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"Liar, liar, pants on fire"? Ten Tough Questions for Professor Dawkins.

For several years now, Professor Richard Dawkins, the renowned evolutionary biologist and author of The God Delusion, has refused to debate the topic of God's existence with the philosopher and Christian apologist, Professor William Lane Craig. That is Professor Dawkins' privilege; he is under no obligation to debate with anyone. Until recently, Dawkins' favorite reason for refusing to face off against Professor William Lane Craig was that Craig was nothing more than a professional debater. But now, in an article in The Guardian (20 October 2011) entitled, Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig, Richard Dawkins leads off by firing this salvo: "This Christian 'philosopher' is an apologist for genocide. I would rather leave an empty chair than share a platform with him."

In the same article, Professor Dawkins savagely castigates William Lane Craig for his willingness to justify "genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament". According to Dawkins, "Most churchmen these days wisely disown the horrific genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament" - unlike Craig, who argues that "the Canaanites were debauched and sinful and therefore deserved to be slaughtered." Dawkins then quotes William Lane Craig as justifying the slaughter on the grounds that: (i) if these children had been allowed to live, they would have turned the Israelites towards serving the evil Canaanite gods; and (ii) the children who were slaughtered would have gone to Heaven instantly when they died, so God did them no wrong in taking their lives. Dawkins triumphantly concludes:

Would you shake hands with a man who could write stuff like that? Would you share a platform with him? I wouldn't, and I won't. Even if I were not engaged to be in London on the day in question, I would be proud to leave that chair in Oxford eloquently empty.

Professor Dawkins, allow me to briefly introduce myself. My name is Vincent Torley (my Web page is here), and I have a Ph.D. in philosophy. I'm an Intelligent Design proponent who also believes that modern life-forms are descended from a common ancestor that lived around four billion years ago. I'm an occasional contributor to the Intelligent Design Website, Uncommon Descent. Apart from that, I'm nobody of any consequence.

Professor Dawkins, I have ten charges to make against you, and they relate to apparent cases of lying, hypocrisy and moral inconsistency on your part. Brace yourself. I've listed the charges for the benefits of people reading this post.

My Ten Charges against Professor Richard Dawkins

1. Professor Dawkins has apparently lied to his own readers at the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. In a recent post (dated 1 May 2011) he stated that he "didn't know quite how evil [William Lane Craig's] theology is" until atheist blogger Greta Christina alerted him to Craig's views in an article she wrote on 25 April 2011, when in fact, Dawkins had already read Professor Craig's "staggeringly awful" essay on the slaughter of the Canaanites and blogged about it in his personal forum (http://forum.richarddawkins.net), three years earlier, on 21 April 2008. In other words, Professor Dawkins' alleged shock at recently discovering Craig's "evil" views turns out to have been feigned: he knew about these views some years ago.

2. Professor Dawkins has recently maligned Professor William Lane Craig as a "fundamentalist nutbag" who isn't even a real philosopher and whose only claim to fame is that he is a professional debater, but his own statements about Craig back in 2008 completely contradict these assertions. Moreover, Dawkins' characterization of Craig as a "fundamentalist nutbag" is particularly unjust, given that Professor Craig has admitted that he's quite willing to change his mind on the slaughter of the Canaanites, if proven wrong. Although Professor Craig upholds Biblical inerrancy, he does so provisionally: he says it's possible that the Bible might be sometimes wrong on moral matters, and furthermore, he acknowledges that the Canaanite conquest might not have even happened, as an historical event. That certainly doesn't sound like the writings of a "nutbag" to me.

3. Professor Dawkins says that he refuses to share a platform with William Lane Craig, because of his views on the slaughter of the Canaanites, but he has already debated someone who holds substantially the same views as Craig on the slaughter of the Canaanites. On 23 October 1996, Dawkins debated Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who also believes that the slaughter of the Canaanites was morally justified under the circumstances at the time (see here and here). What's more, in 2006, Dawkins appeared in a television panel with Professor Richard Swinburne, who holds the same view. Dawkins might reply that Swinburne did not make his views on the slaughter of the Canaanites public until 2011, but as I shall argue below, he can hardly make the same excuse about not knowing Rabbi Boteach's views. If he did not know, then he was extraordinarily naive.

4. Professor Dawkins refuses on principle to share a platform with William Lane Craig because of his views on the slaughter of the Canaanites, yet he is perfectly willing to share a platform with atheists whose moral opinions are far more horrendous: Dan Barker, who says that child rape could be moral if it were absolutely necessary in order to save humanity; Dr. Sam Harris, who says that pushing an innocent man into the path of an oncoming train is OK, if it is necessary in order to save a greater number of human lives; and Professor Peter Singer, who believes that sex with animals is not intrinsically wrong, if both parties consent.

5. Professor Dawkins refuses to share a platform with William Lane Craig, who holds that God commanded the Israelites to slaughter Canaanite babies whom He subsequently recompensed with eternal life in the hereafter. However, he is quite happy to share a platform with Professor P. Z. Myers, who doesn't even regard newborn babies as people with a right to life. (See here for P.Z. Myers' original post, here for one reader's comment and here for P. Z. Myers' reply, in which he makes his own views plain.) Nor does Professor Peter Singer, whom Dawkins interviewed back in 2009, regard newborn babies as people with a right to life. (See this article.)

6. Apparently Professor Dawkins himself does not believe that a newborn human baby is a person with the same right to life that you or I have, and does not believe that the killing of a healthy newborn baby is just as wrong as the act of killing you or me. For he sees nothing intrinsically wrong with the killing of a one- or two-year-old baby suffering from a horrible incurable disease, that meant it was going to die in agony in later life (see this video at 24:12). He also claims in The God Delusion (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006, p. 293) that the immorality of killing an individual is tied to the degree of suffering it is capable of. By that logic, it must follow that killing a healthy newborn baby, whose nervous system is still not completely developed, is not as bad as killing an adult.

7. In his article in The Guardian (20 October 2011) condemning William Lane Craig, Professor Dawkins fails to explain exactly why it would be wrong under all circumstances for God (if He existed) to take the life of an innocent human baby, if that baby was compensated with eternal life in the hereafter. In fact, as I will demonstrate below, if we look at the most common arguments against killing the innocent, then it is impossible to construct a knock-down case establishing that this act of God would be wrong under all possible circumstances. Strange as it may seem, there are always some possible circumstances we can envisage, in which it might be right for God to act in this way.

8. Professor Dawkins declines to say whether he agrees with some of his fans and followers, who consider the God of the Old Testament to be morally equivalent to Hitler (see here and here for examples). However, the very comparison is odious, for in the same Old Testament books which Dawkins condemns, God exhorts the Israelites: "Do not seek revenge"; "Love your neighbor as yourself" and: "The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 19:18, 33-34, NIV.) That certainly doesn't sound like Hitler to me - and I've personally visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. I wonder if Professor Dawkins has.

9. Dawkins singles out Professor William Lane Craig for condemnation as a "fundamentalist nutbag", but he fails to realize that Professor William Lane Craig's views on the slaughter of the Canaanites were shared by St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, the Bible commentator Matthew Henry, and John Wesley, as well as some modern Christian philosophers of eminent standing, such as Richard Swinburne, whom he appeared on a television panel with in 2006. Is he prepared to call all these people "nutbags" too? That's a lot of crazy people, I must say.

10. Unlike the late Stephen Jay Gould (who maintained that the experiment would be just about the most unethical thing he could imagine), Professor Dawkins believes that the creation of a hybrid between humans and chimps "might be a very moral thing to do", so long as it was not exploited or treated like a circus freak (see this video at 40:33), although he later concedes that if only one were created, it might get lonely (perhaps a group of hybrids would be OK, then?) Dawkins has destroyed his own moral credibility by making such a ridiculous statement. How can he possibly expect us to take him seriously when he talks about ethics, from now on?

Professor Dawkins, I understand that you are a very busy man. Nevertheless, I should warn you that a failure to answer these charges will expose you to charges of apparent lying, character assassination, public hypocrisy, as well as an ethical double-standard on your part. The choice is yours.

I would like to add that I have made every reasonable effort to substantiate my allegations against you, Professor, because a person's good name is a precious thing. I hope I haven't made any factual errors in what I've written below, but if I have mistakenly maligned you in any way, then I humbly and sincerely apologize, and shall of course retract my statements.

Without further ado, here are my ten questions for you.


Question 1. Why did you claim in a recent post (dated 1 May 2011) on your Weblog that you "didn't know quite how evil [William Lane Craig's] theology is" until atheist blogger Greta Christina alerted you to his views in an article she wrote on 25 April 2011, when in fact, you had already read Professor Craig's "staggeringly awful" essay on the slaughter of the Canaanites and blogged about it three years earlier, on 21 April 2008? Are you now willing to admit that you were lying?

Here are your exact words (21 April 2008) (which I have already emailed to several dozen people) on your official Website forum, at http://forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=42300&p=831449#p831449:

Theological justification for genocide Part One

Postby Richard Dawkins » Mon Apr 21, 2008 8:22 am
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5767

One of our commenters on another thread, stevencarrwork, posted a link to this article by the American theologian and Christian apologist William Lane Craig. I read it and found it so dumbfoundingly, staggeringly awful that I wanted to post it again. It is a stunning example of the theological mind at work. And remember, this is NOT an 'extremist', 'fundamentalist', 'picking on the worst case' example. My understanding is that William Lane Craig is a widely respected apologist for the Christian religion. Read his article and rub your eyes to make sure you are not having a bad dream.

Richard

The link at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5767 takes you straight to Professor William Lane Craig's essay on the slaughter of the Canaanites. The first atheist to blog about Craig's essay (as far as I know) was Professor Hector Avalos (see here) on August 24, 2007, shortly after it was written. On 16 January 2008, John Loftus blogged about Professor Craig's essay on his Weblog, Debunking Christianity, apparently after receiving a tip-off from atheist Ed Babinski. I know for a fact that the "atheist telegraph" is a pretty efficient one: scandalous news gets round very fast. So I was very suspicious when I read the following statement in a recent post (dated 1 May 2011) on your Weblog, Professor Dawkins, almost four years after Hector Avalos "outed" Professor Craig:

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. And now (see below) she has a devastating expose of William Lane Craig, exploding the myth that he is a sophisticated 'theologian' rather than some fundamentalist nutbag. Or, actually, maybe it exposes the greater myth that there is such a thing as a sophisticated theologian at all. It is worth following the link to Craig's own post, which lays bare Craig's truly shocking Christian 'morality'. I knew he was over-rated, but I didn't know quite how evil his 'theology' is. It is even worse than the Richard Swinburne example (undeniably a 'sophisticated theologian'), which, as I quoted in The God Delusion, prompted Peter Atkins to expostulate, "May you rot in hell!"

Richard
(Bold emphases mine - VJT.)

The four-year time delay between Craig's 2007 article, which was almost immediately picked up, by atheist Hector Avalos in 2007, and the date of your alleged discovery of Craig's post (1 May 2011), beggars belief, Professor. That time-lag was what prompted me to dig around, until I finally uncovered your April 2008 post on your personal forum site. That was the smoking gun.

Professor Dawkins, you stated in a blog post dated 1 May 2011 that you didn't know how evil Professor Craig's views were until Greta Christina wrote her "devastating expose", dated 25 April 2011. But you knew three years earlier, because you blogged about it on your debate forum on 21 April 2008! Your shocked reaction to Professor Craig's views was a feigned one.

You've been lying to your readers, haven't you, Professor? For what you say in your post of 21 April 2008 flatly contradicts what you later declared in your post of 1 May 2011. None of the several dozen people I contacted could think of a way of harmonizing the two statements either.

We've all lied at some stage in our lives, Professor. You have, I have, everyone has. But lying when attacking a man's character is another matter. You accused Professor William Lane Craig of being a "fundamentalist nutbag" who holds to an evil theology, and you savagely attacked "Craig's truly shocking Christian 'morality'." Telling a deliberate lie about what you knew while making such an accusation is a pretty silly thing to do, and it reduces your own moral credibility. I hope you will be enough of a gentleman to apologize for this ethical lapse on your next blog post.

Finally, Professor, I believe in giving credit where credit is due, so I would like to thank you for at least giving Professor Richard Swinburne the opportunity to reply to Peter Atkins' outburst against him, in a blog post on your Website, dated 16 December 2006. That was a decent and civilized thing to do. I hope you will extend the same courtesy to Professor Craig.



Question 2. Why have you characterized Professor William Lane Craig as a "fundamentalist nutbag" who isn't even a real philosopher and whose only claim to fame is that he is a professional debater, when your own statements on other occasions contradict these assertions? And how can you call Professor Craig a fundamentalist when Craig himself has said that he is willing to change his mind on the slaughter of the Canaanites, and even give up his belief in Biblical inerrancy, if he can be persuaded that God could never have issued such a command? Don't you owe Professor Craig an apology?

Professor Dawkins, in your latest article entitled, Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig, in The Guardian, you implied that William Lane Craig wasn't highly regarded as a philosopher:

Don't feel embarrassed if you've never heard of William Lane Craig. He parades himself as a philosopher, but none of the professors of philosophy whom I consulted had heard his name either. Perhaps he is a "theologian". For some years now, Craig has been increasingly importunate in his efforts to cajole, harass or defame me into a debate with him. I have consistently refused, in the spirit, if not the letter, of a famous retort by the then president of the Royal Society: "That would look great on your CV, not so good on mine".

And in The Intelligence^2 debate held at Wheaton College on November 29, 2009, when you were asked why you wouldn't debate William Lane Craig, you said that he was nothing more than a good debater:

I've always said, when I'm invited to do a debate, that I would be happy to debate a bishop, cardinal, Pope, an archbishop - indeed I have done both [the archbishops of Canterbury and York - VJT] - but that I don't take on creationists, and I don't take on people whose only claim to fame is that they are professional debaters. They've got to have something more than that. I'm busy.

Why, then, did you evince a higher opinion of Professor Craig's scholarly achievements in a post dated 21 April 2008 on your official Website forum, at http://forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=42300&p=831449#p831449:

Theological justification for genocide Part One

Postby Richard Dawkins » Mon Apr 21, 2008 8:22 am
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5767

One of our commenters on another thread, stevencarrwork, posted a link to this article by the American theologian and Christian apologist William Lane Craig. I read it and found it so dumbfoundingly, staggeringly awful that I wanted to post it again. It is a stunning example of the theological mind at work. And remember, this is NOT an 'extremist', 'fundamentalist', 'picking on the worst case' example. My understanding is that William Lane Craig is a widely respected apologist for the Christian religion. Read his article and rub your eyes to make sure you are not having a bad dream.

Richard
(Bold emphasis mine - VJT.)

And I notice that the atheist blogger Greta Christina, whose article on Alter Net (One More Reason Religion Is So Messed Up: Respected Theologian Defends Genocide and Infanticide, 25 April 2011), criticizing Craig's theology was personally commended by you, in a post on your own Website, doesn't share your view that Professor Craig is a "fundamentalist nutbag". Here's what she wrote about him:

I want to make something very clear before I go on: William Lane Craig is not some drooling wingnut. He's not some extremist Fred Phelps type, ranting about how God's hateful vengeance is upon us for tolerating homosexuality. He's not some itinerant street preacher, railing on college campuses about premarital holding hands. He's an extensively educated, widely published, widely read theological scholar and debater. When believers accuse atheists of ignoring sophisticated modern theology, Craig is one of the people they're talking about.

Professor Dawkins, with the greatest respect, I think you owe Professor Craig a personal apology. It is one thing to call his views "evil". It is quite another thing to call him a "fundamentalist nutbag" and belittle his academic credentials when you know full well that he is a widely respected scholar.

Professor Dawkins, I would also call on you to publicly acknowledge that Professor William Lane Craig is not only a "widely read theological scholar", as you described him in 2008, but an accomplished philosopher as well. Want proof? Here's what his Website at Reasonable Faith says about him:

He has authored or edited over thirty books, including The Kalam Cosmological Argument; Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus; Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom; Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology; and God, Time and Eternity, as well as over a hundred articles in professional journals of philosophy and theology, including The Journal of Philosophy, New Testament Studies, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, American Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophical Studies, Philosophy, and British Journal for Philosophy of Science. (Emphases mine - VJT.)

A full list of Dr. Craig's numerous publications is available here.

Over thirty books and over a hundred articles? That's quite an impressive record. By comparison, Professor, you have written twelve books (a couple of which I currently possess - thank you), seventeen popular articles and thirty-three academic papers, according to the list of publications by Richard Dawkins at Wikipedia. On that basis, I'd have to say that Professor William Lane Craig is an even more prolific author than you are.

I haven't finished yet, Professor. What do leading atheist philosophers think of William Lane Craig? Here's what the American philosopher Quentin Smith, author (or co-author) of twelve books and over 140 articles, had to say about Professor Craig on page 183 of his essay, "Kalam Cosmological Arguments for Atheism" (in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, Cambridge University Press, 2006, ISBN 9780521842709):

... [A] count of the articles in the philosophy journals shows that more articles have been published about Craig's defense of the Kalam [cosmological] argument than have been published about any other philosopher's contemporary formulation of an argument for God's existence.

If people write a lot about your arguments, that's a pretty reliable sign that you're highly respected in your field. By the way, the name "William Lane Craig" has 2,140 citations for articles (excluding patents) on Google Scholar.

Let me finish by citing excerpts from a letter to you written by Dr. Daniel Came, Lecturer in Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford, and dated 26 February 2011:

Dear Professor Dawkins,

I write as an atheist and in reference to your refusal to participate in a one-to-one debate with the philosopher William Lane Craig...

I understand that you have also commented that 'a debate with Professor Craig might look good on his CV but it would not look good on mine'. On the contrary, the absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part.

Professor Dawkins, may I respectfully submit that if you, as an atheist, were going to debate just one philosopher on the topic of God's existence, Professor William Lane Craig would be a pretty logical choice.

Speaking of debates, Professor Dawkins, I'd like to comment on your policy of only debating senior clerics, such as bishops. May I respectfully point out that while bishops are traditionally regarded as teachers of the faith, that does not necessarily make them skilled at defending the faith in debate. Methinks you pick rather soft targets in debating bishops, Professor. Let me use an example from science to illustrate my point. As you know full well, the most effective debater on behalf of the theory of evolution by natural selection in the nineteeth century was not its founder, Charles Darwin, but a pugnacious naturalist named Thomas Henry Huxley, popularly known as Darwin's bulldog. Huxley fully appreciated that debating is not a gentle art. Most bishops don't.



How can you call Craig a "fundamentalist nutbag" if he's willing to change his mind?

Professor Dawkins, why do you paint Professor William Lane Craig as a "fundamentalist nutbag" for his views on the "horrific genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament", when Craig's own words indicate that he is quite tentative, rather than dogmatic, in his views on the slaughter of the Canaanites? He admits that he might be wrong in his interpretation of the Bible, and he even admits the Bible itself might be wrong. Want evidence? Here it is, from the very article by Craig article by Craig which you cite:

So then what is Yahweh doing in commanding Israel's armies to exterminate the Canaanite peoples? It is precisely because we have come to expect Yahweh to act justly and with compassion that we find these stories so difficult to understand. How can He command soldiers to slaughter children?

Now before attempting to say something by way of answer to this difficult question, we should do well first to pause and ask ourselves what is at stake here. 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? ...

The problem, it seems to me, is that if God could not have issued such a command, then the biblical stories must be false. Either the incidents never really happened but are just Israeli folklore; or else, if they did, then Israel, carried away in a fit of nationalistic fervor, thinking that God was on their side, claimed that God had commanded them to commit these atrocities, when in fact He had not. In other words, this problem is really an objection to biblical inerrancy.

In fact, ironically, many Old Testament critics are sceptical that the events of the conquest of Canaan ever occurred. They take these stories to be part of the legends of the founding of Israel, akin to the myths of Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome. For such critics the problem of God's issuing such a command evaporates.

Now that puts the issue in quite a different perspective! 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. (Emphases mine - VJT.)

Note that in this passage, Professor Craig is prepared to entertain the possibility that the Bible may contain errors not only of fact (Did the conquest of Canaan take place?) but also regarding morality (Did God really command the Israelites to slaughter the innocent?)! Does that sound like the ravings of an "fundamentalist nutbag" to you?

Incidentally, the above quote utterly refutes the polemic directed at Professor Craig by atheist blogger Greta Christina (One More Reason Religion Is So Messed Up: Respected Theologian Defends Genocide and Infanticide, April 25, 2011) towards the end of her article:

When your holy book says that God ordered his chosen people to slaughter an entire race, down to the babies and children -- and you insist that this book is special and perfect -- you put yourself in the position of defending genocide....

And you can't cut the Gordian knot. You can't simply say, "This is wrong. This is vile and indefensible. This kind of behavior comes from a tribal morality that humanity has evolved beyond, and we should repudiate it without reservation."

Not without relinquishing your faith.

But as we've seen, Professor Craig is prepared to jettison the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, if he can be convinced that God could never have justly issued a command to kill the Canaanites. He is not tied to committing genocide; he himself says that he would continue to believe in the Resurrection and the Divinity of Christ even if the Bible were proved wrong about the slaughter of the Canaanites.



Why do you care about Craig's views regarding a one-off set of events which Craig himself acknowledges might not have even happened?

Professor Dawkins, if you have a look at William Lane Craig's article, you'll see that he has reservations about the historicity of the Israelite conquest of Canaan. That's because at the present time, there is no good archaeological evidence for such a conquest. If there was no Israelite conquest of Canaan, then no Canaanite babies were ever slaughtered and no Canaanite women were ever killed.

Even if such an event did take place, it happened around 3,300 years ago, and Professor Craig himself acknowledges that a Divine command to kill could no longer be given to us today (see this video at 30:52). Thus its modern practical relevance is absolutely zero.

Why, then, are you taking such a principled stance regarding William Lane Craig's views about an event that happened (if it happened), about 3,300 years ago? I find this puzzling, Professor Dawkins. Would you care to explain?



Finally, here is a list of atheists who have debated Professor William Lane Craig on the topic of "Does God exist?" or "Atheism vs. Christianity" in the past: Frank Zindler, Keith Parsons, Eddie Tabash, Paul Draper, Peter Atkins, Garrett Hardin, Anthony Flew, Theodore Drange, Quentin Smith, Michael Tooley, Douglas Jesseph, Corey Washington, Massimo Pigliucci, Edwin Curley, Ron Barrier, Victor Stenger, Brian Edwards, Peter Slezak, Austin Dacey, Bill Cook and John Shook.

If William Lane Craig was a good enough debating opponent for these atheists, then why wasn't he good enough for you, Professor Dawkins?



Question 3. Why do you refuse to share a platform with William Lane Craig for his views on the slaughter of the Canaanites, when on 23 October 1996, you debated the Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who also believes that the slaughter of the Canaanites was morally justified? Lastly, Professor, do you consider Orthodox Jews who share Rabbi Boteach's views (as many do) to be beyond the pale of civilized debate, and would you shun them in a debating forum, just as you have shunned Professor William Lane Craig?

Few people in the Jewish community have publicly condemned religious violence so consistently as Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Indeed, in an April 2009 article in The Huffington Post, Rabbi Boteach vehemently denounced the actions of Baruch Goldstein, a religious terrorist who killed twenty-nine worshippers at a mosque. Boteach wrote:

[A]ny Rabbi who was to praise a Jewish murderer would be fired from his post and banished from his community. The Torah is clear: 'Thou may not murder' (Exodus 20) and 'Thou shalt not take revenge' (Leviticus 19).

Such is Rabbi Boteach's loathing of terrorism that he believes there should be a death penalty for acts of terrorism. And yet Rabbi Shmuley Boteach also believes that the slaughter of the Canaanites was a necessary, one-off act which was morally justified because of the very extreme situation in which Israel found itself. For in the article in The Huffington Post I quoted from above, which was entitled, Christopher Hitchens and the Killer Jews (April 1, 2009), Rabbi Boteach responded to charges by Christopher Hitchens, that the story in Numbers 31 of how Moses commanded the Jews to slaughter the Midianites was being used by religious settlers in Israel in order to justify acts of religious terrorism. Boteach explained the story as follows:

Second, no Biblical story of massacre, which is a tale and not a law, could ever be used to override the most central prohibition of the Ten Commandments and Biblical morality.Murder is the single greatest offense against the Creator of all life and no Jew would ever use a Biblical narrative of war or slaughter as something that ought to be emulated. In our time Churchill and Roosevelt, both universally regarded as moral leaders and outstanding men, ordered the wholesale slaughter of non-combatants in the Second World War through the carpet- bombing of Dresden, Hamburg, Berlin, and Tokyo. Truman would take it further by ordering the atomic holocaust of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. How did men who are today regarded as righteous statesmen order such atrocities? They were of the opinion that only total war could end Nazi tyranny and Japanese imperial aggression. They did it in the name of saving life. Which is of course not to excuse their actions but rather to understand them in the context of the mitigating circumstances of the time. I do not know why Moses would have ordered any such slaughter even in the context of war. But I do know that the same Bible who relates the story also expressly forbids even the thought of such bloodshed ever being repeated.

Evidently Rabbi Boteach views that slaughter of the Canaanites as a violent but necessary act, which was never to be repeated.

Rabbi Boteach defended the same views in a transcript of the debate between him and Christopher Hitchens on January 30, 2008. Here is what Rabbi Shmuley Boteach said in that debate, in response to Christopher Hitchens' challenge, "And I ask again, what happened to the Amalekites, what happened to the Midianites if this fiction is all that it is?" Hitchens was referring to nations that were slaughtered by the Israelites about 3,300 years ago. Boteach replied:

BOTEACH: I lived in Britain for eleven years and it's a country that I came to love and admire. I had the great honor of being the rabbi at Oxford University. And I befriended people like Richard Dawkins, who became a dear friend, and in England, until today, the statesman who is most respected is Winston Churchill. I think that's fair to say, statistically, popularity. He ordered the indiscriminate bombing of Dresden, Hamburg, these cities were obliterated three months before the war ended. In Dresden 250,000 died, in Hamburg 330,000 died, there were cyclones created by the fire bombs, winds 200 miles per hour from the fires. Four months later Harry S. Truman, who was voted our second-most popular president of the twentieth century, ordered the indiscriminate nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But this did not mean that these were immoral men. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was voted the most popular, the most effective of twentieth century presidents, he participated in many of those decisions for the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians including men, women and children. It's just that they found...

GILLMAN: Rabbi Boteach, what does this have to do with God?

BOTEACH: I'm sorry? I'm answering his thing about the Hittites. It's just that they felt that certain war measure sometimes called for very, very extreme measures that, in any other context, would be immoral. Judaism would never today allow the murder of Hittites, Amalekites. In fact, Christopher Hitchens — it was only done in the context of war at the time and God specifically forbade it forever thereafter in the same way that we would never bomb a German city today or use a nuclear bomb against another nation. You know that — [audience disapproval] — well I don't think we would. Maybe the United States would nuke someone, then so be it, I don't believe we would. I should tell you that Christopher Hitchens writes in his book that rabbis debate whether the Palestinians are today the Amalekites and that is why they ought to be — and debate whether they should be expelled. Again, name a single mainstream rabbi — there's always fringes and to the extent to which fringes are kept on the fringe they could never ever define the mainstream — name any mainstream rabbi that would ever say that. In fact, every Orthodox Jew, or anyone who's knowledgeable with the Torah here will know, that we are not —that Amalek is a concept that we have no capacity to identify, according to the Torah itself. We don't know who they are. It's an ethereal concept, so much so that when the Jews of Hevron — [audience laughs at Gillman blowing his nose] — when Baruch Goldstein killed the Palestinians who were at prayer in their mosque, the very next morning, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs — I was living in England — called it an abomination as did virtually every other rabbi. My house was firebombed that night at Oxford. (Until today the police don't know by who.) Thank God a Spanish au pair who lived with us saved our childrens' lives by putting it out. (My wife and I were out it was a Saturday night, it was the night after Purim if you recall.) I still got up — I called a press conference and I said that what Baruch Goldstein did to those Palestinians who are our brothers, who are equally God's children, is the highest disgrace that Judaism, an Orthodox jury, has faced in my lifetime. So let's never say that this is justified and that's why, I mean, with all due respect, in my own opinion, if you're going to write a book—and you're a great scholar, and I love your writing, most of the time — and if you're going to say that "Rabbis say this and this court said that," I really believe there ought to be a footnote or a name. Until today — and you're still not quoting a name, you're quoting a book of something, etc. (There is no such thing as a high Jewish court in Halakha, by the way.)

Professor Dawkins, you debated Rabbi Boteach back in 1996 - a fact which you've acknowledged in an article entitled, Richard Dawkins Responds to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (16 May 2008). Here is what Wikipedia says about his early years:

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach received his rabbinic ordination in 1988 from the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement in New York City, and was sent as a Chabad-Lubavitch shaliach (emissary) to become its representative for a student group in the city of Oxford in England, where he founded the L'Chaim Society.

Professor Dawkins, you personally knew Rabbi Boteach at Oxford. I presume, then, that you knew when you debated Rabbi Boteach in 1996 that someone from the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement would take his Bible pretty literally, and who would therefore, if asked for his views, defend the slaughter of the Canaanites and the Amalekites as an act of violence which was regrettable but necessary, at the time in which it occurred.

In 1996, you debated a Rabbi who, like Professor William Lane Craig, held that the slaughter of the Canaanites was an extremely violent but morally justifiable act, given the circumstances of the time, but that this act should never be repeated in the future. Why, then, did you refuse to debate Professor Craig, while agreeing to debate the Rabbi? Either your ethical standards are inconsistent, or you were extraordinarily naive and you really didn't realize that Rabbi Boteach would hold such views. Which is it?

By the way, Professor, you might like to read what Chabad.org says about the slaughter of the Amalekites in the article, War with Amalek. Here's an excerpt:

One day Samuel came to the king with the demand from G-d to wage war against Amalek and destroy it completely. Without any provocation Amalek had attacked and inflicted untold suffering on the Jews while the latter were wandering in the desert on their way from Egypt. Fearing to attack the Jews openly, they had sniped sporadically at the weaker and less defended points of the line of march. G-d had therefore commanded that when Israel was settled on their land, Amalek was to be annihilated.

Now the time had come. Saul was told to show no pity. Nothing was to remain of the entire nation and all its wealth, for as long as there were any Amalekites alive, there could be no peace for Israel. For Amalek was the incarnation of all evil.

Professor Dawkins, you have repeatedly condemned what you call "the genocide of the God of the Old Testament". You also tell us in your article that you have publicly engaged with Britain's Chief Rabbi on the topic of God's existence. You must be aware, however, that many (but not all) Orthodox rabbis uphold a fairly literal view of the Bible: in particular, they believe that the words of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) were spoken to Moses by God. That includes the stories of God's commanding Moses to wipe out the Canaanites and other peoples, which were traditionally regarded by the rabbis as valid for their time (after certain conditions had been satisfied), but no longer applicable after the end of the first century A.D., since the peoples who were originally targeted were no longer identifiable (see here and here).

So I'd like to ask you, Professor: would you be willing to debate the topic of God's existence with an Orthodox Jewish rabbi holding such a view? Would you be prepared to look a rabbi in the eye and tell him, "Your God is a genocidal monster"? Or do you also consider rabbis holding such views to be beyond the pale of civilized debate, and would you shun them as you have shunned Professor Craig?



Question 4. Why do you refuse to share a platform with William Lane Craig for his views on the slaughter of the Canaanites, when you are perfectly willing to share a platform with atheists who defend such practices as child rape (Dan Barker) and pushing innocent people into the paths of oncoming trains (Dr. Sam Harris) if they are performed in order to save human lives, and with atheists who believe that sex with animals is not intrinsically wrong if both parties consent (Peter Singer)?

The extreme views of Dan Barker and Dr. Sam Harris

Let me emphasize that although I regard Barker's and Harris' moral principles as fundamentally bent, I am quite sure that Dan Barker and Dr. Sam Harris are likeable people in real life. However, the issue here is one of consistency. If you condemn Craig, you have to condemn Barker and Harris as well.


Dan Barker: Child rape could be moral in extreme situations, in order to save humanity

If you would like to see proof of the depravity of Dan Barker's moral principles, please have a look at the following Youtube video:

Atheist Dan Barker Says Child Rape Could Be Moral in Extreme Situations, in Order to Save Humanity.

The scenario Barker is considering here is one where an evil and technologically advanced alien says he'll destroy humanity if you don't rape a child. Because Barker is an act utilitarian, he says he would comply with the alien's request, although to his credit, he admits that he'd hate himself for doing so. I have to say I was deeply impressed with Dan Barker's intellectual honesty and his obvious aversion to the idea of performing such a hideous deed. Nevertheless, his moral principles are perverse if they lead him to adopt the conclusion that child rape could be moral in an extreme situation.

The problem with Barker's moral principles is that utilitarianism makes the greatest good of the greatest number its supreme good. Once you accept that premise, then the rape of a child becomes less important by comparison. In extreme circumstances, it might even be morally necessary, in order to promote the greatest good of the greatest number.

You can say what you like about Yahweh, the God of ancient Israel, Professor Dawkins, but I don't think even you would accuse Him of sanctioning child rape. Professor William Lane Craig adheres to a Divine Command theory of ethics, but he also holds that God's commands are grounded in His nature, which is essentially good and loving. On Craig's view, God could justly command the taking of an innocent human life, as life is a gift which belongs to Him - and in addition, the very act of taking such an innocent person's life is also that person's doorway to eternal life and happiness with God. But it is inconceivable that the God worshiped by Professor Craig could command the rape of a child. Such an act cannot, from even a God's-eye perspective, be described as a good or loving act.

You've posted an interview given by Dan Barker with Fox News on your Website, so I take it you don't regard his views as beyond the pale. Why, then, do you refuse to sit down with Professor William Lane Craig and talk about the existence of God?

[Update by VJT: Since I posted this, some of my readers have responded along the following lines: "Dan Barker is talking about the rape of just one child. Don't even try to compare that to genocide." I'd like to make two points in reply:

1. Morality isn't about numbers, or overall results. It's about attitudes - one's state of heart and mind, as the Dalai Lama so perceptively put it in his Ethics for the New Millennium. An action is not good or bad because of its results, but because of the attitudes underlying it. If you want to assess how evil someone is, ask yourself this: "What's the worst thing he would be prepared to do to me?" That's what's so horrifying about the act utilitarianism embraced by Barker and Harris. There isn't anything that consistent act utilitarians wouldn't do, in order to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number. They would be prepared to inflict unlimited degradation on an individual, for that purpose. Degradation of an individual – e.g. through torture or rape – can be an even more profound insult against human dignity than killing them. There are certain things that the God of the Old Testament would never do to people. He never commands torture. He orders dead bodies to be buried by sundown. He forbids bestiality. Why? Because we are all made in His image. Even when He destroys people, He does not degrade them. If I had a choice between living in an Israelite theocracy and a society governed by act utilitarian principles, I know which one I'd choose. The worst fate that could happen to me in the former society is that I'd be killed. In the latter society, I might be tortured, drugged, degraded and brainwashed. That's far worse.

2. In any case, Barker's act utilitarianism has much more horrific implications than he apparently realizes. What if the evil alien in Barker's example commanded people to rape and brutalize children repeatedly, over a period of years, and also said that he would destroy humanity if everyone didn't comply? On Barker's logic people would have to comply. It gets worse. What if the evil alien commanded people to do this to all the children, and then finally kill them, and do the same to all the adults, except for a few who would be left alive and allowed to breed in peace and have a very large number of descendants? If you were to take the interests of future generations into account - as global warming activists insist we should - then the interests of the vast number of descendants would outweigh the suffering endured by the 99.9% of the human race that would get tortured and killed, in order to save the human race. Torturing and killing off 99.9% of the human race is even worse than genocide - and yet, Professor Dawkins, you regard Barker's act utilitarianism (which would justify this behavior when taken to its logical conclusion), as a legitimate point of view, while rejecting Professor William Lane Craig's ethics as beyond the pale. I have to say: that's ethically inconsistent.

End of update - VJT.]



Dr. Sam Harris and the Fat Man

Dr. Sam Harris outlines his moral views on some controversial cases here:

Sam Harris clarifies his position on preemptive nuclear war, torture, and killing someone on the basis of their beliefs.

Dr. Harris is also the author of a book on ethics, which was reviewed by Dr. Joseph Bingham in an article entitled, The Science of Bad Philosophy: A Review of Sam Harris' book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values.

However, what I find most shocking about Sam Harris' ethical views is not his position on torture in the ticking time bomb scenario, which many people might agree with, or even his willingness to launch a preemptive nuclear war in order to prevent an imminent attack from a fanatical government, but his view on the famous "Fat Man" case, which goes like this.

Imagine that you see a trolley which is about to hit and kill five people. The only way to stop it is to push the fat man in front of you to block the trolley.

Nearly everyone, if you ask them, says it would be wrong to push the fat man. Dr. Harris would push the fat man onto the track. I have to say that I cannot understand how anyone could do that. I think Dr. Harris displays a badly formed moral conscience in defending such an action, and I'm sure the vast majority of my readers would agree with me. And I'm happy to see that you agree with me too, Professor Dawkins. The evil of the action defended by Sam Harris is self-evident; it needs no further commentary.

To render his view more plausible, Sam Harris likens the action of pushing the fat man onto the track to the famous "Trolley problem". The error in Harris' moral reasoning has been identified by an atheist who goes under the pen name of Robephiles, in an article entitled, Sam Harris and the Moral Failure of Science. Robephiles sharply criticizes Harris' ethical views, and regards them as being "as dangerous as even the most radical religion":

In one of his speeches Harris mentions the famous "trolley problem." In one scenario a runaway trolley is on a track and going to run over four people but you can flip a switch and put it on the other track where another person is. In the second scenario you are standing next to a fat man who you can push in front of the trolley to save the four people. In the first case almost everyone says pulling the switch is okay but almost nobody says pushing somebody in front of the trolley is okay. Harris mentions this but doesn't even have a point. He just says that the two acts are "different" but doesn't clarify.

If he had bothered to think about it for even a second he would have seen that the first example is collateral damage. There was no malice in the flipping of the switch but it was the act that was necessary to save the four. If the other person was to see the trolley and jump out of the way then their death would not be necessary. In the case of the man being pushed in front of the trolley we are using another human being as a means to an end and that is unacceptable to most of us. (Italics mine - VJT.)

Unlike Dan Barker, Dr. Harris seems to have no qualms about his choice. He seems to believe that if you don't see things his way, then you're simply irrational. Rational, enlightened people would evaluate the morality of such an act by looking at the results produced.

What's missing from Dr. Harris' equation? Atheist blogger Robephiles hits the nail on the head: Harris doesn't regard human beings as "ends in themselves", properly speaking:

He [Sam Harris] doesn't see what else is important other than the maximizing of human welfare, so your religious rights don't matter, your civil rights don't matter, due process doesn't matter. Kant claimed that every human being had intrinsic value and an inherent right to be free. Kant thought that it was better to let humans be free to make bad choices than to enslave them in the interest of their well-being. For the last few hundred years civilizations that have lived by these principles have done pretty well.

For Harris, while treating people as "ends in themselves" in everyday life might be a good way to safeguard human well-being in the majority of cases, in the end, overall "human well-being" is the supreme good, and human lives can be sacrificed to protect this greater good.

William Lane Craig, on the other hand, says that no human being has the authority to take an innocent human life. Such an action is tantamount to "playing God". Now, Craig, like Harris, is not a Kantian, but at least the God worshiped by Craig is an essentially loving God, who cares about the welfare of each and every one of us, as individuals.

So here's my question, Professor Dawkins. Why do you regard William Lane Craig's views as beyond the pale when he maintains that God can justly take the life of an innocent baby, so long as the baby is compensated with eternal life in the hereafter, but not the views of Dan Barker and Sam Harris, who argue that practices as child rape (Dan Barker) and pushing innocent people into the paths of oncoming trains (Dr. Sam Harris) are morally justifiable if they are necessary in order to save human lives?



Bestiality is not intrinsically immoral, according to Professor Peter Singer

Peter Singer has to be one of the most consistent philosophers alive today. He is a proponent of preference utilitarianism who gives away one-quarter of his income and practices vegetarianism (in fact, he is a virtual vegan). His views on infanticide are fairly well known: he believes that newborn babies are not persons, and that the killing of a severely disabled newborn infant is not wrong - views critiqued by Scott Klusendorf in his article, Peter Singer's Bold Defense of Infanticide. Not so well-known is the fact that Professor Peter Singer believes that sex with animals is not intrinsically wrong, if both parties consent. This belief is a logical consequence of Singer's utilitarianism.

Here is what Peter Singer says in his infamous article, Heavy Petting:

On the one hand, especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition - less so in the East - we have always seen ourselves as distinct from animals, and imagined that a wide, unbridgeable gulf separates us from them. Humans alone are made in the image of God. Only human beings have an immortal soul. In Genesis, God gives humans dominion over the animals. In the Renaissance idea of the Great Chain of Being, humans are halfway between the beasts and the angels. We are spiritual beings as well as physical beings. For Kant, humans have an inherent dignity that makes them ends in themselves, whereas animals are mere means to our ends. Today the language of human rights — rights that we attribute to all human beings but deny to all nonhuman animals — maintains this separation.

On the other hand there are many ways in which we cannot help behaving just as animals do — or mammals, anyway — and sex is one of the most obvious ones. We copulate, as they do. They have penises and vaginas, as we do, and the fact that the vagina of a calf can be sexually satisfying to a man shows how similar these organs are. The taboo on sex with animals may, as I have already suggested, have originated as part of a broader rejection of non-reproductive sex. But the vehemence with which this prohibition continues to be held, its persistence while other non-reproductive sexual acts have become acceptable, suggests that there is another powerful force at work: our desire to differentiate ourselves, erotically and in every other way, from animals...

[S]ex with animals does not always involve cruelty. Who has not been at a social occasion disrupted by the household dog gripping the legs of a visitor and vigorously rubbing its penis against them? The host usually discourages such activities, but in private not everyone objects to being used by her or his dog in this way, and occasionally mutually satisfying activities may develop...

At a conference on great apes a few years ago, I spoke to a woman who had visited Camp Leakey, a rehabilitation center for captured orangutans in Borneo run by Birute Galdikas, sometimes referred to as "the Jane Goodall of orangutans" and the world's foremost authority on these great apes. At Camp Leakey, the orangutans are gradually acclimatised to the jungle, and as they get closer to complete independence, they are able to come and go as they please. While walking through the camp with Galdikas, my informant was suddenly seized by a large male orangutan, his intentions made obvious by his erect penis. Fighting off so powerful an animal was not an option, but Galdikas called to her companion not to be concerned, because the orangutan would not harm her, and adding, as further reassurance, that "they have a very small penis." As it happened, the orangutan lost interest before penetration took place, but the aspect of the story that struck me most forcefully was that in the eyes of someone who has lived much of her life with orangutans, to be seen by one of them as an object of sexual interest is not a cause for shock or horror. The potential violence of the orangutan's come-on may have been disturbing, but the fact that it was an orangutan making the advances was not. That may be because Galdikas understands very well that we are animals, indeed more specifically, we are great apes. This does not make sex across the species barrier normal, or natural, whatever those much-misused words may mean, but it does imply that it ceases to be an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.

Professor Peter Singer wrote these words back in 2000, and I presume you were familiar with his background, Professor Dawkins, when you interviewed the man for 43 minutes in June 2009, and even posted the interview on your Website!

Professor Dawkins, I put it to you that it is ethically inconsistent to declare Professor William Lane Craig's views beyond the pale, and then interview a man who can see nothing intrinsically wrong with bestiality.

[Update by VJT: Utilitarian readers who fail to see the connection between bestiality and genocide might like to consider these facts. Some scientists claim that human activities will result in the extinction of a large number of animal species - perhaps as many as 40% - over the next few hundred years. Let's suppose for argument's sake that they're right. Professor Peter Singer insists on his article on bestiality that the dignity of a human being is comparable with that of an animal. If the dignity of a human being is different only in degree from that of any other sentient animal, then on strictly utilitarian grounds, it could be argued that it would be better if the entire human race were to die out, in order that the Earth's biosphere should be saved. After all, the other animals outnumber us. Now ask yourself what some eco-activists who are motivated by utilitarianism might be prepared to do, in the name of protecting "Mother Earth". I think you can all see where I'm going here: utilitarianism has far more diabolical potential implications than the Christianity espoused by Professor Craig.]



Question 5. Professor Dawkins, why do you object to sharing a platform with someone who believes that God could have justly ordered the destruction of innocent Canaanite children provided that they were recompensed in the hereafter, when you are quite happy to share a platform with Professor P. Z. Myers, who doesn't even regard newborn babies as people with a right to life? Finally, will you please publicly dissociate yourself from comments made by P. Z. Myers, in which he referred to Professor William Lane Craig as an "amoral bastard" and a "nasty, amoral excuse for a human being"? And are you willing to dissociate yourself from the views of Professor P. Z. Myers and Professor Peter Singer, that newborn babies are not persons with a right to life, and that killing a healthy newborn baby is not as bad as killing a healthy adult?

It would surely be hypocritical to object to sharing a platform with someone who tentatively believed that God could have justly ordered the destruction of a group of human beings (including even children) in the land of Canaan some 3,300 years ago, provided that the innocent children were recompensed in the hereafter, while at the same time being happy to share a platform with someone who doesn't regard newborn babies as people. In that case, what do you have to say about the views of Professor P. Z. Myers, who is one of the 25 most influential living atheists?

Professor Myers is on record as saying that he doesn't believe that newborn babies are fully human, and he makes it clear that he doesn't regard them as persons, either. Professor P. Z. Myers made these utterances in a comment on one of his posts a few months ago. (See here for P.Z. Myers' post, here for one reader's comment and here for P. Z. Myers' reply, in which he makes his own views plain.) So, what exactly did P. Z. say? In response to a reader who claimed that there is one very easily defined line between personhood and non-personhood - namely, birth - P. Z. Myers replied:

Nope, birth is also arbitrary, and it has not been even a cultural universal that newborns are regarded as fully human.

I've had a few. They weren't.

Let me state for the record that I have no doubt that Professor P. Z. Myers is an excellent father; but that is not the issue here. His views on newborn babies are the issue. Why are you in high dudgeon over the views of Professor William Lane Craig regarding an event in the Middle East which may or may not have even happened, some 3,300 years ago, despite the fact that Professor Craig believes that newborn infants are people like you and me, while at the same time, the views of Professor Myers don't appear to bother you? You were happy to appear with him at an event organized by the British Humanist Association on 9 June 2011 (see here for podcast).

Professor Dawkins, I respectfully submit that you are guilty of an ethical double standard here.

Finally, I'd like to draw your attention to the following blog comments by P. Z. Myers:

Standing up to William Lane Craig (20 October 2011):

I was pleased to see that one of Dawkins' points was one that is not made often enough: William Lane Craig is a nasty, amoral excuse for a human being.

Wait, I thought they believed in an absolute morality? (30 April 2011):

I don't trust that amoral bastard.

Curiously, Professor P. Z. Myers goes on to say: "I don't think William Lane Craig is an intrinsically evil human being." Go figure.

Professor Dawkins, will you agree that P. Z. Myers was wrong to call Professor William Lane Craig an "amoral bastard", and will you publicly dissociate yourself from Professor Myers' remarks?

Professor Peter Singer, whom you interviewed back in 2009, is another leading atheist who does not regard newborn babies as people with a right to life. Once again, I have to ask: why do you regard Craig's views on newborn babies as beyond the pale, but not Singer's?



Question 6. Professor Dawkins, you have stated that you see nothing intrinsically wrong with the killing of a one- or two-year-old baby suffering from a horrible incurable disease, that meant it was going to die in agony in later life (see this video at 24:12). Do you believe that: (i) a newborn human baby is a person with the same right to life that you or I have, and do you believe that: (ii) the killing of a healthy newborn baby is just as wrong as the act of killing you or me? If not, then aren't your views far more unconscionable than those of Professor William Lane Craig, who believes that an innocent human baby is a person with the same right to life that you or I have, but that God can justly take its life, so long as it is compensated with eternal life in the hereafter?

You see, Professor Dawkins, I'm quite sure that Professor William Lane Craig would answer in the affirmative to parts (i) and (ii) of my question, despite his eccentric views about what God can and cannot command people to do. And I believe that he would be quite within his rights in refusing to share a platform with someone who didn't believe that newborn babies were persons with the same right to life as everyone else, and that killing a newborn baby is just as bad as killing an adult. For people who reject these views, which Western civilization has firmly believed for almost 2,000 years, really are beyond the pale, morally speaking.

I'm not sure what your views on babies really are, Professor Dawkins, but it sounds to me like you don't believe that newborn babies are persons with the same right to life as everyone else. I very much hope I am wrong, but I have two reasons for suspecting that you think this way.

The first reason is your statement that you see nothing intrinsically wrong with the killing of a one- or two-year-old baby suffering from a horrible incurable disease, that meant it was going to die in agony in later life. I appreciate your concern to end individuals' suffering, Professor, but the fact that:

(a) you thought killing was not wrong up to the age of one or two;
(b) you spoke not of present suffering on the baby's part, but of future agony that it would die from later in life; and
(c) you didn't attach any conditions relating to the baby's intelligence,

makes me think that you regard it as OK to end the life of an intellectually normal baby too, with a horrible incurable disease that meant it was going to die in agony in later life. That can only mean that you don't regard a baby as a person with a right to life, before the age of one or two. Am I interpreting you correctly, Professor, or am I misreading you?

My second reason is the following quote, which is taken from your book, The God Delusion (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006):

A consequentialist or utilitarian is likely to approach the abortion question in a very different way, by trying to weigh up suffering. Does the embryo suffer? (Presumably not if it is aborted before it has a nervous system; and even if it is old enough to have a nervous system it surely suffers less than, say, an adult cow in a slaughterhouse.) Does the pregnant woman, or her family, suffer if she does not have an abortion? Very possibly so; and, in any case, given that the embryo lacks a nervous system, shouldn't the mother's well-developed nervous system have the choice?

This is not to deny that a consequentialist might have grounds to oppose abortion. 'Slippery slope' arguments can be framed by consequentialists (though I wouldn't in this case). Maybe embryos don't suffer, but a culture that tolerates the taking of human life risks going too far: where will it all end? In infanticide? The moment of birth provides a natural Rubicon for defining rules, and one could argue that it is hard to find another one earlier in embryonic development. Slippery slope arguments could therefore lead us to give the moment of birth more significance than utilitarianism, narrowly interpreted, would prefer. (p. 293) (Emphases mine – VJT.)

I don't wish to talk about abortion in this post, Professor Dawkins. The topic we're discussing here is infanticide. However, I noticed that in the passage above, you claim that the immorality of killing an individual is tied to the degree of suffering it is capable of. By that logic, it must follow that killing a newborn baby, whose nervous system is still not completely developed, is not as bad as killing an adult.

I also notice that you compare human embryos with those of cows and sheep, which seems to suggest that you would regard the worth of a newborn human baby as differing only in degree from that of a newborn baby calf or lamb.

Finally, I interpret your later remarks on the slippery slope and on birth as "a natural Rubicon for defining rules" (italics mine) as meaning that you thinks it would be prudent for the law to treat babies as having a right to life from babies, to avoid far worse consequences that would result if they weren't recognized as having rights, but that in fact, you do not believe that a newborn baby has a natural right to life; nor do you believe that killing a newborn baby is as bad as killing an adult.

Am I right, Professor Dawkins? I sincerely hope that you will tell me I am wrong, for I would be deeply saddened to think that you hold such views about newborn babies. Actually, I asked you several months ago, and even emailed you, but unfortunately I did not receive a reply, and it is quite possible that my email did not reach you personally. (I realize you're a busy man, and that you have staff who handle emails sent your way.) So I'm giving you the chance to reply now. Have I misinterpreted you?



Question 7. Professor Dawkins, could you please explain exactly why it would be wrong for God (if He existed) to take the life of an innocent human baby, if that baby was compensated with eternal life in the hereafter? Given that you regard Professor Craig's views as obviously wrong, this should be an easy question for you to answer.

Please select the answer that best matches your view.

(a) It's always wrong for any individual (including God) to kill an innocent baby for fun, or on a whim.

(b) It's always wrong for any individual (including God) to intentionally take the life of an innocent human being for any reason - even if the individual is compensated with eternal life in the hereafter. Killing an innocent human being violates the Golden Rule: do as you would be done by.

(c) It's always wrong for any individual (including God) to treat an innocent human being as a means to some higher end.

(d) It's always wrong for any individual (including God) to knowingly cause extreme pain and distress to an innocent human being, in the process of intentionally taking its life. (The case of pain suffered by a child during emergency surgery is morally different, because that's a life-preserving act.)

(e) I can't prove it's wrong in all possible cases, but even if there were special circumstances in which it might be right for God to take an innocent baby's life, it would never be right for Him to command us to do so. If He had to do such a terrible thing for some pressing reason, He should do the dirty work Himself.

OK, now it's time for some thought experiments. I realize they're pretty far-out, so please bear with me.

If you chose (a), then it seems you would concede that it might be all right (in principle) for the omniscient Being to kill an innocent baby for a grave reason. "What kind of reason?" I hear you ask. See the next paragraph.

If you chose (b), then here's my question for you: what if the omniscient Being knew for certain that the baby would suffer a fate worse than death, if it were not killed immediately? Would it be morally permissible for the Being to kill the baby as an act of rescue?

If you find it hard to picture such a fate, I'd like you to imagine a baby growing up in a truly hellish society in which child abuse is rampant, and in which every child gets abused repeatedly during its early years - and then goes on to perpetrate the same abuse on other children, as an adult. In such a society, it would be arguable that it would be better for a newborn baby if it were to die at birth than to go on living and become an amoral monster. Of course, we could never know that for sure in a given individual's case - but an omniscient Being could. In such a horrid scenario, God's killing the baby could be considered an act of mercy, to save it from an even worse fate than death. Thus the Golden Rule is not violated, after all.

My scenario may not be as hypothetical as you imagine, Professor Dawkins. Assistant Professor Clay Jones graphically details the wicked behavior of the Canaanites in his essay, We Don't Hate Sin So We Don't Understand What Happened To The Canaanites: An Addendum To "Divine Genocide" Arguments. I would invite readers to peruse this article: the depravity of Canaanite culture will sicken you. Child sacrifice, infanticide, bestiality, incest, temple prostitution: you'll find it all there.

Now I know you'll object: "Couldn't an omnipotent Being simply remove the danger to the newborn baby and thereby spare its life?" That's a fair point. But what if even after the danger was removed, the omnipotent Being had to perform an extended series of miracles over many years, in order to keep the baby alive? For instance, if the omnipotent Being were to kill all the adults in a society in which child abuse was universally practiced, then who would look after the babies? Who would give them milk? Who would teach them to walk and talk, and fend for themselves? The omnipotent Being would have to rain down manna (and milk) from Heaven, and teach them the requisite life skills Himself - a truly extraordinary series of miracles. Wouldn't it be simpler for the omnipotent Being to take each baby's life instantly? Remember that we're assuming here that each baby is going to enjoy Heaven forever, after it dies.

If you chose (c), then I would invite you to contemplate the hideous scenario I described in case (b) and ask yourself: is rescuing a baby from a fate worse than death tantamount to treating that baby as a means to some higher end? I think not. The reason why we never allow such acts in real life is that we are not omniscient: we simply do not possess the knowledge required to determine that a given person would undergo a fate worse than death (i.e. turning into an amoral monster), were it to live.

If you chose (d), then here's my question: what if the omniscient Being were able to take the baby's life without it suffering any pain or dread whatsoever - say, by simply shutting down its nervous system and mercifully rendering it unconscious before killing it? Would the omniscient Being's action of killing the baby still be wrong, if it were performed in order to save the baby from a fate worse than death, as in the scenario described in case (b)?

If you chose (e), then here's my question for you. What if the people carrying out the omniscient Being's command to kill:

(i) had seen a large number of collective (as opposed to private) manifestations of the Being, whose cumulative effect was so powerful and convincing as to leave no reasonable doubt among the people in that community as to the Being's reality, power, knowledge and benevolence;

(ii) had also been told by the omniscient Being that the baby would not suffer any pain or dread whatsoever in the process of dying;

and (iii) additionally knew that the baby was being rescued from an even more terrible fate than death by being killed now?

Would the people's action of killing still be a (morally and/or epistemologically) vicious one, in these circumstances? I'm not sure that it would. It seems to me that you could make a fair case that it wasn't a wrongful act, if conditions (i), (ii) and (iii) could ever be met. That's an epistemological question, and I would certainly agree that it is difficult for us to even conceive of how a tribe of people who were executing the command of a Being telling them to slaughter children could at the same time know beyond reasonable doubt that the Being telling them to do that was an essentially loving Being. But as a philosopher, I can't see any decisive argument showing that such a bizarre scenario is impossible. Improbable? Yes. Impossible? No.

Thus regardless of which reason you chose (a), (b), (c), (d) or (e), it appears that it's always possible to conceive of some hypothetical scenario in which it might be morally justifiable for the omniscient Being to painlessly take the life of an innocent baby in order to rescue it from an even worse fate - or even for it to ask human beings to take that baby's life. What's more, it's by no means clear that the action of these people in taking the baby's life would be wrong, under the extreme scenario being contemplated.

But once you've conceded that point, Professor, then your objection to the Canaanite massacres is no longer a principled one, but a practical one. In which case, all you're saying is that you don't agree with Professor William Lane Craig's judgement calls, rather than that you don't agree with his ethics. What you're really saying, then, is that in a narrower set of circumstances, you might have been prepared to do what the Israelites did around 1,300 B.C. (assuming the Biblical accounts are historically acurate, and that the events they describe really took place). Your primary concern would then be that the babies who were slaughtered should have been rendered unconscious before they died, so that they experienced neither pain nor dread in their final moments.

The obvious retort which springs to mind here is that a Deity capable of rendering babies unconscious in their final moments would also be perfectly capable of killing them Himself. Why would such a Being need to involve people in performing the horrid act of slaughtering babies at the point of a sword? Frankly, I don't know. My guess is that if neighboring peoples were aware that these slaughters had actually been carried out by the Israelites and not just by their God, then they would be more inclined to leave the Israelites alone, and less inclined to tangle with them, militarily.

But in any case, the point I wanted to make is that as a philosopher, I can think of no epistemic or moral principle which provides a knock-down argument against taking the life of an innocent baby at the behest of a Deity, under all possible circumstances, if the baby is killed painlessly. Can you, Professor Dawkins?

Now you might say that Scripture gives us no reason whatsoever to believe that the Canaanite children died painlessly, in the manner I described in my hypothetical scenario. I'll have more to say about this objection below. I would also agree with you that putting a screaming baby to the sword would be an unconscionable act. The point I wanted to make here is simply that the act of killing a baby at God's command, per se, cannot be shown to be wrong under all possible circumstances.



Question 8. Professor Dawkins, do you consider the God of the Old Testament to be morally equivalent to Hitler, like the atheist blogger Eric MacDonald at Choice in Dying (God, Genocide and William Lane Craig, 30 April 2011) or Santi Tafarella at Prometheus Unbound (Genocide or Justice?: William Lane Craig, the Canaanites, the Holocaust, and Jihad, 2 June 2011)? Is that your opinion? I don't recall you saying that to Rabbi Boteach when you debated him in 1996, although you subsequently wrote in The God Delusion, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006, p. 247) that Joshua's destruction of Jericho was "morally indistinguishable from Hitler's invasion of Poland, or Saddam Hussein's massacres of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs." Do you, then, think that "Yahweh = Hitler" is a fair equation?

I would like to add that although I am not a Jew, I have personally visited Auschwitz and Birkenau, Professor. I've seen the death camps created by the Nazis. And I'd just like to point out one thing. Hitler wanted to annihilate the Jews, simply because they were Jews. The God of the Old Testament called for the extermination of certain peoples, because of their barbarous practices. Had they not engaged in such practices, God would not have wanted to end their lives.

May I point out that the same Old Testament tells us that we are all created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26) and even says: "Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us?" (Malachi 2:10). Concerning foreigners, the God of the Old Testament says:

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18, NIV.)

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34, NIV.)

Professor Dawkins, I put it to you that comparing the God of the Old Testament to Hitler is morally odious. Do you agree with me on this point?



Question 9. Professor Dawkins, do you realize that Professor William Lane Craig's views on the slaughter of the Canaanites are entirely in keeping with 2,000 years of Christian tradition, and that they were shared by St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, the Bible commentator Matthew Henry, and John Wesley, as well as being shared by some modern Christian philosophers of eminent standing, such as Richard Swinburne, whom you have debated in the past?

I would like to begin by noting that Professor Craig's exegesis of these troubling Biblical passages is the traditional Christian one. This is a simple historical fact, which the modern clerics whom Dawkins has debated cannot deny. Down through the centuries, Catholic and Protestant Biblical commentators alike have upheld the principle that God has the authority not only to take innocent human life, but to command others to take it - a point which readers can readily verify for themselves. Additionally, the Fathers make it quite clear that commands by God to slay sinners should be followed.

In the third century A.D., the Church Father Tertullian, in in his work Against Marcion, Book IV, chapter XXIII, defended the passage in Scripture (2 Kings 2:23-25) in which God sends bears to kill 42 youths who mocked His prophet Elisha. So did St. Augustine, Matthew Henry and John Wesley, who argued that the youths were actually young men.

Later in the third century, Origen (185-254) in his work Against Celsus Book IV, chapter 12, affirmed that the Flood (or Deluge) was sent by God for the express purpose of punishing humanity. Therefore he must have believed that God has the right to take human life:

[W]e do not refer either the deluge or the conflagration to cycles and planetary periods; but the cause of them we declare to be the extensive prevalence of wickedness, and its (consequent) removal by a deluge or a conflagration.

In chapter 41, he goes on to defend a literal interpretation of the Deluge, and praises God's providence in telling Noah how to make an Ark that could withstand it.

As far as I am aware, Origen was the only Christian Father to defend a purely spiritual interpretation of the conquest of Canaan, in his Homilies on Joshua (Homily 5 and Homily 15). Origen interpreted the story of Joshua's invasion of Canaan as an allegory of the battles each person must engage in, against the vices. I have to say that I would regard such a purely allegorical interpretation of what was obviously intended (at least in part) as an historical narrative, as being utterly implausible.

In the fourth century, St. Basil the Great (330-379 A.D.), in his Letter CCXLI to Eusebius, bishop of Samosata, writes approvingly of Moses praying for the Israelites during Joshua's battle with the evil Amalekites:

It is not to increase your distress that I am so lavish of painful topics in my letters to your excellency. My object is to get some comfort for myself in the lamentations which are a kind of natural means of dispersing deep-seated pain whenever they are produced, and further to rouse you, my great-hearted friend, to more earnest prayer on behalf of the Churches. We know that Moses prayed continually for the people; yet, when his battle with Amalek had begun, he did not let down his hands from morning to evening, and the uplifting of the hands of the saint only ended with the end of the fight.

This Biblical reference is particularly significant, because after the battle, the Bible narrates (Exodus 17:14):

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven."

In its article on the book of Joshua, the Catholic Encyclopedia mentions that St. Augustine defended the slaughter of the Canaanites, on the grounds that "the abominations of the Chanaanites merited the punishment which God, as Master of the world, meted out to them by the hand of Israel (In Hept., III, 56; P.L., XXXIV, 702, 816)." (Chanaan is the Greek spelling of Canaan, used in the Septuagint - VJT.)

St. Augustine replied to the charge that the God of the Old Testament is a moral monster for putting sinners to death, in Contra Faustum Book XXII, paragraph 79:

79. Let no one, then, be so daring as to make rash charges against men, not to say against God. If the service of the ministers of the Old Testament, who were also heralds of the New, consisted in putting sinners to death, and that of the ministers of the New Testament, who are also interpreters of the Old, in being put to death by sinners, the service in both cases is rendered to one God, who, varying the lesson to suit the times, teaches both that temporal blessings are to be sought from Him, and that they are to be forsaken for Him, and that temporal distress is both sent by Him and should be endured for Him. There was, therefore, no cruelty in the command, or in the action of Moses, when, in his holy jealousy for his people, whom he wished to be subject to the one true God, on learning that they had fallen away to the worship of an idol made by their own hands, he impressed their minds at the time with a wholesome fear, and gave them a warning for the future, by using the sword in the punishment of a few, whose just punishment God, against whom they had sinned, appointed in the depth of His secret judgment to be immediately inflicted. That Moses acted as he did, not in cruelty, but in great love, may be seen from the words in which he prayed for the sins of the people: "If You will forgive their sin, forgive it; and if not, blot me out of Your book." The pious inquirer who compares the slaughter with the prayer will find in this the clearest evidence of the awful nature of the injury done to the soul by prostitution to the images of devils, since such love is roused to such anger. We see the same in the apostle, who, not in cruelty, but in love, delivered a man up to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Others, too, he delivered up, that they might learn not to blaspheme...

[S]uch was the intention of Moses, the servant of God, when he cut down with the sword the makers and worshippers of the idol; for his own words show that he so entreated for pardon for their sin of idolatry as to ask to be blotted out of God’s book if his prayer was not heard.

St. Augustine here affirmed the literal historicity of the events that the Gnu Atheists commonly refer to as Biblical atrocities, but added a twist: the terrible punishments that the Israelities suffered in these incidents ensured their forgiveness in the hereafter.

Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) used very forceful language in The Book of Pastoral Rule, Chapter XXII (Admonition 23), when he wrote about how those that are at variance (i.e. disputatious) and those that are at peace should be admonished, and warns against being so attached to peace that one slides into moral laxity:

Present peace, therefore, is to be held as something to be both loved and thought little of, lest, if it is loved immoderately, the mind of him that loves be taken in a fault. Whence also those who are at peace should be admonished lest, while too desirous of human peace, they fail entirely to reprove men's evil ways, and, in consenting to the froward, disjoin themselves from the peace of their Maker; lest, while they dread human quarrels without, they be smitten by breach of their inward covenant...

Hence it is that the tribe of Levi, when they took their swords and passed through the midst of the camp because they would not spare the sinners who were to be smitten, are said to have consecrated their hands to God (Exod. xxxii. 27, seq.). Hence Phinehas, spurning the favour of his fellow-countrymen when they sinned, smote those who came together with the Midianites, and in his wrath appeased the wrath of God (Num. xxv. 9). Hence in person the Truth says, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matth. x. 34). For, when we are unwarily joined in friendship with the wicked, we are bound in their sins.

The Catholic Church has consistently taught - though it has never dogmatically defined this - that God has the authority to command the taking of innocent human life. Indeed, the Church's foremost theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, explicitly says so in his Summa Theologica II-II q. 64 art. 6 (reply to objection 1):

God is Lord of death and life, for by His decree both the sinful and the righteous die. Hence he who at God's command kills an innocent man does not sin, as neither does God Whose behest he executes: indeed his obedience to God's commands is a proof that he fears Him.

Aquinas elaborates his views in a discussion on whether the natural law can be changed. Like most Christian philosophers and unlike many of his Muslim contemporaries, Aquinas was not a voluntarist; he did not believe that God can command just anything. According to Aquinas, God can only will what is reasonable. Consequently, he believed that the primary precepts of the natural law were unchangeable, as the fundamental good of each kind of creature (including human beings) is determined by its nature. Natural law scholar Mark Murphy provides some illustrations of moral principles that cannot change, according to Aquinas:

[T]o direct oneself against a good — as in murder (ST IIaIIae 64, 6), and lying (ST IIaIIae 110, 3), and blasphemy (ST IIaIIae 13, 2) — is always to act in an unfitting way...

On Aquinas's view, killing of the innocent is always wrong, as is lying, adultery, sodomy, and blasphemy; and that they are always wrong is a matter of natural law....

(Murphy, Mark, "The Natural Law Tradition in Ethics", in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta ed.)

However, it needs to be borne in mind that for Aquinas, murder, adultery and theft are defined as violation of a person's legitimate claims to their life, their spouse or their property. And human beings have no such legitimate claim against God, according to Aquinas. In his Summa Theologica I-II q. 94 art. 5, (reply to objection 2), Aquinas applies the same logic to the Biblical commandments against adultery and theft: everything (including goods and spouses) ultimately belongs to God.

Reply to Objection 2. All men alike, both guilty and innocent, die the death of nature: which death of nature is inflicted by the power of God on account of original sin, according to 1 Samuel 2:6: "The Lord killeth and maketh alive." Consequently, by the command of God, death can be inflicted on any man, guilty or innocent, without any injustice whatever. In like manner adultery is intercourse with another's wife; who is allotted to him by the law emanating from God. Consequently intercourse with any woman, by the command of God, is neither adultery nor fornication. The same applies to theft, which is the taking of another's property. For whatever is taken by the command of God, to Whom all things belong, is not taken against the will of its owner, whereas it is in this that theft consists.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, in its article on Natural Law, concurs with Aquinas on this point:

As the Sovereign Lord of all things, He [God] could withdraw from [Abraham's innocent son] Isaac his right to life, and from the Egyptians their right of ownership, with the result that neither would the killing of Isaac be an unjust destruction of life, nor the [Hebrews'] appropriation of the Egyptians' goods the unjust taking of another's property.

[As a Catholic, I'd like to make a brief comment here. Aquinas is assuming here that everything and everyone belongs to God, and that anything we have - spouses included - is merely allotted to us by God. However, I shall argue below that it is possible to justify a benevolent God taking the lives of the Canaanites without making this assumption. Moreover, my argument is consistent with a Kantian ethic, which demands that we treat people as "ends in themselves". However, my argument could not be used to justify "intercourse with any woman, by the command of God", as Aquinas attempts to do, because I do not believe that we belong to God, or that God allots us our spouses. - VJT]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church wisely refrains from commenting on the matter, in its section on The Natural Moral Law.

On the Protestant side, it will surely come as no surprise to readers that John Calvin also upheld the sovereignty of God over human life in his commentary on Joshua 6:20-27, which relates the Israelites' destruction of Jericho:

The indiscriminate and promiscuous slaughter, making no distinction of age or sex, but including alike women and children, the aged and decrepit, might seem an inhuman massacre, had it not been executed by the command of God. But as he, in whose hands are life and death, had justly doomed those nations to destruction, this puts an end to all discussion. We may add, that they had been borne with for four hundred years, until their iniquity was complete. Who will now presume to complain of excessive rigor, after God had so long delayed to execute judgment? If any one object that children, at least, were still free from fault, it is easy to answer, that they perished justly, as the race was accursed and reprobated. Here then it ought always to be remembered, that it would have been barbarous and atrocious cruelty had the Israelites gratified their own lust and rage, in slaughtering mothers and their children, but that they are justly praised for their active piety and holy zeal, in executing the command of God, who was pleased in this way to purge the land of Canaan of the foul and loathsome defilements by which it had long been polluted.

Calvin's views may sound harsh to modern ears. However, they were articulated by other Protestant ministers and writers as well. Here is Matthew Henry's 1706 commentary on Numbers 31:13-18, in which God commands the Israelites to slaughter the Midianites:

The sword of war should spare women and children; but the sword of justice should know no distinction, but that of guilty or not guilty. This war was the execution of a righteous sentence upon a guilty nation, in which the women were the worst criminals. The female children were spared, who, being brought up among the Israelites, would not tempt them to idolatry. The whole history shows the hatefulness of sin, and the guilt of tempting others; it teaches us to avoid all occasions of evil, and to give no quarter to inward lusts. The women and children were not kept for sinful purposes, but for slaves, a custom every where practised in former times, as to captives. In the course of providence, when famine and plagues visit a nation for sin, children suffer in the common calamity. In this case parents are punished in their children; and for children dying before actual sin, full provision is made as to their eternal happiness, by the mercy of God in Christ.

And here is the commentary by John Wesley (1703-1791) on Numbers 31:17, where God commands the destruction of all the baby boys, as well as "every woman that hath known man by lying with him".

[17] Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

The little ones — Which they were forbidden to do to other people, Deuteronomy 20:14, except the Canaanites, to whom this people had equaled themselves by their horrid crimes, and therefore it is not strange, nor unjust, that God, the supreme Lord of all mens lives, who as he gives them, so may take them away when he pleaseth, did equal them in the punishment.

Every woman — Partly for punishment, because the guilt was general, and though some of them only did prostitute themselves to the Israelites, yet the rest made themselves accessary by their consent or approbation; and partly, for prevention of the like mischief from such an adulterous generation.

It appears to me that Professor William Lane Craig's views on the Israelite slaughter of the Canaanites are entirely consistent with those of Matthew Henry.

In recent times, the Oxford philosopher, Professor Richard Swinburne, has publicly upheld the traditional view that God may lawfully command the taking of innocent human life, writing: "God therefore has the right to order the Israelites to kill the Canaanites" ("What does the Old Testament Mean?", in Bergmann, Murray, and Rea, eds. (2011) Divine Evil? The Moral Character of the God of Abraham, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 224). Swinburne suggests that God's purpose in issuing the command to destroy them all was to preserve Israel "from lethal spiritual infection by the polytheism of the Canaanites."

Professor Dawkins, you have described William Lane Craig as a "fundamentalist nutbag" with "evil" views. Would you say the same about St. Augustine, Pope Gregory the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Matthew Henry and John Wesley, as well as modern Christian philosophers of eminent standing, such as Professor Richard Swinburne? Were all these people nutbags, in your opinion? I'd just like to know what you think.


Historical abuse of the Biblical Conquest narratives by some Christians [New section - VJT.]

I would be less than honest if I omitted to mention that the Biblical Conquest narratives in the book of Joshua were misused by Christians at various times in history, in order to "justify" acts of conquest abroad. Graduate student Anthony Rimell, of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, in a paper entitled, Origen on Conquering ourselves: Reclaiming the Conquest Texts, describes how this misappropriation of the texts occurred (the Spanish conquest, "New Canaan" and the Boers in South Africa being a few examples). Curiously, according to Rimell, the Conquest narratives were invoked not only by the Europeans who occupied New Zealand, but by a Maori Chieftain resisting European occupation! In any case, it needs to be kept in mind that people, including Christians, who are motivated by the promise of wealth, are liable to twist any passage in Scripture or any other text, which might serve to legitimize their avaricious pursuits.

However, the early Christian Church, guided by Jesus' injunction to "Turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:38-39), categorically rejected all forms of violence. In the third century, the Christian Father Tertullian denounced all forms of violence, considering abortion, warfare and even judicial death penalties to be forms of murder (Osborn, Eric (2003). Tertullian, First Theologian of the West. Cambridge University Press. p. 230. ISBN 9780521524957). Osborne writes: "Tertullian rejects all violence, even killing by soldiers or by courts of law, any form of abortion, and even attendance at the amphitheatre."

Around the same time, Clement of Alexandria (150-215 A.D.) wrote: "Above all, Christians are not allowed to correct with violence the delinquencies of sins" (Fragments, Maximus, Sermon 55, p. 661). Origen (185-254 A.D.), who may have been Clement's pupil asserted: "Christians could never slay their enemies" (Contra Celsus, Book VII, chapter 26), but at the same time, refused to denounce the laws of the Old Testament: he acknowledged that "in the case of the ancient Jews, who had a land and a form of government of their own, to take from them the right of making war upon their enemies, of fighting for their country, of putting to death or otherwise punishing adulterers, murderers, or others who were guilty of similar crimes, would be to subject them to sudden and utter destruction whenever the enemy fell upon them; for their very laws would in that case restrain them, and prevent them from resisting the enemy."

I should add that among the Jews (as I mentioned above), stories of God's commanding Moses to wipe out the Canaanites and other peoples were traditionally regarded by the rabbis as valid for their time (after certain conditions had been satisfied), but no longer applicable after the end of the first century A.D., since the peoples who were originally targeted were no longer identifiable (see here and here).


Alternative views of the Biblical Conquest narratives, held by other Christian thinkers

(a) The views of C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis is well-known as a Christian apologist. However, many readers may not be aware that Lewis questioned the belief that Scripture was infallible in its entirety. As atheist Ed Babinski narrates in an interesting article entitled, C. S. Lewis: Provocative, Profound and Poignant Words, Lewis condemned the Biblical atrocities of Joshua:

Only four months before his death, Lewis wrote in a letter to an American philosopher that there were dangers in judging God by moral standards. However, he maintained that "believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him 'good' and worshipping Him, is still greater danger."[4]

Lewis was responding specifically to the question of Joshua's slaughter of the Canaanites by divine decree and Peter's striking Ananias and Sapphira dead.

Knowing that the evangelical doctrine of the Bible's infallibility required him to approve of "the atrocities (and treacheries) of Joshua," Lewis made this surprising concession: "The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible." [5]

"To this some will reply 'ah, but we are fallen and don't recognize good when we see it.' But God Himself does not say that we are as fallen at all that. He constantly, in Scripture, appeals to our conscience: 'Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?' -- 'What fault hath my people found in me?' And so on. Socrates' answer to Euthyphro is used in Christian form by Hooker. Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.) The opposite view (Ockham's, Paley's) leads to an absurdity. If 'good' means 'what God wills' then to say 'God is good' can mean only 'God wills what he wills.' Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan."[6]

4. Letter quoted in full in John Beversluis, C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), pp. 156 f.
5. Ibid., p. 157. Emphsis added.
6. Cited in ibid., p 157.

In the interests of fairness, I should point out to readers that William Lane Craig also holds that the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason. Craig is no voluntarist, and Lewis is caricaturing his theological opponents. Unlike Lewis, however, Craig believes that it can sometimes be rational for God to take an innocent human life. Craig also believes that God provides each innocent human being whose life is taken with eternal joy in the hereafter, precisely because He is essentially good.


(b) Modern Evangelical Christians who reject the traditional view of the slaughter of the Canaanites

I should also like to add that not all Christians who believe in the inspiration of the Bible agree with Professor Craig's views on the slaughter of the Canaanites. In 2010, the evangelical Christian theologian and philosopher Dr. Matt Flannagan, following up on arguments recently advanced by the Christian philosophers Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstoff, has defended an alternative interpretation: he argues on exegetical grounds that Scriptural references to indiscriminate slaughter were always intended (and understood in ancient times) as hyperbolic references to defeating the other side in battle or driving them out - rather like a victorious football team boasting after the game: "We totally slaughtered the other side" - an interpretation applauded by atheist Luke Muehlhauser. However, Professor Craig is not convinced by Dr. Flannagan's exegesis of these passages. In a recent article, he remarks: "But this answer doesn't seem to me to do justice to the biblical text, which seems to say that if the Israeli soldiers were to encounter Canaanite women and children, they should kill them (cf. Samuel's rebuke of Saul in I Sam. 15.10-16)." Other Christian philosophers have waded into the fray: Wesley Morriston has vigorously maintained (see here and here) that these Scriptural passages make it extremely difficult to uphold a doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.


(c) The response from traditional evangelical Christians

Morriston's article has prompted a reply from Paul Copan, who now argues that biblical and extra-biblical evidence suggests that the Canaanites who were killed were combatants rather than non-combatants (his "Scenario 1") and that, given the profound moral corruption of Canaan, this divinely directed act was just. If, however, it turns out that non-combatants were directly targeted ("Scenario 2"), Christians should assume that God, who has shown His goodness numerous time in history, must have had special reasons of His own, which we cannot presently comprehend, for commanding these bloody actions in the distant past.

In another reply to Wes Morriston, Assistant Professor Clay Jones graphically details the wicked behavior of the Canaanites in his essay, We Don't Hate Sin So We Don't Understand What Happened To The Canaanites: An Addendum To "Divine Genocide" Arguments. I would invite readers to peruse this article: the depravity of Canaanite culture will make your stomach turn. Jones agrees with Professor Craig's view that the slaughter of the Canaanites was necessary.



Question 10. Professor Dawkins, you believe the creation of a hybrid between humans and chimps "might be a very moral thing to do", so long as it was not exploited or treated like a circus freak (see this video at 40:33). Here you differ from the late Stephen Jay Gould, who maintained that the experiment would be just about the most unethical thing he could imagine. The only concern you expressed was that the hybrid would probably have a very lonely life as one of a kind - which makes me think that if several hybrids were created, you'd have no ethical problems with the experiment. After making assertions like that, how can you possibly expect us to take you seriously when you talk about ethics?

Further comment is unnecessary at this point. I rest my case, Professor Dawkins.



[Note: this section and the following section have been slightly expanded since this article was posted on Uncommon Descent - VJT.]

My own thoughts on the slaughter of the Canaanites

Let me begin by saying that if God were to ask me to put a sword through the belly of a screaming baby, I'd have to say "No". And that would be "No" under any circumstances.

On the other hand, I agree with the Judeo-Christian tradition that human life is a gift from God, and that God may sometimes intentionally take a human being's life - although I also hold that He may only do so for a suitable reason: namely, one directly connected with the welfare of that human being (and no other).

Let me say at the outset that I have the greatest respect for Professor William Lane Craig. No other living philosopher has striven so mightily against the tide of atheism. All modern believers owe him a great deal, and I cannot even imagine 21st century Christianity without Craig.

As regards the ethics of killing, a tiny variation in the wording one's moral principles can have huge ramifications. In what follows, I have endeavored to tighten up Craig's arguments, and thereby make them more rigorous and less offensive to the ears of today's New Atheists. I hope I have succeeded to some small degree.


My points of disagreement with Professor William Lane Craig are as follows:

1. The central point on which I disagree with Professor Craig - and with the vast majority of Christian thinkers through history - is in his assertion that human life belongs to God. I maintain that it makes no sense to speak of one person as belonging to another, as an item of property. Precisely because I am a person, God cannot own me, and I cannot belong to Him. I can belong to His kingdom (as a member), but I cannot belong to Him (as His property). To be fair, Professor Craig does not come right out and say that human beings are God's property, but this seems to be implied by his own words:

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. We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as "playing God." Human authorities arrogate to themselves rights which belong only to God. God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that's His prerogative.

As we shall see below, there is much that I would disagree with here. For the time being, I shall simply remark that if humans were God's property, then God could legitimately not only take their lives, but annihilate them as well - something I am sure that Professor Craig would not want to claim.

2. I also don't think that human beings are of merely instrumental importance, from God's point of view. I think that as sons and daughters of God, humans are "ends in themselves" even from a "God's eye" perspective, and that God treats us as such.

3. The third point on which I disagree with Professor Craig is on his assertion that God has no duties towards us. Craig writes:

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... God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that's His prerogative.

In response: I would agree that our moral duties could be said to be constituted by the commands of God - although I would add that insofar as they pertain to natural law, they are grounded in basic human goods, which we are capable of identifying with the aid of our God-given reason. However, from the fact that God is incapable of commanding Himself, it does not follow that He has no duties. All that follows is that no-one can command Him to perform His duties.

4. I think that some duties can arise simply by virtue of voluntarily performing an act which entails certain responsibilities. The act of becoming a parent is a pre-eminent example of such an act. God is our Father: He intentionally created each and every human being's soul, and He also maintains us in being (as embodied rational animals) by His will. God has a parental relationship with each and every human being, as a result of a free act of His will. No-one compelled God to make me; He Himself chose to do that. By choosing to become my Father, God also accepted the reponsibilities of a father: to protect His offspring and promote their welfare, while respecting their freedom as persons endowed with reason and free will.

5. There are some Christians who would argue that nobody has any rights against God, but I consider this to be an absurd position for any believer in revealed religion. Here's why. If humans have no rights against God, then humans have no right not to be deceived by God, in which case God would do us no wrong by lying to us in any way He saw fit - in which case, God would be doing us no wrong if He lied to us in Scripture, about matters of faith or morals - a conclusion which undermines our trust in the Bible as an inspired and inerrant book. Now, I presume that Professor Craig would respond that because God is a Being who is by nature good and truthful, He could never lie to us in any way. But Craig would still deny that humans have a right not to be deceived by God. To me, that sounds profoundly counter-intuitive. Surely a child has a right not to be lied to by his/her own Father, over a matter of substance (I'm not talking about Santa Claus here).

6. A good father doesn't kill his children on purpose. Since God has committed Himself to being my Father, it follows from this that God cannot intentionally take my life unless it would be better for me that my life should be taken. Even if my death could somehow promote the physical or spiritual welfare - even the eternal salvation - of another human being, that in itself would not be a sufficient justification for God to take my life. (On the other hand, God may have good reasons for allowing me to die. Traditionally, Christian theology has always held that Adam, as the head of the human family, was given the responsibility of deciding whether the human race would continue to enjoy the supernatural protection from death that Adam briefly enjoyed, under obdeience to God, or secede from God's rule and accept the loss of His protection. Also, there may be situations in which God could legitimately kill me as "collateral damage", or an unintended side-effect of an act directed at some larger group. A Biblical example of this might be the Flood: supposing it to have occurred in some form or other - don't ask me when and where - it is very doubtful that all of those killed were intentionally marked for destruction by God.)

Professor Craig is quite right in pointing out that life is something which is given to us by God; but that fact alone does not morally entitle Him to take it from us if He pleases, or even to refuse to continue giving it (for we are continually dependent on God for our very being). God doesn't "owe" us life as a debt to be repaid, but as an obligation which He voluntarily assumed in creating us. At the very least, God has the obligation to refrain from intentionally killing me, unless it's to my benefit.

7. A good father doesn't hurt his children. Since God has committed Himself to being my Father, it follows from this that God cannot intentionally inflict pain upon me unless it would be (physically or spiritually) better for me, if pain were inflicted on me. The fact that my being in pain would thereby help someone else is not a sufficient justification for God to intentionally inflict it on me, any more than it would be right for a human father to inflict pain on one of his children because doing so would benefit another child.

8. What is more, I hold that God's intentional infliction of pain on a human being must, in and of itself, promote the (physical or spiritual) welfare of that human being. It follows from this that inflicting pain on a baby now cannot be justified by the promise of compensation in the hereafter, as the pain, in and of itelf, does not bring Heaven to that baby, as the baby's death can be said to do.

9. Hence I conclude that if God were to ordain the slaughter of any innocent children - either by His hand or at the hand of humans carrying out His will - He would be morally obligated to render them unconscious beforehand, so that they would experience neither pain nor dread when they were being killed.


My practical conclusions regarding the slaughter of the Canaanites are as follows:

10. Contrary to Professor Craig's claim that the slaughter of the Canaanites can be justified by the need to protect Israel's moral purity, I maintain that the only justifiable reason for God to order a human being to kill an innocent baby would be in order to protect that baby from an even worse fate that death, were it to survive and grow up.

Professor Craig writes:

It was His way of preserving Israel's spiritual health and posterity. God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel.

I hold that the spiritual welfare of Israel would not be a reason for God to order the slaughter of the Canaanite children. On the other hand, if they were growing up in a society in which child abuse was rampant, then it would be entirely legitimate for God to take their lives.

11. If God intentionally took the lives of the Canaanite children - whether by His own hand or at the hands of the Israelites who were carrying out Hos will - He would have been obliged to kill them in a way that ensured that they did not suffer. Thuis God would have been morally obligated to render them unconscious beforehand, so that they would experience neither pain nor dread when they were being killed.

12. It might be argued against the position I have defended here that it is unreasonable for a creature to demand a miracle from its Creator. But God's rendering a baby unconscious before death would not require Him to break any law of Nature; as Professor Alfred Freddoso points out in this essay, all that God would need to do is refrain from co-operating with natural agents in His accustomed way, thus rendering their operation inefficacious. (Freddoso maintains that this was how He protected the three young men in the fiery furnace in Daniel 3: the fire in the furnace did not burn them, simply because God did not co-operate in His normal way, as a concurrent Cause, with the fire's causal action.) On the traditional Christian view of God's causation, God is not a remote cause of events in the world (e.g. God -> X -> Y -> Z), but an immediate concurrent cause, in addition to being a first cause (i.e. God -> X; God + X -> Y; God + Y -> Z). I am aware that this picture might seem strange to many modern readers. I am indebted to the philosopher Professor Alfred Freddoso on this point. Freddoso has convincingly argued in an article entitled, God's General Concurrence With Secondary Causes: Why Conservation Is Not Enough (Philosophical Perspectives 5:553-585, 1991), that nearly all medieval Christian philosophers were concurrentists.

"What's a concurrentist?" I hear you ask. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in its article on Occasionalism, provides some helpful definitions:

We might distinguish the three positions by the degree of causal activity assigned to God and the creature respectively, when a natural event takes place.

At one end is conservationism, which keeps divine causal involvement to a minimum. According to conservationism, while God conserves substances with their powers in existence, when creatures are causally active in bringing about their natural effects, God's contribution is remote or indirect. In other words, God's causal contribution consists in merely conserving the being or esse of the creature in question along with its power, and the causal activity of the creature is in some straightforward sense the creature's own and not God's (Freddoso 1991, 554). <

At the other end is occasionalism, where divine causal activity is maximal and creaturely causal activity is non-existent, since divine causal activity is the only type of genuine causality. Creatures provide at most an occasion for God's activity, which is direct and immediate in bringing about all effects in nature.

Concurrentism (or "divine concurrentism") can then be seen as occupying the middle ground. Concurrentists hold that when a natural effect is produced, it is immediately caused by both God and the creature. (Bold emphases and paragraph breaks mine - VJT.)

(It may interest readers to know that Muslim philosophers in the Middle Ages tended to be occasionalists, while modern "theistic evolutionists" are conservationists. Intelligent Design is compatible with concurrentism and conservationism, but the former is very "ID-friendly" in its way of looking at God and the world, in my humble opinion.)

If concurrentism is correct, then in the ordinary course of nature, God's manner of giving rise to natural effects is to act in co-operation with created agents as a concurring immediate cause of their own proper effects. Thus a natural action is an action of both God and secondary agents. Note that on this view: (i) God is an immediate, and not just a remote, cause of every natural effect; (ii) nevertheless, each material or corporeal substance possesses and exercises its own proper causal powers. The upshot of this view is that if God "turns off" His customary co-operation with a corporeal agent (e.g. fire) for some special reason, then that agent will fail to work as it normally does: it will be rendered powerless. For instance, if God chooses not to co-operate with the normal workings of some person's nervous system, then that person's nervous system will fail to send a "pain message" to his/her brain, so he/she will feel nothing. God would only have had to work this miracle of non-cooperation on those occasions when innocent Canaanite and Amalekite children were being slaughtered by the Israelites. God wouldn't have had to do anything to prevent these children feeling pain and distress in their last moments; all He would have had to do is choose not to do something which He normally does. Thus there would have been no need for the kind of massive, extended personal interventions required for God to rescue these children from the Israelites and bring them up without their parents, as some atheists have argued God should have done. Hence rendering a baby unconscious before death would require no added work on God's part but actually less: the effect would be to shut down the parts of the baby's brain which mediate consciousness.


Did the slaughter of the Canaanites really happen in the way I have proposed? There are plenty of reasons to think not: Scripture is completely silent regarding any act of God to prevent the Canaanite children from suffering any pain or dread, and there are reasons too for thinking that the Biblical narratives may not have been as historical as they look. On the other hand, regarding the silence of Scripture, one could argue that: (i) since God is good, and since killing an infant painfully would have been immoral, then if the Canaanite massacres were historical events, it follows that God must have acted in the way I have proposed; and (ii) some archaeologists, such as Kenneth Kitchen, maintain that the available evidence is quite compatible with the events narrated in the Bible. Another point that needs to be borne in mind is that even if God did render the Canaanite children unconscious before they were slaughtered, the Israelites would not have wanted to record this fact in their books. To neighboring tribes, this fact would have made them look like gutless wimps who lacked the stomach to kill, and would have afforded a pretext for invasion from hostile tribes.

OK, enough fanciful speculation. It is quite likely that the scenario I have sketched above didn't happen. How likely? I don't know. How does one calculate probabilities relating to acts of God? I have no idea. All I have been concerned to argue here, as a philosophical exercise, is that it would not be impossible for a benevolent God to take an innocent human life - or even to command others to take it - and that God would not have had to work any special miracles in order to achieve His desired end, of taking these lives mercifully.


"But how can genocide be just?" [Update]

One reader of this post, Elizabeth Liddle, raised this objection. Here is my reply, for what it's worth.

You ask: "How can genocide be just?" Wrong question. First ask yourself this: "Could it ever be right for God to kill an evildoer?" No-one has been able to show why it wouldn't be. And surely any parent who would kill their own child by placing him/her in the molten hands of a statue of Moloch, is an evildoer. Ask yourself: could it be right for God to kill such a person? I think the answer is "Yes".

Next, ask yourself: "Could it ever be right for God to slay an entire society of evildoers, especially when every man and woman living in that society engages in the same morally depraved practices?" Once again, I think you will agree that if the answer to the first question is "Yes", then the answer to the second question has to be "Yes".

Now, finally ask yourself: "Could it ever be right for God to end the lives of the innocent children in that society, along with their parents?" My answer is: "If God knows that a fate worse than death awaits them were they to go on living, and if he ends their lives them such in a way that they experience neither pain nor dread in their final moments, then there seems to be no reason in principle why He could not."

Now, when God has done all that, you could say that He has destroyed an entire culture. But if you're going to object to God behaving in that way, you would really have to show that it was wrong for Him to slay even one individual.



A final thought

I'd like to leave readers with a final thought. Had Israel not emerged as a nation, it is very likely that we would still be stuck in a world where infanticide and the abuse of children were rife, where charity was absent, and where human beings could be bought, sold and used as commodities. It turns out that each of the three monotheistic religions - and none of the others - managed to eliminate the barbaric practice of female infanticide in the areas where they spread and flourished. Case in point: in the days when the Roman Empire was still pagan, the male head of the household could order any female living in his household to have an abortion. What's more, a married woman who gave birth had no legal right to keep her child unless the male head of the household picked it up and set it down on the family hearth. Otherwise the child had to be placed outside in the street, where it would either die of exposure or be picked up by some unscrupulous rogue and sold into slavery. Girls were exposed far more often than boys: research has shown that the ratio of men to women in the Roman Empire was at least 120:100. Given these facts, it's not hard to see why Christianity, a religion which inherited from Judaism an ethic which was utterly opposed to infanticide, proved immensely popular among Roman women. Islam also succeeded in drastically curtailing female infanticide; however, the pernicious practice continues in India and China to this day.

I invite my readers to ask themselves this: "Which world would I rather live in - the modern world, shaped by the Judeo-Christian ethic, in which regards children having the same right to life as adults, or the world of 3,000 years ago, in which parents had the legal right to kill their own children?"

Here are some statistics: Population of the Roman empire: about 60 million people. Annual number of births (assuming say, 40 births per 1000 people per year): about 2.4 million, or 1.2 million boys and 1.2 million girls, of whom 200,000 were killed by exposure (female infanticide). Enter Christianity: up to 200,000 girls' lives saved per year, or 20 million per century, or 200 million over a period of a millennium. Do the same math in Arab countries as well, and you get even more girls' lives saved. Still think religion doesn't matter?


Recommended reading

Live Healthier, Longer, & Better - The Untold Benefits of Becoming a Christian in the Ancient World by Rodney Stark.
Describes how the Christian teaching of the spiritual equality of men and women, coupled with its prohibition of abortion and infanticide, improved the lot of women in the Roman Empire, and how Christians saved millions of Romans' lives by caring for the sick during plagues.

Reconstructing the rise of Christianity: the role of women by Rodney Stark. In Sociology of Religion, Fall 1995.