William Lane Craig vs. Chair of Dawkins


The Heavens emblazoned on the ceiling of the Sheldonian hovered above us as we settled in to hear Professor William Lane Craig debate with Dawkins’ chair. The atmosphere was jovial, the potential mud slinging over certain bus campaigns did not show its face, and OICCU President Robbie Strachan’s introduction was gracious (if somewhat tongue-in-cheek) in his apology that “unfortunately Dawkins wasn’t able to make it”. In the absence of that illustrious polemicist, Craig faced a panel of three: dry atheist Daniel Came – the man responsible for telling Dawkins that his refusal to debate Craig was “a glaring omission on [his] CV”, no nonsense atheist pharmacologist John Parrington, and the hilarious and bizarre Stephen Priest, whose religious position defies easy definition. Craig also took the liberty of conducting a debate with Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, an enterprise which vaguely resembled playing chess with oneself – but it was, at least, an engaging game.

In conducting both sides of the argument, Craig could have won many cheap points for his own standpoint by pivoting on Dawkins’ more provocative tirades – snippets of that man’s repertoire include “God is… [a] pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” (The God Delusion) and the infamous “sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests [is] not so harmful to the children as the grievous mental harm in bringing up the child Catholic in the first place” (in The Dubliner). Unfortunately for those of us who are on the theist side, the fact that Dawkins is an exceedingly abrasive individual does not by any means preclude him from being right (about the atheism, not the child abuse).

I was therefore pleasantly surprised at the way Craig gave the absent Dawkins a reasoned voice, reading aloud a selection of the more measured and analytical passages from The God Delusion, and debating them as though they were wrong, but not absurd. The panellists proved generally equal to the challenge, even if Dr Came disappointingly displayed none of the wit he had showed in his letter to Dawkins; Parrington was straightforward and succinct if unimaginative, and Stephen Priest put a spanner in the works by frankly sounding like Dr Who (“If you are sufficiently perceptive you can tell that the time is always now”). Craig humorously admitted that when he discovered that if Dawkins was not present he would face three Oxford panellists, he was “hoping Dawkins did show up!”

However, ultimately one question exposed Craig’s alarmingly questionable moral principles: “Dawkins has refused to debate you because (he says) you think genocide could be acceptable in some contexts. Have you ever said anything which warrants this view, and what do you actually think?” He started with the straightforward denial that we expected – “I have not in any way ever said that God commanded, or could command, human genocide”. However, the following ten minute explanation of Numbers 33:50-54 (look it up) did not involve a justification of genocide, merely a justification of the mass displacement of an ethnic group; the kicker at the end was his summary that if this forced displacement did involve killing some Canaanites, well the adults deserved it because they were sinful, and it’s alright because the children went straight to heaven. Seriously?

The widespread applause this statement extracted from the audience was possibly more alarming than the statement itself. Somewhere up in the wings a lone voice was shouting “Boo”; the news editor and I stared gormlessly; the rest of the spectators seemed to find this little speech all fine and dandy. I am a religious person, and as a person of faith (not in spite of it) I was morally repulsed by this analysis, and deeply concerned about the intellectual and moral fibre of the believers who found it commendable.

The only benefit of the doubt that I can possibly extend to Craig (and I am scraping the barrel) is that under pressure he grasped at the nearest explanation for Biblical injustices which came to mind, and would – hopefully will – qualify his extraordinary comments at some later date. I shan’t hold my breath.

29 thoughts on “William Lane Craig vs. Chair of Dawkins

  1. You are simply wallowing in moral outrage. That’s not a rational argument.The reason why it’s wrong to commit murder is because we are not the author of life and we cannot give back life to someone who is dead. But God is the author of life and he can resurrect the dead. In one sense, God is responsible for every singe death in the history of the world. He could have allowed us to live forever, but He didn’t because of our sin. In the long run, it’s irrelevant whether you died of natural causes in old age, or whether you died of cancer at age twenty. We are eternal souls and death is just a event we have to go through sooner or later, and God decides how and when we die. What really matters is not how long we lived, but how we lived.

    The killing of children is wrong if God has not commanded it, because then we would be taking life and death into our own hands. In the Old Testament God did give such commands, but could God command such things today? The answer is obviously no. It would go against the whole flow of God’s unfolding revelation in history. We now are under the law of Christ and the new covenant.

  2. “the kicker at the end was his summary that if this forced displacement did involve killing some Canaanites, well the adults deserved it because they were sinful, and it’s alright because the children went straight to heaven. Seriously?”

    With all due respect, this sounds alarmingly as though it were written by someone who was not at the Sheldonian, but rather copied and pasted Dawkins’ own emotive and superficial handling of the topic from The Guardian. You omit the very points Dr Craig made in this speech which were intended to show why such a superficial reading is not justified. It’s not just that they were “sinful” – heck, we’re all sinful! Rather the sheer extent of their depravity (involving throwing live babies into fires, I’m told), and 400 years is a LONG time to be given a second chance (if not many, many more)!

    Remember, even though the order was given to slay the children as well, Dr Craig suggested that the evidence shows this is unlikely to even have happened, despite the order being given.

    And, to re-iterate the point from above, these conquests were unique and conducted in extraordinary circumstances, never to be repeated again.

    It’s an extremely hard topic, granted, but I would urge you to engage more with the detail of what Dr Craig actually said because, unlike Dawkins, you were actually there!

    I am curious to know, however, as a person of faith yourself, what is your interpretation of these passages?

  3. In response to both of the above comments: even if we go so far as to suppose that God is a God who would strike down specific human beings, we have to remember that these people were not killed by lightning out of the sky. They were killed by other people.

    I’ll concede that Craig rightly pointed out that the above passage (Numbers 33:50-4) states that God merely ordered the Israelites to “Drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places.” (Not that that is by any means fine.)

    But Deuteronomy 7:1-2 finds a more brutal story: “When the LORD your God brings you into the land… and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites… and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.”

    This comes after Exodus 20:13 “You shall not murder.”

    I believe that God is consistent and would not order his people to do something that he had just ordered them not to do.

    Peter, as a person of faith I do of course find this a difficult issue – Biblical inconsistencies are a destabilizing thing to grapple with – and I’m not just trying to abrasive (though I was trying to provoke comment, granted).

    I also think that it is frankly just quite dangerous, in the world we live in, for Craig to describe a scenario, however historical, in which children are “far better dead… than being raised in this Canaanite culture”. Such comments encourage people to make value judgments about whether other people should live or die.

    What do you think?

  4. I take your point about the concerns of social consequences arising from the story is told, but ultimately we need to figure out what’s true and what really did happen. Personally, I’d prefer lightning bolts too (though apparently, the majority of Canaanite deaths actually came from freak weather conditions! Peter J Williams mentioned this last Saturday at BeThinking and I think it should be online soon), but it wouldn’t surprise me if the circumstances back then were so ghastly that soldiers had to get involved.

    As for “such comments encourage people to make value judgments about whether other people should live or die” we’d need to ask, are these judgements being made by Christians who, if they know their theology, would have no basis for repeating such an event today… or non-Christians, in which case, the story isn’t really going to be relevant or considered, since they wouldn’t think it’s true.

    Those are my thoughts at the moment, anyway, good speed on that reply! 🙂

  5. The removal of the Canaanites from the land is an emotive issue. The people in the land were apparently involved in child sacrifice to Molech. God waited 400 years for them to turn from these atrocities.
    In these days we grossly underestimate sin. We are very liberal now in what we accept. God could not stand the child sacrifice and therefore decided to eventually judge the Canaanites. God is much more morally pure than you think, and sin is much, much worse than you think. Imagine your outrage at the World War II holocaust, then multiply that outrage by 1000 and you will get near the seriousness of sin to God. The Canaanite children were being brought up with the value that human sacrifice is ok. They could not be allowed to carry on the atrocities. The children would be saved, the adults would be judged. Its failure to grasp the depth of the seriousness of sin that leads us into thinking God did wrong.

  6. Holy shit let’s get to brass tacks here people, irrespective of which side you’re on – guy didn’t out and out condemn genocide. Didn’t say it’s an atrocious act to carry out. He was as complacent as a gardener talking about tearing up weeds – fuck that and fuck everything about it. And before you pathetically attempt to assert some kind of intellectual superiority over my opinion yes I was there and yes I was freaked out by what he said – but because NO ONE ELSE IN THE AUDIENCE SEEMED TO CARE I stayed quiet. Maybe that makes me a coward – but more likely, it makes a lot of audience members who were there assholes. Wake up, people.

  7. They had to be driven out did they , to create Lebensraum for God’s chosen people?

    This reminds me of David Irving explaining that ‘ausrotten’ means ‘uprooting’, rather than extermination.

    So it was merely planned that the Jews should be driven out of Germany.

    Why does this explanation by David Irving come to mind when reading Craig explaining that his god merely wanted people to be displaced.

  8. ‘God could not stand the child sacrifice and therefore decided to eventually judge the Canaanites.’

    The Jews used to drink Christian babies blood as well, didn’t they?

    Or did they?

    Where is your evidence of ‘child sacrifice’ and how does killing all the children force itself to the top of your mind as the number one solution to child sacrifice?

  9. It looks like atheists have no doubts about the historicity of the Canaanite “genocide”.You would not be able to work up such outrage unless you think it actually happened. So there’s hope for you yet! Someday you may come to believe the rest of what the Bible says.

  10. It is Craig who has no doubt that his god would order children to be killed.

    He is denying the fact that no such events ever occurred.

    His yearnings for these stories to be true reveal him to be someone who is not interested in real history.

  11. Molech (or Moloch) is associated with child sacrifice:

    The killing of the children is indeed very hard to take. I know however that when a culture engages in child sacrifice and other attrocities they invite demonic forces in. These demonic spiritual forces stay within the society and influence it. These forces would have influenced the progeny.
    I would expect atheists to not agree with me as they have never experienced such forces. Even some Western Christians. Even me, … until I spent a few years in Africa coming into contact with such forces. Ask any African, he will tell you. I am not sure of all of God’s reasons, and it is difficult, but I know there’s a spiritual dynamic. Also remember timescale too. God gives people a lot of time to turn from sin. He send people to warm them of impending judgment (prophets) and then he does it. He’s not a bad-tempered God who acts impulsively.
    A full reading of the Bible is required to know his character. Not just isolated verses.

  12. There are no demonic forces.

    There are no witches in Africa, no matter how many children are killed as witches.

  13. Anyway, what we can all learn from this is that because we’re not comfortable with Craig’s take on the Canaanite story, Dawkins’ arguments in The God Delusion must all therefore be sound…


  14. ‘Anyway, what we can all learn from this is that because we’re not comfortable with Craig’s take on the Canaanite story….’

    And we should not conclude that the 1936 Olympic Games were not very well organised, just because of the organiser’s take on the Jewish ‘problem’.

    Craig claims objective morality is evidence of his god.

    But Craig’s morality is no more objective than claims that it was objectively true that the Jews were undermining Europe and were behind Bolshevism.

  15. Steven Carr, it is abdundantly clear that you are merely looking for any chance to use any argument you disagree with, as an opportunity to spread anti-semitic beliefs that seem plausible. And to compare Jews to Nazis, because you like upsetting Jews. Or demonising Christians that (at least in America) are really far more morally sensitive than anybody else in regard to how Jews are treated, and in general as to right and wrong and justice. I’m a secular Jew, but I love Christians, evangelical ones at least, in our day and age, since they have the guts and decency to stand up and accept even demand that Jews have a right to a homeland, like any other people. I’ll remind you, that Britain turned its back on that idea and -abstained- at the UN vote. So to compare Jews to Nazis as you do, could upset good Christians possibly even as much as it could upset Jews. And you want to upset people especially Jews.. Why else compare Jews to Nazis.. You seem to not be able to make a point without comparing Jews to Nazis. Or theism to Nazism..

    You bring up that Hitler didn’t say to kill only to uproot?

    Are you subscribing to Irving’s view that Hitler didn’t know what was going on, he was out of the loop, he didn’t know Jews were being killed. Even Jews in America knew and were requesting that the american administration bomb the rail lines. And from what i’ve read, a letter from Hitler to the “Palestinian” Arab Muslim leader Haj Amin Al Husseini (installed by the British Govt) basically agreed on destroying all Jews. Haj Amin Al Husseini was the Arab Fuhrer. And there are statements by Nazis below him that are quite explicit, about liquidating 60% of Jews of Europe..

    Not to remove them from Germany at all.

    Hitler thought maybe the Jews may be the last race/people alive, and he’d kill them to prevent it.

  16. “But Craig’s morality is no more objective than claims that it was objectively true that the Jews were undermining Europe and were behind Bolshevism.”

    Again you show your agenda.. there is some truth to Jews being behind the left e.g. Bolshevism.. That’s why you said it, but it’s not as you present it. And it is of no relevant to Craig’s arguments.

    There are many Jews that are a bit intellectual, or very intellectual. Kant, Marx, Einstein, e.t.c. A disproportionate number of Nobel Prize winners are of Jewish origin.

    So many ideologies or movement have a Jew in a key role.

    I suggest you read Nick Griffin’s article refuting anti-semitic beliefs like this.. he’s a famous racist but even he recanted on that. There are Jewish Anti-Zionists and Jewish Zionists. Jewish Capitalists and Jewish Communists. Is it all part of a big conspiracy? And anyhow, they aren’t conspiring. jewish anti zionists and jewish zionists, maybe.. meed together to discuss things, but Jewish communists? Jewish capitalists? And if they do, is it secret? what’s their agenda? are they running things? They are just -people-. Individuals

    There are even Jews for justice for Palestinians, possibly even Jews for Hitler. There are all sorts of dumb Jews..

    But you have to ask, are they meeting up together, just jews, and if so, what is their agenda.. and is it secret. .and so on.

    Karl Marx was a Bolshevik obviously, and a Jew, but he was an anti-semite, he wrote a book “A world without Jews”. Jews would’ve been much better off without him. His ideology was evil. It’s terrible that we Jews have produced such a monster. Unfortunately there are a lot of jewish intellectuals that are smart enough to think up this rubbish and not smart enough to think their way out of it. But other Jews and gentiles do think their way out of it . And Jews -because of talent- and not from conspiring, they aren’t conspiring, but because of talent have managed to get into positions intellectual ones or leadership ones..

    It’s a tiny minority. So yes there’s truth to jews being behind this political movement or that political movement, of course most leaders of any political movement are not jews. even Zionism, most are Christian!

    You Carr, are just using any excuse to try to incite hatred against Jews with lies and half truths, and sick comparisons that make Jews out to be monsters.

  17. It would appear that somebody is unable to grasp the idea of ‘anaology’ – that Craig saying children should be killed is analogous to Nazis wiping out Jews.

    Or that Irving’s explanation of ausrotten meaning driving out is analogous to Craig explaining that his god merely wanted to drive people out.

  18. But I apologise if I did not make clear what I meant by my analogy to Craig calling people so wicked that they had to be killed with people claiming Jews were behind Bolsehvism.

  19. Did Craig address Numbers 31, where Moses, purportedly at the instruction of God, ordered the cold blooded murder of something on the order of 30,000 male children and infants?

  20. Craig’s defense of genocide is despicable and his attempt to weasel out of his own words is cowardly and pathetic. He only confirms what Dawkins said: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

  21. Hi, I am from Australia.

    Please find a completely different Understanding of the relation between scientism (as distinct from science as an open-ended method of free enquiry), and reductionist exoteric religiosity (which is the only kind of religion that now exists).


    http://www.dabase.org/christmc2.htm Einstein & Jesus





    Strangely enough NONE of your professors at Oxford, especially those that teach “theology” and/or religion would include any of the writings of the above author in their curriculum.

  22. Ultimately the issue of sanity will have to be considered. It has been suggested that any defender of bible genocide be taken away by gentlemen in white coats. In personal terms I have made a decision in favour of sanity. If one cannot, in good courage, conscience and most importantly in posession of a reasonable amount of sanity, do the deed oneself then why commend others? Who wants to worship a murderer? Is it not much more reasonable to infer that scheming humans were at all times behind this theological nonsense?

    Will some honest and sincere Christian come on here and tell us he would definitely question his own sanity if he heard that “Divine Command” resounding in his head today? And the same likewise at any other time in the last two and a half thousand years?

  23. Crikey god waited 400 years to punish for child sacrifice. Without the help of god i would try to stop that the instance i heard about it.

  24. You have to remember that the god of the old testament is not a real god. He is the figure that some people use to cover their behaviour. No god really commanded anyone to do anything in his name . That is just poppycock.

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