After writing about Internet atheists and their rhetorical tactics over the weekend, a commenter provided an example of the type of disingenuous rhetoric that I was referencing. In the blog post entitled Internet Atheists and Rhetoric, I quoted an article by Dr. John Mark Reynolds who stated that Internet atheists don't understand the force of the arguments raised by Dr. William Lane Craig. In response to that blog entry, Internet atheist/gadfly Steven Carr commented:
For example, Criag [sic] argues that it is morally correct to stick a sword into the belly of an expectant mother Here
This article was widely discussed among atheists, the majority of whom found such view revolting.
This is an example of another type of atheist rhetoric: take a long, nuanced argument and boil it down to something that everyone agrees is offensive but which completely misrepresents what the author says. In other words, set up the straw man.
I certainly urge people to read the Craig article. He looks at the Biblical account of the order for the destruction of the Caananites openly, honestly and intellectually. He deals with issues such as divine command theory, ethical relativism, historic setting, the role of the Israelites in God's plan for salvation, and perspective. At no time does Craig duck from the idea that to our western minds raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition the order for the destruction of the Canaanites seems completely immoral.
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?
I have made these same arguments, and I certainly understand the points that Dr. Craig is making. The story of the slaughter of the entire Amalakite people or the Caananite people are among the most difficult for people with a strong sense of morality (which comes from God) to accept. I know several people who otherwise accept the historicity of the Old Testament who simply refuse to believe that God would have been involved in these actions and reason that they are written into the Bible to try to justify the evil actions started by the Israeli people themselves. I understand their concerns and frankly if I were not committed to the fact that the entire Bible is true I would be inclined to take that tact as well. It certainly does away with some rather difficult Bible accounts.
However, I personally find Craig's argument to be both logical and reasonable. To characterize what Craig is saying as "it is morally correct to stick a sword into the belly of an expectant mother" is a complete injustice to Dr. Craig's attempt to deal with a situation that is extremely difficult to understand. Let me suggest an analogy to this mischaracterization of Craig's essay: At the tail-end of the Second World War, the Allies had defeated the Axis powers in Europe. All that was left was to defeat the Japanese. The problem was that the invasion was largely considered to be a very costly effort in terms of human lives. The Allies had just lost more than 12,500 soldiers in their invasion of Okinawa, and the Japanese had lost 100,000 civilians in that same invasion (according to Japan-Guide.com). According to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum,
Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe all were decimated by incendiary and other bombs. In all, hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed in these air strikes meant to deter the resolve of the Japanese people. Yet, Japanese resolve stayed strong and the idea of a bloody "house to house" invasion of the Japanese mainland would produce thousands more American and Allied casualties.
In order to end the war with fewer lives being lost, Truman authorized that the first two atomic bombs be dropped. The first, dropped on Hiroshima, did not lead to the surrender of the Japanese -- that's how committed to fighting the Japanese people remained. The second, dropped on Nagasaki, apparently led the Japanese to ultimately surrender under the belief that the United States would be able to continuously drop these bombs at a low risk of loss of life to themselves. Truman, it is reported, believed so strongly that dropping the bomb was the best course of action when all of the alternatives and the risks of those alternatives were taken into consideration -- even though dropping the bomb on a city would kill thousands of innocent people including pregant women and babies -- that he did not even agonize over the decision.
Having read the foregoing, would you say that it is accurate to claim: "Truman was in favor of dropping atomic bombs on babies"? Would you say that someone who believes that Truman was right to drop the atomic bombs is "in favor of dropping atomic bombs on babies"? If you say either of these things then I find your reasoning to be highly suspect. Truman was the only commander in history (thus far) to actually order the dropping of an atomic bomb, and he did so on two separate occasions. But the fact that he did so in particular circumstances when all of the other options were taken into account and did so because it seemed to him to be the best option to bring a decisive end to the war with a minimum loss of life should tell anyone that such a blanket statement about Truman is simply misguided and not consistent with the whole picture.
Likewise, saying that someone today who argues that Truman made the correct decision when he decided to drop the atomic bombs on Japan favors "dropping atomic bombs on babies" is pure rhetoric. It is little more than an effort to win the argument by claiming that the person supporting the decision to bomb Japan supports an activity that he really doesn't support but the argument is being made solely to make the person supporting Truman's decision look bad. After all, only a crazy person could be in favor of "dropping atomic bombs on babies", right?
That, in my eyes, is the same thing that happens with the blanket assertion made by people like Carr about the slaying of the Amalakites and the Caananites. There is a whole lot of factors and considerations that should be taken into account when trying to understand what happened and why. To simply say that someone who defends the truth of the Biblical account in context is in favor of "killing babies", "sticking a sword into the belly of an expectant mother" or "genocide" so completely misrepresents the very nuanced and thoughtful arguments being made as to be recklessly and willfully ignorant.
I fully expect someone to comment how I am just trying to justify genocide. If they do, they merely prove my point. I do not support or justify genocide, but I do try to understand what the Bible is saying in context. To boil that down in such a fraudulent manner is intellectual dishonesty.