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Dawkins vs. Craig: No Debate on Genocide Claims

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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.

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  • Theophile

    Hi Cdenck,
    It seems Richard doesn’t think God has the right to judge His own creation.
    It’s too bad William can’t get a debate with Richard, Dawkins sounds pretty feisty when speaking to His followers, and writing children’s books.

  • Joe

    Dr. Craig refuses to debate his own former students, like John Luftus,for fear of introducing his own fan base to ex-students.
    Dawkins is a biologist, not a theologian or philosopher. Craig needs to debate bible scholars and exchristian theologians, but he will not. Its all about preserving image and followers.

  • So basically you have wasted your time writing an article that argues with Dawkins even though you actually agree with him – “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”.

    No wonder religion gives philosophy a bad name. I just wish one of you superstitious muppets could come up with even one piece of credible evidence that this mystical deity you believe in even exists.

  • Dillon Mawler

    I tried answering this silly article, pointing out as Mr. Rose did, that you actually do agree with Dawkins here. But iit’s easier to quote a much smarter man, Dawkins himself:
    What has theology ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? When has theology ever said anything that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? I have listened to theologians, read them, debated against them. I have never heard any of them ever say anything of the smallest use, anything that was not either platitudinously obvious or downright false. If all the achievements of scientists were wiped out tomorrow, there would be no doctors but witch doctors, no transport faster than horses, no computers, no printed books, no agriculture beyond subsistence peasant farming. If all the achievements of theologians were wiped out tomorrow, would anyone notice the smallest difference? Even the bad achievements of scientists, the bombs, and sonar-guided whaling vessels work! The achievements of theologians don’t do anything, don’t affect anything, don’t mean anything. What makes anyone think that “theology” is a subject at all?

  • John Orr

    Surely you’re missing the point (in your last paragraph).
    Dawkins may consider the story to be pure fabrication (and I hope with him that it is). But Craig thinks it really happened and is _still_ prepared to defend it.

    One up for Dawkins.

  • Superstitious Muppets? Z-Zowie!

    I won’t be a part of a theological nerf-ball fight with Christopher Rose, but I will respond to his:
    “I just wish one of you superstitious muppets could come up with even one piece of credible evidence that this mystical deity you believe in even exists.”

    No, Christopher, I don’t believe you do wish, not now. You may wish for it sincerely one day, and then, the evidence will find you.

  • As to God’s genocide directive, when the (visible) Christian church in the United States watches God miraculously push through the Mississippi River, and then looks on as He brings two great walls of water crashing down on the heads of our enemies (no, not the Muslims, but rather the telegenic wolves in the clothing of Christian pastors)…

    …when we see him swoop into a spectacular pillar of fire our measly average three percent “tithe and charity” offerings from the altars of our multi-million dollar mega-churches…

    …then we will have the evidence that God is directing His people to act as the Jews did when God was leading them from the hands of their Egyptian oppressors into the Promised Land.

    But we haven’t, and we won’t.

    We follow the Prince of Peace now, and we walk by faith and not by sight, and the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but they are mighty to fight spiritual strongholds.

    What God commanded in ancient times was for ancient times, and not for the US Christian who has neither the obligation nor the biblical basis to support genocide committed by the modern and SECULAR state of Israel.

    (I look forward to more of your articles when I stop by, Cdenk.)

  • Irene, your #7 is one of those non-answer answers that you faithists specialise in.

    As I’ve told you before, I really don’t care if there is a supreme being or not; what I care about is that all you superstitious folk believe in it without any credible evidence, which is an insult to humanity everywhere.

    Fascinating to see you twist your own belief system so exquisitely if somewhat madly in #8 though.

  • #8 was exquisite, if you do say so yourself.

  • Exquisitely twisted and rather mad…

  • …in your assessment of my #8, Christopher Rose, you are in agreement with an unfortunately high percentage of the (visible) Christian church in America.

  • John

    Sorry sir but this article containined misinformation. Craig does NOT say that “Something is good becuase God commanded it” he says God’s commandements are a reflection of His good nature. The canaanites were terrbily evil, God gave them 400 years of chances to change, which they didn’t, then He commanded their death. Did you complain when a certain evil man was killed this year by the navy seals? No, and either did anyone else when the evil canaanites were killed

  • Oh, please.

    So what exactly was it that the Canaanites were supposed to have done that made them such awful people?

    “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.” (Deuteronomy 18, 10-12, NIV)

    Yep, they were the scum of the earth all right. By far the worst things any humans have done ever in the whole history of the planet.

    (I might have conceded that first one, which to our modern sensibilities is pretty horrid, were it not that a number of revered OT prophets were more than willing to do the same thing.)

  • Irene, I’m reminded that even a stopped clock is right twice a day…

    John, thank you for adding to the huge body of evidence that monotheism is bad for your mental health.

  • My question was more specific than yours, Dr. Dreadful.

    I asked God what the Canaanite babies had done to deserve being killed, and what the Hebrew men had done to deserve the dreadful order to kill them?

    The answer that came to me (from God? or from my own mind thinking itself sane?) was “nothing worse than the things the children on Hiroshima did, and nothing better or worse than the person who flew over them and dropped the bomb on them.”

    And in that sense, I’m saner than a lot of people who have howled “Why???” and then bitterly flipped the bird at a deaf and dumb Universe.

  • And in that sense, I’m saner than a lot of people who have howled “Why???” and then bitterly flipped the bird at a deaf and dumb Universe.

    Well, you got that bit right at any rate.

    It makes no sense to ask that question of a universe that can’t hear you or answer back.

  • I thought of substituting “your own children” for “children on Hiroshima,” and “what you did to deserve burying them” for “the Hebrews who were ordered to kill them” but then I thought better of it. Then, I second-guessed that decision.

    The information, perhaps, for SOMEBODY reading, will reinforce the idea that consideration of this passage might make a person MORE sane, not less, as long as he isn’t taking it as a general directive for genocide. (See the “exquisitely twisted” #8)

    PS, I’m sorry if this comment is too much information. Again, I thought it might help someone, so I said it.

  • I have cookies to bake, Dr. Dreadful, and I still don’t believe you about the wheelbarrows, unless you can supply a primary source, i.e. someone who was omniscient in Germany during the Weimar Republic.

  • Irene, no candidates come to mind, and it remains only hearsay about the wheelbarrows; but it is my understanding that suitcases, not barrows, were actually the preferred means of pecuniary portage during the Weimar hyperinflation.

    Free cookie with every door hanger? 🙂

  • A nation full of crackerjack engineers preferred to schlep suitcases when they could push Schubkarren instead? I’ll never believe it.

    Matter o’ fact, I do have a pile of 2012 door-hangers to distribute, but no one would vote for Ron Paul on the basis of anything I’d baked to promote him, my ownership of a Ron Paul Family Christmas Cookbook (signed by CAROL!) notwithstanding.

    Casper, Dr. Dreadful can tell you I am very patient with people who don’t believe in God, or people like yourself who DO believe in God, but not in every part of the Bible. Pity the poor soul who disses Ron Paul in my presence, though. See how reverently and smilingly he broached the topic of the good doctor? I can say “goodnight, all” in a totally good mood now.

  • JoeM

    I won’t pretend to be knowledgable in anything that Craig or Dawkins proclaims, other than parts of the Holy Bible and my own experiences and observations in life.

    But, my common sense (something science doesn’t really know about) tells me that William Lane Craig has a real argument against what atheist scientists propose in many areas. The debates have already taken place, with exception to one guy who wouldn’t show up.

    My observation of Dawkins over a period of years has led me to believe that he is no legitimate science guy. He comes across to me as more of a shakespearean drama teacher. Most of what he says is rhetoric and emotional tantrum. Such as the accusation over Craig not being a philosopher. Obviously that is nonsense and is a great example of Dawkins consistent behavior.

    My main reason for bringing this up is because I see atheism as being the real cause of such behavior. Children in religious families typical act that way. But they don’t know any better. They learn. Eventually, that behavior changes as they grow due to the constraint and understanding that religion gives you. Atheism seems to allow children to simply grow up into larger children. Yes, an adult has a role to play in society. They must look and act the part. And this they do. And they seem to carry the adult prototype with them at all times. Fake intelligence on the outside. Childish nonsense on the inside.

    I know this to be a fact through my own observations. You see it in your own family that denies God. You see it on TV. You see it in public. You see it in children at public schools. It isn’t easy to pay attention and contrast the difference between Christian kids and Atheist ones. Sure. You can pick out some good atheists. But they are a minority.

    Anyone who tells the truth about history knows that religion was at the fabric of American society years ago. The decline came in the 20th century and took a steeper drop in the 1990s+. Therefore, atheism became much more prevalent. This runs parallel to the change in cultural behavior norms. What was once considered bad ettiquette and devlish behavior is now considered normal. Sarcasm was once widely considered childish and something only drunks and idiots did. But now, its become embedded into society everywhere you look.

    The way I see it. When you take away GOD, you take away good. The full effect just hasn’t happened yet. Atheists and some religious people will deny this fact. Only because the transition isn’t complete. But if atheism continues to rise, we will witness even more disturbing changes in the cultures. Empathy will be a thing of the past in the mainstream. Its barely there now. Hypocrisy will have its own class in schools. More people will pass up the homeless guy holding the sign. Goodwill will become subject to jokes, as it often does already on many websites and forums.

    Without God, there is no practical working system of beliefs or constraint on a population. And everyone becomes individuals. Dog eat dog. With God however, order is restored, kids are taught limitations, creating a far more balanced culture. It is in our nature to do bad things at least some of the time. That’s okay as long as its kept in check. Having God reminds a person of the bad things they have done so as to change it. Without God, people do bad things, then go on living without giving a damn about it. They might feel guilty, since they are human. And to rectify that, they might do a good deed, like sending $10 to help the starving child in Africa. Hypocrite.

    I have a gift. I was raised to know what it’s like to have God in my life just to later compare it to what happens when God isn’t there anymore. It is a disturbing reality to witness. The most tragic part is seeing children born in this generation without a chance of seeing how things used to be. They do not realize they are being raised to poke fun at people as a socially acceptable comedy routine. They might as well be raised as suicide bombers like in Islamic countries. Atheists like to blame religion for the problems. But the Christian religion doesn’t follow the ways of evil. It follows morality. Atheism follows freedom from all things. That’s the same as death.

  • Joe, your portrayal of atheism as fundamentally immoral is utterly wrong, although you do a robust job of poisoning the well with the claim that atheists are “childish” and statements like “they must look and act the part”, “you can pick out some good atheists. But they are a minority” and “atheists … will deny this fact”.

    My favourite is your ludicrous “Dawkins … is no legitimate science guy”. Since Dr Dawkins has published numerous academic papers and books about science, I find this mystifying. Perhaps you would care to inform us of the height at which you have set the bar.

    Although he doesn’t exactly wear kid gloves, Dawkins’ well-known disdain for religion is, I assure you, based very firmly on morals. In fact, I challenge you to find me an atheist who doesn’t have a moral code.

    You can’t. But that won’t bother you, because in your mind the atheist who demonstrates morality is simply lying or putting on an act. How convenient.

  • Veticanii

    Atheisma is not immoral; it is amoral. It has to be, since it views human beings as incapable of true morality, apart from that which sustains their short-term desires.
    Scientific atheism describes human beings as ‘bags of chemical reactions walking around, encased in a tight membrane’. It denies consciousness, and maintains that thoughts are generated by the physical brain alone; ergo, the body, I am afraid, can never be moral, since it has no consciousness, and therefore neither any duty to morality, nor any real knowledge of it. Scientific atheism determines that morality is nothing more than ‘comfort rule’ – and thus, humanity is amoral.

    Dawkins will not debate with Craig because Craig is always going to ask the questions that Dawkins cannot answer. And nobody likes to look like a fool in public.

  • Setting aside the issue that a philosopher of religion is actually a word jumbler of mist and nothingness, the main difference I can see between the arguments of Craig and Dawkins is that Craig, a philosopher, argues from a purely theoretical position of opinion whilst Dawkins, a scientist, argues from a position of actual science or knowledge.

    I’m not familiar with Veticanii’s concept of “scientific atheism” so it may be something they made up. That said, I can’t follow the “logic” they lay out and struggle to accept the assertions. It seems like playing with words rather than actual logic or thought to my mind.

    If Dawkins doesn’t want to debate with Craig, it is probably because nobody could answer his theories because they aren’t based on anything. There is only one person who would look like a fool in that context…

  • @ Christopher Rose

    I disagree with you there. Craig has written good philosophy (not that i agree) and the Kalam Cosmological arguement is to some extent based on observation and accepted logic (i.e., is not ‘mist and nothingness’). Dawkins couldn’t answer them because, put simply, he isn’t up to it academically (other atheist are – this isn’t a point about who is right).

    The point remains though is this is an intended show which is to some stage managed – it bears no relation to the merits of the respective positions.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    If religion is so immoral, then why are three of the most murderous regimes in history – the Soviet Union under Stalin, Mao’s Great Leap Forward, and Pol Pot’s Cambodia – officially atheist from the day of their founding?

    Yes, religion has been used to excuse millions of murders over the millennia – but the experience that humanity had with atheist regimes in the last century is not an improvement by any rational measure.

    Furthermore, religion provides something that atheism does not – the belief that there’s a possibility that Someone is looking over one’s shoulder, and as a result there is somewhat less corruption. Now the atheists will reply that this is a decision made due to an individual’s personal morality…but what they forget is that (particularly when it comes to men) if someone thinks that they can get away with something with no problem, they’re more likely to do it than if they think they have something to lose.

    An atheist depends only upon his or her morality in order to make the right decision. Someone who follows a religion has not only his or her own morality, but also the religious mores that he or she has been taught. While it is true that those mores have often led to great evil, most religions really do try to engender moral conduct.

    And I invite any atheist who declares that religions have made things so much worse to explain just how it is that humanity’s experience with atheistic regimes has very rarely been anything but tragic. Officially secular regimes have shown some success (but are not perfect by any means), but if what we’ve seen since 1900 is any indication, they’re a heck of a lot better than atheist regimes.

  • Hi Casper,

    With a few rare exceptions, philosophy isn’t really a scientific discipline but dressed up opinion, so I’m not too sure what “good philosophy” would be.

    I looked up the Kal?m cosmological argument and learned that it is “a variation of the cosmological argument that argues for the existence of a First Cause for the universe. Its origins can be traced to medieval Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers, but most directly to Islamic theologians of the Kal?m tradition.

    The basic premise of all of these is that something caused the Universe to begin to exist, and this First Cause must be God. It is also applied by the Spiritist doctrine as the main argument for the existence of God”.

    In other words it is an attempt by faithists to justify their position.

    We don’t actually know (yet at least) exactly what went on in the Big Bang or before it so any such argument is no more than a guess or a speculation at best. Pretty flimsy stuff to build a philosophy or a religion upon and I don’t see why anybody couldn’t debate that, let alone Dawkins.

    Glenn, I’ve not seen anybody on this thread say that religion is immoral so not for the first time am a little puzzled as to what you are on about.

    I think you have what religion provides back to front. According to your argument faithists are possibly going to behave better because some all powerful father figure wants them to.

    On the other hand, non-theists choose how they behave based on their own moral or, as I prefer, ethical code. This simply seems more adult to me. I’m good because I want to be and we should all make that choice, not do what some magical superdaddy tells them to.

    I find it a little difficult to fully trust people that believe wholesale in the monotheist doctrines; you just never know when they might do something dangerous under the belief that their god wanted them to do it. You might call that the Ruvy paradox…

    You name three murderous regimes and, yes, they were bad, but all have passed, whilst killing in the name of gods is happening every single day right now, just as it has for thousands of years.

    It isn’t the case that religions have made things worse, that’s just a false premise that you have made up to argue against.

    There have been many great things created under the influence, of course, but that is true of every creation myth and one by one they have fallen away, just as this one will and, indeed, already is in many parts of the world.

    Not sure what distinction you are making between secular and atheist or that it matters much.

  • tr oll

    re #28 – both the religious and atheist can be immoral…that’s right – BOTH CAN BE IMMORAL

    no explanation REQUIRED!

  • Indeed, to require religion as though a buttress to validate our morality is but an appeal to authority.

  • *nods* That’s right, troll.
    No. Explanation. Required.

    “KJV, Romans 2:14 – For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.”

    If everyone in the world had to be a good Christian like me in order for the world to be a nice place, well, the world would be a not very nice place. Which, in some parts, like the suburbs…you know?… where godless atheists work side by side in harmony and peace with paragons of Christian virtue like myself…it is a very nice place.

    Is this conversation going anywhere?

  • Dick Dawkins should stick to biology.
    That’s all I have to say about it. He is only stirring up strife and discord among people of peace and goodwill.

    Proverbs 6
    These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.

  • Ben Rocke

    What amazes me about Dawkins claiming he wouldn’t debate Craig, he said he would refuse to share a stage with the man. That if anyone was found to debate with him they should read the passage from Deuteronomy, then read Craig’s defense on it. Close the book and walk off stage.

    But within two months after he wrote his comments in the Guardian he shared a stage in a debate with William L. Craig at a conference in Mexico called ‘La Ciudad de las Ideas’. You can find the whole debate on YouTube. I don’t offer a link here as I am not sure I can.

    But Dawkins did not do what he said he would do. He never even mentions the genocide. From what I can tell Dawkins has made no comment about the debate after it happened.

    Craig shares his thoughts at his ResonableFaith.com website. He also shares his first meeting with Dawkins which Craig descried as Dawkins being very cold.

    I have to say I already didn’t agree with Dawkins views as I am a theist (in fact I am a born again Christian) [edited] and have studied some of the apologetics by Plantiga and Craig. But I’m really starting to be convinced by Dawkins’ own comments that he is just ranting against religion and has no real argument then he just doesn’t believe in God and doesn’t like people who do.

  • vic

    Quote from Richard Dawkins (Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig):
    “He parades himself as a philosopher, but none of the professors of philosophy whom I consulted had heard his name either. Perhaps he is a “theologian”.”

    What sort of nonsensical statement is this coming from an adult in his seventies, and a scientist for that matter? I used to have some respect for Richard Dawkins, but this childish behavior on his part is becoming too ridiculous.

    Is William Craig not indeed a philosopher as well as a theologian? Why does Dawkins feel the need to pretend that he does not know that Craig has a PhD in philosophy (as well as a PhD in theology) and that he is a widely acclaimed philosopher particularly in the area of cosmology and religion? Who does Dawkins think he is fooling (other than his rabid followers)?

    What makes the statement even more ridiculous is the fact that it carries the assumption that a philosopher has to be known by every other philosopher on the planet in order to be truly considered a philosopher. The fact that Dawkins can write such nonsense (and, very likely, lies) is as clear an indication as can be that his academic status as well as his own intellect has been severely exaggerated by the secular media in its desire to hold the most visible crusader against religion in an esteemed light. This is something I have always been aware of despite not been a religious person myself. In fact, it has always been evident to me (and many other people) that without his anti-religious work -especially his book ‘the god delusion’- Richard Dawkins would really be just another assistant professor who just happens to have a proclivity for writing pop science books for laymen. However, because of my support for his anti-religious crusade, I have always shoved that uncomfortable thought out of my mind. But Dawkins’ immature behavior and self-aggrandizing rhetoric (“I am much too important to debate him”) has finally forced me to admit what I have always known.

    Don’t get me wrong. I respect, and even agree with, his decision not to debate Craig. But here is the question: if he does not want to debate the man because he is an experienced and formidable debater or because he believes that he is morally reprehensible, why not just SAY so? Why make up silly, childish and dishonest excuses and engage in equally silly, childish and dishonest disparagement of his qualifications? Why not just be straight with people once and for all?