First, Dawkins characterized Deuteronomy 20:13-15 by this statement, “You would search far to find a modern preacher willing to defend God’s commandment, in Deuteronomy 20:13-15, to kill all the men in a conquered city and to seize the women, children and livestock as plunder ... You might say that such a call to genocide could never have come from a good and loving God.”
It appears that Dawkins characterizes this section as a command of God commit genocide. Genocide is defined as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.” (Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, 1969)
Secondly, I think that we may be starting in the wrong place. In attempting to comment or characterize actions of God we must start with the character of God. The first question that we must ask ourselves, does God have right to make such a command? The answer is yes. Why? God is absolutely sovereign. God, as both revealed in the Scripture and defined by His character or nature has the right to exercise His absolute supremacy in accordance with His divine perfections. God is infinitely elevated above the highest creature. He is the most high and is subject to no one. God is independent and does as He pleases, only as He pleases, and always as He pleases.
My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure. (Isa 46:10) He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; none can stay His hand. (Dan 4:35) But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased. (Psalms 115:3)
God yields His sovereignty anyway He wishes and does not answer to any man. Job found that out when God chose to refine him through a bitter season. As Job questioned his dire circumstances and treatment God never provided him with an answer. Through a series of questions God demonstrated to Job that he did not have the qualifications or character to question God and to call God to an account of His actions.
It is obvious as one studies both Scripture and the character of God that God never exercises His absolute sovereignty apart from the other “attributes” of His nature. His sovereignty is never exercised apart from justice, mercy, love, holiness, righteousness, grace, and/or kindness. God is not arbitrary or capricious. God always acts perfectly and in unison with all of His divine attributes.
When God gave the command to the nation of Israel in Deuteronomy 20:10-15, He had every right to do so. He had the right and operated within the perfection of His nature when He killed all the inhabitants of the earth save eight souls in the ark. He had the right and acted within the perfection of His nature when He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone.
In Deuteronomy 20:10-15 God gives the command to Israel as the armies advance upon a city to call for peace, in other words to summon the city to make a peaceable surrender. If the city surrendered and submitted then the residents became servants to Israel. However, if the city refused to surrender and submit and attempted to fight against Israel then God commanded Israel to besiege the city. If God chose to allow Israel to prevail in battle then Israel was to kill the males and take the women and children captive.
As horrid as that might sound to Mr. Dawkins, this was the prerogative of a supreme and sovereign God. These actions may seem harsh and outrageous to Dawkins and to us. We are not God. We are finite and God is infinite in all of His perfections. We may not understand His acts or His ways at times. We may even pray for a different course of action or outcome, but God is sovereign and does as He pleases.
I think the text is clear and doesn’t need the judgment of Dawkins or the seemingly rewrite by Craig.
“Canaan was being given over to Israel, whom God had now brought out of Egypt. If the Canaanite tribes, seeing the armies of Israel, had simply chosen to flee, no one would have been killed at all. There was no command to pursue and hunt down the Canaanite peoples,” Craig explained.
"When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than yourselves, and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly." (ESV, emphasis mine)
God is fully within divine and absolute perfection when He called for the death of these people. The penalty for sin is death. The soul that sins shall die. Death was not always “old age.” When God called for the death of these people and Israel put them to death, they were simply receiving what was due and just.
As I conclude my assignment I shall add a couple of ideas for thought. First, I know of no command, mandate, or directive that an unbelieving sinner must debate anyone. As a matter of fact I don’t even see the value of a debate. It is true that each believer is to be ready to give an answer, a defense, or an apology for what we believe, but I don’t know ifthat same mandate applies to the wicked and the lost.
Secondly, God charged Israel once with the indictment that they had erroneously and sinfully concluded that God was like them. We cannot “start” with a premise of what is fair or unfair, right or wrong, just or unjust and judge the actions of God in either the Old Testament or the New Testament. God is sovereign, full of perfection and will always act in accordance with His divine nature for His glory and our good.
Although we as God’s people today have no mandate to commit genocide against any racial, political, or cultural group, we cannot judge God or His actions as wrong, sinful, inhumane, or against our sense of justice. Otherwise, this is the height of pride and arrogance. My characterization of Dawkins reasons for refusing to debate is that he has placed Himself above God, and made Himself a judge of God and His actions and that is the epitome of pride and arrogance in a sinful, wicked, man in need of redemption."
However the fact that Dr. Dawkins has raised a poorly constructed argument to rationalize adopting the Run-and-Hide Method of Argumentation in this instance by claiming God condones 'Genocide' is monumentally stupid, even by his own lofty standards. In specific, Dawkins claims to have a problem with the instructions found in Deuteronomy 20:13-15.
"When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. " (NIV translation)
As Brother Gregg mentioned in his response, we should start from the beginning. If were to read just slightly ahead in this chapter of scripture, you would see in verse 18 that if the Israelites do not attack these peoples, then "they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods". Since the Book of Leviticus chronicles the horrific religious practices of these people ranging from all manner of sexual depravity to the human sacrifice of young children, one can see why the people of the Ancient Near East would be much better off not absorbing their practices. There is indication that such practices were starting to seep into other cultures and this did not bode well at all for the region.
One thing I would like you to consider is the very distinct option (that I heard raised by Dr. Norman Wise at a lecture recently) that a society can become so completely and utterly depraved that it can reach a point where there is no turning back.
A point in which there is no societal cure.
Nor a remedy of any kind.
Their morally reprehensible attitudes and perversions can be so thoroughly ingrained from top to bottom of a society that change is not possible and the most likely outcome would then be for their attitudes to start affecting surrounding cultures. Therapy did not exist at the time and I doubt they would have listened anyway.
Additionally, God waited for many years for these peoples to renounce their ways before extolling judgement upon them. They had every opportunity to change, and yet they refused, or as this writer describes for us...
"Thus Canaan had, as it were, a final forty-year countdown as they heard of the events in Egypt, at the crossing of the Reed Sea, and what happened to the kings who opposed Israel along the way. We know that they were aware of such events, for Rahab confessed that these same events had terrorized her city of Jericho and that she, as a result, had placed her faith in the God of the Hebrews (Josh. 2:10-14). Thus God waited for the "cup of iniquity" to fill up -- and fill up it did without any change in spite of the marvelous signs given so that the nations, along with Pharaoh and the Egyptians, "might know that he was the Lord."
I can only guess as to why Dawkins concentrates on this particular passage from Deuteronomy when, if he wanted to wail about the destruction of certain peoples, then the judgement that befell certain 'cities of the plain' would seem much more likely a candidate for criticism as entire towns were made to disappear from the face of the earth through natural disasters. However, to use an example that utilized fire and brimstone to achieve it's ends would deprive Dr Dawkins of all of the lurid and vivid imagery that the word Genocide conjures up in the mind, complete with internment camps of poor souls, wasting away and awaiting The Big Dirt Nap while the outer perimeter is patrolled by whatever equivalent the Ancient Near East had to Shutzstaffel guards. Fire and brimstone just don't cut it in this sense and would not be nearly as useful to Dr. Dawkins in committing his pet appeal to emotion fallacy.
We know that when fallible man was put in charge of carrying out God's judgement rather than a natural disaster that these people were not wiped out.
"That many of the Canaanites continued in the land even to the days of Solomon, we have the fullest proof; for we read, 2 Chronicle 8:7 "All the people of the land that were left of the Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, who were left in the land, whom the children of Israel consumed not, them did Solomon make to pay tribute to this day." Thus Solomon destroyed their political existence, but did not consider himself bound by the law of God to put them to death."
Dr Dawkins, I would encourage you to examine God's written word with something other than a mind that is completely closed and through the clouded lense of poor, militant, evangelical atheist apologetics and that you embrace the faith of your youth. He is waiting for you now and would like to see all come to repentance...
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30