Sunday, October 30, 2011


Quote Mining the Bible

William Lane Craig carried out his stunt at Oxford of "debating" an empty chair instead of Richard Dawkins, who had refused to do so, purportedly because of Craig's defense of genocide.

Apparently, according to this report of the "debate," by Sarah Gashi in The Oxford Student, not everyone in the audience was buying Craig's bullhockey:

[U]ltimately one question exposed Craig's alarmingly questionable moral principles: "Dawkins has refused to debate you because (he says) you think genocide could be acceptable in some contexts. Have you ever said anything which warrants this view, and what do you actually think?" He started with the straightforward denial that we expected – "I have not in any way ever said that God commanded, or could command, human genocide". However, the following ten minute explanation of Numbers 33:50-54 (look it up) did not involve a justification of genocide, merely a justification of the mass displacement of an ethnic group; the kicker at the end was his summary that if this forced displacement did involve killing some Canaanites, well the adults deserved it because they were sinful, and it's alright because the children went straight to heaven. Seriously?

The widespread applause this statement extracted from the audience was possibly more alarming than the statement itself. Somewhere up in the wings a lone voice was shouting "Boo"; the news editor and I stared gormlessly; the rest of the spectators seemed to find this little speech all fine and dandy. I am a religious person, and as a person of faith (not in spite of it) I was morally repulsed by this analysis, and deeply concerned about the intellectual and moral fibre of the believers who found it commendable.

The only benefit of the doubt that I can possibly extend to Craig (and I am scraping the barrel) is that under pressure he grasped at the nearest explanation for Biblical injustices which came to mind, and would – hopefully will – qualify his extraordinary comments at some later date. I shan't hold my breath.
As well you shouldn't, Ms. Gashi, since Craig has invested a lot of "thought" and effort into this apologia for what the Bible says Yahweh is like. It was no grasping at straws under pressure but his "considered" argument to rescue his God from what the Bible clearly portrays him as.

But Craig focuses on Numbers 33, where he can play with the semantics of "ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you." But what about Numbers 31?

Let's review the story of the Midianites, shall we?

1And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

2Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites ...

7And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males. ...

9And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods. ...

12And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses ...

14And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.

15And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?

16Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.

17Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

18But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
Let's pretend, as far as the virgin girls are concerned, that "keep alive for yourselves" doesn't mean what it seems to mean. There can be no doubt that the God of Israel, through Moses, ordered the cold blooded murder of the male children of Midian, which naturally included infants. How many? In the list of the booty in Numbers 31, there is this:

35And thirty and two thousand persons in all, of women that had not known man by lying with him.
Assuming a roughly 50/50 sex ratio among prepubescent males and females (and we're told how wicked the Midianites were, so the majority of the "women that had not known man by lying with him" were doubtless prepubescent), that means that approximately 30,000 young boys and infants among the Midianite "little ones," after having seen their fathers killed and their homes destroyed and being dragged away to a strange place by soldiers, were then killed long after the heat of battle was over. And, since the ancient Israelites didn't have the benefit of gas chamber technology, they were doubtless put to the sword ... or worse.

And that doesn't even count the older women who were also killed in cold blood.

Of course, the real ... um ... moral of this story is to be found in Plato's dialogue Euthyphro:

Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?
In other words, are moral actions moral because God commands them or are they moral because God only orders us to do what is moral? If the latter, as Plato points out, that would mean that there is an objective morality that God is subject to, meaning He is not omnipotent. Craig's "divine command ethics" specifically rejects that:

[O]ur 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 fulfill.
Let's not forget that Craig's argument is supposedly one in favor of the existence of God:

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

2. Objective moral values do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.
But Craig has just admitted that there are no objective morals when it comes to humans killing others. Genocide and infanticide are sometimes wrong but sometimes right based on nothing more than God's ineffable decision to, as Craig puts it, "give and take life as He chooses."

Craig's answer to this either contains much more stupidity than Craig otherwise displays or is dishonest:

[I]nsofar as the atheist thinks that God did something morally wrong in commanding the extermination of the Canaanites, he affirms premise (2).
No, the issue is Craig's claim that there are objective morals when, in turn, he argues that morality is merely what God commands and God is free of any objective moral standard.

This argument by Craig is no better:

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 fervor, 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. ...

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.
Not quite. If the Bible and revelation in general are not trustworthy, then we can never objectively know what is moral, if morality is solely dependent on God's command. Craig can't even appeal to our intuition of what is right and wrong precisely because we now intuit that genocide and infanticide are wrong but the Israelites who "claimed that God had commanded them to commit these atrocities" failed to see them as wrong.

Anyway you slice it, humans are unable, even under Craig's own view of morality, to determine if there are "objective" morals and his argument for God on that basis collapses of its own weight. We humans have to muddle along morally as best we can ... though we would probably do better without the likes of apologists like Craig.

There's more that could be said but I have to go take a shower and scrub myself down thoroughly.

I have always believed that anyone who debates Craig makes a serious tactical error if they allow him to put them on the defensive. The better approach is to attack him where he is clearly most vulnerable, his unwise attempts to justify Old Testament morality.

I also cannot believe he is still being allowed to get away with this crass argument:

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

What is meant by "objective moral values"? The most common understanding of "objective" refers to that which exists regardless of whether anyone is thinking about it or not. By that definition objective moral values would exist whether or not we or God exist.

This is a non sequitur

2. Objective moral values do exist.

Says who? Craig? Sorry, but he is not a god. Things do not exist just because he says so.

3. Therefore, God exists

That always makes me think of the repeated line from an episode called "The Changeling" from the original series of Star Trek

"Non sequitur! You facts are unco-ordinated!"

I think people who get into debates with Craig need to be a lot less deferential and go straight for the moral jugular.
The most important thing to take away from this is to remember that Craig is the theist's current champion for arguments for theism.

And now we see he is exposed as a fraud.

If theism and christianity's greatest intellectual champion is such a fraud, then what does that say for theism and christianity? Inquiring minds want to know.
I agree with Ian - the best way to challenge him is to challenge his religious analysis. As one pastor I know once said, you have to read ALL of the bible and deal with that honestly.
And it seems that when you do that, according to a recent study, you tend to be less fundamentalist and more liberal in your theological view.
As for Craig being theists' greatest champion, I know many theists who would disagree.
Add me to the list of theists and Christians who would not consider Craig a champion of either.

I agree with the pastor TB mentions about the necessity of dealing honestly with the entire Bible; but then that begs the interesting question of what we mean by "dealing honestly" with it.

-- pew sitter
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