This is the seventh installment of my ongoing critique of William Lane Craig’s podcast on “Richard Dawkins and Driving out the Canaanites.” You can find the sixth installment here.
As in previous installments, we’ll begin with Craig’s own words as we join his discussion at 10:57 into the podcast:
“So the only moral question that seems to me to remain, and it is difficult, is the children.” “How could God order the children of these Canaanite tribes to be destroyed? Rather than saying ‘Well you shall adopt the children, spare the children, adopt them, allow them to grow up amongst yourselves and to be part of your nation.’ And my answer to that is, I think the correct one, is that God as the author and giver of life has the authority to give and take life as he chooses fit [?] and for many children we know dying in infancy God doesn’t allow them to have a full and normal adult life; he takes them home to himself when they’re young, when they’re children. And so God has the right to take the lives of these Canaanite children should he so will.
“And I think that the reason that God willed their destruction is that he knew that if these children were allowed to live and to grow up in the context of Jewish society, this would have a corrupting influence upon the Jewish state, leading it to apostasize and fall away from the true God, the God of Israel, and to follow false gods of Canaan and other pagan nations. And in fact we know that this was true because that’s exactly what happened. The people did not carry out faithfully God’s commands to annihilate all the people. They did allow their sons and daughters to be given in marriage to some of these Canaanite young people and it did have a corrupting effect upon Israel leading to apostasy and falling away from God; and thus in one sense a much greater tragedy in terms of eternal values than what would have happened had the children all been destroyed. What we need to keep in mind is that by having the children destroyed I believe these children went immediately to heaven because people who die in infancy before they reach an age of accountability are to be saved.”
I’m going to divide this critical response into two steps in order to identify and refute two erroneous lines of thought.
Because God allows children to be killed he could command children to be killed?
Let’s return to Craig’s claim that God has the right to kill children. As we already saw, Craig observes: “God doesn’t allow them to have a full and normal adult life; he takes them home to himself when they’re young, when they’re children. And so God has the right to take the lives of these Canaanite children….”
Note that the question is this: How could God command the Israelite armies to slaughter Canaanite children? Craig’s reply is a euphemism: God “takes [many] children home to himself when they’re young….” The reasoning seems to go like this: because God “brings children home” by allowing them to be killed, he can likewise “bring children home” by commanding their execution.
But if this kind of reasoning establishes anything then it establishes too much. For example, some children have been “brought home” (i.e. have died) after suffering from repeated rape and torture. Does it follow from this fact that God can likewise bring children home by commanding their rape and torture? Of course not. The reasoning is specious: it doesn’t follow that if God allows an act he might thereby command that same act. It doesn’t follow from the fact that God allows infants to be raped and tortured that he might also command the rape and torture of infants. Consequently, the fact that God allows infants to be killed doesn’t provide any support for the claim that he might command infants to be killed.
Infants provide an imminent moral threat to society?
As we’ve seen, Craig is dealing here with the problem of the Canaanite children that were executed. But what does Craig mean by “children”? He explains at the very end of the excerpt I transcribed when he says “by having the children destroyed I believe these children went immediately to heaven because people who die in infancy before they reach an age of accountability are to be saved.” In this passage Craig reveals that when he speaks of children he is thinking of the very youngest members of (Canaanite) society. He specifically refers to infants, but presumably he would extend his “age of accountability” to include toddlers as well. So when Craig is concerned with addressing why the children would be killed he is addressing the question of why infants (and toddlers) would be killed.
With that in mind, let’s look at the argument Craig provides. Why kill these Canaanite infants and toddlers rather than adopting them? Craig provides the answer: “if these children were allowed to live and to grow up in the context of Jewish society, this would have a corrupting influence upon the Jewish state, leading it to apostasize and fall away from the true God, the God of Israel, and to follow false gods of Canaan and other pagan nations.”
Now this is a truly astounding claim. We begin with the specific question of an Israelite soldier. “Why must I hack apart this newborn infant? Why can’t I spare at least this child and provide it a home?” And the answer, according to Craig, is that this Canaanite infant will, if allowed to grow into adulthood, have a “corrupting influence” upon Israelite society. So it must be exterminated.
Can Craig really be serious here? This kind of reasoning could conceivably be applied to teenagers. Perhaps even “tweens”. But toddlers and infants? A six month old Canaanite infant must be slaughtered lest it grow up to poison Israelite society? My friends, this is what the rhetoric of genocide looks like. This is what happens when a national, ethnic or religious group is so completely demonized that even their infants are viewed as imminent threats to the moral good and social cohesion.
Craig attempts to take the edge off his views by proposing that these Canaanite infants will at least be allowed into heaven. However, this arbitrary addition to his analysis does nothing to ameliorate the shocking nature of his claims. What is more, it begs an important question: if these Canaanite infants really are as inexplicably corrupt, dangerous and wicked as Craig supposes, then why would God bother to redeem them?