On William Lane Craig’s defense of the Canaanite genocide (Part 5)

Posted on 03/01/13 17 Comments

In the fourth installment of my critique of William Lane Craig’s podcast defending the Canaanite genocide, Matthew Flannagan reiterated an objection he had posted in response to an earlier installment of the series, namely that Craig does not understand himself to be defending genocide. Matt writes:

“Craig has repeatedly explicitly denied that the command was to genocide an entire people he is clear he thinks it was to drive them out and to only kill those who stayed, which while killing is not genocide. So to keep claiming Craig is giving reasons for genocide is simply false.”

Matt seems to be assuming that because Craig doesn’t understand himself to be defending genocide, it is incorrect to say he is defending genocide. But of course this doesn’t follow. Whether or not Craig believes himself to be defending genocide is a separate point from whether he is defending genocide. By analogy, imagine that Moe argues that the age of sexual consent should be reduced to 12. Moe may not believe that by advocating for the lowering of the age of sexual consent he is thereby defending the morality and legality of some pedophilic relationships. (For example, Moe may insist that a 12 year old is no longer a child.) But that doesn’t mean that Moe’s critics are obliged to agree with him. They may continue to insist that Moe is indeed defending some pedophilic relationships despite his asseverations to the contrary.

Craig on dispossessing vs committing genocide

With that in mind, let’s turn to Craig’s comments on the issue. We pick up the discussion at 9:17 into the podcast and continue until 10:17:

“One thing I would like to add to my answer that I didn’t have in the original answer that I’ve since come to see is that God’s command was not actually to just go into the land and exterminate everybody. Rather, the command was to drive the people out of the land, drive the Canaanites out of Canaan, and take possession of the land for the Jewish state. There was no command to pursue the Canaanites and hunt them down and kill them if they left. What God wanted to do was to annihilate the Canaanite nation-state, to destroy them as nations, by dispossessing them of the land. So most of the Canaanites probably fled before the oncoming Israeli armies. It was only those who chose to stay behind and fight who were utterly devoted to destruction. Had they had the good sense to leave, there was no command to pursue them and hunt them down and kill them….”

Hence the title for Craig’s podcast: “Richard Dawkins and Driving Out the Canaanites”. And so Craig claims that this was an act of dispossessing a people of their land (an act which conforms to the common usage of the term “ethnic cleansing”) rather than a genocide.

As I said, however, whether or not Craig believes he is defending genocide does not settle the matter of whether we ought to conclude that he is defending genocide. So how shall we settle this? Let’s consider an analogy in which we put the biblical evidence into a contemporary example and see whether the result ends up looking like genocide.

Would you think this was genocide? A contemporary example

Imagine that you’re in a meeting with Major General Dellione, the head of UNAMM (United Nations Assistance Mission for Mubimtu) peacekeeping forces in Mubimtu. You’ve been sent as the representative of the US Secretary of State to consider the evidence the Major General has collected that ongoing incidents of violence in the country being visited on the Podo people by the Musi people constitute a genocide. Thus far the diplomatic representative of Mubimtu in Washington has emphatically denied that there is a genocide in the country. After the meeting you must decide whether the evidence Dellione presents is sufficient to advise the Secretary of State that there is a genocide in the country.

Immediately after walking into the room the Major General sits down at the desk and begins to pull out various documents and present them to you. The first document is a memo from the general of the Musi army outlining a plan to destroy the Podo completely. The document advises to “Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.” It stipulates that Musi should not intermarry with Podo because of their errant religious practices. Instead, all Podo religious and cultural artifacts are to be destroyed completely as should the Podo as a people. (Compare Deuteronomy 7)

Next, Major General Dellione slides a second Mubimtu military memo in front of you. This one is titled “Going to war against the Podo and other tribes.” In the document it stipulates that all the men of other tribes are to be slaughtered but the women and children should be taken as plunder by the Musi armies. Next, the document outlines that in Podo settlements the Musi armies should “leave alive nothing that breathes. Destroy them completely.” The document then stipulates that complete extermination is required lest the Podo influence the Musi with their abominable religious practices.

At this point the Major General pulls out a recording device and plays a radio broadcast on Mubimtu National Radio in which the ecstatic Musi host announces that all the residents of two Podo settlements have been completely annihilated in attacks by Musi armies. “Twelve thousand men and women fell today,” the voice announces triumphantly, “all the people in the town!” (Compare Joshua 6 and 8)

Finally, the Major General pulls out a third memo and says: “It looks like the Musi will be targeting the Bondu people next.” He hands you the memo and you begin to read. It provides instructions from the president of Mubimtu to the generals of the army declaring “Now go and attack the Bondu and destroy completely everything they have. Do not spare them. Kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

With that the Major General looks at you intently. “I know you’ve been hearing from Mubimtu’s diplomat for some time now that this is just a land dispossession. He suggests that the Musi are merely moving the Podo people off their land. He’s suggested that some of these sweeping statements for complete annihilation are merely hyperbole. But even the diplomat admits that any Podo elderly, women, infants or children that are found in the territory are being butchered by the Musi armies. He admits it. He even had the gall to suggest that anybody who stayed behind was essentially committing to fight the armies. Surely he must know that some people are simply unable to travel. The weak, the elderly, the infirm, many of them are simply unable to flee. And they’re all being slaughtered as soon as the Musi armies find them in the land. And that’s what he admits.”

With that the Major General takes a drink of coffee and then continues. “Even worse, in those documents you’ll see the rationale for slaughtering all the Podo is that they will infect the Musi with their culture if they are not all killed. The Podo are being described as akin to a cancerous tumor that must be removed. So how the diplomat can claim this is not a genocide is beyond me. And that is not even to mention this other horrifying document outlining an even more explicit mandate to slaughter all the Bondu.”

“Thank you Major General,” you say as he stands to go. After he has gone you sit back down in the fine leather chair and stare at the phone on the desk. Should you tell the Secretary of State that this is a genocide or not?

Are you kidding me? Only a politician … or an apologist … would think this is a hard question.

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

    “Hello, Mr. Secretary. It’s genocide.”

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

      True, but so very undiplomatic.

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

        Which is why I decided not to accept the ambassadorship to Mubimtu.

  • R0c1

    ‘He’s suggested that some of these sweeping statements for complete annihilation are merely hyperbole. But even the diplomat admits that any Podo elderly, women, infants or children that are found in the territory are being butchered’

    What evidence leads you to believe that the diplomat’s admission of killing non combatants is reliable? Won’t the apologist deny this too?

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

      In the analogy, Bill Craig parallels the diplomat while the Major General’s evidence parallels the evidence we find in the Bible.

      In the quote from the podcast that I provided above, Craig attempts to recast the military assault and mass killing as a displacement. But even as he does this he concedes that any Canaanites left behind are to be slaughtered by the Israelites. So this parallels the diplomat’s concession that the Musi people are slaughtering any Podos they find remaining in the land.

      Even if we accepted this evidence alone it would clearly be sufficient to warrant the declaration of “ethnic cleansing” and genocide. (Craig’s emphasis upon the point that the identity of the Canaanites as a nation be destroyed underscores the fact that this is an assault on a corporate identity: military assault, deportation and killing to destroy a “genos”.)

      But we are not limited to taking the diplomat (or Craig’s) word for it. The central point of the illustration is that when all the data is added up, the diplomat/Craig’s non-genocidal interpretation is utterly without merit.

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

    I’ll read through this series of posts and give them a fair hearing, but the ‘modern example’ is no evidence at all and illustrates nothing in terms of evaluation of WLC’s argument.

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

      Perhaps you didn’t understand the argument. Flannagan argues for Craig’s view that the evidence supports a land dispossession rather than a genocide. I show the absurdity of the claim by putting the same kind of evidence that we have in the Bible into a contemporary context. In a contemporary context we’d interpret the evidence as pointing toward genocide. So consistency obliges us to conclude that the biblical evidence likewise points to genocide.

  • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

    After bring charges of Genocide to the international court, it’s revealed the secretary has been very selective with the evidence and failed to diclose the full story.
    First(a) its discovered that in addition to the documents presented there was an even greater volume of documents which stated the purpose was to drive out and disposses the people in question as opposed to destroying them physically as a group as the international legal definition required. This was not disclosed.
    Second, it’s discovered in the first document cited, it was not disclosed that the phrase “destroy them totally” was used in a context interchangeably with references to driving them out slowly and so could not have meant the physical destruction of the group as required by international law.
    Third, a further document is disclosed where a military commander cited the first document and showed he understood following the command to destroy to only require separating from the group on question and not killing them. That this was how military leaders understood the command was not disclosed by the seceratary.
    Fourth, further examination of the context of documents in the secretaries possession, show that the same language of destroy is used elsewhere in t he same documents to refer to situations where the people’s were routed and only a few who did not flee we’re killed he group was not physically destroyed as required by international law.
    Fifth, when they examine the document about killing 12000 people they discover this figure is to high to fit what is known about the size of the town and armies in question, it also contradicts reports in the same document which say the number of the city was few. It’s also discovered that the seceratary did not disclose that the same report frequently uses hyperbole, only a few lines earlier for example it claimed that all the men of the town and a neighbouring town had been killed in an ambush and none surivived, then it went on to state that they had killed all the men in the town who escaped the ambush, before saying they returned to the town and killed all the men in it. It’s also discovered that the same document repeatedly makes claims of destroying all the people in a town, only to follow this up with claims that in fact the vast majority in the town were not killed.
    Sixth, an expert on the reports note they show clear parallels to reports known to be of a Genre which is highly hyperbolic, and kmown to use language of destroy them all in a hyperbolic non literal sense.
    Both points and five and six were known to the secretary but he failed to disclose it when he accused the regime of attempting to carry out the physical destruction of the group in question. Yet the seceratary failed to disclose this.
    Finally, a careful look at the accounts that civilians were killed, shows the evidence on the ground fails to verify this one way or the other, apart from the aforementioned reports above, there is no independent corroboration that civilians were killed. The seceratary failed to disclose this.
    The court reiterates its decisions in previous cases that for Genocide to occur, merely intending to dis posses a population is not sufficient but the accused must be shown to have intended to physically destroy the group as a whole or a substantive part. Which the evidence does not support in this case. It notes the seceratary has presented an inaccurate picture of the evidence citing selective pieces out of context and refusing to disclose the relevant information, so as to make a false impression to the court and censures him for this violation of thecourt process.

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

      You forgot to mention that “destroy them completely” means that the Podo were being sacrificed.

      Oh, and don’t forget that the central rational according to the diplomat is that the survival of the Podo represents a threat to society. Indeed, he admits that any Podo infants found in the land must be butchered because if they grow up they will present a threat to the integrity of the society.

      • RationalInquirer


        I think Matt’s point has to do with how you are reading the text. I think Matt is suggesting that you are not reading the text according to the established canons of the time of writing. If this is right Matt may have a point here. “Destroy them totally” could mean “only kill the perpetuators of the legal infraction.” I’m not suggesting that this is case, but I am trying to give an example of a possible reading. Copan–here I’m assuming Craig is relying on Copan’s work–and Craig argue that their reading of the text is consistent with the way the recipients would have understood it at the time. Do you have evidence against their evidence? Copan also relies on archaeological evidence as well. There is no archaeological evidence to support genocidal activity according to Copan. It seems as if you are simply insisting that we read the text in a particular way without engaging their counter-evidence.

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

          First, you’re correct that there is no archaeological evidence that Jericho was demolished at the time Joshua says. Indeed, the archaeological evidence is that it wasn’t even settled. That’s a point I intend to return to later.

          There is absolutely no evidence that when a text in Deuteornomy 20 or 1 Samuel 15 declares kill every living person (including infants who are specificaly named in 1 Samuel 15) that this in fact means “”only kill the perpetuators of the legal infraction.”

          Now it could be hyperbolic language, but there are two problems with that suggestion.

          Problem 1: if it is hyperbolic it doesn’t distinguish between adults who are guilty and infants and children who are not. Rather, it would be a hyperbolic call to slaughter indiscriminately as many members of the particular group (Canaanite or Amalekite) as one can find including children, infants, and as I’ve observed, the mentally handicapped. So this appeal to hyperbole doesn’t address the ethical problem at all.

          Second problem: one of the rationales provided for the complete destruction of these people groups is that their continued existence poses an imminent threat to the moral integrity of the Israelites. So when the ground for annihilation is imminent threat from all members of the population, it makes absolutely no sense to interpret the solution (of in fact slaughtering all members of the group) is suddenly hyperbolic. If you reinterpret the solution you undermine the rationale for the solution.

          • RationalInquirer

            Thanks. I think your second problem directly addresses the point I was making. I will await Matt’s response to the problem.

          • matthew flannagan

            Problem one: is irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is wether the text refers to Genocide. The question of wether an interpretation solves all moral questions about a text is not the same as the question of wether the text affirms Genocide. The killing of non combatants is not the same as Genocide.

            Problem two: misses the point that if as has been argued the language of “kill them all” is hyperbolic and the command was to drive them out killing only those who did not in Kenneth Kitchens words “get clear” this would eliminate the threat and would not involve Genocide as defined by the conventions Rauser cites or by the dictionary definitions commonly used in the literature.

            As to my point in the comment above, its about the fact that Randal chooses to read parts of the text and not the whole, take Deut 7 for example he cites the passage that says “destroy them” but does not point out the previous passage says “when you have drived them out” and the passages afterwards talk of those still alive in the land. No court would accept an affidivat like that.

        • matthew flannagan

          No my point is that in context and in light of what we know about ANE war history writing language of “kill them all” and “i killed them all left no survivors” was rhetorical bravado and hyperbolic. To claim the text affirms Genocide Rauser has to claim the intent was to physically destroy the whole group, which cant be infered from hyperbolic language.

      • matthew flannagan

        “You forgot to mention that “destroy them completely” means that the Podo were being sacrificed.”

        No, it you forgot to mention that whats true is that the term can have that meaning in certain contexts, but scholars dispute wether it has that meaning in the contexts in question.

        To suggest that a term has a fixed meaning in all contexts because it has that meaning in one context is a fallacy.