Jerry Coyne — I might have known — has already beat me to it! I was almost finished this, when I received notification of Jerry’s take on Dawkins’ article about why he won’t debate William Lane Craig: It’s about morality, stupid!
In a short severe article in the Guardian this morning Richard Dawkins puts William Lane Craig decisively in his place, and punctures Craig’s self-serving balloon in several places. Dawkins explains “Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig.” As Jerry says, it’s about morality, stupid! Apparently Craig has gone into overdrive trying to shame Dawkins into debating him in Oxford this month, saying that he will place an empty chair on the stage of the Sheldonian Theatre to represent Dawkins’ absence. Here’s the poster for the event:
The presumption of this tin-pot Christian apologist apparently knows no bounds! Notice the reference to the empty chair, as well as the picture of it occupied by a book, and the claim that
In his absence an atheist, agnostic and Christian panel will respond to the lecture.
The outright dishonesty of this is breathtaking. If Dawkins refuses to debate him, he is not absent at all. He is simply not there. An absence suggests and expected presence, and Craig had no right to make that presumption — but it will play well to his support base back home, I have no doubt. And that Oxford should make the Sheldonian available to him is a travesty of what the Sheldonian Theatre — one of the architectural jewels of Oxford, as it has been called — was supposed to be for. According to the University of Oxford sub-site devoted to the Sheldonian, its purpose is described thus:
Its purpose was to provide an appropriate secular venue for the principal meetings and public ceremonies of the University, and this remains its purpose today.
How the mighty have fallen!
William Lane Craig is a self-seeking, preening peacock of a man. He debates — or tries to get debates with — the most prominent of the new atheists, and then he goes back to his website, and tells the story of his victories to his fans in the spirit of “Saul has killed his thousands, David his tens of thousands” — he being “David”, of course, to the new atheist’s “Saul”. And if he doesn’t get to debate them, he browbeats them for their failure to stand up to his challenge. The level of misrepresentation and prevarication involved in the proclamation of his victories is perhaps the least disturbing feature of this man, but it is not insignificant. After his debate with Lawrence Krauss this year Krauss felt the need to respond to Craig’s post-debate misrepresentations, to which, of course, Craig added his last word. The man is neither trustworthy nor fair. Since he thinks it’s alright to murder Canaanites in the name of God, he no doubt thinks he serves God best by puffed up victory celebrations of imaginary triumphs.
Earlier, and with some justice, Dawkins could say that he just doesn’t debate creationists — of whom William Lane Craig is certainly one – or that he does not debate those whose only claim to fame is that they are professional debaters. And all one need do is look at Craig’s website, reasonablefaith.org, to see that this is precisely how Craig markets himself. However, now Dawkins has an even more compelling reason to turn down what he calls “Craig’s latest stalking foray [which has taken] the form of a string of increasingly hectoring challenges to confront him in Oxford this October.” He rightly trumps the idiot darling of the “Evangelical Christian Defence League” (an imaginary association) by pointing out that he doesn’t debate people who justify genocide, as William Lane Craig rather foolishly did last year.
The interesting thing about the biblical stories of the “Children of Israel” taking over the “Promised Land” and killing all its inhabitants is that there is not a shred of historical evidence for the recorded genocide, but the myth of God’s chosen people being given the land that had belonged to others was apparently more important than history, so the story was told. Craig, being the literalist Christian that he is, despite his claim to philosophical sophistication, believes the story, right down to the details of the murder of women and children, so he has to justify it. But you can’t justify genocide, so Dawkins is right when he says:
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.
Nevertheless, nothing but cold-blooded murder will do for Craig. Here’s Craig as quoted by Dawkins:
So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgment. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli [sic] 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 brutalising effect on these Israeli [sic] soldiers is disturbing.
The soldiers, note, are Israeli! Note too that killing babies is okay, for they are innocent and inherit eternal life! Craig is no doubt one of those (ambiguous) ”friends” of contemporary Israel, and his justification of the genocide of the Canaanites is doing double duty here. As well as attempting to justify the biblical genocides, Craig is speaking a justifying word to today’s Israelis, to those more extremist Jews in Israel who make use of precisely these biblical myths of conquest to justify the theft of land on the West Bank, and even the murder of Palestinians.
But note the Nazi self-justification, exemplified so well by Himmler’s address to the SS in Poland: Just imagine the trauma of being commanded to murder a terrified woman and her children! Consider the brutalising effect of such a strenuous demand made by God on his chosen people! But to have done so and remained decent. This has made us strong! Has Craig no shame at all?!
Yet, on considering the matter further, Craig has the temerity to say:
I find it ironic that atheists should often express such indignation at God’s commands, since on naturalism there’s no basis for thinking that objective moral values and duties exist at all and so no basis for regarding the Canaanite slaughter as wrong. As Doug Wilson has aptly said of the Canaanite slaughter from a naturalistic point of view, “The universe doesn’t care.” So at most the non-theist can be alleging that biblical theists have a sort of inconsistency in affirming both the goodness of God and the historicity of the conquest of Canaan. It’s an internal problem for biblical theists, which is hardly grounds for moral outrage on the part of non-theists. If there is an inconsistency on our part, then we’ll just have to give up the historicity of the narratives, taking them as either legends or else misinterpretations by Israel of God’s will. The existence of God and the soundness of the moral argument for His existence don’t even come into play.
This is simply philosophically illiterate. But, the truth is, the universe simply doesn’t care. That’s about the only thing Craig gets right. It’s true, the universe doesn’t care, but we are not the universe, and we care, and we are offended by the religious justification of murder and mayhem, just as we are offended by a lot of other things that the religious think are justified or commanded by their gods. The stupid claim, made over and over again by this soldier for Christ, that there is no reason except God’s commands for doing good and avoiding evil, and that atheists have no ground for morality, makes Craig’s argument that much more morally disturbing. Even if, as Craig now thinks (on a closer reading of the text, as he puts it), God didn’t command the Israelites to kill all the inhabitants of Canaan, but merely to drive them out of the land, the attempted justification of acquiring land by conquest is disturbing — and note that this still justifies murdering those who didn’t run away:
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. It was the land that was (and remains today!) paramount in the minds of these Ancient Near Eastern peoples. The Canaanite tribal kingdoms which occupied the land were to be destroyed as nation states, not as individuals. [my italics]
They were a debauched people anyway, he says, so the deaths of Canaanites wouldn’t register on God’s conscience, nor should it have registered on the conscience of his chosen people. So Craig thinks it makes sense to say, with crazy wide-eyed innocence:
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.
So they should have just run away! They were wrong to defend their homes and families! Speaking of Craig’s dark side is putting it mildly. How about psychopathic? The man is morally bankrupt, and yet there he is, shuttling around Britain on his “Reasonable Faith Tour”! The man is a shameless religious huckster who not only justifies genocide, but believes in a god who commands such atrocities! Why would anyone go to hear what he has to say?