Richard Dawkins’ argument that William Lane Craig is an “apologist for genocide” (see “Why I Refuse to Debate William Lane Craig” at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/20/richard-dawkins-william-lane-craig) is specious because it requires that the reliability of the concept of God’s existence be dependent upon whether or not God, as a candidate for divinity, lives up to Dawkins’ defining expectations. In other words, since Dawkins charges the God of the Bible with war-mongering cruelty, then his existence is obviously a fantasy.
“Most churchmen these days wisely disown the horrific genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament. Anyone who criticises the divine bloodlust is loudly accused of unfairly ignoring the historical context, and of naive literalism towards what was never more than metaphor or myth. You would search far to find a modern preacher willing to defend God’s commandment, in Deuteronomy 20: 13-15, to kill all the men in a conquered city and to seize the women, children and livestock as plunder.”
The point of view of some theologians, that the Old Testament stories are nothing more than “metaphor or myth” is by no means universal. It may be the prevailing opinion in the British Isles, but is not representative of Biblical scholars like William Lane Craig, who argues for the accuracy and reliability of the Scriptures. Dr. Craig would certainly deny that the historical books of the Bible are mythological or metaphorical. He would argue that the events written about in the Bible actually happened and that we should look to understand them in that context, not as myth or metaphor.
Genocide is a highly charged word, carrying with it connotations of racism, hatred and bigotry. First, does the Bible (or the God of the Bible) command believers today to kill any peoples, nations or ethnic groups? Absolutely not! God’s so-called genocidal commands were directed to specific peoples (Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites) in a specific place and time (Israel’s conquest of the promised land). So, examining Dawkins’ charge of genocide must be limited to the context of Old Testament history — a point that Dawkins obviously does not respect.
Secondly, the question must be asked, what is it that makes God’s command in Deuteronomy 20:13-15 so horrific? Is such a characterization true or is it a biased value judgment? On one level, today’s politically correct attitude is that war itself is immoral. This attitude hasn’t always been the case, giving those who espouse it a sense of evolved moral superiority. But there remains a significant number of traditional moralists who still believe that war is morally justified under certain conditions — that war in and of itself is not evil or immoral.
War was justified in the case of Israel’s conquest of the promised land on the basis of God’s judgment, not on the basis of human judgement. God’s judgment had two parts: a rescue and reward for his chosen people and the destruction of the wicked peoples who occupied the land God was giving to Israel. God called these peoples wicked, directing that they either be removed from the land or exterminated. This was in microcosm, the same kind of thing God did when he used the great flood to destroy every human being on earth except for Noah and his family. God’s judgment for wickedness is death.
Bible believers see God’s judgment as ultimately good, despite its apparent harshness. Dawkins looks at this and sees God as a bloodthirsty murderer. He and many others are confused by popular attitudes toward killing. The very contention that God said, “You shall not kill” is based on a poor understanding of linguistics. The most accurate rendering of that commandment is, “You shall not murder.” Not all killing is murder. Killing in war is not murder. The death penalty is not murder. But politically correct thinking is very amorphous when it comes to differentiating murder from morally acceptable forms of killing.
Popular thinking declares capital punishment and wars as evils, based on “You shall not kill” , yet somehow, the idea of killing an unborn child or terminally ill patient is acceptable. Such views are relativistic and devoid of the principled basis for morality found in the Bible. Dawkins’ genocide label is the product of his prejudice and disdain for belief in God. He places himself in a position to judge God, expecting God to meet his prerequisites, which is only justified by his basic assumption that God does not exist. The strength of this argument doesn’t impact the question of God’s existence so much as it calls into question the nature of God.
Dawkins’ conclusion that the God of the Bible fails the test of acceptability is derived from his unscholarly interpretation of the Scriptures. He lays down his standard for God. And his only real point is that God does not meet the standard which he himself has imputed for God, if God were real. How can any scholar respect such presumptuousness?
If an atheist chooses to argue against the existence of God, based on sound evidence or meaningful reasoning, then he has everything to gain in a head-to-head debate with a theist. But the best Dawkins can do is argue against the existence of a God who exhibits certain traits he can’t accept. He has reduced the debate not to whether God exists or not, but to whether or not God meets with his approval.
And yet William Lane Craig stands ready to debate Richard Dawkins. Everyone needs to make up his own mind as to who has the greater intellectual integrity. But even more important, upon whose standards do we base our acceptance of the existence of God? Does God have to meet your expectations or criteria before you even consider whether or not he is real? How can our finite brains begin to understand an infinite God? The answer is that you’ll never know the truth if you are closed to it. Knowing the truth requires that you be open to it.
A common mistake people make is to “put the cart before the horse”. They start with an identity profile for God — an idea of what God should be like. They wrap their idea up in a neat little package, then look for evidence for a real God that is modeled after that little package. This approach never works. If you want to find the answer to “Does God exist?”, you have to be open to who he really is. Don’t limit belief in God to how you imagine he must be like. He might be bigger than the box you want to put him in.