On William Lane Craig’s defense of the Canaanite genocide (Part 4)
In this article I continue my critique of William Lane Craig’s “Reasonable Faith” podcast episode “Richard Dawkins and Driving out the Canaanites.” In this fourth installment I will critique Craig’s appeal to Israel’s status as a theocracy. We join the podcast in progress as it approaches the 6 minute mark and Craig states:
“This is not a civil or secular government. This is a government at which Yahweh himself was the head of the government.” “This is a government in which God was the head of the government and thus is as I say highly unusual and highly singular because there is no other human society like that on earth ever since.” (5:54)
At first blush this is a most perplexing claim to be making as a response to the moral objection. Craig is responding to skeptical questions like this: “How could God command the genocide of an entire people?” and “Why should I believe that God commanded the genocide of an entire people?” And what answer does Craig give us? “Because God was the head of the government.”
In order to see how perplexing this response is, consider the following analogy. Fred tells his friends that Santa Claus gave his three year old niece a dead rat for Christmas. The friends are aghast and perplexed. “How could Santa Claus give a child a dead rat for Christmas?” they ask. Fred replies: “Because Santa has direct control over the distribution of all gifts.” This response would, if anything, make the question even more pressing. Given that Santa has direct control over the distribution of all gifts, how could Santa give a child a dead rat for Christmas? Craig’s invocation of theocracy as a response to the moral objector to genocide is no less perplexing: As the head of state, how could God command genocide?
Given that Craig’s appeal to theocracy has no explanatory value at defusing the moral objector’s position, I suspect that his appeal to theocracy has a different force. It seems to me that what Craig is really trying to do here is to defuse the following objection:
(1) If I accept that God commanded genocide in the past I must consider the possibility that God might command genocide in the present.
(2) I do not want to consider the possibility that God might command genocide in the present.
(3) Therefore I should not accept that God commanded genocide in the past.
To be sure, it is one thing to accept ethically justified genocide a long time ago and far, far away. It is another thing (emotionally if not logically) to accept the possibility of genocide in the present. With that in mind, it could be that Craig’s appeal to genocide is seeking to undermine (1) by pointing to what we can call “Craig’s exceptional circumstance for genocide (CECG):
(CECG): morally justifiable (e.g. divinely commanded) genocide is conditional upon the existence of a theocratic nation-state.
Assuming that there are no theocracies now (which, of course, somebody could dispute), we no longer have the exceptional circumstance for genocide. And thus, we need not accept (1).
Unfortunately, CECG is beset with problems. If God can command a morally justifiable genocide, there simply is no reason to think that he is obliged to establish a formal theocratic political structure prior to commanding the genocide. Thus, even if there are no theocracies now, it doesn’t mean that God might not command genocide again. And that means that Craig’s CECG does not defuse (1). (See my essay “Might God call Christians to participate in a future genocide?”)
In conclusion, I have analyzed Craig’s appeal to theocracy as a response to the moral objection to genocide from two angles. On our first pass it appeared to be a non sequitur to the moral objection. In the second pass it appeared to be a failed attempt to prevent the possiblity that accepting genocide in the past might open one to accepting genocide in the present.