This is the eight installment of my ongoing critique of William Lane Craig’s podcast “Richard Dawkins and Driving out the Canaanites.” In this installment we’re going to return to an excerpt from the podcast which I transcribed originally in part 5. In this section Craig argues that the Canaanites had time to “get out of Dodge” (so to speak) such that any who lacked “the good sense to leave” their homes and communities were fitting targets to be killed by the advancing Israelite armies. This is the argument in Craig’s words:
“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….”
Now what’s wrong with this picture? Craig seems to be assuming that the only people who would be left in the territory by the time the Israelite armies arrived would be those who were looking to fight the Israelite armies. But this is a truly tendentious assumption. We can see how unwarranted it is by taking a moment to consider the nature of large scale evacuations. To take a recent example, consider the evacuation of New Orleans in advance of Hurricane Katrina. When the hurricane hit thousands were still in the city, but only a subset of those had chosen to remain behind to “fight” the hurricane. Thousands more were essentially stranded. Think, for example, of the hundreds of patients stranded at Ochsner Baptist Medical Center, some of whom were euthanized by desperate medical staff in the wake of the storm. Countless numbers of others simply had no access to transit out of the city. Many were unable to leave because they were unwilling to abandon beloved pets. Others stayed behind desperate to protect the few possessions they had from the looters they expected in the wake of the storm.
Imagine somebody callous and ignorant enough to suggest that all those left behind in the city when Hurricane Katrina hit simply “lacked the good sense to leave”, thereby implying that whatever misfortune they experienced was deserved. This is roughly equivalent to Marie Antoinette proposing that the poor of Paris satiate their hunger with a second helping of angel food cake.
Is the suggestion any less offensive when the target group is ancient Canaanites? Surely not. So why does Craig assume that the only Canaanites left behind would be those who lacked “the good sense to leave” because they wanted to fight? What about the crippled? The blind? The sick and weak? The elderly? The poor? The young? The fact is that when the Israelite armies arrived they likely would have found settlements occupied not only by battle-ready soldiers, but also with thousands of the weakest, most vulnerable denizens of society, people unable to travel, people terrified and anguished at the dissolution of their beloved communities. And it is these people that Craig believes were rightly cut down with the sword.
There is a final irony here. If the weakest members of society were among those left behind to be slaughtered, many of the most wealthy, affluent and powerful would likely have been among those fleeing well in advance of the approaching Israelite armies. And if anybody would have presented an ongoing threat to the integrity of the emerging Israelite society, it surely would have been these powerful members of Canaanite society. As a result, the picture Craig gives us is of a slaughter of many of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society, while the monied elites retreat with impunity. In conclusion, Craig’s proposed “driving out” of the Canaanites is not only morally grotestque, it is also extraordinarily ineffective by the very standards of success which the narrative itself provides.