Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Moral Deity That Commands "You Shall Not Allow Any Soul to Live"

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.

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.
This is brutal, nasty, indefensible stuff.

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."

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 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.

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.


  1. It is clear from the New Testament that Jesus embraced the Old Testament, which would, of course, include the passage you reference. The question becomes, therefore, what did Jesus think of that passage? And if Jesus found it as repulsive as you did, why didn't He distance Himself from it as, at face value, it would seem to violate His principles. That Jesus did not distance Himself from the God of the Old Testament, but rather laid down His own life in service to that God, deserves considerable attention. Unless you think you're more moral than Jesus.

  2. The question is NOT what Jesus thought of the passage. Jesus' opinion on the matter is irrelevant, even if you knew what it was.

    The question is what do you think of the passage.

    BTW, I think most people are as moral Jesus. Based on the canonical Gospels, he was an egocentric and surly zealot. Based on non-canonical Gospels, he was a monster.

    The fact is, however, we have not enough evidence to say that there really was a single person "Jesus." That's the fact, and perhaps we should accept it.

    Now, what brings you here, Mike?

  3. 1) I'm not sure why Craig's embracement of this passage excuses Dawkins from debating. Dawkins wrote a popular book claiming that belief in God is a "delusion." During his interviews, he repeatedly opines that belief is insane. He owes it to his readers to agree to a debate. Craig's opinions on Deuteronomy are no excuse.
    2) According to the Oral tradition (codified by Maimonides his "Laws of Judges"), Joshua offered even the seven nations the oppertunity to either flee or to accept to follow the Noahide laws. It was only when the seven nations refused did Joshua slaughter them.
    3) Rashi, on the first verse in Genesis, explains why the entire book of Genesis was neccesary: In order to display how the Israelites wars against Canaan were moral. Since once we know that God created everything He has the right to decide to refuse to contintue to sustain His creatures. Notice, the mere fact that a "god" ordained (in Deuteronomy) the Israelites' wars does not make the wars moral. Gods can act immorally, too. But what Rashi is saying is that the Book of Genesis reports that the Jewish God is THE CREATOR. The Creator is not immoral if He decides to shorten the lifespan of His creatures. Humans have no absolute claim against God to live an "average" lifespan.

  4. Furthermore, between me and you, Dawkins ain't that bright. Iv'e only read the God delusion, and before I read it, I was like "OK, I'd better brace myself before exposing myself to this onslaught against religion by this supposed genious." Boy was I dissappointed. Most of the book was stuff that wev'e all seen before. Except his "Ultimate Boeing 747" argument which he presents as some sort of Superman argument against God.
    Now the flaws in the "Ultimate" argument are obvious to all. I haven't met a single atheist who actually agrees with the argument (true, I am basing this on a small sample). What is most surprising isn't that Dawkins believes in the argument: it is that he seems to be completely unaware that these flaws exist. It isn't as if he says "I know about the X,Y, and Z flaws (in the 'Ultimate' argument), but because of A, B and C the argument is still valid."
    So I asked an atheist: Is it possible that Dawkins is simply dumb? So my atheist buddy said: Don't judge Dawkins based on the God Delusion. So I decided to judge him based on his debates. Smartly, for a change, he chickened out of debating Craig.

  5. abele derer,

    1) Dawkins has no obligation to debate Craig or anyone else. Pesonally, I fail to see why Dawkins should bother with Craig: different disciplines and different levels of eminence (i.e., WLC is small potatoes).

    2) So, if Mohammad tells Obama that all America can either flee of submit to the yoke of Islam, you are OK with Mohammed coming in and killing everyone--including small children, the disabled, and the in utero--should Obama refuse?

    3) Bull. Even *if* God were my creator--directly or indirectly--he would have no claim on my lifespan. Parents have no claim on the lifespan of children. Governments should have no claim on the lifespan of their citizens. Manufacturers have no claim on the lifespan of products sold in the marketplace.

  6. Larry Tanner,

    1) He does have an obligation to debate Craig if he continually mocks religion as being a delusion. I thought people, especially academics, are suppossed to back up there positions. . .if they want to be taken seriously.

    2) If God commands Muhamed to do so, then yes, of course.

    3) You fail to point out that God isn't merely our Creator. He is our sustainer. Our entire existence depends on His will. Why is He required to allow everyone to live to an average lifespan of seventy years? Why is it less moral for God to kill a two-year old than a ninety-year old?

  7. Abele derer

    1) I guess Dawkins' books don't count as back-up? Please, get real. Debates are for show, not for uncovering truth. Craig is a charlatan with nothing to offer honest intellectual inquiry. Every time he debates another philosopher, he comes up short.

    2) Utterly ridiculous.

    3) It is less moral to murder someone who cannot be held responsible for an infraction. The mentally ill and incompetent, small children, and fetuses fit in this category.

    3.a) According to one view, God is also our Lover. Our emotional and sexual satisfaction depend on His presence in and around our bodies. It is inconsistent to be both Lover and murderer, unless one is OJ Simpson.

  8. 1) When did he write a book that backs-up his "The God Delusion" against the numerous critiques that philosophers have presented?

    2) Why?

    3) My question is: Why is God morally REQUIRED to give a human being, even a perfectly saintly human being, a long life, a life any longer than five minutes? Why is it wrong for God to decide that he will provide a child with only a five minute, five day, or five year life?

    4) I'm not sure why you assume that God's loves ALL of us. According to Psalms, God has mercy on all his creations (145:9), but only loves the saintly (146:8).

  9. 1) TGD is a response to the arguments of the philosophers. Later printings include responses to FAQs. Dawkins's newest book on evolution (The Greatest Show on Earth?) is also a response. He's answered what you say he hasn't. He's made his case. Others have made theirs. At some point, you just need to weigh and consider the merits of each case. In my view, the case Dawkins lays out is better and stronger than the cases made by professional religious philosophers such as WLC and Edward Feser. The latter group have only rhetoric and verbal gymnastics in their arsenal.

    2) If you have to ask, I can only surmise the explanation will fail to reach you.

    3) He's not required to give any human being a long life. He's just not justified in taking away a life. Once I give you a gift, I have no say over how you use or do not use it. It's no longer my concern.

    But...this is all verbal play, and it doesn't interest me. God is imaginary, after all. My point is that your defenses of God are laughably weak.

    4) More verbal blah-blah. How nice that you know who God loves and doesn't love. But how do you know this? From a Psalm? How did the psalmists know this? From "inspiration"? Oh. Very convincing.

  10. 1) "He's not required to give any humn being a long life. He's just not justified in taking away life." Fine. So that's exactly what God did to those Canaanites. He refused to give them more life.

    2) "From 'inspiration'? Oh. Very convincing." The sages (See Deuteronomy 17:18) are provided with the authority to decide issues, including who is a prophet. They decided that King David wrote Pslams and that he is a prophet. That's why we take Pslams seriously, and not Paul, or Acts, or any other nonsense that Christians believe in. (A Christian will have a hard time explaining why he trusts in the divinity of the BIble.)

  11. Abele derer, you say "He refused to give them more life."

    Sorry, God disagrees with you. God said "you shall not allow any soul to live." Translation: Kill the fuckers, with my approval.

    The authority of sages? Well...who says the sages are sage? Who says Paul wasn't a sage? Seems to me you just like your authorities better, although you don't say why they are more credible and have a pipeline to the truth that others don't have.

    A Christian will not have a hard time at all explaining the divinity of the New Testament -- after all, they might say, Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies and he rose from the dead and appeared to crowds. Plus, there have been many miracles performed by Christians ever since.

  12. 1) So your saying that if God removed the Canaanites' life-source a split-second before allowing the Jews to kill them, God would be right. But now that he didn't remove their life-source, he's wrong. I don't see any difference. Furthermore, how to do you know that God didn't do just that: two seconds before the sword struck God said "OK, I will only give you Canaanites just one second more of life."

    2) At best, Christians can claim "we ALSO [in addition to the Jews] have sages." But that itself doesn't help, since we can ask the Christian: "Why do you trust the Christian sages but not the Jewish ones?"

    We Jews can answer this question, however. We respond that our sages sat on the Sanhedrin, and were students of those who sat on the Sanhedrin. The Christians didn't. Thus, based on the verse in Deuteronomy I mentioned before, we must listen to the Jewish sages (especially since the vast majority at that time didn't believe in Jesus). The New Testament is clear: the Sanhedrin ruled that Jesus is a fraud.
    I don't see how Jesus' Resurrection or subsequent Christian miracles in any way imply that the Bible is divine (indeed, Christians to this day are divided about which books are divine and which are not). There is simply no reason to be a Christian, even if you accept that Jesus rose from the dead.

  13. For #1, I simply quoted what God says in the Bible. You take the Bible to be divinely wrought or inspired. Your problem is with God, not with me.

    For #2: I think a Christian could answer your objections quite easily. To me, however, there is simply no reason to be either a Jew or a Christian.

    But what's all this gas you're passing. Look, I made a simple argument: God does not have the right to give and take life as he sees fit. I defended that argument against your half-baked rebuttal. Do you have anything else?

  14. Not certain if it published or not. I'll say it again. I am a Christian. I don't go around telling everyone to be a Christian. I may only be a kid, but when I'm at my band concert, and we have to say "we chose this not for the religious point, but for the music quality" it shows how screwed up of a world we are in. Just have your own personal opinion, and don't shove it down everyone's throats.


Feel free to comment if you have something substantial and substantiated to say.