William Lane Craig claims its “dishonest” to say the OT god is a moral monster

The other day I noticed a blog post where Randal Rauser partially transcribes one of William Lane Craig’s podcasts. Here’s Craig:

“I think it’s just dishonest when people like Richard Dawkins portray Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, as this moral monster. These highly singular commands need to be read against the background of the whole of the Old Testament which includes the great moral law that is given by God which is head and shoulders above other ancient near eastern moral and legal codes …. It’s against the backdrop of the prophets which explain God’s compassion for the poor and the oppressed and the orphans and widows. Against God’s commands to Jonah even to go to the city of Nineveh, a non-Jewish city… It is a story which is highly singular and highly unusual….”

The first thought I had when I read this is, “wow, if only I could get Craig’s fans to accept that the standard for dishonesty Craig is using here, it would make my job as a critic of Craig so much easier!”

(After that, I immediately thought that no that would not be a good thing, because the standard Craig is using here is obviously absurd.)

But on the substance, I’ve read this moral law that Craig calls “great” (three times) and it looks like a pretty awful moral law to me, to the point of being itself evidence that the OT god is a moral monster. The only sense I can make of the claim that it was “head and shoulders above other ancient near eastern moral and legal codes” is that the other codes were even worse, but someone can be a monster even if there are worse monsters.

As it happens, though, I just finished reading Thom Stark’s reply to Paul Copan, which convincingly argues that while the OT law code was in some ways better than others of the time, in some ways it was also worse. For example, Deuteronomy 21:18-20 allows parents to have a rebellious son executed without trial. In contrast, the Code of Hamurabi, which dates back a millennium before Deuteronomy, requires a judge to examine the case, lets the son off with a warning on the first offense, and says the penalty for a repeated offender is being disowned, not executed (Stark pp. 38-41).

As for God’s concern for the poor and the oppressed (1) according to Stark, this was commonplace in the ancient near east, not something unique to Judaism (2) having read the Bible three times, I’ve found that the amount of emphasis placed on caring for the poor and oppressed has been greatly exaggerated, by liberal and conservative Christians alike. It gets far less attention than what I’d say is clearly the main message of the OT: do what God says, whatever God says, says or else.

P.S. It seems to me that Stark, without even trying to, also solidly refuted Israel Finkelstein’s view that the Bible, in spite of all its propagandizing, was still super-special somehow.

  • eric

    These highly singular commands need to be read against the background of the whole of the Old Testament which includes the great moral law that is given by God which is head and shoulders above other ancient near eastern moral and legal codes

    I am not sure what the logic here is. Maybe someone else can explain it better, but it sounds like he’s saying: since God told everyone not to murder each other, and (in WLC’s view) this giving of law reduced the human-on-human murder rate, its perfectly okay that God murdered a lot of people and commanded some humans to murder other humans.
    Is that it, or am I missing something?

  • Rain

    I am not sure what the logic here is. Maybe someone else can explain it better, but it sounds like he’s saying: since God told everyone not to murder each other, and (in WLC’s view) this giving of law reduced the human-on-human murder rate, its perfectly okay that God murdered a lot of people and commanded some humans to murder other humans.

    Craig would say they all got what they deserved for being evil disgusting people. So technically it wouldn’t be murder. So it doesn’t count. Because whatever God does is good, no matter what it is. Hey what do you expect from a guy that thinks the are no errors in the Bible? I think it’s actually pretty typical Christian theology isn’t it? Here’s the podcast, by the way:

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/richard-dawkins-and-driving-out-the-canaanites

    • eric

      Well, he says that too, but it makes the statement I quoted above a non-sequitur. If an apologist is going with the “everyone deserves it” defense, then the fact that God gave great moral law is irrelevant. Presumably WLC is trying to say that G giving this great moral law is relevant to how we judge G’s singular commands to murder. The question is – how is it relevant? Does the guy who installs my home security system get to take a few things off my mantlepiece? No.

      • Rain

        The question is – how is it relevant?

        I don’t know. He doesn’t clarify much further than that. You would think he would at least have a little empathy for people who might think Yahweh did some monstrous acts. You might think he would at least try and see where they are coming from. But then again this is a guy who says the slaughtered people had it coming to them and/or killing them was doing them a favor.

        • Rain

          EDIT: You might think he would at least try and see where they are coming from instead of calling them dishinest.

          I would also like to append my usual caveat when dealing with ridiculous things: Never rule out con artists. It’s possible he doesn’t believe one damn word he’s saying.

  • Jon Hanson

    I love this argument, it’s like saying that because a person is nice and good 99% of the time if they spend the other 1% being hateful/murdering/raping, we can’t be warranted in judging them as evil because those acts of hate/violence are such a minority.

    Also, I so hate that bullshit about ancient Hebrew morals being so much better than everyone around them, it really is only allowed to fly because people for the most part have no interest in the subject. I’m going to go grumble to myself some more….

  • Steven Carr

    ‘These highly singular commands need to be read against the background of the whole of the Old Testament which includes the great moral law that is given by God which is head and shoulders above other ancient near eastern moral and legal codes’

    Amazing.

    You bake cakes for charity, help old ladies across the street and raise money for guide dogs.

    But you kill 7 children in a burst of automatic gun-fire, and suddenly you’re labelled a ‘child-killer’!

    Sheesh! Nobody talks about the work I did at the local stroke centre.

  • Steven Carr

    CRAIG
    I think it’s just dishonest when people like Richard Dawkins portray Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, as this moral monster.

    CARR
    Did Craig really say that?

    At least we know that Craig has no objections to people calling him ‘dishonest’, even if the only thing they can pin on him is that they disagree with his interpretation of a Bible passage….

    Perhaps defenders of Craig will not be so quick to claim that the last thing you can ever do is accuse people of dishonesty – when Craig regards it as a card he can play whenever he wants to defend genocide.

  • Steven Carr

    CRAIG
    Against God’s commands to Jonah even to go to the city of Nineveh, a non-Jewish city

    CARR
    Ahem.

    Jonah didn’t exist. The story is fiction.

    Doesn’t Craig know that? What sort of Bible scholar is he?

    Is he claiming his god should get credit for all the good things that happen in works of fiction, now?

    Or is he really saying in public that Jonah existed – and spent 3 days in a big fish, because the story is , like, real?

  • http://thebronzeblog.wordpress.com/ Bronze Dog

    I love this argument, it’s like saying that because a person is nice and good 99% of the time if they spend the other 1% being hateful/murdering/raping, we can’t be warranted in judging them as evil because those acts of hate/violence are such a minority.

    It’s also like a poorly done karma meter. +5 karma for giving money to a beggar. Kill random civilian, loot his body, lose 3 karma. Sell loot and give profit to beggar for +5 karma. Net +2 karma for every murder.

    • Chris Hallquist

      That’s a brilliant analogy.

      • http://thebronzeblog.wordpress.com/ Bronze Dog

        Glad you think so.

        It gets into how complex a working moral intuition really is. Reducing it to a ratio of good acts versus bad or a simple linear scale just doesn’t work. Oversimplifying it that way strikes me as dishonest in spirit, like they’re looking for loopholes that break the spirit of the whole system. It’s like a disruptive child who justifies his bad behavior by arguing that he didn’t disobey the exact wording of a prohibition. “I’m not touching you!”

  • Ophis

    (Long time reader, first time commenter)

    It’s just another case of Craig moving goalposts. He and other Christian apologists claim that God is morally perfect and provides a timeless, universal, unchanging ethical code. When someone like Dawkins points out how immoral the OT laws are, he reverts to the much weaker claim that the ethical code is just a bit better than Israel’s neighbours.

    He hopes no one will notice that God’s ethics have suddenly changed from being timeless and universal to being dependent on time and circumstances; from being absolute to being subject to Machiavellian considerations about how future plans might be effected; and from being perfect to being a bit less murdery than the next country over.

    • http://thebronzeblog.wordpress.com/ Bronze Dog

      Thank you for point out this part of the fractal wrongness. Another thing that comes to mind with these sorts of arguments is moving the basis of morality along with those goalposts: They start out Divine Command Theorists saying that anything their god orders is the absolute objective basis of morality. When we point out horrifying commands, if they don’t double down on DCT, they jump to extreme relativism or subjectivism to claim that things like genocide were morally justifiable back then when things were different, implying that genocide is only considered immoral today because of fashion or something, and that it may someday become moral again.

  • ChristianRevelations.com

    You said:

    “For example, Deuteronomy 21:18-20 allows parents to have a rebellious son executed without trial.”

    Actually, that is not what it says. It says the son must be 1. brought to the elders 2. a drunkard and a glutton and rebellious and 3. all of the men of the city must be present during the judgment.

    Military-style rules applied during this era in Jewish history, as they should have, as they were a small nation surrounded by larger, aggressive enemies, and every man and boy was a soldier as well as a son. You can’t just have drunken, wilding youth running around in the streets when an incursion may happen at any time.

    • Patrick

      Don’t be a liar. It isn’t becoming, and it just makes your faith look worse.

      What it actually says is

      1. The son must be brought to the elders,

      2. The son must be ACCUSED of being rebellious, drunken, and a glutton,

      3. Everyone must collectively murder him.

      There is no “judgment” in the sense of a fact finding, just in the sense of a killing. And the fact that everyone is there isn’t to make the fact finding unanimous or better or improved in any way, because there isn’t one. Its to make sure that everyone is morally culpable. Forcing collective participation in atrocity is one of the ways to dull people’s empathy, and to encourage group cohesion. Read “On Killing” by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.

      So quit lying.

      • ChristianRevelations.com

        First of all, it is a man’s OWN PARENTS who are deciding the fate of their son. Let’s not forget this. You have to be pretty downright evil if your own parents want you dead.

        Also, one parent alone cannot decide. Both must be present.

        Also, the son must be chastened first, by both parents, and rebellious against both.

        Furthermore, the son must be deemed gluttonous (in a society where food was scarce), stubborn, rebellious, a drunkard (which makes it unlikely that we are talking of 6 year-olds here) and “evil” (verse 20).

        It is you who summarized the verses without a careful reading. It is all right there in the text.

        When I consider the predicament and context the Israelites were living within, I am not surprised to find military-style laws installed. When you begin to look at the scriptures differently, and instead look at the laws and regulations and such as there for our own benefit, rather than simply satisfying God’s whims, much can be illuminated to you.

        Was there a trial? No.

        But the son’s own parents were the judge and jury.

        I’ll try this tomorrow, okay? I’ll go around asking coworkers what they would prefer if they were arrested for a capital crime– their parents as the judge and jury, or total strangers in a courtroom. I think we both know what the results are going to be.

        If there is immorality present here, I’m just not seeing it.

        And, in fact, such a rule might be there to stop neighbors and such from killing the local townie loser, so to say.

        Was there a trial? No.

        • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

          “You have to be pretty downright evil if your own parents want you dead.”

          So Andrea Yates’ children were evil?


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