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Jos Gibbons's Avatar Jump to 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