over the world people are lost. And can't tell where to find them. But they'll come home--ah, they'll come." Then you hear a tear-jerking story about sinners who came home "wagging their tails behind them!" Ridiculous? Yes, but unfortunately not too hard to imagine.

    Many people tend to do that with the Old Testament. They turn it into a fairy tale with all kinds of hidden meanings--anything but what the text plainly states. Don't spiritualize the Bible. It deserves more respect."

    I've learned a lot from Macarthur.

  8. Ha ha, I totally remember hearing MacArthur tell that story. I told that to a friend of mine, and now whenever we hear someone over-allegorize something, we both refer back to the "rolling away the stones in your life" story.

    Also nice update - sad but true on the new atheists. They give the more clear-thinking atheists a bad name.


Reformed Seth appreciates and encourages your comments, but we do have guidelines for posting comments:

1. Avoid profanities or foul language unless it is contained in a necessary quote.

2. Stay on topic.

3. Disagree, but avoid ad hominem attacks.

4. Threats are treated seriously and reported to law enforcement.

5. Spam and advertising are not permitted in the comments area.