This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Respected theologian defends genocide and infanticide

Respected theologian defends genocide and infanticide - Comments

passutoba's Avatar Comment 1 by passutoba

Surely only an unswerving belief in god and subsequent desire to force the peg into the hole at any cost could produce such twisted and depraved logic.....oh how I'd love to see Hitch respond to this insane 'logic' in debate with WLC.

Thanks for posting.

Sun, 01 May 2011 07:25:07 UTC | #621425

Carole's Avatar Comment 2 by Carole

I've been reading this too, via Pharyngula, and I agree about Greta Christina - bookmarked for future. William Lane Craig comes across as so affable and reasonable in tone, but when you see what he is actually saying, it's vile.

Sun, 01 May 2011 07:27:33 UTC | #621427

Flapjack's Avatar Comment 3 by Flapjack

I saw this on PZ's site yesterday and my first thought was "Ecclesiastical Nuremburg Defence". Hey, God sanctioned this infanticide, so it must be ok as god only does that to bad people right? And they go to heaven afterwards, so that shouldn't be a problem if they haven't sinned. My second thought was the Milgram Experiment, the famous psychological test to see if ordinary folk could be persuaded to do sadistic acts to other people because an authority figure in a white coat told them to. Just substitute the stooge in the white coat for an all powerful god, and it's interesting how quick you can chuck the moral rulebook out of the window. I just never expected to see a so-called 'sophisticated theologian' advocating the Nuremberg defence for the widespread ethnic cleansing in the Old testament.

Sun, 01 May 2011 07:35:59 UTC | #621431

sbooder's Avatar Comment 4 by sbooder

I like her writing, it flows. And this piece is no different; it is easy and inspiring to read.

Sun, 01 May 2011 07:54:05 UTC | #621434

the great teapot's Avatar Comment 5 by the great teapot

I guess then William lane Craig will be erecting a memorial to the 9/11 freedom fighters for their services to god's will.

Sun, 01 May 2011 07:55:46 UTC | #621435

PaulJ's Avatar Comment 6 by PaulJ

The most shocking part of Craig's "justification" is this:

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

Surely this puts the religious stand on abortion in a different light? Aborting foetuses is merely sending them to eternal life a little early?

This is why theology gets no respect from me; it's an attempt to defend the indefensible. The irony is that Craig repeatedly claims that without God there is no foundation for morality.

Sun, 01 May 2011 07:58:31 UTC | #621437

Volde-Mart's Avatar Comment 7 by Volde-Mart

I knew he was over-rated, but I didn't know quite how evil his 'theology' is. Richard

You should have added quotation marks to 'evil'. There is no such thing--only matter/energy. Right?

Sun, 01 May 2011 08:00:00 UTC | #621438

Flapjack's Avatar Comment 8 by Flapjack

Sun, 01 May 2011 08:06:22 UTC | #621439

Southpaw's Avatar Comment 9 by Southpaw

I find it amazing and disgusting that a supposedly sane and thinking person considers it perfectly fine to kill children because they'll go to Heaven, and also, I suspect, because it (possibly) happened a few thousand years ago so who really cares, we wouldn't do it nowadays, right? Dis-gus-ting.

A well-written article from Greta Christina in any case.

Sun, 01 May 2011 08:07:17 UTC | #621440

Mrkimbo's Avatar Comment 10 by Mrkimbo

An absolutely authentic example of the foulness of religion. Any atrocity can be explained away, any hideous crime can be expiated in that easy, smooth churchly manner of one who has never seen a dead child in a ruined street or a woman's numb face after she's been raped. And if this man can do it so earnestly in reference to the Bible, what's to stop him and his ilk doing it with modern horrors committed by religious nutters in the name of God?

Sun, 01 May 2011 08:21:49 UTC | #621442

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 11 by Jos Gibbons

Should Craig’s ideas be picked apart in the style of many a post I have written, or did Greta Christina strike the right balance when she chose an alternative strategy? I think the latter, but I cannot resist pointing out some things Craig overlooks. Why should the Canaanites die for sinning? Capital punishment is a contentious issue! If infanticide is justified by its bringing children to Heaven, does the same apply to infanticides Christians have carried out after the Bible was written, such as when native American infants were killed by Europeans colonising the region? What about people we can be fairly confident God would send to Heaven as they generally do as He tells them – indeed, Christians in general? (Indeed, one common view in theology is that one goes to Heaven if and only if one believes the right things.) The words “shooting ourselves in the feet” come to mind. And note also this comment of his:

Our 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.

(I’ve preserved his original spelling of that word as Christina did.)

So let me get this straight. We have no obligations unless God gives them to us; if he chose not to instruct us, we could do as we pleased. Also, we are subject to obligations as long as we get them from being instructed by a being subject to no moral constraints at all. What then gives him the right to define our morality? Thomas Aquinas rejected divine command theory in the thirteenth century, since which Christianity has increased in age about 50 %, precisely because of ridiculous ideas like this. Does theology never progress?

Professor Dawkins describes Craig’s stance here as even worse than that of Swinburne. For the benefit of the discussion, perhaps I should relate what that stance is. Swinburne takes the view that God’s perfection leads to this being the best of all logically possible worlds (an idea common in theological circles in the Middle ages, satirised by the foolishness of Dr Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide). This leads him to consider the example of Hiroshima and to explicitly state that, if one fewer person had been killed, somehow the world would be worse. And this is a conclusion he adopts purely because his best–worlds theology implies it, not because any evidence supports it. In sophisticated theology as much as in fundamentalism, thinking it is OK to believe certain religious ideas without evidence to support them leads one to believe certain things about other areas without evidence too.

Like Craig, Swinburne is viewed as one of the world’s most prominent theologians. Precisely because of his fame, it may seem strange I would think it falls to me to summarise him. But I would like to add an example from my personal experience which is not widely known. The Oxford Atheist Society (it is now the Oxford Atheists, Secularists and Humanists or OxASH) once invited him to speak to us precisely because of his fame, and because we have roughly a 50:50 split in whether our speakers believe in a god. We give speakers a free dinner before their talks, and during it Swinburne and our president, one Alex Gabriel, were debating the extent to which our life is contingent on God’s permission for its continuance. Swinburne took the view that our life is a gift from God and that, if one is not willing to use it the way He intends, one should return it (because, Swinburne said, that’s how gifts work in general) by committing suicide. Theologians usually denounce suicide despite its obvious potential for accelerating one’s reaching heaven. Swinburne’s statement at our dinner was essentially a “kill yourself” response to someone thrashing him in an argument over the course of the conversation.

In case you are wondering, Swinburne’s talk was on the relation of religion to morality. I am not making up the irony of this. His contention in his talk was that, as God is a father to us, there are contexts in which without Him asking us to do something we would be neither obliged to do it nor obliged not to but we are obliged to do it if He asked us, just as with a regular parent. I don’t know if he’s defended this view more publicly & quotably elsewhere but, if he has, it at least doesn’t claim what is otherwise wrong can become right by God’s command, which would make sense of Professor Dawkins describing Craig as worse.

Sun, 01 May 2011 08:25:14 UTC | #621444

Mrkimbo's Avatar Comment 12 by Mrkimbo

Just read the full article through carefully and I think it's brilliant - saving it to favourites.

Sun, 01 May 2011 08:27:46 UTC | #621445

anonymous.shyster's Avatar Comment 13 by anonymous.shyster

You should have added quotation marks to 'evil'. There is no such thing--only matter/energy. Right?

It's a value judgement, yes.

Sun, 01 May 2011 08:28:22 UTC | #621446

SomersetJohn's Avatar Comment 14 by SomersetJohn

She is SOOOOOOOO strident!

I wonder what a joint effort by Greta and Paula would be like. I live in hope.

Sun, 01 May 2011 08:38:11 UTC | #621449

strangebrew's Avatar Comment 15 by strangebrew

The more they twist and flap in their fear the more the toxic sludge exudes from their very pores. Give them a shake and great globules of the crud oozes out to contaminate anyone in sniffing distance.

Respected theologian defends genocide and infanticide

Respected?...not any more except by the brain dead and morally bankrupt!

His debate technique is just the Gish gallop with cynical incredulity that atheism is a valid view as a generous side dish.

maybe it exposes the greater myth that there is such a thing as a sophisticated theologian at all

Never was, never is, and never will be...their source material is weaker then gnats pee in both volume and potency! That is why they feel moved to embellish the crud...otherwise it is just a fairy story being a fairy story and not a very interesting or fabulous one at that!

The C of E theists hold that the A of C is a theologian par excellence...but not one utterance has convinced many people not already under the spell of bullshite methinks. And one would assume that was a major role that theologians have by actually lay out their claim with academic precision to persuade the not so gullible or indeed the not so ignorant as to the veracity of their claims.

Benny is supposed to be the a similar weaver of the ecclesiastical yarn for the kiddie fiddlers club. Maybe Bennies warp is not quite as taut as the weft requires. Coming distinctly unraveled if the surface gets pricked by the simplest of criticism.

Anyway not a brain amongst 'em to impress and as for the morality that William Lane Craig espouses...not a not all xians share that view?...and if not why are they so deafening by their muted silence on the subject? It does so neatly explain the Crusades...all of them past and present, and the other little parties they hosted like the Albigensian Crusade and even the holocaust has a certain xian feel to it despite their protestations to the opposite.

There is just a desolate sadness that so many folks do think he has explained the mystery of uncomfortable scripture in a way that they actually approve of. That is sounds cogent and concise and explains the mechanism of the tyrant of a deity they have chosen to worship and all is well with the world, well their world anyway, the world of make believe and justifiable hatred and murder.

There are some seriously sick, ignorant and depraved xians out there in la la land and Craig just panders to their insanity and is so proud of it that even Mathew Hopkins would approve.

Sun, 01 May 2011 09:15:17 UTC | #621461

Wendy Farts On Her Bible's Avatar Comment 16 by Wendy Farts On Her Bible

William Lane Craig is not a 'sophisticated theologian'.

He is a sad wretch who lacks the psychological equipment/moral courage to cleanse himself of ‘God’.

But this shouldn’t surprise us.

After all, Immanuel Kant couldn’t let go of the God-piss he imbibed on his mother’s knee. And he was a really clever bastard.

The next time you come across the epithet ‘Sophisticated Theologian’ think: ‘Big Infant’.

Sun, 01 May 2011 09:31:33 UTC | #621463

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 17 by Cartomancer

Actually, I find myself distinctly unmoved by Mr. Lane-Craig's contortions. Perhaps I should find them more offensive.

The thinking involved is a bizarre train-wreck of a moral philosophy, but I really do wonder how relevant anyone of the Lane-Craig bent would find these sophistries to making real moral decisions in the modern world. When people like him pick over the morality of the stories in ancient documents like the bible - stories with dubious historicity at best - the exercise seems to me distinctly unreal. It doesn't seem like the thinking he's doing here is moral philosophy so much as the careful tending of peculiar paradoxes for some kind of abstract mathematical amusement. Were he asked to switch this thinking to modern, or even fairly recent, genocides I have the feeling he would say something along the lines of "yes, well in theory god could command us to commit genocide today, but god doesn't do that anymore, so it'd never happen", In such a way would he square the circle and paper over the yawning chasm between real ethics and his theological masturbations.

That, I think, is where the "sophisticated theologian" differs from the fundamentalist nutcase. His god is a play-god, a creature of distant fiction, something that has little or no relevance to life as lived and can be dressed in whatever colours you like without saying anything that actually matters. It's a bit like reading a modern thriller or historical novel where you sympathise with an anti-hero who is a complete bastard - in your mind you let him get away with things that you would excuse in no real person. Theology of this sort uses the language of moral philosophy, but that's not what it is - it's literary aesthetics, not ethics.

Not that this makes such thinking entirely harmless of course. Genocide is one of the most emotive of all issues, but making recourse to a god-said-it-was-ok excuse is generally something people intent on genocide do to salve their consciences and put better PR spin on their actions after the fact. Sure, one or two mentally ill people commit murder or even serial murder with a genuine conviction that god told them to, but genocidal tribalism runs deep in human affairs. By the time one is reaching for the theology, one is usually too far gone to dissuade - the strong moral prohibition on murder has somehow been overcome by perceived self-interest, and it's just a matter of tidying up the fallout.

I think it's the lesser issues: the prejudice, the discrimination against women and gay people, where this sort of thinking can be really pernicious. The evolved social prohibition against murder is very powerful, but on these lesser issues there isn't nearly such a strong moral compass inherent in human decision-making. Even otherwise decent and civilized people hold up a passage like Leviticus 18:22 and say "look, god is commanding us to hate the gays", then comport themselves accordingly by voting against equal rights, rejecting their gay children and so forth. It is on these sorts of things that most religious people are genuinely able to be swayed, and genuinely are swayed, to adopt a morally repugnant position with real-world consequences. I fear that getting too worked up about onanistic pronouncements on ancient genocide can obscure this fact.

Sun, 01 May 2011 09:32:50 UTC | #621464

CFM's Avatar Comment 18 by CFM

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

A little further down in the original article Craig writes:

No one was wringing his hands over the soldiers’ having to kill the Canaanites; those who did so were national heroes.

Sorry, but in this case I have no option but to "play the Nazi card".

Not because I think that Craig is a Nazi or sympathizes with Nazi ideology, but because these statements raise a serious question Craig needs to confront if he really believes what he writes.

His deliberations, especially what he says about the "Isreali soldiers" remind me of a certain speech by Himmler (the infamous Poznan speech):

"Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, when there are 500, or when there are 1000. And to have seen this through, and -- with the exception of human weaknesses -- to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned. (...) We have carried out this most difficult task for the love of our people. And we have taken on no defect within us, in our soul, or in our character."


Where is the difference between:

"God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel." (Craig)


"We have the moral right, we had the duty to our people to do it, to kill this people who wanted to kill us." (Himmler)

Craig would argue, of course, that the difference is that in the Canaanites case, genocide was committed based on his gods commands, in order to "prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also (...) as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God."

Let us for one moment assume Craig is right. The problem he has to confront is that people have claimed, throughout history, to act in the name of god(s). Craig writes:

"On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command."

Therefore he cannot base his judgement of whether those who made these claims truly acted in gods name on the characteristics of their deeds. Genocide, murder, rape, war. ..everything becomes justifiable, even good, if commanded by his god.

Coming back to the Nazis: They also claimed to act in gods name, irrespective of whether they really believed it in their hearts or just claimed it for propaganda reasons.

I will not bore people with the evidence for this - it has already been been pointed out again and again - and just point to one book and one article on this matter: Claus-Ekkehard Bärschs Die politische Religion des Nationalsozialismus. Die religiöse Dimension der NS-Ideologie in den Schriften von Dietrich Eckart, Joseph Goebbels, Alfred Rosenberg und Adolf Hitler, 2.edition, München 2002 and Die Schoah und „Das Reich, das kommt“. Die politische Religion Joseph Goebbels‘ und der religiöse Gehalt der Rassedoktrin Adolf Hitlers which can be read online in the (peer reviewed) theological (!) journal theologie.geschichte (3/2008;

I know Dr. Craigs German is very good, he should be able to read these texts...

Craig goes on to ask - trying to draw a distinction between the war he just legitimized and Islamic holy war:

"The question, then, is not whose moral theory is correct, but which is the true God?"

No, Dr. Craig, the questions you have to answer, if you really believe what you write:

How do people know that the commands they are acting upon really came from (your) god?

How can you discern whether people really followed gods commands or just claimed they did? Especially as you are so adamant that we cannot judge deeds commanded by your god by "normal" ethical standards?

To ask a very specific question: How do you know that Hitler and Goebbels and the men they commanded did not act in your gods name?

Bärsch makes a very good, evidence-based case that they at least thought they did...

Sun, 01 May 2011 09:57:27 UTC | #621468

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 19 by AtheistEgbert

Thankfully, most Christians have a natural morality that exceeds their biblical morality. I used to ask believers many times, would you sacrifice your children to God if God commanded you? And most admitted that they could do no such thing.

The bible is not a moral book, and religion is not about morality, it's about control and politics. Christianity has no place or justification in lecturing people on how to behave or what to do. It's an unwelcomed guest in a modern democratic age.

Sun, 01 May 2011 10:01:23 UTC | #621470

The Plc's Avatar Comment 20 by The Plc

Isn't this old news? Why are all the gnu blogs discussing this now. I remember reading Craig's apologetics for genocide on websites like this years ago? Craig's acolytes and apologists would have you believe he is a serious scholar and thinker, but the above reveals him to no better in mentality than the 9/11 bombers. No crime is too wicked as long as he's carrying out his god's work. Craig even asks us to glorify and symphatise with the perpetrators!

Why does an all powerful, perfect god have 'morally sufficient reason' to do anything? What moral standard or rule is god following? Who's he trying to impress? What is he hoping to fulfil?

Sun, 01 May 2011 10:04:37 UTC | #621472

JackR's Avatar Comment 21 by JackR

Richard writes:

I have paid too little attention to Greta Christina, who has written some wonderful pieces on her blog. Here, for instance, is her splendid list of reasons why atheists have the right to be angry.

Greta has been a favourite atheist blogger of mine for years, and that "Atheists and anger" piece is my standard link whenever someone repeats any variation on the tired old "Why are you atheists so angry?" refrain.

Other good ones:

Why Do Atheists Have to Talk About Atheism?

Greta Answers Some Theologians

Caring About reality: Why What We Don't Believe Matters

The Armor Of God, or, The Top Reason Religion is Harmful.

Why It's So Tricky for Atheists to Debate with Believers

There are many others.

Sun, 01 May 2011 10:10:11 UTC | #621475

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 22 by Nunbeliever

Great article! Well Craig deserves praise for one thing. At least he is honest enough to admit that he accepts the atrocities of the old testament and don't just regard them as uncomfortable facts we should pretend do not exist, as many moderate christians do today. It shows the danger of even having a moderate belief (although I have never understood why people label Craig moderate. The man does not even accept evolution for goodness sake). Damn, why did Craig not publish this article BEFORE the debate with Sam Harris. He would have been so screwed and I would have enjoyed seeing his intellectual limbs ripped apart one by one.

Sun, 01 May 2011 10:20:52 UTC | #621480

RichardofYork's Avatar Comment 23 by RichardofYork

Respected theologian defends genocide and infanticide . Respected by whom may I ask? .Theres certainly no respect for theologians here

Sun, 01 May 2011 10:28:02 UTC | #621482

pittige 's Avatar Comment 24 by pittige

now we know what the church has planned when they can destroy democracy like they are busy to do in the most western countries.

Sun, 01 May 2011 10:58:00 UTC | #621495

Bernard Hurley's Avatar Comment 25 by Bernard Hurley

I don't see why anyone shows any surprise at this. It is simply what I would expect Craig to say. It is quite a common argument for those who take the Bible literally. This attitude has traditionally been quite common. Catholics, who are not normally Bible literalists, have have been known to justify actions taken in the Crusades in a similar way:

In 1204, Arnaud Amalric and Peter of Castelnau were appointed inquisitors and sent by pope Innocent III to attempt to convert the Albigensians from Catharism back to Catholicism, failing which military action would be taken. Caesar of Heisterbach one of the leaders of the Crusader army quotes Amalric as giving the advice when asked how to distinguish a Cathar from a Catholic "Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own". There is some historical doubt about whether Amalric actually said that, however, no one at the time would have found it particularly surprising if he had and he never denied it. He did write in a letter to a pope after the ensuing massacre at Béziers "Today your Holiness, twenty thousand heretics were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age, or sex."

This may be an exaggeration since the permanent population of Béziers was about 5000, but it is known to have been swelled by refugees fleeing the Crusader army. 7000 such refugees seeking sanctuary in St Mary Magdalene church are reported to have been killed after the doors were smashed in. Reportedly some of them were blinded, dragged behind horses and used as target practice.

Sun, 01 May 2011 11:22:59 UTC | #621498

submoron's Avatar Comment 26 by submoron

Richard of York: If you go to Measure for Measure Act Two, scene one, you'll find that Elbow's usage of "respected" is appropriate.

Elbow (speaking of a reported brothel. " First, an it like you, the house is a respected house: next, this is a respected fellow; and his mistress is a respected woman" Pompey, the clown then winds him up on this misuse.

Sun, 01 May 2011 11:29:59 UTC | #621501

cheesedoff17's Avatar Comment 27 by cheesedoff17

Seems he suffers from Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease which is hereditary. Did he have a wicked ancestor for which, only the doG knows why, he will wither slowly to his end?

Sun, 01 May 2011 11:36:17 UTC | #621504

the great teapot's Avatar Comment 28 by the great teapot

This may be an exaggeration since the permanent population of Béziers was about 5000, but it is known to have been swelled by refugees fleeing the Crusader army. 7000 such refugees seeking sanctuary in St Mary Magdalene church are reported to have been killed after the doors were smashed in. Reportedly some of them were blinded, dragged behind horses and used as target practice.

Just think of the hell those poor soldiers had to endure.

Sun, 01 May 2011 11:42:42 UTC | #621506

Hellboy2's Avatar Comment 29 by Hellboy2

Yep...once again, scratch the 'respectable' surface and watch what comes crawling out.

I suppose, in many respects, with these views, Craig has done himself a lot more damage than he might think. At least now whenever he gets to go up against the likes of Sam Harris, it shouldn't take more than a few seconds for him to be sprawled on the ropes and praying to his tyranical God for the bell...

Sun, 01 May 2011 12:02:44 UTC | #621509

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 30 by Steve Zara

I fear that getting too worked up about onanistic pronouncements on ancient genocide can obscure this fact.

I completely back Cartomancer's point. It isn't the Lane Craigs who are causing serious problems in the world, it's the drip-feel of prejudice from mainstream religions into our societies.

Sun, 01 May 2011 12:59:21 UTC | #621518