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Friday, February 26, 2010

Grasping at Straws Part Three--Evangelicals Defend Genocide

In the two previous posts (here and here), I have shown how the President of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, Paul Copan, is grasping at straws in trying to defend the genocides ordered by his God in the Bible. Today, I want to deal with the answers to this problem put forth by, arguably the leading evangelical apologist of our day, William Craig. Craig can also be seen as grasping at straws in trying to explain how the perfectly good and holy God that he worships could order the extermination of a whole civilization including women, children and even infants. I will enumerate his potential answers below and then respond to them.

1. The genocides recorded in the OT did NOT really happen. Its mere folklore.

2. The genocides recorded in the OT did happen but were NOT commanded by God. The Israelites were simply practicing warfare in the common method of their day.

Now, Craig does not say that he holds either one of these positions but he says its possible to hold them and still remain a Christian. He says it would destroy the inerrancy of the Bible but would not undermine the fact of Jesus' resurrection nor of the existence of God.

He says:
Suppose we agree that if God (who is perfectly good) exists, He could not have issued such a command. What follows? That Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? That God does not exist? Hardly! So what is the problem supposed to be?

Craig continues:
The question of biblical inerrancy is an important one, but it’s not like the existence of God or the deity of Christ! If we Christians can’t find a good answer to the question before us and are, moreover, persuaded that such a command is inconsistent with God’s nature, then we’ll have to give up biblical inerrancy. But we shouldn’t let the unbeliever raising this question get away with thinking that it implies more than it does.

How important is the doctrine of biblical inerrancy to the evangelical Christian faith?

J. Hampton Keathley, III, argues:
If the Bible teaches inerrancy, then to deny it is to deny that which the Scripture claims is true. Further, if the Bible contains some errors, how can we be sure that its claims concerning Christ, salvation, man, etc., are true? Also, the chronology, geography, and history of the Bible are often woven together like strands of a basket with vital spiritual truths. As you cannot start pulling strands out of a woven basket without doing damage to the whole, so it is with the Bible.

If the Bible is in error when it says that God ordered genocide, then how do we know that its not in error when it says that Jesus rose from the dead? How do we know that its not in error when it says that Jesus' death on the cross atones for man's sin? How do we know that its not in error when it says that man is saved by grace through faith?

If the Bible contains errors, then the evangelical Christian must either redefine the doctrine of inspiration or redefine the extent of the canon. Evangelicals have typically held to plenary, verbal inspiration of the Scripture. Plenary meaning that all of it is equally inspired and verbal meaning that the very words and not just the thoughts are inspired. The word inspired is taken from 2 Timothy 3:16 and means "God-breathed" (Greek is Θεοπνευστος). In other words, the Scriptures are breathed out from God (expiration would really be a better word than inspiration). If the Bible comes directly from the mouth of God, and God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), then it follows the Bible cannot lie or contain errors.

If some of the Bible is not true, then it also follows that the part that is not true is not from God and thus should not be part of the canon of inspired Scripture. Harold Lindsell, former editor of Christianity Today, in The Battle for the Bible, famously argued that if you deny inerrancy then you are left with a "canon within the canon." The problem then becomes how does one decide what parts should be in the canon and what parts should not. We would need another Church Council to settle it.

Now, we come to the answers that Craig himself favors.

3. God is not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions as man.
According to the version of divine command ethics which I’ve defended, 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. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are. For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition. He can give and take life as He chooses.

Okay, but Craig believes that God is perfectly holy and incapable of sin. I wonder how he gets around the following syllogism:
(1)Deliberately killing innocent babies is a sin.
(2)God ordered the killing of innocent babies.
(3)Therefore, God committed sin.
I guess he would say that (1) should be modified to read: Deliberately killing innocent babies is a sin for man but not for God.

While I still have problems even with the modified statement, for the sake of argument, let me propose another syllogism.

(1) Deliberately causing innocent babies to suffer and die is a sin.
(2) God ordered the killing of innocent babies in a manner that involved their suffering.
(3) Therefore, God committed sin.

There is no doubt that the babies that were killed in the biblical genocides were made to suffer. How can you kill a person with a sword without that person suffering? Perhaps, they didn't use the sword on the babies but did as the Psalmist sings:
O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us--he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. (Psalm 137:8-9, NIV)

Can you possibly kill a baby painlessly by "dashing it against a rock". I am sure some Christian apologists will try to argue that you can.

In reality, I don't see these commands by the Biblical God to be out of character for him. In Genesis 7:21-23, he had no trouble drowning infants. In Genesis 19:24-25, he had no problem burning infants alive. Today, he has no trouble burying infants alive in earthquakes or drowning them in tsunamis, so why should he have had a problem with ordering his people to kill all the infants in the Canaanite cities? It seems to be a normal activity for the Christian God. What amazes me is that Christians can still call this God perfectly good and perfectly loving!

I will continue this discussion tomorrow.


  1. So craig says you can hold position 1) The genocides recorded in the OT did NOT really happen. Its mere folklore and still be a christian.
    Ok, so can I hold the position that the entire bible is folklore and still be a christian?

    David McBride

  2. Promethus,

    LOL. Excellent point. Actually you can even be a Christian atheist. See this article

  3. Ken,

    I have been enjoying your postings, keep up the good work!

  4. Dr. Ken,

    I love this blog. You are providing a free education. Thanks.

    I only see one thing in the kind of faith Craig holds, "Might makes right." I suppose one could say that is a "Reasonable Faith" but, it is also a cruel and limiting one too.

    Thanks again Dr. Ken.

    Hey Anthony, how goes it?

  5. **God is not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions as man.**

    I see this argument a lot, and it always comes across to me that the evangelical viewpoint doesn't understand what's being said. What's being questioned here is their claim of "God is good," and yet it's responded to as "you can't hold God to the same standards man is held."

    But say I tell everyone that it's good to save someone who's drowning, and I'm a good person. Yet everyone witnesses me watching a five year old drown in a lake. I'm perfectly capable of rescuing this child, I'm perfectly aware that the child is drowning, and yet I do nothing.

    The response would be that I'm a hypocrite, because I'm defining myself as "good" and yet I did something that is defined as a "not good" act.

    That's the confusion when it comes to God. The Christian claim is that God is good. Yet part of the definition of good is that you don't order the slaughter of children. However, God orders this. How are the two reconciled?

    It's not that non-Christians are holding God to the same standards applied to man. It's that non-Christians are holding God to the very standards that God says are good and just and moral. If God commits actions that He has defined as immoral, then to say "God is moral" is meaningless, because the word "moral" has been changed to include immoral acts. Same with calling God good.

  6. Ken,

    I love your blog. I'm learning a lot! Thank you.

  7. Chuck: Hey Anthony, how goes it?

    Doing fantastic, thank you!

  8. Thank you for your blog I just came across it today and find it very interesting.