Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Slaughter Of The Canaanites According To William Lane Craig

I'm really enjoying Thom Stark's critique of Paul Copan's book, Is God A Moral Monster?. Copan writes the standard apologetic that you will hear many Christians making who defend the Iron-age morality of the Old Testament, like slavery, polygamy and genocide. Stark's critique, Is God A Moral Compromiser?, is full of really great counter arguments and I think it's a must read for any atheist or critic of the current apologetic espoused by the likes of Copan and Craig and their minions.

It got me thinking about the Canaanite genocide in the Old Testament again with some new insights that I hadn't known before. I've covered the Canaanite slaughter numerous times here and debated it on other blogs. Since William Lane Craig is the loudest Christian apologist, at least in the English speaking world, I shall critique his justification of the Canaanite conquests that he did through his website Reasonable Faith.

I'm going to respond to one Q & A entitled "Slaughter of the Canaanites." As I read it, nearly everything Craig writes makes me want to hurl at my computer screen because of the moral depravity that being forced to defend the barbaric Iron-age literature makes him sink to. Craig makes every attempt to praise Yahweh and Mosaic "morality" to warm the reader up to an image of the Old Testament god and law as being perfectly on par with reasonable moral sensibilities. He writes:

The command to kill all the Canaanite peoples is jarring precisely because it seems so at odds with the portrait of Yahweh, Israel’s God, which is painted in the Hebrew Scriptures. Contrary to the vituperative rhetoric of someone like Richard Dawkins, the God of the Hebrew Bible is a God of justice, long-suffering, and compassion.

Well considering that Yahweh commands several genocides after the Canaanite genocide, it isn't actually totally out of his character. The Canaanite conquest is just the first of what will be a series of genocides and that's probably why up until this point in the Bible, it may seem so "at odds" with Yahweh. But the reader of the OT will already have come to understand Yahweh as having been responsible for mass killing the entire planet in Genesis, and mass killing all the first born in Egypt, as well as striking several people dead for rather trivial reasons, so no it is not out of character. What's "at odds" with Yahweh's character, is that with the Canaanites, he's commanding other people to do his mass slaughter, instead of doing it himself. That's so out of character for Yahweh, really.

You can’t read the Old Testament prophets without a sense of God’s profound care for the poor, the oppressed, the down-trodden, the orphaned, and so on. God demands just laws and just rulers.

Mosaic law as described in Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and other OT books is anything but "just." Among the "just" laws of the OT are Yahweh's commands at child sacrifice (Exodus 22:29); selling ones daughter into slavery without the possibility of her being set free after 7 years as male Israelite slaves were allowed (Exodus 21:7); prescribing the death penalty for cursing one's parents (Exodus 21:17); lifelong slavery for foreign slaves owned by Israelites with no prohibition against cruel treatment (Leviticus 25-44-46). The list goes on and on. No modern rational society would adopt such barbaric laws. It is inconceivable that such laws flowed from a "God of justice, long-suffering, and compassion." Craig is forced to say this because he cannot admit that Yahweh's morality is actually sick and twisted, as it is, lest he abandon these tales as man made stories and laws of the Israelite people as Stark does.

The Pentateuch itself contains the Ten Commandments, one of the greatest of ancient moral codes, which has shaped Western society. Even the stricture “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was not a prescription of vengeance but a check on excessive punishment for any crime, serving to moderate violence.

But many of the Mosaic commandments were inspired from the much more fair, progressive and humane laws found in the code of Hammurabi, of the ancient Babylonians. Stark explains in his book many examples of how Hammurabi was more humane. "In the Mosaic law, if parents brought a rebellious son before the elders, there was no trial, just a swift execution. In Babylon, however, there was a trial. Moreover, if the son was found guilty in the trial, then the father was legally required to forgive him the first time. If the son is found guilty a second time, then the father disowns him. The son isn't executed, not pummeled with stones. He is disowned. Problem solved." (pp. 40-41) Craig is either willfully ignorant, or he's deliberately lying to make Mosaic law appear progressive. Which do you think?

Suppose we agree that if God (who is perfectly good) exists, He could not have issued such a command. What follows? That Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? That God does not exist? Hardly! So what is the problem supposed to be?

This is a good point. One is forced to take one of several positions. A Christian can take the liberal position and jettison the notion that the Bible is infallible and god's perfect word, and cut off the more distasteful parts of the Bible. But that would also force one to do so not only to the OT but the NT as well, including some of the things Jesus said. This is already done by millions of liberal Christians today. Another option is to conclude that there are just too many instances of this kind of barbaric morality throughout the Bible along with various forms of ignorant cosmology and superstition that make it more plausible than not, that the Bible is entirely a man made book. So yes, I think one can rationally conclude that Jesus didn't rise from the dead, and that god does not exist. At least not the biblical god.

In fact, ironically, many Old Testament critics are sceptical that the events of the conquest of Canaan ever occurred. They take these stories to be part of the legends of the founding of Israel, akin to the myths of Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome. For such critics the problem of God’s issuing such a command evaporates.

But Craig doesn't take the position that these OT stories are mere "legends" as liberal Christians and Jews do. He's defending them as fact! So of course if they never happened it wouldn't be a problem for Yahweh, (although other things would) but Craig is defending the OT's historical veridicality. That's the problem. And it's a big problem.

Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfill. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are.

This is precisely the problem with the idea of divine command morality.  To say that god has no moral duties to fulfill opens you up to the idea that god can pretty much do whatever he damn well pleases. After all, he's god, he's the boss. Furthermore, if god's commands flow from his perfectly loving and holy nature, then his actions should be equivalent to his moral commands. If they are not, Craig cannot say that god is "good," because then the word good becomes meaningless.

For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition. He can give and take life as He chooses. We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as “playing God.” Human authorities arrogate to themselves rights which belong only to God. God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative.

Every doctor "plays god" technically. But it's one thing for god to extend a life, or let someone die—if you believe all life and death are due to god's will and not natural circumstances, it's another thing to command people to commit wholesale slaughter, especially if you are going around claiming that you're the paradigm of love and compassion.

What that implies is that God has the right to take the lives of the Canaanites when He sees fit. How long they live and when they die is up to Him.

Right, because god can do anything he wants as he has no pesky "moral obligations" hanging over him getting in his way commanding genocide.

Isn’t that like commanding someone to commit murder? No, it’s not. 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. The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.

Here Craig exposes a fatal flaw in his divine command theory when coupled with his response to the Euthyphro Dilemma. If an act of murder that would otherwise be morally wrong can become an "obligatory" act because "our moral duties are determined by God’s commands," then as Craig says, what is morally wrong, can become morally right - even morally obligatory - if god commands it. This is exactly like taking the position in the Euthyphro Dilemma, that something is morally good because god commands it, and these decisions can indeed be arbitrary, according to how god "sees fit." Thus, Craig unwittingly admits that there is no way out of the Euthyphro Dilemma, as we already know.

Craig then quotes Genesis 15 verses 13 and 16 to show that when god spoke to Abraham about his decision to keep the Jews in bondage in Egypt for 400 years, it was to wait until the Canaanites were sufficiently wicked enough for god to command their destruction, and this apparently demonstrates god's commands are not arbitrary.

By the time of their destruction, Canaanite culture was, in fact, debauched and cruel, embracing such practices as ritual prostitution and even child sacrifice....God had morally sufficient reasons for His judgement upon Canaan, and Israel was merely the instrument of His justice, just as centuries later God would use the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel.

Thom Stark raises many interesting questions on this popular apologetic attempt at justifying the OT narrative. First, he asks why god didn't send a prophet to the Canaanites as he had sent Noah to preach to the people around him of god's judgement if they didn't change their ways. Second, he notes, "The only people God ever sent into Canaan were not prophets but military spies. God never intended to give Canaan a chance. Never issued them any sort of warning. And why? Because he had promised that land to the descendants of Abraham." (p. 211) So this "last resort" defense is defenseless, and makes little sense in context. Craig hopes you won't notice this.

Third, at the time the text was written, the Israelites actually weren't a monotheistic peoples yet. The Canaanites even worshiped Yahweh as one of their minor gods. "Monotheism didn’t even come on the scene as an idea until Jeremiah," Stark writes, "and wasn’t solidified until the Babylonian exile or later...At the stage in Israel’s history in which the Canaanite conquest supposedly took place, Israel was thoroughly polytheistic, although (like most nations) they owed their worship to their patron deity alone. But Yahweh was seen as one deity among many in the Canaanite pantheon. (p. 213) 

Fourth, Craig says the Canaanites were "debauched and cruel, embracing such practices as ritual prostitution and even child sacrifice," but as Stark notes, "Israelites had a covenant with Yahweh in which they agreed they wouldn’t do such things in exchange for Yahweh’s protection. But the Canaanites had no such covenant with Yahweh. Why was Yahweh holding the Canaanites to a code he hadn't given them?" (p. 213) Fifth, as I mentioned above, Stark notes that the Israelites performed child sacrifice themselves (Exodus 22:29). If this is not acknowledged, Craig, like Paul Copan and other apologists are hypocrites. (Shocking. I know.) And look at this from a logical standpoint: In order to show that child sacrifice is wrong, Yahweh commanded the slaughter of thousands of children and babies. Does that make moral sense to you?

Sixth, does ritual sex warrant the death penalty for an entire tribe? If so, every modern city and every college dorm should be burnt to the ground and have their inhabitants slaughtered, according to Yahweh. "It’s just sex," as Stark notes. "It’s not hurting anybody. I mean, they still had stable families, they still had a strong sense of justice that very much mirrored Israel’s own best insights about justice (we know this from reading Canaanite literature; we don’t know this from reading the book written by the people who committed genocide against them—go figure)." (p. 214)

Finally, one point I want to emphasize is that according to Craig's own divine command theory, since our moral duties and obligations are constituted via god's commands, then since god gave no such commands to the Canaanites (or supposedly anyone else on earth for that matter at this time) then no one but the Jews were obligated to obey god's moral law. That means it was a moral free-for-all elsewhere, outside of the Israelites, since god hadn't revealed himself to them or commanded them anything.

Craig continues:

The overriding thrust of these regulations is to prohibit various kinds of mixing. Clear lines of distinction are being drawn: this and not that. These serve as daily, tangible reminders that Israel is a special people set apart for God Himself.....God taught Israel that any assimilation to pagan idolatry is intolerable. It was His way of preserving Israel’s spiritual health and posterity.

This sounds to me like god's commands are indeed arbitrary. It is not argued by Craig that the Canaanites were anymore wicked than the average tribe around the Ancient Near East. Their alleged crimes where quite common.

By setting such strong, harsh dichotomies God taught Israel that any assimilation to pagan idolatry is intolerable.

Again, here Craig is painfully unaware that the Israelites at this time were themselves polytheists, and that Yahweh was but one of their many gods. Either that or he's lying, which of course, no Christian would ever do to defend their faith.

God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel. The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God.

If god can do anything, couldn't god simply just have painlessly annihilated all the Canaanites instantly with his superpowers? If that's an option for him, why chose commanding a genocide over that? Why would a loving and compassionate god choose the more violent option over the lesser violent option?

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.

So the children who were slaughtered by god's loving command were rewarded an eternity in heaven with god, the same god that ordered their tribes extermination and death. Imagine growing up in heaven and learning of your people's fate and bearing that in mind for eternity. Excuse my "naturalistic perspective" but this all sounds like bullshit to me, dreamed up by theologians.

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?...Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

Just when you thought Craig couldn't sink any lower, he does. Craig has sympathy for the Israelites who were commanded to "break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children" by the god Craig considers is the paradigm of love and goodness. This shows you exactly how arbitrary god's morality is and how it can't be the source of all love and goodness. Having to slaughter women, children, and perhaps even pregnant women all because it is a command from god, does make me sick, and I'm glad to know that there is no good evidence such a moral monster actually exists.  I certainly couldn't worship one that did.

Craig's last paragraph is another eye-opener. He compares Islam to Christianity.

The problem with Islam, then, is not that it has got the wrong moral theory; it’s that it has got the wrong God. If the Muslim thinks that our moral duties are constituted by God’s commands, then I agree with him.

In other words, if Islam was right, then terrorist attacks that kill in the name of Islam, as well as polygamy and men marrying 9 year old girls would all be perfect alright, since god commands it. This is how absurd divine command theory is. Whatever god commands is morally right. Period.

Allah has no love for unbelievers and sinners. Therefore, they can be killed indiscriminately.

Yahweh also hates. Just look up these verses (Psalm 5:5; Lev. 20:23; Prov. 6:16-19; Hos. 9:15). And even if Yahweh loved sinners, he'll still kill them indiscriminately and send them off to hell as Craig inadvertently admits. Yahweh would just love you while he's torturing you in hell.

By contrast Christians hold that God’s holy and loving nature determines what He commands.

Yeah, like breaking into someone's house and killing the terrified woman and children living there. After all, this is exactly what you'd expect any rational person to think god's holy and loving nature would be like. Right? I mean, what else would you expect god to do, painlessly annihilate the Canaanites? Or, think of some other more humane way to deal with them, like, say,  reveal himself to them so they'd know their gods are fake and give them a stern warning? C'mon! That wouldn't be consistent with his holy and loving nature.


  1. "Craig is either willfully ignorant, or he's deliberately lying to make Mosaic law appear progressive."

    I've thought about this a lot while looking into WLC's other arguments, I go back and forth. He's clearly an intelligent guy, and should be able to identify the errors he has made. Further, people have repeatedly explained this stuff to him in debates. On the other hand, people have an amazing ability to delude themselves.

    Ultimately, it's impossible for us to tell the difference, and I'm not really sure it matters. He's spreading disinformation, fuck that guy.

    1. Craig appears to place FAR more weight on an emotional experience he had as an unhappy teenager than anything else. To him and those like him, this supposed "Testimony of the Holy Spirit" trumps all else.

      As he says in his book "Reasonable Faith":
      "The magisterial use of reason occurs when reason stands over and above the gospel like a magistrate and judges it on the basis of argument and evidence. The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel. In light of the Spirit's witness, only the ministerial use of reason is legitimate. Philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology. Reason is a tool to help us better understand and defend our faith; as Anselm put it, ours is a faith that seeks understanding. A person who knows that Christianity is true on the basis of the witness of the Spirit may also have a sound apologetic which reinforces or confirms for him the Spirit's witness, but it does not serve as the basis of his belief."
      Craig, William Lane (2008-07-23). Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Kindle Location 686). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

      He presupposes the truth of Christianity because to him it feels like it's true. Any arguments of evidence to the contrary can be ignored, since they're false (and probably result from an inappropriate use of reason).

    2. The apologists who defend the OT's moral laws have got quite a job in their hands. This is one of the areas where you see their sophistry and outright lying become apparent. The most reasonable thing to do for a Christian is to do what Stark does, and reach the obvious conclusion that the OT biblical stories are simply man made.

    3. Hausdorff -- I'd say it's a combination of willful ignorance and dishonesty. People who realize that their faith is fragile will block out counterarguments and cling tenaciously to their beliefs.

  2. "The ministerial use of reason occurs when reason submits to and serves the gospel"

    I'm not even sure I understand what this means

    1. Yes, apparently reason is only reasonable if it confirms the gospel. Sounds reasonable right?

    2. Reason can only validly be used when the truth of Christianity is assumed. If you use reason to case doubt on the truth of Christianity, then your use of reason is invalid.



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