Evangelical blogger Randal Rauser has written not one, not two, but three blog posts calling Richard Dawkins cowardly and immoral for refusing to debate William Lane Craig. Rauser’s “If Dawkins believes what he says about Craig…” premise, almost like he’s trying to give atheists advice, reminds me of Greta Christina’s “Letter to Concerned Believers,” but he raises some questions that are worth answering. First:
There are two billion Christians on planet earth. Most of them accept the Canaanite genocide narratives at face value and thus believe that in that particular instance God sanctioned genocide. A minority of Christians like me don’t read them in that way, but that’s irrelevant to the fact that millions do.
The problem with this is that Rauser ignores a very large and important group of Christians: the group that’s totally oblivious to the existence of the Canaanite genocide narrative. My money’s on them being the real majority position, or at least the plurality position. And in the US at least, my experience has been that most Christians, any time you bring up anything nasty from the Old Testament, are just going to say, “Oh, but that was the Old Testament, and I’m really more about Jesus,” without staking out a coherent view. Moving on:
And that’s the problem for Dawkins. Craig’s view on genocide (and that of a majority of Christians) may indeed be reprehensible and ridiculous. But the reality is that this view is not like Holocaust denial which is a fringe position that can best be dealt with through neglect. This is indeed the view of millions of Christians and thus is one well worthy of Dawkins’ expert refutation.
Rauser is treating the issue as one of agree to debate Craig vs. ignore the issue entirely (“neglect”). But Dawkins is hardly ignoring the issue. He also discusses the Canaanite genocide in The God Delusion, mainly for the sake of making the point that people don’t really get their morality from holy texts.
Dawkins is taking basically the right approach there, and Rauser makes a third mistake which shows why:
I spoke with a friend of Craig’s just today who informed me that in one single debate he conducted forty-seven people became Christians. In other words, forty-seven more people became converts to the position that Dawkins views as the moral cousin of holocaust denial.
This is where we get some real nonsense. The position Dawkins is saying is the moral consequence of Holocaust denial is that its A-OK for God to order the extermination of an entire tribe of people, and that he has in fact done so in the past. But that’s not the view Craig would have been trying to win people over to.
Put another way: without even knowing what debate we’re talking about, I can tell you that Craig did not say “I think God once ordered the extermination of entire tribes, and ordered the execution of homosexuals and blasphemers, and sends everyone who doesn’t accept Jesus to Hell, and I think all that’s just fine.”
No, if any of those topics came up in the debate, you can count on Craig to have insisted they were irrelevant (though I think they usually are), and probably not even own up to his views on them. This is one reason why I think, if the goal is to combat Craig’s odious moral views, doing a debate a debate on the existence of God, doing the debate Craig wants, would be pointless. Craig would just evade, evade, evade throughout the debate.
Of course, Dawkins could say “Okay, let’s do a debate on the topic ‘Resolved that the Bible is full of immoral teachings.’” Craig would probably refuse, though, because Craig doesn’t really want to be stuck defending the whole Bible. Few Christians do. With issues like these, Christians basically fall into three groups: those who aren’t aware of them, those who avoid thinking about them, and those avoid talking about them. (There’s also “those who admit the Bible is wrong about some things,” but they tend to not like to think or talk about the bad stuff either.)
This is why what Dawkins is actually doing, writing about the issue in small doses, just trying to make people aware of certain things, makes sense. It completely messes up Craig’s strategy of “declare the issue irrelevant and hope it goes away.” That’s the key thing, much more important than rebutting Craig point-by-point.
I know the reason I’m so opposed to Christian fundamentalism comes more from reading what the fundamentalists have to say than what atheists have to say. Similarly, this Freethought Blogger said that he thought Dawkins’ take on Craig was over the top–until he read Craig’s response. Every time Craig is forced to talk about this stuff, he turns more people off.