Most everyone by now knows about the statement by biologist and public atheist Richard Dawkins on why he refuses to debate the Christian apologist William Lane Craig. A key reason, Dawkins explains, involves Deuteronomy 20:13-17 and Craig's endorsement of it. The passage has God commanding Moses to destroy various cities utterly, killing everyone indiscriminately.
Dawkins's refusal and citation of the Bible has, of course, caused fits of moral incoherence in the religious, who must reconcile (a) an authoritative picture of the god as vile and cruel with (b) a theory of the deity as good, just, and merciful. The reconciliation is impossible, and I'll admit to having enjoyed the conniptions of those who have sought to cling to their fantasy of a nice daddy-god.
Dawkins gives some of the biblical text in his article, but I prefer the Chabad version of the text, offered here with surrounding verses. This, then, is Deuteronomy 20:10-20:
10. When you approach a city to wage war against it, you shall propose peace to it.This is brutal, nasty, indefensible stuff.
11. And it will be, if it responds to you with peace, and it opens up to you, then it will be, [that] all the people found therein shall become tributary to you, and they shall serve you.
12. But if it does not make peace with you, and it wages war against you, you shall besiege it,
13. and the Lord, your God, will deliver it into your hands, and you shall strike all its males with the edge of the sword.
14. However, the women, the children, and the livestock, and all that is in the city, all its spoils you shall take for yourself, and you shall eat the spoils of your enemies, which the Lord, your God, has given you.
15. Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations.
16. However, of these peoples' cities, which the Lord, your God, gives you as an inheritance, you shall not allow any soul to live.
17. Rather, you shall utterly destroy them: The Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivvites, and the Jebusites, as the Lord, your God, has commanded you.
18. So that they should not teach you to act according to all their abominations that they have done for their gods, whereby you would sin against the Lord, your God.
19. When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them, for you may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Is the tree of the field a man, to go into the siege before you?
20. However, a tree you know is not a food tree, you may destroy and cut down, and you shall build bulwarks against the city that makes war with you, until its submission.
Craig has now responded to Dawkins's charges. Christian Today reports Craig as offering:
"There was no racial war here, no command to kill them all," he said, alluding to extermination of the Canaanites in the Old Testament, "the command was to drive them out."Craig's response stinks. In his "no command to kill them all," Craig might be referring specifically to Numbers 33:50-56, but of course that's a change from the text cited by Dawkins.
He then said: "I would say that God has the right to give and take life as He sees fit. Children die all the time! If you believe in the salvation, as I do, of children, who die, what that meant is that the death of these children meant their salvation. People look at this [genocide] and think life ends at the grave but in fact this was the salvation of these children, who were far better dead … than being raised in this Canaanite culture."
Craig's next bit is outright repulsive: "God has the right to give and take life as He sees fit"? No, no, he does not have that right. At least, it is not obvious that God has such a right either to give or to take life. I would like to see the philosophical case for this.
The rest of Craig's response continues the fail. By his reasoning, a fanatical religious group commanded by God may wipe out each of us, including our young and cute little babies. We should feel pretty good about being murdered, though, because our kids will be far better off in the afterlife--no matter their fear, crying, pain, suffering, and brutalization before death finally comes.
Better hope Westboro Baptist doesn't build up a stockpile.