On William Lane Craig’s defense of the Canaanite genocide (Part 3)

Posted on 02/12/13 71 Comments

In the second installment of this series I argued that we have excellent reasons to believe that genocide is a moral atrocity and that God, being morally perfect, would not command people to commit a moral atrocity. In addition, I developed an analogy between genocide and rape by noting that Christians would widely accept that God, being morally perfect, would never command a person to engage in an act of rape because rape is a moral atrocity. Given that the rape of an individual cannot plausibly be considered to be categorically worse morally than the slaughter of an entire non-combatant civilian population (including children, infants, the elderly and infirm), this moral intuition about rape reinforces the conclusion that as surely as God wouldn’t command rape, so he wouldn’t command genocide. And this in turn places a sizeable evidential burden on the shoulders of the apologist who hopes to argue that God did in fact command genocide in the past. (As we will see in a later part to this series, things become even more difficult for the apologist when we move from the abstract and theoretical discussion of “commanding genocide” to the concrete and practical identity of the divine command with specific genocides in history.)

So Craig has his work cut out for him in defending the claim that God’s divine command is to be identified with particular genocides in history. How does he aim to make the connection? At this point we will now turn to consider Craig’s defense of biblical accounts of genocide in his Reasonable Faith podcast. We begin at 2:24 in the podcast when Craig explains the divine command for genocide as exceptional:

“This is not a general command given by God as to how Israel is to prosecute its wars. These are highly singular commands given to Israel during the conquest of the land of Canaan….”

Craig then notes how these genocidal commands must be counterbalanced with the abundant scriptural depictions of God as merciful and loving. At 3:59 he observes,

“I think it’s just dishonest when people like Richard Dawkins portray Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, as this moral monster. These highly singular commands need to be read against the background of the whole of the Old Testament which includes the great moral law that is given by God which is head and shoulders above other ancient near eastern moral and legal codes …. It’s against the backdrop of the prophets which explain God’s compassion for the poor and the oppressed and the orphans and widows. Against God’s commands to Jonah even to go to the city of Nineveh, a non-Jewish city… It is a story which is highly singular and highly unusual….”

It seems to me that Craig is aiming to make an argument here. For the sake of clarity, I’m going to attempt to summarize that argument in four steps:

(1) If an agent generally appears to be merciful and loving then exceptions in which that agent appears to be other than merciful and loving cannot plausibly be taken as defeaters to the mercy and lovingkindness of the agent.

(2) In scripture God generally appears to be merciful and loving.

(3) In scripture God exceptionally appears to be unmerciful and unloving (e.g. when he commands genocide).

(4) Therefore, the exceptional cases in scripture when God appears to be unmerciful and unloving (e.g. when he commands genocide) cannot plausibly be taken as defeaters to the mercy and lovingkindness of God.

Perhaps that is not exactly what Craig is arguing, but it certainly seems to be close. So what then should we think of this argument?

Many a biblical skeptic will probably take aim at (2) by charging that it is by no means obvious that the “general” depiction of God in scripture is as merciful and loving.

In contrast to those biblical skeptics, I won’t be disputing (2), for I do think it is correct. However, one is liable to misunderstand the way in which one discerns that (2) is correct. Its truth is not established simply by placing all references to Yahweh in scripture into one of three categories — (a) evidence for mercy and lovingkindness; (b) evidence against mercy and lovingkindness; (c) evidence that underdetermines mercy and lovingkindness — and seeing whether the (a) list is longer than the (b) list.

So how does one establish the truth of (2)? In my view, this judgment is rooted in the hermeneutical guidance of control texts which serve as the interpretive basis for other texts (as the old hermeneutical saying goes: “Scripture interprets scripture”). As a Christian my control texts are rooted first and foremost in God as revealed in Jesus Christ (John 14:8-9). Thus, the depiction of God as revealed in Christ becomes the controlling framework for engaging other texts. And that means that however I interpret depictions of God that seem to be unmerciful and unloving, they cannot be interpreted in a way that undermines the incarnational revelation of God as merciful and loving.

My complaint is rather to be lodged with (1). The problem, in short, is that (1) is false as it stands because it does not specify what kind of exceptions we’re talking about. And there are in fact two kinds of exceptions which we can call moderate exceptions and radical exceptions. While moderate exceptions do not undermine the general witness, radical exceptions are so extreme that even one radical exception would be sufficient to undermine the general observation of the agent’s character.

Consider your friend Dave. You think “Dave is a stand-up guy.” Then you discover that Dave has some income that he didn’t declare on his taxes. Granted you haven’t heard his explanation, but whatever reason he has for doing it you’re not willing to retract your general observation that Dave is a stand-up guy. This constitutes a moderate exception.

Later you’re watching the TV show “America’s Most Wanted” when you see a story featuring Dave. According to the narrator, Dave sold worthless swamp land to retirees in Florida, thereby bilking hundreds of people out of millions of dollars. A stand-up guy? Not anymore. This is a radical exception, and a radical exception falsifies the norm.

If we were to apply Craig’s reasoning to Dave’s case, one could argue that the general evidence of Dave as a stand-up guy is of greater evidential force than the singular exception in which he bilked the elderly out of millions of dollars. But clearly that isn’t right. You could deny that Dave really engaged in this action, but if you are going to believe he did, you can’t explain away his actions by pointing simply to the general evidence you have that he is a stand-up guy.

If bilking the elderly is a radical exception to a stand-up character, surely commanding genocide is as well. Consequently, whatever else the apologist might say about the Canaanite genocide, they cannot defend it by appealing to general patterns of God’s mercy and lovingkindness. And so Craig’s first point must be judged a failure.

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  • Walter

    Would it still be considered a moral atrocity if Yahweh had directly killed all the men, women, and children in Canaan, like He supposedly did to an entire planet during the Great Flood? Is it wrong for Yahweh to kill women and children or is it just wrong for him to order other humans to do the killing for him?

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      I’m not sure what you are describing when you refer to Yahweh directly killing human beings. Perhaps you’d like to provide a thicker description of what you’re proposing.

      However, I see no reason to think that Yahweh cannot exercise meticulous providence over the deaths of his creatures while some of those deaths are the result (at least in part) of a divine judgment. That’s something completely different from what I’m talking about here.

      • Walter

        I’m not sure what you are describing when you refer to Yahweh directly killing human beings.

        I am referring to killing by supernatural means. If Yahweh had directly smitten the Canaanites rather than using a select tribe of humans as instruments of his will, would you still consider it to be an atrocity? Is it the genocide itself that is the atrocity or is it the method Yahweh chose to accomplish that goal that is the cause for outrage?

        If the Canaanites instantly and painlessly dropped dead in their tracks as soon as the Israelites drew near to them, would you consider Yahweh’s actions to be immoral?

        • Kerk

          Well, people have always cried “Why did you take N away from us?” when someone would die. No one would think of accusing God of murder. I think, on this level of existence we’re not talking about God “killing” someone, but rather “changing their mode of living.” Wouldn’t you agree that taking a child from a starving third world country by means of a natural disaster and taking her to heaven can hardly be called a murder?

          • Walter

            That is pretty much the point that I am making. If God is the one who gives us life and upholds our existence, then God has the right to hit the delete key — even if that means ending the existence of an entire race of people.

            The problem with the conquest narratives is not that God sought to eradicate a group of people thus making him guilty of genocide, the problem is the utterly brutal method used to achieve that end. Such brutality is not befitting a benevolent deity, and it is this brutality that causes me to reject these passages.

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              One of the important differences (as I will note more fully in a subsequent article) is the soul-destroying brutalization that occurs to the character of any people who participate in genocide.

              • epicurus

                An omni everything God is quite capable of doing his own smiting. I wish He would.

                • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

                  God is also quite capable of doing his own loving as well, so I take it you think this means a perfectly good God would not command us to love one another?

                  • Walter

                    Are you seriously trying to equate the two? If the Promised Land needed to be vacant for Israel’s occupation, do you believe that humans slaughtering humans is the best solution that an omnipotent, omniscient and supremely benevolent deity could come up with? I don’t.

                    Even if the Canaanites deserved to die (including the small children) do you think that this was the best way to go about that? Again, I don’t, but I don’t have to rationalize away the violence in my sacred texts either. I am free to question whether the story truly records a command given from God, and I conclude that it does not.

                    • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

                      Are you seriously trying to equate the two?

                      Read carefully, I did not equate the killing of the Canaanites with loving, I suggested the argument you gave regarding the former, has a logical form which is analogous to the argument I made about a good God not commanding us to love . It’s a basic point of logic that an argument form does not become valid just because it’s a different topic. Nor does the fact that you substitute one premise for a very different premise change the validity or soundness of an argument. If the has the same form the premise have the same truth value then the fact they are about very different topics or fundamentally different action makes no difference and . The premise “God can do his own killing” has the same truth vale ad “God can do his own loving”

                      Given the arguments are analogous, rationality requires you either you reject the argument you gave as unsound or you accept that a loving God would not command us to love.

                      Expressing out rage at the bible does not make your original argument valid or sound.

                      If the Promised Land needed to be vacant for Israel’s occupation, do you believe that humans slaughtering humans is the best solution that an omnipotent, omniscient and supremely benevolent deity could come up with? I don’t.

                      Well if I ( or anyone for that matter) had argued that killing the Canaanites was justied solely because the land needed to be occupied by Isreal and this was the only means avalible to God, that rejoinder would have a point but I didn’t.

                      What I pointed out was an argument you made is analogous to an obviously unsound argument. Changing the subject and attacking a straw man does not really make your original argument a good one.

                      Even if the Canaanites deserved to die (including the small children) do you think that this was the best way to go about that?

                      Well if I had argued that killing the Canaanites was the best way to go about a particular goal, then that might have a point but I didn’t. I pointed out an argument you made, and other gloated about as really hard to answer on a previous thread is analogous to an argument you would not accept as sound. Again straw men and changing the subject does not change this.

                      ( as a side note, if it was the case that all the Canaanites including the children deserved to die [ note I never said this, nor for that matter has Craig or Copan who Randall is criticising] then it would be just to kill the canaanites, they would be getting what by hypothesis its been conceded they deserve, the fact there are better ways of achieving justice would not mean it was not just)

                      Again, I don’t, but I don’t have to rationalize away the violence in my sacred texts either. I am free to question whether the story truly records a command given from God, and I conclude that it does not.

                      Well ad homien arguments about others rationalizing and asserting your “free to question” ( I don’t recall anyone saying you weren’t) and asserting your conclusion, does not really address the argument I made does it.

                      You made an argument, I provided a rebuttal if you cant respond admit it, but changing the subject and pretending I said something I didn’t and then commiting really blatant fallacies is not really a rational defence of anything.

                    • R0c1

                      “God can do his own killing” has the same truth vale ad [sic] “God can do his own loving”

                      Given the arguments are analogous, rationality requires you either you reject the argument you gave as unsound or you accept that a loving God would not command us to love.

                      I don’t think epicurus intended “God can do his own killing” to constitute a complete argument.

                    • epicurus

                      That’s right, I was pleading with God, not putting forward an argument.

                    • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

                      If its simply a plea not an argument it provides no reason for any conclusion.

                    • epicurus

                      I don’t understand what you are trying to say. What conclusion did I reach? Or are you saying I shouldn’t make any comments if I can’t reach conclusions from them?

                    • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

                      No I am simply saying that unless your plea is also an objection or argument of some sort it provides no objection to anything anyone said. Your free to express it but it has no relevance to the discussion.

                    • epicurus

                      Ok, thanks.
                      I apologize to Randal for bogging down his blog with my irrelevant comments.

                    • R0c1

                      if it was the case that all the Canaanites including the children deserved to die [...] then it would be just [...] the fact there are better ways of achieving justice would not mean it was not just.

                      In the Biblical account, Israelite men are victims of this plan. Justice towards them also needs to be considered: If Yahweh ordered them to hack babies (or drown them, or burn them alive), then it seems to me he sinned against his own people.

                    • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

                      On the issue of the side note…

                      ( as a side note, if it was the case that all the Canaanites including the children deserved to die [ note I never said this, nor for that matter has Craig or Copan who Randall is criticising] then it would be just to kill the canaanites, they would be getting what by hypothesis its been conceded they deserve, the fact there are better ways of achieving justice would not mean it was not just)

                      A couple of points:

                      1. Even if person A deserves to die, that does not mean she deserves to die by any possible method of killing her, since she might not deserve to suffer in such-and-such way.

                      2. Even if person C deserves to die and person B kills him, it may still be that B behaves immorally in killing C, even if the method of killing does not inflict more suffering than what C deserves to suffer.
                      For instance, let’s say C is a serial killer who disembowels children for fun and deserves to die because of it, and B is another serial killer who has no idea that C is a serial killer but shoots C is the head for fun, killing C without any pain greater than what C deserved. Then, B’s actions are still immoral.

                  • epicurus

                    I don’t know. All I can say is that only good happens to us when we love each other. What happens to us when God orders us to kill thousands of babies, women and children at the end of our spears? To use Randal’s phrase “soul-destroying brutalization.” God could just will it and the Canaanites would be dead. I am asking God to do it Himself next time.

              • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

                So then the problem is not that God wiped out the Canaanites? The problem is that God commanded the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites? So it’s okay for God to commit genocide? But it’s not okay for God to command human beings to commit genocide?

                • epicurus

                  Personally, I don’t think God committing genocide is that big of a deal if one believes in an eternal hell. If God can send people there forever, then slaughtering a nation or two seems small potatoes. I just wish He would do his own kiliing.

                  • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

                    So then God committing genocide isn’t the problem. The problem would arise if God commanded somebody else to commit genocide.

                    • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

                      In fact, let’s follow this up:

                      It’s okay for God to commit genocide.
                      Jesus=God.
                      Therefore, it’s okay for Jesus to commit genocide.

                    • Kerk

                      You sound like this is something totally new to your mind. Dude, it’s been said countless times throughout centuries that we are God’s property. He gave, he took. HOWEVER, it’s also been pointed out countless times that God would never kill anyone without a sufficiently good reason.

                    • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

                      Kerk,

                      I’m trying to understand what it is exactly that Randal is objecting to. First, I thought his argument was that genocide is absolutely immoral, and that a morally perfect God would not command us to commit such a heinous act. But does Randal believe that it is okay for God to commit genocide? If so, then it is no longer clear (to me, at least) that genocide is absolutely immoral. In that case, the above argument collapses, and Randal needs to provide a different argument.

                    • Walter

                      The death of the Canaanites is not the problem, since none of us are getting out of this world alive. The method of their demise is where the problem lies: it was sadistic and cruel, and any command to end their existence in that manner evinces malevolence.

                    • R0c1

                      “The death of the Canaanites is not the problem, since none of us are getting out of this world alive.”

                      If you have time, The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant

                    • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

                      Hi Walter,

                      I think that Randal is trying to say the same thing you’re saying. But I would like to know for sure that’s what he means.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/erroll.treslan Erroll Treslan

                      Randal is objecting to the Bible being interpreted as saying what it unequivocally says (i.e. that Yahweh commanded a genocide). You need to be an expert in hermeneutics to see that the divinely inspired text should be read as saying “God is loving” when the words say “God is nasty”.

                      Randal’s brand of apologetics is like wandering through a maze and deciding on your turns by choosing the path that confirms to what you want to be the right direction. The problem with this kind of strategy (when the Bible is your maze) is that you eventually hit a point where there is nowhere to turn.

                    • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

                      Hi Erroll,

                      Randal is saying that the Bible is not historically accurate when it recorded that God commanded the genocide. So his apologetics is straight forward: God is loving. If the Bible says otherwise, the Bible is probably wrong.

                      People who have twisted and winding hermeneutics would be people like William Lane Craig or me. Craig believes, and I’m entertaining the belief, that God commanded the genocide, and that God is loving.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/erroll.treslan Erroll Treslan

                      Bilbo, you’re right – I agree.

            • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jesse-Toler/100000087450373 Jesse Toler

              How is it that you can second guess GodL Tell me, are you suggesting that the passages are interpolated by a redactor? Because frankly, as much as I try, I cannot make sense of the argument.

              • Walter

                How is it that you can second guess God?

                I don’t start with the assumption that God is the author of these passages.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jesse-Toler/100000087450373 Jesse Toler

        Any chance you can exegete scripture in your arguments, otherwise it comes down to your emotions determining the premise and conclusion.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          In this series I’m concerned with critiquing William Lane Craig’s podcast. Your claim that one needs to present an exegesis of a biblical text in order for one to critique the ethical adequacy of a person’s defense of genocide is spurious.

  • Zeno

    I must confess that I cannot help but roll my eyes in contemptuous amusement at Craig saying it is dishonest for people to portray the God of the OT as not being merciful. Is he really serious? Has he read the OT he so enthusiastically and confidently pledges his credulity to? Perhaps he is right that one can read the OT in a way that portrays the OT God as merciful. But must one be DISHONEST to read it and come away thinking that YHWH is an execrable despot that we all ought to be happy does not exist? No. Of course not. This is the God who killed a man for trying to prevent the ark from falling. This is a God who flooded the entire world save a single family. This is a God who orders the slaughter of entire peoples. This is a God who sometimes commands that homosexuals be stoned to death along with disobedient children. This is a God who kills the firstborn of Egyptian mothers. This is a God who threatens the lives of those who touch the holy mountain upon which he speaks to Moses. This is the God who kills David’s innocent son as punishment for David’s sin. This is a God who hardens the heart of Pharaoh and destroys Pharaoh for the sins that issued from such a hardened heart. This is a God who looks upon the willingness to engage in human sacrifice as a mark of true piety. This is a God who Ezekiel depicts as giving orders that we engage in human sacrifice with the aim of horrifying us. This is a God who orders the ritualistic slaughter of animals.

    Is this the God that Craig looks so fondly upon? Is this a God that Craig cannot understand why folks look at with loathsome eyes? If Craig cannot understand this, then so much the worse for him. I hardly think that the moral perception of those who defend genocide is worth taking all that seriously anyway. Craig is clearly defending a thesis and is willing to reduce himself to the most odious of moral platforms in order to continue believing the dumb things about God that he so cheerfully defends. I’d be more concerned about the reasonableness of my moral views if Craig approved of them than if he didn’t.

    • R0c1

      Upvoted. Your rethoric was a little too thick, but the main point is spot on.

      • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

        Funny how skeptics are so quick to uncritically accept simplistic and flawed exegesis as entirely correct and then denigrate anyone who questions it as not worth believing.

        • R0c1

          Matt, I hope that I’m not one of “them”, or even that I come across as a typical skeptic.

          At one point, I spent a majority of my free time following your debates with Stark. I’ve listened to Copan and Wolterstorff too, but I got bored of the false claims that undermine their apologetics (e.g. No, the Torah is not better for minorities or women than other ANE texts.)

          Anyway, there’s no need to respond to me. I’m just some guy on the Internet. Your time is better spent responding to Randal and Thom Stark and Wes Morriston.

          Good luck! I think you’ll need it. ;-)

          • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

            R0c1, to be honest to be told “some guy on the internet” has read a book and likes the work of a blogger Is really underwhelming.

            Yes I have read both Moriston and Randall, in fact Randall and I were on the same panel at the SBL where we debated some of these issues rigorously. If you think my case was really poor and in need of a lot of good luck, your welcome to point to the arguments made between on us on these issues and show where they were wrong. I dont think the members of the audience, consisting of bible scholars, theologians and philosophers thought it was that one sided.

            Moriston is a good scholar, but so are his critics and I am more interested in whether his arguments are sound. Moreover, if I have responded some n some of my published writings. If you think I need “good luck” these fail again your welcome to point to the flaws.

            Again in my published works I have addressed some of these issues.

        • R0c1

          Matt, I also want to say it’s a shame Stark sprinkled his criticisms with so much rhetoric. It gave you and Copan other stuff to (understandably) focus on. It gave you a chance to complain about the tone rather than the content.

          There were a lot of claims that you and Copan make that Stark refuted at length. If his refutations were wrong for some other reason than the surrounding rhetoric, I’d like to know about that.

          From http://randalrauser.com/2011/09/why-wont-paul-copan-respond-to-thom-stark/

          “Stark’s review is called Is God a Moral Compromiser? [...] The review is a book all its own and is, by my reading, as devastating a sustained critique of another published work as I’ve come across.”

          Do you disagree?

          • Zeno

            Upvoted (though every time I try to upvote something, I accidentally click it twice. I’m not doing that on purpose. Maybe my touch pad is too sensitive).

          • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

            Yes I do disagree, my take on Stark is that his review involves a lot of caricature misrepresentation, failure to read other people charitably or accurately and mixed with snarky rhetoric. much what he says can be cleared up by comparing it with what the people he cites actually said and understanding it.

            However, whenever I have written anything even on my Facebook page explaining it to friends. the process is repeated with heated nasty rhetoric by Stark, which distorts, riducules, and misrepresents followed by mocking from supporters, which then has to be corrected by me, only to have it done again to the correction. so I have concluded that discussing this is a waste of time.

    • Thomas Larsen

      // This is the God who kills David’s innocent son as punishment for David’s sin. //

      I’m so glad you oppose human abortion.

      • TBP100

        Not to mention all the people he tortures and kills in the Book of Job, just to win a bet, a bet whose outcome he already infallibly knew anyway, if you believe in God’s omniscience.

      • Rafael

        Yeah a story from 2 Samuel, a highly interpolated book. please don’t use low level interpolated books with a lack of authenticity next time.

        Same with 1 Samuel where the “kill babies” interpolation comes from. Unbiblical stuff here.

        when a Minority of text contradicts a Majority of text, and the minority when put together doesn’t even form One Book out of the 66 Bible books and doesn’t make sense along with the rest of the narrative, then it’s an interpolation.

        the whole argument is a joke. using an interpolation doesn’t prove God(YHWH) as evil, it just exposes atheists for their lack of study and questioning, as they use books that are interpolations and have this false belief that they’re Scripture.

  • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

    The problem, in short, is that (1) is false as it stands because it does not specify what kind of exceptions we’re talking about. And there are in fact two kinds of exceptions which we can call moderate exceptions and radical
    exceptions. While moderate exceptions do not undermine the general witness, radical exceptions are so extreme that even one radical exception would be sufficient to undermine the general observation of the agent’s character.

    I tend to agree; even though I’d say the categories are somewhat vague,
    I would fully agree that some exceptions to a general trend in a
    description are decisive.

    If bilking the elderly is a radical exception to a stand-up character, surely commanding genocide is as well.

    I agree as well, keeping in mind that we’re talking about commanding
    genocide in the biblical context (e.g., if someone points a gun at Dave’s head and tell him that unless he commands some random guy on the internet to commit genocide, he will shoot Dave in the head, it’s not evidence against Dave’s being a stand-up guy if he gives the ineffective command to a random guy, etc., but that’s not the biblical context).

    By the way, I would also say that Craig’s account fails also because of
    the very law that he cites in his argument, and which he claims is “head and shoulders above other ancient near eastern moral and legal codes”.

    If a legal code implies that (for instance) a woman who isn’t a virgin marries a man who didn’t know about that, deserves to be stoned to death, and furthermore, commands that if a man claims that his wife is not a virgin and the ‘tokens of her virginity’ are not found, she shall be stoned to death, that is a
    legal code that contains false moral claims or implications and that commands profoundly immoral behavior, regardless of whether some other legal code,
    written or otherwise, happens to be even worse.

    Those are not very specific actions (like, allegedly, a command to commit
    genocide, though that too is a very weak claim, given the rules for warfare), but general rules of behavior in domestic matters, given by Yahweh according to the OT text.

    So how does one establish the truth of (2)? In my view, this judgment is rooted in the hermeneutical guidance of control texts which serve as the interpretive basis for other texts (as the old hermeneutical saying goes: “Scripture interprets scripture”). As a Christian my control texts are rooted first and foremost in God as revealed in Jesus Christ (John 14:8-9). Thus, the depiction of God as revealed in Christ becomes the controlling framework for engaging other texts. And that means that however I interpret depictions of God that seem to be unmerciful and unloving, they cannot be interpreted in a way that undermines the incarnational revelation of God as merciful and loving.

    While I don’t agree with your assessment of Jesus’ actions, leaving that aside, I think that this approach raises some issues, like the following one:

    Let’s say someone who lived before Jesus (say, an ancient Hebrew)
    tries to assess whether Yahweh generally appears to be merciful and loving, given the description of his actions. Do you think she should conclude that Yahweh is generally described as merciful and loving, or even morally good?

    • R0c1

      God’s revelation of his character post Josiah and pre Jesus… Never thought about that one! Absent the teaching of Jesus or some other special revelation, those people had excellent reasons to reject Yahweh.

      On being less than impressed with Jesus’ character as revealed in the gospels – yeah, me too. They quote him as saying the law was perfect. Ballony, the law was half garbage.

      • Rafael

        Of course The Law is perfect, by saying it was “half garbage” you demonstrate that you don’t even know what the Law is in the Bible, and haven’t studied.

        The Law is defined by Jesus Christ(YHWH) in Matthew 7:12 – “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this Is the Law and the Prophets.”

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “Let’s say someone who lived before Jesus (say, an ancient Hebrew)
      tries to assess whether Yahweh generally appears to be merciful and loving, given the description of his actions. Do you think she should conclude that Yahweh is generally described as merciful and loving, or even morally good?”

      Should she? That’s an enormously complex question. Let me note one complexity. What if she hears a description from the Jewish leaders in the temple that sound to her ears as if God is not merciful and loving. Can she rationally still believe God is merciful and loving based on deference to the testimony of trusted authorities andrecognition of her own limited moral and cognitive insight in contrast to the God whose ways are higher than ours? Sure, one could make a case that it is at least reasonable, and perhaps most reasonable, to continue to confess beliefs that appear prima facie implausible given these wider considerations.

      • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

        But do you think she should come to believe that Yahweh is morally good, merciful and/or loving in the first place?
        If so, I would ask why (just to be clear, I’m not asking about what you think she should believe about God, under some usual definition of the term ‘God’ in philosophy of religion; I’m asking about Yahweh).

        Anyway, let’s say that she has access to the Hebrew Scriptures, which in my assessment describe a moral monster (I also think the Christian Scriptures do so, but I could grant otherwise for the sake of the argument, since that’s not the point in this context), who sometimes does reasonably good things, and sometimes does horrendously evil things, engages in all sorts of atrocities, commands atrocities as well, etc. (one can think of many humans who exhibit a somewhat similar pattern of behavior, including some members of groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, etc., but their atrocities are don’t have the scale of those attributed to Yahweh in the Old Testament).

        For that matter, why should she trust the judgment of authorities
        that posit a creator that they claim is morally good, merciful, etc.,
        while they describe such creator as in the Hebrew Scriptures?

        Side note: we may alternatively assume the Hebrew is a man and has studied Hebrew Scriptures, if said assumption is needed.

        Also, if I understand you correctly, you claim or imply that, at
        least upon reflection if not always, Christians should reject claims
        that a morally good creator commanded the instances of genocide
        described in the Bible, commanded stoning or burning people to death for things like entering a forbidden marriage, having sex before marriage and not disclosing it to a future husband, etc.

        I would agree that they should reject such claims, of course.

        But should an ancient Hebrew not, upon reflection, reject such claims as well?

        It seems to me that they should do so as well. But then, similarly I
        would say that they shouldn’t believe that Yahweh is morally good.
        Removing the atrocities ascribed to him only to keep some good
        actions would not seem to be a proper was of assessing the evidence for the character of a person (i.e., that seems like picking and choosing); we may consider the examples of many Hamas or Hezbollah members, or for that matter Dave’s example.

        Incidentally, let’s say that a person lives in rural Pakistan or Afghanistan, say a century ago. Should they believe that the entity
        described in the Quran is morally good, by rejecting some of the text and embracing the morally good parts?

  • Walter

    Justin Taylor has just posted his defense of biblical genocide: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2013/02/13/how-could-god-command-genocide-in-the-old-testament-2/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+between2worlds+%28Between+Two+Worlds%29
    It follows the usual pattern.

    A) God has the right to take life

    B) The Canaanites were wicked to the core

    C) God had to insure the purity of Israel by getting rid on all those nasty Canaanites who would have fouled the divine plan.

    D) We all deserve God’s brutal justice because we are fallen, despicable
    creatures, so if morally neutral children die, it’s okay since they
    deserve brutal deaths just as much as the rest of us.

    The last part is what turns me off about Christianity: Most of these apologists speak of how we are all such trash, but I bet they don’t really think that they themselves deserve to be butchered with an ax.

    • Rafael

      Canaanites story is from book of Samuel, a highly interpolated book. that story was an interpolation as it contradicted a majority of text. whatever minor text contradicts a majority is an interpolation. especially since the passages these atheists use are so small in quantity that when put together they don’t even make up One Bible book out of the 66 books. the argument is therefore null and void.

      as far as stoning, it rendered the harmer unconscious, meaning no physical pain. so while those criminals harmed others, they went out painlessly.

      unlike islam and the secular world, where people get painfully beheaded, raped, whipped, suffer an electric chair.

      if you were open to studying you’d be a Christian.

  • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

    Randall, I haven’t heard the pod cast you refer to, but reading Craig’s comments in Philosophical Foundations of a Christain World view, Craig’s comments about the command being exceptional is different. Take two claim.

    1. It’s always wrong to kill innocent people
    2. It’s prima facie wrong to kill innocent people.

    These claims have a very different conceptual and epistemically status, 2 is one which, anyone who is not a nihilist will hold to with a high degree of certainty. Moreover 2. seems deeply intergal to our understanding of morality, to deny 2. Would so cause us to revise our understandings of morality so drastically that our moral concepts would break down in an important way.

    1. However is not like this, 1 is a much more controversial premise, our intuitive response to various cases reveals that we are not certain that killing is absolutely wrong. numerous respectable moral theories would reject 1. As an absolute principle as opposed to a general rule that applies to most circumstances.

    Similarly 1. Is not intergal to our moral concepts, if a person abandons an absolutist view for Say a rule utilitarian one or a Rossian one we don’t think they have so drastically revised our understanding that our moral concepts break down.

    Now in the Canaanite issue, believers in biblical authority face a dilemma. They must either deny God commanded the action in question or they must deny the action is wrong. which option taken depends on the relative epistemic status of each horn. And this is why the difference between 1 and 2 is important, because 2 is intergal to our understanding of morality one can’t coherently claim God gave a command contracting 1. God is understood as perfectly good, and hence he cannot coherently be claimed to command something intergal to our moral concepts. Similarly 2 has a very high epistemic status and so it will always be more plausible to claim God issued commands that contradict 2 than that 2 is false.

    This is not the case for 1. It’s not obviously incoherent to claim a loving and just person does not issue commands where killing is absolutely prohibited, you’d need some pretty controversial ethical theorising to do that, many people deny 1 without there theories being obvious incoherent. Similarly 1 has a much lower epistemic status and so it’s not the case that its always correct to prefer that God did not issue a command contrary to 1.

    This I think is Craig’s basic point, while one cannot coherently or defensible claim that God issues commands contrary to 2. One can coherently and defensible claim he issued commands that contradict 1. As long as the command is an exception to a normal rule, brought about for some greater good, then it’s not ridiculous to attribute to God if you have good evidence that he did. One could deny scripture counts as good evidence but then the argument against biblical authority becomes circular

    • R0c1

      “One could deny scripture counts as good evidence but then the argument against biblical authority becomes circular”

      Scripture is not singular. Parts of it could count as evidence for A and other parts could count as evidence against A.

      This seems obvious to me, so maybe I have not understood what you were trying to say. Can you rephrase?

      • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

        Roc1, my point is that an argument that against biblical inerrancy, aimed at providing a defeater for belief in inerrancy, cannot appeal to a premise which assumes that the bible is unreliable or not inerrant without circularity. This should go without saying.

        • R0c1

          Arguments against Biblical inerrancy don’t need to assume that conclusion,right? I’m sure that some do, but as a defender of innerancy, you can steel man those weaker arguments and work to defeat the better version. Maybe this is your standard procedure, I probably need to read your stuff. Where do I begin?

          • R0c1

            By the way, I’ve been reading Randal’s blog for years now in large part because I think he really tries to steel man his opponents.

          • R0c1

            I’ve read your debates with Stark, but they have since been deleted from the Internet and they had a lot of rhetoric on both sides anyway.

          • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

            I have a blog where I discuss my responses to various people. I

  • nick

    Matt, I think the podcast he is referring to is the March 3, 2008 Reasonable Faith Podcast. This is one where Craig does discuss this topic from his perspective.

    • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

      I just listend to the entire podcast and nowhere did Craig give the argument Randall attributes to him.

      • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

        The only podcast I’m responding to is the one I linked to in “On William Lane Craig’s defense of the Canaanite slaughter (Part 1)”. All my critical interaction with Craig in this review are based on verbatim quotes from the philosopher himself. You can listen to the whole podcast here:

        http://www.reasonablefaith.org/richard-dawkins-and-driving-out-the-canaanites

        • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

          I just listened to that podcast and again I don’t see Craig making the argument you attribute to him here. As you know I am not in complete agreement with Craig on this but interesting I also find almost every critique of his position to attack straw men.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jesse-Toler/100000087450373 Jesse Toler

    so, man centered ‘moral intuition’ has more to say about God than revelation? Someone here has a low view of God’s nature.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      What you call “man centered ‘moral intuition'” is what theologians call general revelation and natural law. It is the foundation of Catholic ethical reasoning. Paul appeals to it in Romans 1 and 2. It is the foundation of the book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and indeed forms the background of a Jewish understanding of how the Halakah related to other ANE legal codes.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jesse-Toler/100000087450373 Jesse Toler

        All of which takes a step down in the light of divine revelation. With a divine source to refer to, your natural law has little left for me to consider.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          The natural law is from a divine source. Read what Paul says in Romans 2 about Gentiles doing what is required of the law apart from the law.

          Look as well at how Paul engages the Athenians in Acts 17. He quotes with approval from two Stoic philosophers on their philosophical understanding of God.

          And look at how Proverbs quotes large tracts of “pagan” wisdom like the Egyptian teaching of Amenope.

          And look at how John appeals to the Logos concept of the Stoics and Greek philosophers as a means to explain Jesus.

          And this is to say nothing of the extent to which theology has throughout history drawn extensively upon non-Christian philosophical sources from Parmenides to Wittgenstein (and scientific understanding from Ptolemy to Darwin).