On William Lane Craig’s defense of the Canaanite slaughter (Part 1)

Posted on 02/08/13 30 Comments

The other day I was catching up on some of William Lane Craig’s “Reasonable Faith” podcasts when I came across his podcast on “Richard Dawkins and driving out the Canaanites.” In the podcast Craig is aiming to offer a response to Dawkins’ critique of Craig’s defense of the Joshua genocide. As you will recall, when Craig visited the UK in 2011 his invitation to debate Dawkins was rebuffed on the pretense that Dawkins would not deign to debate a defender of genocide.

I discuss Dawkins’ position in my article “Why Dawkins says he won’t debate Craig” and argue in that article and two follow-up articles (available here and here) that Dawkins’ reasoning is spurious and is little more than an unconvincing means to avoid ending up on the same stage as Craig. This fits in neatly with Dawkins’ typical modus operandi of debating irenic churchmen rather than academics in philosophy of religion. I don’t blame Dawkins for wanting to avoid debating Craig who is by any measure a worldclass debater. What irks me is that he cloaks his cowardice in a faux moral indignation.

But now our attention shifts from Dawkins to Craig and his response in this podcast. The fact that Craig has made so many stellar contributions in philosophy and apologetics from the Kalam cosmological argument to the philosophy of time to the concept of truth makes his defense of the Canaanite genocide all the more awful. (Consider it the contrast effect at work.) This issue doesn’t just have a limited interest with the problems and inconsistencies of Craig’s own position. It also reflects a real Achilles heal in contemporary conservative Christian apologetics. We are in many respects in a golden age of apologetics with many arguments attaining new levels of sophistication and novelty. This makes the efforts of apologists like Craig and Paul Copan to defend the biblical genocides look all the worse by comparison. As I observe in The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver, and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails, these apologists often tend to mislead people and misrepresent the arguments ((InterVarsity Press, 2012), 143).

Here’s the problem. When you offer defenses of the indefensible you provide people with a pretense to dismiss your genuinely strong arguments. And the Craig-Dawkins provides a great example of this. Consequently, I will offer a critique of Craig’s podcast as a ground to challenge Craig and other Christian apologists to abandon these insufferably weak arguments in defense of genocide and thereby to remove an unnecessary stumbling block to the consideration of their genuinely strong arguments.

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

    I finally watched a typical Craig debate (versus Alex Rosenberg). I was on the debate team in high school for four years, so I know the unfair advantage a formal, competitive debate gives to an experienced debater, such as Craig, when facing a novice debater — which would be anyone who has never been trained in formal, competitive debate. My advice to Dawkins or others that Craig challenges would be to insist on the informal debate format, such as the one that Craig had with Shelly Kagan:


    It put Kagan on an equal playing field with Craign, and he was able to hold his own. I suspect that others would fair better, also.

    • epicurus

      In addition to Craig’s superior formal debating skills and experience, and his opponents general lack of these, he reads his opponents works and learns about them before the debate ( I recall him saying this in one of his podcasts a few years ago). But I don’t get the impression many of his opponents do the same. And so often they get caught totally flat footed – not a formal debater, and no research done on your opponent – a double whammy !! (there are occasional exceptions with people like, say Bart Ehrman).

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

        Research is the second most important part of formal debating. If Craig’s opponents haven’t done their research, then shame on them. But if Craig challenges them to a formal debate, and refuses to do an informal debate, as he did with Kagan, then I say shame on Craig.

        • epicurus

          Yes, I don’t feel sorry for Craig’s opponents who get hammered because they can’t be bothered to research, they deserve it.

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

            But are they getting hammered because they didn’t do the research, or because they don’t know how to do a formal debate? The only formal debate I watched was the Craig-Rosenberg debate, and it was clear to me that Rosenberg lost because he had no experience as a formal debater, not because he didn’t do the research. What made it worse to watch was that Rosenberg stated a few times that he really hadn’t wanted to use the format they were using, but had wanted something more informal. I suspect that in an informal debate, Rosenberg would have held up his end considerably better.

            • epicurus

              I think probably a bit of both, If you are a super experienced formal debtor, you can probably dance your way around not having done research, but if you are not experienced, then even with research you are going to struggle. But the worst of all worlds is if you are not experienced and haven’t bothered to research your opponent, then you are going to get annihilated by someone like Craig in a formal debate.

            • christthetao

              I think it was clear Rosenberg lost because he was too arrogant to respect his opponent, or perhaps those who disagree with him. He said all kinds of silly things. Can’t blame that on form.

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

              Actually Rosenberg showed he did not understand the literature on the topic, he for example presented the logical problem of evil which has pretty much been anbandoned, and his take on the moral argument was to suggest the Euthyphro, that suggested he studied some basic philosophy of religion decades ago and has read nothing written since.

    • Kerk

      Indeed, Kagan was the only one to my knowledge to easily rebut Craig’s claim that atheism is immoral. I remember the surprise and loss on Craig’s face. And that has always puzzled me – I mean, he is a PhD after all. How could he not have been aware of such a simple thing as atheist platonism?

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

        I don’t think Craig claimed that atheism is immoral. He claimed that it didn’t provide a proper basis for thinking morality can be objectively true. I agree that atheistic Platonism is consistent. But I don’t think Kagan was claiming to be a Platonist.

        • Kerk

          I’m simplifying things, I know. He claimed morality to be of the same objective nature as mathematical equations. To me that’s platonism in a broader sense.

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

            Oh right, I forgot about that, Kerk. Good point.

      • RobMcCune

        I mean, he is a PhD after all. How could he not have been aware of such a simple thing as atheist platonism?

        My guess is he’s used to getting away with assertions that atheism provides no basis for morality. He conveniently ignores other positions for rhetorical purposes.

      • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

        Actually Craig refers to Platonism in several of his writings, and he has never argued that “athiesm is immoral” he argues that the most plausible meta ethical theory if you accept athiesm is true is nihilism.

        As to the Kagan debate, I agree Kagan won that debate, I doubt however it was due to informal debate structure, it was probably more to do with the topic; Craig’s professional writings have been in philosophy of science and time, he has no peer reviewed work on ethics. Kagan on the other hand is an expert in ethics particularly meta-ethics. Second, Kagan is on faculty at Yale and Yale is where the most rigorous theistic meta-ethics has come from. People like Robert Adams for example were at Yale as was Wolterstorff and now Hare. This means Kagan unlike many atheist interlocutors would be much more aware of the kind of arguments made by serious Christian philosophers.

        When the topic is the Kalam, on which Craig is an expert he does fine in open dialogue such as occured with Wes Moriston.

        The problem with Craig’s opponents is not that they are not debaters, its also that they often are arrogant and clueless. On issues related to the cosmological argument, Craig is one of the leading philosophers writing in the world. Sure he also speaks well and that gives him and edge in public presentations but he also knows the topic well and anyone who thinks they can destroy him on this topic without is being rather arrogant.

        On the topic of ethics however Craig is essentially a populariser, he takes the more sophisticated work of Adams, Quinn, and others and popularises it. People like Sam Harris who are clueless about this work easily go down in debate. People like Kagan who know more about this particular area dont.

  • epicurus

    I have great respect for WLC’s logic and philosophical skills, but when I was listening to one of his podcasts defending OT genocide last year while driving in the car, I got to the point about half way through where I just had to shake my head and turn off the radio/ipod. It just seemed so forced, out of touch, dare I say even heartless – some philosophical formula he was running through to justify it, like a Dr Pangloss from Candide.

  • Jesus Fucking Christ

    “Here’s the problem. When you offer defenses of the indefensible you provide people with a pretense to dismiss your genuinely strong arguments.”

    And here’s another problem. When your basic premise is so pathetically absurd, i.e. Christian doctrine, then your only option is to look like like a retarded Neanderthal. Which is what all Christian’s look like to sane people.

    Christianity is truly the epitome of Stone Age bullshit. Truly fucking stupid bullshit.

    Enjoy your lunacy, Christian nutbaggers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • AgeOfReasonXXI

      I’d say “Amen’ to that :)
      anyway, when the two most prominent defenders of your beliefs are old fossils like WL ‘Genocide’ Craig and Alvin ‘If-My-Fantasy-Is-True-I’m-Not-Crazy’ Plantinga, who never got into their heads that they live in the 21st century, not the 1st, then it’s time to move on

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

        Ah yes, never accept the arguments of someone over 60, that’s my motto.

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

        It would seem, based on your comment, that you don’t understand Plantinga’s epistemology.

      • christthetao

        The Age of Reason is so, 18th Century.

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

      I would say you spoke as a true Neaderthal, J, but I wouldn’t want to insult an entire species.

  • madhatter

    WLC always reminds me of a Blackadder episode:

    (at the cell)

    Perkins: (Edmund’s guard) Sadder than a happy hour then, sir? Wave all our
    last goodbyes.

    Edmund: Oh, no need for that, Perkins, I’ll just dash off a couple of notes,
    one asking for a sponge bag, and the other sending for my lawyer.

    Perkins: Oh, your lawyer now, yes sir. Don’t you think that might be a bit
    of a waste of money, sir.

    Edmund: Not when he’s the finest mind in English legal history. Ever heard
    of Bob Mattingburg?

    Perkins: Oh, yes indeed, sir! A most gifted gentleman!

    Edmund: I remember Mattingburg’s most famous case, the case of the bloody knife.
    A man was found next to a murdured body, he had the knife in his hand,
    thirteen witnesses that seen him stab the victim, when the police
    arrived he said, “I’m glad I killed the bastard.” Mattingburg not
    only got him off, but he got him knighted in the New Year’s Honors
    list, and the relatives of the victim had to pay to have the blood
    washed out of his jacket.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Carr/100001542808342 Steven Carr

      ‘WLC always reminds me of a Blackadder episode:’

      No, Scooby Doo surely?

      Craig’s god had seen Scooby Doo and knew that the Canaanite chlldren would not be scared by his hiding in an old mine and dressing up in an old ghost costume.

      But viewers of Scooby Doo know that children can easily wreck plans.

      So Craig’s god had them killed.

      God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel.

      Pesky children interfering with a grown-up’s plans?
      If that is not a plot from Scooby Doo, I don’t know what is.

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  • MNb

    One can only call WLC’s contribution in philosophy in the form of his cosmological argument if one doesn’t know to much about modern physics.

    • MNb

      call …. stellar ….

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

    Would WLC defend the genocide of Jews or native american Indians with a reference to ‘divine command theory’ as well? I notice that in every debut WLC notes the Nazi genocide as inherently evil, but no mention of Indians and no equal treatment of all three genocides, viz, slaughter of the Canaanites was justified, the holocaust was evil under any circumstances; and, the Indians don’t deserve a mention.

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