Richard Dawkins has recently taken to using the Guardian‘s Comment is Free blog to label William Lane Craig a supporter of genocide. It is hard not to read Dawkins’ screed as being more redolent of a playground squabble rather than a serious criticism—he starts with the astounding claim that none of the philosophers of religion he consulted had any awareness of who Craig was. I do not believe that for a second; Craig is well-known as a philosopher of religion in the analytic tradition who has published many an academic article and a number of books through nonpartisan publishers. In fact, in his autobiography the liberal Christian theologian and philosopher John Hick (under whom Craig studied for a Ph.D. in Birmingham) described Craig as being among the most gifted philosophers he had taught. So, if it is the case that Dawkins asked around among his philosopher friends about Craig, he should perhaps revise his definition of “philosopher.”
God and Genocide
On the face of it Dawkins’ argument is about Craig’s alleged defense of genocide; it is, he suggests, immoral to give Craig a platform to air his odious morality to the wider population. ‘Fair enough’ I hear you say; if Craig is supporting the mass slaughter of a population then there is an argument that such hate speech should not be given encouragement. However, try as I might I have not seen any evidence that Craig is planning or supports a campaign of racially motivated mass murder.
So, where does Dawkins get this impression that behind Craig’s beaming smile lurks a maniacal monster? Actually, that smile is more than a little unnerving, but that’s by the bye
The answer to the conundrum is found, as many an evangelical would say, in the pages of the Bible. To be precise it found in Craig’s exposition of the ‘text of terror’ from Deuteronomy 20 verses 13-17 in which God is recorded as has having ordered the killing of man, woman, and child. Granted, Craig’s exposition (linked in Dawkins’ article) is highly problematic and, personally speaking, I believe it amounts to defending the indefensible even if—as in this case—it is God who is the defendant. There are problems in asserting a direct culpability on Craig, however.
First, the issue raises something of a historic philosophical conundrum called the Euthyphro dilemma. In short, the Euthyphro dilemma asks is ‘is an act good because it is commanded by God or does God command it because it is God?’ Craig clearly comes down on the former side. But what is very clear in Craig’s answer commentary is that however wrong he may be (and I am in no doubt he is), he is commenting very specifically on a—for him—historical event which, I suspect, Dawkins considers to be pure fabrication. It is therefore, from Dawkins’ point of view, akin to refusing to debate with someone who defended the actions of Sauron in the Lord or the Rings (or any work of fiction) as being fundamentally evil. In sum, Dawkins is getting all irked by Craig’s alleged defence of evil in an imaginary universe—I am sure I am not alone in seeing the perversity of that approach.
Second, and more importantly, Deuteronomy is part of the Christian canon and for many a Christian (Craig included) all of scripture is God-breathed and without error. Despite the suggestion in his article, Dawkins is wrong to view Craig as an extremist beyond the pale—his views are consistent with a large cohort of the world’s evangelicals, that God really did command the destruction just as Deuteronomy records. In refusing to debate Craig, Dawkins has refused to engage with many (and probably the majority) of the world’s Christians. That may be a way to gain plaudits from the more militant atheists but it is not a recipe for changed minds, and being forced to face up to those verses Dawkins highlights is likely to change some minds.
… and the winner is?
Dawkins is not a stupid man and for that reason I do not for a moment believe that his refusal to debate Craig has anything to do with moral outrage over Craig’s comments. Craig is an effective debater—he does it for a living—and is well rehearsed and winning debates (which often has no correlation to the strength of the respective arguments). Moreover, Craig’s debates come with a slew of promotional material and conservative Christian support and (sometimes) misrepresentation which the more established figures (e.g. Archbishop) simply don’t support. If I were Dawkins I might well think it’s not worth the effort. As it is, there is no debate, so I guess one has to call it a stalemate, which, since I’m no fan of Dawkins or Craig, is no bad thing.Powered by Sidelines