Saturday, December 15, 2012

Moral Cretinism Part IX
The ban passages, Genocide and Himmler.

William Lane Craig

The following is, in full, a blog posting by the so-called Theologian William Lane Craig in response to two questions concerning the infamous ban passages from the Old-Testament. The terrible passages that talk about how God ordered the Israelites to kill everyone and in some cases “all that breathed” in the towns they took and that they exterminated the Canaanites from the land with fire and sword.

These passages of ruthless holy war represent a problem for those who believe in an all good beneficent God that is revealed in scripture. 

The following is the questions asked and William Lane Craig’s response. The question and William Lane Craig’s response are italicized. My responses are in regular script.

William Lane Craig's piece is from Reasonable Faith Here.
Subject: Slaughter of the Canaanites
From Reasonable Faith – Web site of William Lane Craig

Question 1:

In the forums, there has been some good questions raised on the issue of God commanding the Jews to commit “genocide” on the people in the promise land. As you have pointed out in some of your written work that this act does not fit with the Western concept of God being the big "sugar daddy" in the sky. Now we can certainly find justification for those people coming under God judgement because of their sins, idolatry, sacrificing their children, etc... But a harder question is the killing of the children and infants. If the children are young enough along with the infants are innocent of the sins that their society has committed. How do we reconcile this command of God to kill the children with the concept of his holiness? 

Thank you,

Steven Shea 

Question 2: 

I have heard you justify Old Testament violence on the basis that God had used Israelite army to judge the Canaanites and their elimination by Israelites is morally right as they were obeying God’s command (it would be wrong if they did not obey God in eliminating the Canaanites) . This resembles a bit on how Muslims define morality and justify the violence of Muhammad and other morally questionable actions (Muslims define morality as doing the will of God). Do you see any difference between your justification of OT violence and Islamic justification of Muhammad and violent verses of the Quran? Is the violence and morally questionable actions and verses of the Quran, a good argument while talking to Muslims? 


The questions posed are definitely worth asking in that the ban passages from the Old Testament are difficult to reconcile with the image of an all good God. But already we can see creeping assumptions in the very questions themselves. Assumptions that Craig shares. One is that the picture of the Canaanites as irredeemably wicked and deserving of the judgement of death.  Another is the assumption that God commanded this “judgment”.  Both of those assumptions are made without proof are even argument. Craig basically shares those assumptions. 

It is interesting to note that “idolatry” is assumed by both the questioner and  Craig has a bad thing worthy of severe punishment. What this means is that the Canaanites worshipped a slew of Gods and not the one God of the Israelites. The fact that the Canaanites had a different religious system is assumed by both questioner and Craig as evil and entirely worthy of punishment by death. In other words religious liberty is evil and un-biblical. 

This questioner  seems to have no particular problem with the killing of adults. Of course some of the adults would be insane, mentally disabled, old, and infirm and yes in any large community there would be at least some good people. Yet the questioner has no problem dumping a large number of people in the category of so evil has to merit death. 

What we see here is the issue of collective guilt. Basically an entire population is deemed guilty of the offences of some of them. That this notion is basically primitive and frankly unfair is of course obvious. Collective guilt notions are pernicious in that they assume inherited guilt and guilt by association. The fact is if your father, shall we say committed murder, you are not responsible or guilty. Yet this notion plays into the idea of inherited guilt and justifies “punishing” the guiltless. 

The Bible does say in certain passages that God punishes people for the sins of their ancestors although it also says that people shall not be punished for transgressions that are not their fault.  A contradiction it seems. 

The second questioner raises the question that Islamic justifications of Islamic violence and how similar this is to what Craig is doing. Later we will find out that Craig makes an absurd hash of dealing with that question by a series of non-sequiters and what can only be described as lies. 

Dr. Craig responds: 

According to the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), when God called forth his people out of slavery in Egypt and back to the land of their forefathers, he directed them to kill all the Canaanite clans who were living in the land (Deut. 7.1‐2; 20.16‐18). The destruction was to be complete: every man, woman, and child was to be killed. The book of Joshua tells the story of Israel’s carrying out God’s command in city after city throughout Canaan. 

These stories offend our moral sensibilities. Ironically, however, our moral sensibilities in the West have been largely, and for many people unconsciously, shaped by our Judeo‐Christian heritage, which has taught us the intrinsic value of human beings, the importance of dealing justly rather than capriciously, and the necessity of the punishment’s fitting the crime. The Bible itself inculcates the values which these stories seem to violate.

The command to kill all the Canaanite peoples is jarring precisely because it seems so at odds with the portrait of Yahweh, Israel’s God, which is painted in the Hebrew Scriptures. Contrary to the vituperative rhetoric of someone like Richard Dawkins, the God of the Hebrew Bible is a God of justice, long‐suffering, and compassion. 

Well aside from the bias that supposedly only the Judeo-Christian heritage taught the intrinsic value of human beings, which is false. Other traditions thought of human beings having intrinsic value, for example the Greek tradition or the Confucianism of China etc. 

Of course what Craig does not say is that these Biblical passages conflict with our modern understanding of our Judeo-Christian inheritance. There were times in the past that some Christians placed it seems little value on the lives of at least some human beings. What he is talking about is the rise of the concept of “Human Rights” that emerged from the Enlightenment period of the 18th century and was in many respects a reaction against theocratic Christianity and was also relentlessly secular. 

And of course as per usual with these sorts of Fundamentalist ideologues Craig ignores the roots of contemporary ideas of human rights from the Greco-Roman legal and philosophical tradition. 

As for a jarring contrast with how Israel’s God is portrayed in the Bible. That is Craig’s own biased interpretation. It is not a jarring contrast at all. What it is a jarring contradiction is the difference between the way God is portrayed between some passages and other passages  in the Bible.  In other words God is portrayed in contradictory ways in the Bible. This should not be a surprise given that the Bible is composed of many different works, composed over a long period of time and for different purposes. Why not just accept that the Bible is contradictory concerning God and leave it at that? 

Craig of course realizes that his “faith” doesn’t accept that the Bible could be contradictory because that would fatally undermine the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy which Craig believes in. So of course the assumption is made by Craig  that the contradictions are not really “real”. 

Of the course the fact that in much of the Old Testament God is an old style Semitic God, capricious and brutal at times and frankly “human”, merely shows that the Israelites lived in and absorbed the ethos of the world they were living in. The terrifying ban passages with their holy war call for the utter destruction of enemies of the Israelites is in many respects similar to the Assyrian ethos of their Gods helping them in war and the various atrocities described in the Assyrian annals has demanded by and pleasing to their Gods.

The portrayal of God in the Old Testament is inescapably contradictory and that despite Craig’s  assertions remains so. Attempts to “explain” that the manifest contradictions are not ‘really” contradictions will inevitably fail when you read the Biblical text without blinkers. 

After the obligatory swipe at Dawkins, which of course ignores the  vituperative and quite routine hateful rhetoric by fundamentalists about Atheists etc., Craig claims that the God of the Old Testament is long-suffering and compassionate. Really!?  In SOME of the Old Testament God is long suffering and compassionate and upholds justice, but in other passages which are just as germane God is petty, vindictive and brutal. Craig seems to forget all those passages about God punishing people down to the 13th generation for the faults of their ancestors, hardly just. 

It is fascinating to see how Craig seeks to imagine and limit God. He doesn’t get that God is uncanny and contradictory which is what all these contradictory notions about God end up leading too. Not for Craig is The Book of Job`s vision of God has uncanny,  incomprehensible and justice simply doesn’t enter into it. 

Of course whether or not God is uncanny has no bearing on the question of human responsibility and offloading that onto God doesn’t change it one iota. Craig as we find out thinks different. 

You can’t read the Old Testament prophets without a sense of God’s profound care for the poor, the oppressed, the down‐trodden, the orphaned, and so on. God demands just laws and just rulers. He literally pleads with people to repent of their unjust ways that He might not judge them. “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ez. 33.11). 

He sends a prophet even to the pagan city of Nineveh because of his pity for its inhabitants, “who do not know their right hand from their left” (Jon. 4.11). The Pentateuch itself contains the Ten Commandments, one of the greatest of ancient moral codes, which has shaped Western society. Even the stricture “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was not a prescription of vengeance but a check on excessive punishment for any crime, serving to moderate violence. 

God’s judgement is anything but capricious. When the Lord announces His intention to judge Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins, Abraham boldly asks, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18.25). Like a Middle Eastern merchant haggling for a bargain, Abraham continually lowers his price, and each time God meets it without hesitation, assuring Abraham that if there are even ten righteous persons in the city, He will not destroy it for their sake. So then what is Yahweh doing in commanding Israel’s armies to exterminate the Canaanite peoples? It is precisely because we have come to expect Yahweh to act justly and with compassion that we find these stories so difficult to understand. How can He command soldiers to slaughter children? 

In the first two passages Craig says little too complain about except his totally un-evidenced assumption that God is somehow saying those things. Well Craig those passages may have divine inspiration but they were written by men not God. Given how uncanny, incomprehensible God is I seriously doubt anyone can get the divine inspiration thing right all the time. In other words the Bible was written by men not God and has such should be judged by men. 

He refers to the Book of Jonah which in several beautiful passages teaches a lesson in compassion and even mentions that the lives of animals have value in the eyes of God and therefore should be of value to men also. 

I note  Craig continues his game of assuming the Bible is the basis of Western values, ignoring Greece and Rome for example. His treatment of the talon or eye for an eye is correct; it was designed to limit punishment. The punishments are still barbaric in many instances, however. I note that Craig ignores the more brutal of the Biblical laws like ordering the stoning of disobedient children or the taboos involving menstruating women all supposedly dictated by God. Actually of course all it illustrates is that the laws were products of a particular historical circumstance and not the word of God although perhaps inspired. 

Actually quite interesting is how Craig interprets the story of Abraham talking with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. The story is basically about a human bargaining with God. In fact the trope in this story is about how humans don’t have to accept capricious punishment but can bargain with fate or in fact with God him/herself. 

The story is not one of man groveling before an all-powerful deity but of man debating with and not meekly accepting authority even if it is God himself. 

This being the case the “moral” of the story is not that God is compassionate but that even the commandments of God do not have to be meekly accepted. In other words the ways of God have to be justified to man. Simply being the commandments of God does not mean that we have to accept it without analysis or questioning. 

The fact the God still destroys Sodom and Gomorrah is in terms of the story sort of beside the point. Of course Craig does not mention that the story seems to be just that a story. Sodom and Gomorrah may never have existed and it appears neither did the fiery destruction of same. In fact it appears that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah emerged to explain the unusual geology of the south end of the Dead Sea.

As it is Craig does not explain how this works with his basic belief in biblical inerrancy. 

Now before attempting to say something by way of answer to this difficult question, we should do well first to pause and ask ourselves what is at stake here. Suppose we agree that if God (who is perfectly good) exists, He could not have issued such a command. What follows? That Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? That God does not exist? Hardly! So what is the problem supposed to be? 

I’ve often heard popularizers raise this issue as a refutation of the moral argument for God’s existence. But that’s plainly incorrect. The claim that God could not have issued such a command doesn’t falsify or undercut either of the two premises in the moral argument as I have defended it: 

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

2. Objective moral values do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists. 

In fact, insofar as the atheist thinks that God did something morally wrong in commanding the extermination of the Canaanites, he affirms premise (2). So what is the problem supposed to be?

The problem, it seems to me, is that if God could not have issued such a command, then the biblical stories must be false. Either the incidents never really happened but are just Israeli folklore; or else, if they did, then Israel, carried away in a fit of nationalistic fervour, thinking that God was on their side, claimed that God had commanded them to commit these atrocities, when in fact He had not. In other words, this problem is really an objection to biblical inerrancy. 

As for what is at stake here. Well what is actually at stake here is whether or not such behaviour, i.e., genocidal slaughter,  supposedly or in fact ordered by God can in fact be “good”. 

Craig is in fact right to assume that asserting that this command attributed to God is in fact bogus means absolutely nothing in terms of the other assumptions a believer does make. It does not prove that God does not exist, or that the Resurrection did not happen if this “command” is rejected as immoral and/or likely bogus.  

Of course the real problem is the notion that God is “good”. Simply put the idea of God being the embodiment of human conceived “goodness” is a hope which is constantly belied by the way the universe actually behaves. The assertion that God is in fact “good” is simply a hope and is not even remotely logical. 

In The Book of Job, Job constantly, and without contradiction from God, denies God’s goodness and denies over and over again the assertions of his so-called friends that God is just and that there is some sort of actual justice in how the universe operates. When God rebukes Job, he rebukes him for being limited and whining, not for denying that God is just. In fact God really rebukes Job’s “friends” for talking nonsense and presuming to “know” God. 

Basically God says the world and he/she is uncanny and incomprehensible and don’t try to make sense of reality, because it doesn’t make sense and to our little minds it can’t and to do so is presumptive. 

But like the “friends” of Job Craig will with much presumption try to make sense of the incomprehensible, contradictory, uncanny thing that is reality/God. In other words he will find that God is “good” despite appearances and he will argue like the friends of Job. 

Of course Craig is absolutely right when he says that the moral argument that God exists is not undercut by the moral obscenity of the ban passages in the Old Testament. After all God could simply be immoral or amoral or incomprehensible.  But Craig latter on undercuts himself by justifying those passages and the actions allegedly taken because of them.

Craig then goofs with his three premises, not as he claims two, are logically dubious. The first is risible it is basically an argument from authority. God says X so that is all there is too it. In other words “because I say so”. Well why should we accept something simply because God said something? Why assume because God says so it is objective? 

The story of Abraham arguing with God about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah illustrates the argument quite well. Abraham simply didn’t  meekly accept God’s decision he argued with God. Therefore why should we accept a supposedly God derived morality. Why can we not argue with God about it. The supposed fact that God gave it does not prove it is objective. 

The alleged fact God is all powerful and all-knowing merely proves God is powerful and this sort of argument is merely a repeat of the cliché “might makes right” or "justice is the will of the powerful”. It is question begging; it does not prove the morality in question is in fact “objective".

This of course ignores the whole issue, which is how do we know God said so? Simply because someone said God said so is not enough. Then there is the question of God allegedly said so for all sorts of moralities and codes all over the world so why should we elevate this particular code over any other? 

And of course Craig assumes that objective morality can exist. However since he just assumed that God says so is “objective” morality he fails spectacularly to prove such a thing. Given the large differences between moralities all over the world I have my doubts about the existence of “objective” morality. 

I think a more reliable basis for a shared human morality is empathic understanding of what you would want for yourself combined with an awareness that what hurts or helps you should guide you in your relations with other people. That is a far from foolproof way of working out ethics but it is the basically the best we can do for now. 

Of course such an ethic entirely precludes acceptance of the ban passages as “just”.

But then we get to the real problem with for Craig about the passages. Basically rejection of the passages as either something that God would never order because they violate morality or that they actually never happened are a rejection of Biblical inerrancy. Above all else Craig must save that so the passages must describe what actually happened. And God must actually have so ordered it.

Craig of course ignores that many individuals and groups have said that they were/are following God’s orders so just why should we accept that in this case it is true? So Craig must believe that the Bible is literally absolutely true and that God’s commands are just. 

In fact, ironically, many Old Testament critics are sceptical that the events of the conquest of Canaan ever occurred. They take these stories to be part of the legends of the founding of Israel, akin to the myths of Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome. For such critics the problem of God’s issuing such a command evaporates. 

Now that puts the issue in quite a different perspective! The question of biblical inerrancy is an important one, but it’s not like the existence of God or the deity of Christ! If we Christians can’t find a good answer to the question before us and are, moreover, persuaded that such a command is inconsistent with God’s nature, then we’ll have to give up biblical inerrancy. But we shouldn’t let the unbeliever raising this question get away with thinking that it implies more than it does.

Now Craig mentions the obvious that perhaps the ban passages are hyperbole, poetic inventions, and in fact never happened for real. Of course it is not “many” Old Testament scholars but by far the great majority who deny the historical accuracy of the ban passages. 

Craig does not argue with this point of view, because frankly he lacks the knowledge in archaeology etc, which have made the dubious historical validity of these passages all too clear. It appears that the entire Conquest narrative of the Book of Joshua, to say nothing of related passages in Numbers and in The Book of Judges, are historically dubious. The fact is archaeology has largely destroyed the idea that the conquest narrative is history.

It appears that in fact Israel emerged from within Canaan and that the early Israelites were in fact Canaanites. There are in fact passages in the Bible were it is indicated clearly that non-Israelites continued to live in and among the Israelites. Further the cities  listed has destroyed by the Israelites includes cities not occupied at all during the time of the conquest, cities that were in fact NOT destroyed, and only a very few cities in fact were destroyed at this time. Also among the cities supposedly destroyed by the Israelites several were likely destroyed by others and not Israelites.

There is no evidence of an invasion from outside but plenty of evidence for the emergence of Israel from preexisting, local Canaanite communities.

Craig doesn’t of course deal with this material because it frankly blows away his whole notion of Biblical inerrancy. Of course if this is the case the genocidal massacres described never happened.

So what was the purpose of the ban passages? Aside from the fact that they may reflect to some extent the very brutal ways of waging war by the Assyrians, (800-600 B.C.E.), they served the ideological purpose of underlying the difference between Israelite beliefs and those of non-Israelites, by creating a tradition of extreme historical difference. It also served to underline the doctrine of holy war in defence of the faith put forth by the Priests of God in their ideological war against local customary religion with its local shrines and goddesses. In other words it helped to justify extreme measures to purify the faith. 

Craig obviously doesn’t deal with this view of the passages, that they are ideological and not historical at all, because not only would it undermine any notion of Biblical  inerrancy but because it is likely true and he is in no position to argue against it. So he largely ignores it. 

The second passages indicates that Craig does not want to give up Biblical inerrancy which requires, that regardless of reality, we must accept that the passages are historically accurate because Biblical inerrancy requires it. 

Craig then proceeds to make a hash of justifying the ban passages.

I think that a good start at this problem is to enunciate our ethical theory that underlies our moral judgements. According to the version of divine command ethics which I’ve defended, our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God. Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfil. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are. For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition. He can give and take life as He chooses. We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as “playing God.” Human authorities arrogate to themselves rights which belong only to God. God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative. What that implies is that God has the right to take the lives of the Canaanites when He sees fit. How long they live and when they die is up to Him. So the problem isn’t that God ended the Canaanites’ lives. The problem is that He commanded the Israeli soldiers to end them. Isn’t that like commanding someone to commit murder? No, it’s not. Rather, since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder. The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their own initiative, it would have been wrong. 

Aside from the weird paradox of a “loving” God ordering the murder of children, etc, Craig then basically says “Might makes Right”. 

God is simply not bound by our moral strictures. Well if that is the case than God is the uncanny, incomprehensible deity of The Book of Job. The world is also weird and attempts to describe God’s nature vanish in a puff of paradoxes.

Craig is not dismayed he STILL thinks God is just, loving etc, and he will seek to justify the ban passages as examples of God being just. Craig doesn’t seem to get it that if God is not bound by moral precepts he/she is not moral in any sense humans can conceive. He/she is in effect beyond good and evil and has such past human understanding. Craig agrees that God has no moral duties to fulfil, again that makes God totally amoral and incomprehensible. 

Having accepted that God is beyond our sense of morals then how can Craig argue that God when for example assuming the ban order really happened, that God`s act was moral in any human sense. It is perfectly possible to argue that given that God is beyond human notions of good and evil that something that God ordered could be and assuming God in fact gave the ban order that God was ordering something from a human point of view evil. 

The second paragraph is pure God is the omnipotent dictator who has the right to do all sorts of wicked stuff because he/she is God. Basically because God is all powerful she/he can do what he/she likes. This is of course moral relativism. Basically simply because God made the order the order is just. 

Of course just why should we assume that simply because God gave the order that it is just? Here Craig is like the friends of Job arguing that God is “just” despite the problems with such a belief and of course arguing that if bad stuff happened it was deserved.  Of course the notion that if God orders it is just is simply a variation of the superior order defence and it assumes quite simply that something is moral simply if God commands it. In other words it is who makes the order that determines the justice of it not the nature, consequence and circumstance of the order, event but simply who orders it. 

In other words “might make right”, and justice is the will of the strong or in this case the almighty. Thus the defence of superior orders turns an order that would be immoral under other circumstances into a moral obligation and it becomes right and just to commit a moral atrocity because a superior orders it in this case God. 

Thus Craig accepts the order to murder children as a moral obligation because of superior orders. Of course Craig ignores the issue of all sorts of religious people have over the years have justified committing atrocities over the years by appealing to divine command just why should we not accept their justification of superior orders but accept this one? 

It is amusing to see Craig use the defence of superior orders just like Eichmann or some of the defendants at the Nuremberg trials. 

On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command.

All right; but isn’t such a command contrary to God’s nature? Well, let’s look at the case more closely. It is perhaps significant that the story of Yahweh’s destruction of Sodom‐‐along with his solemn assurances to Abraham that were there as many as ten righteous persons in Sodom, the city would not have been destroyed‐‐forms part of the background to the conquest of Canaan and Yahweh’s command to destroy the cities there. The implication is that the Canaanites are not righteous people but have come under God’s judgement. 

In fact, prior to Israel’s bondage in Egypt, God tells Abraham, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. . . . And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites [one of the Canaanite clans] is not yet complete” (Gen. 15. 13, 16). 

Think of it! God stays His judgement of the Canaanite clans 400 years because their wickedness had not reached the point of intolerability! This is the long‐suffering God we know in the Hebrew Scriptures. He even allows his own chosen people to languish in slavery for four centuries before determining that the Canaanite peoples are ripe for judgement and calling His people forth from Egypt. 

By the time of their destruction, Canaanite culture was, in fact, debauched and cruel, embracing such practices as ritual prostitution and even child sacrifice. The Canaanites are to be destroyed “that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God” (Deut. 20.18). God had morally sufficient reasons for His judgement upon Canaan, and Israel was merely the instrument of His justice, just as centuries later God would use the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel. 

Now Craig begins the justification for genocidal slaughter. Aside from the fact that just why should we accept the polemical characterization of the Canaanites as anything but polemics, it is obvious in order to justify the ban passages the Canaanites were turned into the “other” and vessels of utter wickedness deserving of brutal punishment by the writers of the various Biblical books. That Craig seems to think these passages describe reality is telling. Of course has mentioned above it appears Israel originated within Canaan and the Biblical ban passages are part of a polemic against non-Israelite beliefs and practices not real history at all. 

It is telling that Craig misses the import of the debate between Abraham and God over Sodom and Gomorrah , which is that man can debate with God over what is just and man does not have to accept has just something simply because God commands it. In other words man is not merely God’s abject slave but is engaged in a debate not just with his fellow man but with reality / God over what is just, moral etc. 

It is further hilarious that Craig accepts the supposed prophecy of God waiting 400 years before punishing the Canaanites. Well it is unlikely that the prophecy was ever made 400 years before the alleged conquest of Canaan. In fact it is merely part of the whole polemic to justify the holy war and the separate religious practices of the Israelites. 

I note that Craig seems to regard the Israelites has mere instruments of God’s will with no ability to make independent moral choices. So that when they are murdering women and children they have absolutely no responsibility whatsoever. This is of course the defence of superior orders writ large. Of course the Israelites are responsible; they could of course say no, and no “But God says so!”, can justify the atrocity. 

Then of course Craig brings up alleged Canaanite religious practices like child sacrifice and ritual prostitution all of which” justify” the genocidal extermination of the Canaanites. The mention of a sexual “sin” is of course par for the course for Fundamentalist thinkers who get all hot and hysterically bothered by sexual “sins”, thinking them worthy of savage punishment. I note that the occasional practice of child sacrifice, assuming it really happened, and cultic prostitution is in Craig’s twisted mind ample justification for the extermination of the Canaanites down to the last man, woman and child. This is moral idiocy of an extremely high order.

I note that Craig merely assumes with no evidence that it was God’s judgment; that it was carried out by men who had choice seems to escape him entirely. 

But why take the lives of innocent children? The terrible totality of the destruction was undoubtedly related to the prohibition of assimilation to pagan nations on Israel’s part. In commanding complete destruction of the Canaanites, the Lord says, “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons, or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods” (Deut 7.3‐4). This command is part and parcel of the whole fabric of complex Jewish ritual law distinguishing clean and unclean practices. To the contemporary Western mind many of the regulations in Old Testament law seem absolutely bizarre and pointless: not to mix linen with wool, not to use the same vessels for meat and for milk products, etc. The overriding thrust of these regulations is to prohibit various kinds of mixing. Clear lines of distinction are being drawn: this and not that. These serve as daily, tangible reminders that Israel is a special people set apart for God Himself.

I spoke once with an Indian missionary who told me that the Eastern mind has an inveterate tendency toward amalgamation. He said Hindus upon hearing the Gospel would smile and say, “Sub ehki eh, sahib, sub ehki eh!” (“All is One, sahib, All is One!” [Hindustani speakers forgive my transliteration!]). It made it almost impossible to reach them because even logical contradictions were subsumed in the whole. He said that he thought the reason God gave Israel so many arbitrary commands about clean and unclean was to teach them the Law of Contradiction!

Of course Craig is right in that the various Biblical rules served the purpose of clearly distinguishing Israelites from others which was of course their main purpose. As  the Bible states to create a “Nation of Priests”.  Of course it also true that many of the prohibitions etc, sound arbitrary / absurd but in their context they do make a sort of sense. It just isn’t our sense. But Craig is right that the main purpose is to create a distinction between Israeli and non-Israeli. 

Craig is of course assuming that the purpose and aim is God’s for which as usual he supplies no evidence except assertion. Of course contrary to Craig’s insistence the purposes being served were man’s not God’s unless you are willing to contemplate that the vast number of peoples and the mass of contradictory moral, legal etc., codes, customs that are attributed to God are all real. 

The last paragraph is rather amusing given that it does nicely sum up a theological position held by many East Asians, that contradiction is illusion and in the end all is one. Of course Craig does not even comprehend that such a view of reality may in fact be truer, or has true, has his own interpretation of reality. Just why should we accept his vision of God, God’s purposes or Biblical inerrancy rather than another. Because I say so will not do.  Like the friends of Job Craig talks about God like he can understand him/her. When in the end all we can do is hope God is just and that hope flies right in the face of reality. 

By setting such strong, harsh dichotomies God taught Israel that any assimilation to pagan idolatry is intolerable. It was His way of preserving Israel’s spiritual health and posterity. God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel. The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God. 

Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives. 

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgment. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing. 

But then, again, we’re thinking of this from a Christianized, Western standpoint. For people in the ancient world, life was already brutal. Violence and war were a fact of life for people living in the ancient Near East. Evidence of this fact is that the people who told these stories apparently thought nothing of what the Israeli soldiers were commanded to do (especially if these are founding legends of the nation). No one was wringing his hands over the soldiers’ having to kill the Canaanites; those who did so were national heroes.
Firstly it was not God who setup the rules in the Bible that were designed to set Israel apart has a nation of priests. There is no need and no evidence to support the assumption it came from God.  Instead it almost certainly originated from man for religious / political reasons having to do with Israel’s relations with neighbouring peoples during post-exile times. 

Then offloading from man  the responsibility for the murder of children; Craig claims God “knew” that allowing the children to survive would contaminate Israel with pagan practice. How does Craig know God “knew” this? Again Craig assumes, while once again pleading superior orders to justify and render morally right the slaughter of children, what God knew while denying human responsibility for wicked acts. 

He then fantasizes and rationalizes that the survival of Canaanite children would contaminate Israel with idolatry etc. It is nice to know that Craig considers religious pluralism as evil and religious suppression by genocidal violence as praiseworthy if ordered by God. It is of course a little mysterious about how we can distinguish between one alleged order to inflict genocidal slaughter from another since so many have claimed some sort of divine sanction for such slaughter. 

Craig doesn’t explain how children, some of whom are infants could possibly contaminate Israeli religious practices. Just how a one year old is going to corrupt religious practice is mystifying. After all children are  vastly easier to reeducate than adults. But of course the children might grow up and resent the murder of their parents and relatives so of course they have to be killed. It is interesting to note that the Nazis justified the slaughter of Jewish children by arguing that they would grow up to be a mortal threat to Germany. So yeah, Craig is using genocidal logic there. Craig then assumes that the very survival of the children is a mortal threat. This is ironic given that the Bible explicitly mentions that the Canaanites continued to occupy parts of Canaan even after the so-called conquest, which likely never happened. So all this genocidal massacring apparently didn’t help.

It is interesting to see how Craig a supposed believer in absolute, objective morality gives a series of relativistic, situational justifications for genocidal slaughter. That the massacres were justified to separate the Israelites from others; that they drew a clear line in the sand etc. 

Craig then talks about all this being ordered by God, an assumption he doesn’t even pretend to support with an argument of any sort. By the way all sorts of nations and peoples have claimed to have been set apart by God or Gods so just why in this case should we take it as a justification for slaughter?

Then aside from again offloading to God the deaths of children and forgetting that men actually killed, we read that death is nothing compared to the bliss of heaven. These deaths are nothing. The killers and God did the children a favour by slaughtering them. According to Craig death is no big deal compared to blissful eternity. Thus Craig should have no problem with infanticide and abortion. But of course this time it was God doing it so it is alright; if men do it is wrong but so long as God does it is all right.

Of course if Craig is right then men do the children no wrong by killing them; after all they then avoid sin and get a blissful afterlife.  The fact that God punishes people for taking the life of children begins to look rather perverse doesn’t it with this sort of logic. 

This "logic" will of course justify all sorts of atrocities and slaughter and once again just how do you decide which God`s commands to genocidally slaughter children are “just”. 

In the end it was men who carried out those alleged orders and so of course they would be responsible; no amount of superior orders and the children benefited by being murdered excuses it one bit. 

Craig assumes the existence of an afterlife, something which is seriously downplayed in the Old Testament and something we cannot just accept as a given. The possibility must remain that death is complete extinction in which case murdering children is indeed heinous.

The last paragraph is another example of Craig being relativistic and taking refuge in moral relativism; so much for objective morality.  The times were brutal, men thought like that in those days etc. So Craig is a moral relativist after all. Craig further assumes that people at the time were not bothered at the time by those passages. That is an assumption. Aside from the virtual fact that the barbarities described in the ban passages likely never happened it is strongly likely that the ban passages were simply not taken completely seriously and were considered extreme polemic not totally and literary true. 

As for regarding the soldiers who carried out these atrocities as national heroes – so? All sorts of people carrying out vicious atrocities have been considered heroes. To Godwin myself again, the Nazi consider themselves heroes for murdering the helpless. Genghis Khan anyone. Again Craig appeals to a type of moral relativism. 

But Craig has not finished we get the crowning touch. Which is Craig’s sympathy for the Israeli soldier who carried out the genocidal ban orders. The murdered children got eternal life and so get no sympathy from Craig but the poor brutalized Israeli soldiers who murdered them get his sympathy. How they must have suffered while they smashed children’s heads open, and slit the throats of infants and thrusts their swords in pregnant women. The agony they suffered in carrying out this holy duty was infinitely greater than their victims whose agony is nothing compared to the "suffering" of these soldiers who did their divinely ordered duty with a heavy heart and much difficulty. How they suffered while crushing children’s skulls with their heels. How hard it was for them to avoid being brutalized and too maintain their humanity in the face of carrying out their difficult God given duty! 

I think I will get sick. 

Of course the similarity of this with the whining of Nazi butchers who whined about their hard duty and how difficult it was to maintain their humanity and to avoid being brutalized while carrying out their duty is of course obvious. The self -pity and whining about how they suffered compared to their victims is stomach turning.

Craig imagines how horribly difficult to be someone who murders a terrified women and her children; about how his heart bleeds for the killer. Well my sympathies are with the terrified women and children being butchered. How terrifying that ordeal must have been for them compared to their agony their killer’s troubles are trifling. But then Craig is engaging in the sort of thinking that Himmler did at Posen in 1944. There Himmler said:
Most of you will know  what it means when 100 bodies lie together, when 500 are there or when there are 1000. And ... to have seen this through and -- with the exception of human weakness -- to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned. (From Nizkor Here .)
Craig is here exactly like Himmler all he is concerned with is the poor mass murderer obeying a superior order.

Moreover, my point above returns. Nothing could so illustrate to the Israelis the seriousness of their calling as a people set apart for God alone. Yahweh is not to be trifled with. He means business, and if Israel apostasies the same could happen to her. As C. S. Lewis puts it, “Aslan is not a tame lion.” 

Now how does all this relate to Islamic jihad? Islam sees violence as a means of propagating the Muslim faith. Islam divides the world into two camps: the dar alIslam (House of Submission) and the dar alharb (House of War). The former are those lands which have been brought into submission to Islam; the latter are those nations which have not yet been brought into submission. This is how Islam actually views the world!

By contrast, the conquest of Canaan represented God’s just judgement upon those peoples. The purpose was not at all to get them to convert to Judaism! War was not being used as an instrument of propagating the Jewish faith. Moreover, the slaughter of the Canaanites represented an unusual historical circumstance, not a regular means of behaviour. 

The problem with Islam, then, is not that it has got the wrong moral theory; it’s that it has got the wrong God. If the Muslim thinks that our moral duties are constituted by God’s commands, then I agree with him. But Muslims and Christians differ radically over God’s nature. Christians believe that God is all‐loving, while Muslims believe that God loves only Muslims. Allah has no love for unbelievers and sinners. Therefore, they can be killed indiscriminately. Moreover, in Islam God’s omnipotence trumps everything, even His own nature. He is therefore utterly arbitrary in His dealing with mankind. By contrast Christians hold that God’s holy and loving nature determines what He commands. 

The question, then, is not whose moral theory is correct, but which is the true God? 

So God means business according to Craig. Of course what it really means is that religious zealots mean business and attribute it to God. Isn’t it interesting that God not only because he is God can order immoral things, because might makes right and superior orders, but also God is just. What!? What Craig in his diatribe has indicated, unintentionally, is that God is NOT just in any human sense. Certainly Craig’s God is NOT just or compassionate but uncanny. Craig however doesn’t draw this conclusion but takes refuge in God being just in a human sense which is contradictory if God is not bound by moral rules. 

Regarding Craig’s ignorant comments about Islam. First Muslims claim, emphatically, that Allah, (which means “God”), is the same God as the God of Israel and the Old Testament along with the God of the New Testament. So guess what it is the same God according to Muslims. Please Mr. Craig deal with that. 

As for Islam dividing the world into the house of Islam and the House of War. Well aside from being an oversimplification of an idea Craig ignores the very long Christian tradition of spreading the faith by the sword and the long history of forced conversion by Christians.  And of course Islam is divided into sects which have different views of various matters. Craig is simplifying to the point of distortion.

Then he contrasts this view with the Israeli conquest of Canaan. He says it represents God’s judgement of the Canaanites.  Of course Craig doesn’t seem to know that in the belief of some Muslim’s judgement “war” against non-Muslim is in fact the judgement of God.  Craig is pretending that forcible conversion is a usual feature of Islam and he ignores just how much it was a regular feature of Christianity for quite some time, in fact into the 20th century.

And of course Craig assumes it was God’s judgement on the Canaanites when in fact it was mans. But then offloading to God reprehensible acts is a popular way of dodging responsibility. 

Craig repeats in the last paragraph the idiocy that Muslims worship a separate God from the deity of the Bible. Muslims don’t agree, neither did the prophet Mohammad who referred to Moses, Jesus and the prophets regularly. Asserting that the Muslim variation of God is another God is a simple assumption. 

As for the foolishness about Muslims believing that God only loves Muslims; that air headed notion should be allowed to evaporate on its own idiocy. Craig then lies and says that Muslims believe that God hates sinners and unbelievers and that they can be killed indiscriminately. This is utterly false, and frankly Craig if he doesn’t know it is false is utterly ignorant otherwise he is a calculating liar. (Liar for Jesus of course!) 

Craig then says that the God of Islam is utterly arbitrary in his dealings with mankind. I note that Craig seemed to miss the Muslim refrain of “Allah, the compassionate, the merciful”. Given that Craig has in this essay said that God is not bound in the slightest by morality but can do what he/she likes, I’m a bit puzzled as to why he finds this alleged Muslim belief troubling. 

I note that Craig seems to think that God ordering the murder of children and wholesale massacre - genocide were determined by God’s “holy and loving nature”. 

In the end Craig has simply engaged in another example of idiotic apologetics in order to defend some morally reprehensible passages from the Bible describing atrocities which very probably never happened and were put there for polemical purposes in the first place. 

Once again the friends of Job come along to justify the alleged ways of God to man and make a hash of it. 


Dever,  William G, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know it?, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001. 

“ , Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2006.

Steibing, William H, Out of the Desert, Prometheus Books, Buffalo NY, 1989.

Gottwald, Norman K, The Tribes of Yahweh, Orbis Books, Maryknoll NY, 1979. 

Kaufman, Walter, Faith of a Heretic, Meridian Book, New York, 1978. 

Fest, Joachim, The Face of the Third Reich, Penguin Books, London, 1983. 

Wikipedia, Islam Here. 

IslamCity Here.

 Pierre Cloutier

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