William Lane Craig has made truly impressive contributions to a range of deep philosophical and theological topics. His defense of biblical atrocities like the Canaanite genocide is a notable exception. In this article, I offer some responses to excerpts from his response to a listener question about the Canaanite genocide.
Craig says: “The slaughter of the Canaanites was not genocide. The God-given command was to drive them out of the land.”
That’s flatly false. Not only does God command the eradication of Canaanite identity in Deut. 7 and 20, but the Israelites then slaughter civilians (men and women, children and the elderly) en masse in Jericho (Joshua 6:21) and Ai (Joshua 8:24-25) and they burn their cities to the ground. If that happened today, it would be a *textbook* example of genocide. Craig is engaged in a bald case of special pleading. Deuteronomy and Joshua *clearly* describe both divinely commanded ethnic cleansing and genocide. The question is, how should we think about it. But don’t let people like Craig misrepresent what the text says.
Craig says: “The slaughter of the Canaanites was not murder. It was capital punishment for a people who were so wicked that after 400 years of waiting God finally decided that they were ripe for justice.”
So Craig believes it is morally appropriate to butcher infants and children for actions committed by their ancestors centuries before? Could it be moral to slaughter German infants and small children today because their great grandfathers were Nazis? This is moral insanity.
Craig says: “The insertion of a divine command makes all the difference. Since our moral duties are constituted by God’s commands, what He commands is just and right.”
Craig is right about one thing: trivially, whatever action a morally perfect creator and sustainer commands is obligatory on the creature. The question is, do we have good reason to believe God commanded a particular action.
Here’s an example: Gabriel Newland Dutson believed God commanded him to rape a woman in February 2021. If God commanded Dutson to rape then Dutson had an obligation to rape. But we will deny the antecedent: God never commands rape.
No doubt, Craig would agree: God would never command the rape of a woman. Yet, he thinks it makes sense to think God would command the genocidal slaughter of small children and infants. Do you think that’s plausible? I do not.