Notre Dame, April 7th, 2011, Debate: “Is God Good”, Dr. Sam Harris vs. Dr. William Lane Craig,
Sam Harris: “Nine million children die every year before they reach the age of five. Picture an Asian tsunami of the sort we saw in 2004 that killed a quarter of a million people—one of those every 10 days, killing children only under five: that’s twenty-four thousand children a day, a thousand an hour, seventeen or so a minute. That means before I get to the end of this sentence, some few children very likely will have died in terror and agony.
Think of the parents of these children. Think of the fact that most of these men and women believe in God and are praying at this moment for their children to be spared, and their prayers will not be answered. But according to Dr. Craig, this is all part of god’s plan.
Any god who would allow children by the millions to suffer and die in this way and their parents to grieve in this way, either can do nothing to help them or doesn’t care to. He is therefore either impotent or evil. And worse than that, on Dr. Craig’s view, most of these people, many of these people certainly, will be going to hell because they’re praying to the wrong god. Just think about that: through no fault of their own, they were born into the wrong culture, where they got the wrong theology, and they missed the revelation. There are 1.2 billion people in India at this moment; most of them are Hindus, most of them therefore polytheists. In Dr. Craig’s universe, no matter how good these people are, they are doomed. If you are praying to the monkey God Hanuman, you are doomed—you’ll be tortured in hell for eternity. Now is there the slightest evidence for this? No. It just says so in Mark 9 and Matthew 13 and Revelation 14.
So God created the cultural isolation of the Hindus; he engineered the circumstance of their deaths in ignorance of revelation, and then he created the penalty for this ignorance, which is an eternity of conscious torment in fire.
On the other hand, on Dr. Craig’s account, your run-of-the-mill serial killer in America, who spent his life raping and torturing children, need only come to God, come to Jesus on death row, and after a final meal fried chicken, he’s going to spend eternity in heaven after death.
Ok—one thing should be crystal clear to you: this vision of life has absolutely nothing to do with moral accountability.
And please notice the double standard that people like Dr. Craig use to exonerate god from all this evil. We’re told that God is loving and kind and just and intrinsically good. But when someone like myself points out the rather obvious and compelling evidence that God is cruel and unjust, because he visits suffering on innocent people of a scope and scale that would embarrass the most ambitious psychopath, we are told that god is mysterious. Who can understand god’s will? Yet this merely human understanding of God’s will is precisely what believers use to establish his goodness in the first place. If something good happens to a Christian—he feels some bliss while praying, or he sees some positive change his life—we’re told that God is good. But when children by the tens of thousands are torn from their parents’ arms and drowned, we are told god is mysterious.
This is how you play tennis without the net.
And I want to suggest to you that it is not only tiresome when otherwise intelligent people speak this way, it is morally reprehensible. This kind of faith really is the perfection of narcissism: “God loves me, don’t you know? He cured me of my eczema; he makes me feels so good while singing in church; and just when we had given up hope, he found a banker who was willing to reduce my mother’s mortgage.” Given all this god of yours does not accomplish in the lives of others, given the misery that’s being imposed on some helpless child at this instant, this kind of faith is obscene.
To think in this way is to fail to reason honestly, or to care sufficiently about the suffering of other human beings. And if god is good and loving and just and kind, and he wanted to guide is morally with a book, why give us a book that supports slavery? Why give us a book that admonishes us to kill people for imaginary crimes, like witchcraft.
Of course, there’s a way of not taking these questions to heart. According to Dr. Craig’s divine command theory, God is not bound by moral duties. God doesn’t have to be good; whatever he commands is good. So when he commands the Israelites to slaughter the Amalekites, that behavior becomes intrinsically good because he commanded it.
Here we’re being offered (I’m glad [Craig] raised the issue of psychopathy), we’re being offered a psychopathic and psychotic moral attitude. It’s psychotic because this is completely delusional: there’s no reason to believe that we live in a universe ruled by an invisible monster Yahweh. But it is psychopathic, because this is a total detachment from the well-being of human beings. This so easily rationalizes the slaughter of children.
Just think about the Muslims at this moment who are blowing themselves up, convinced that they are agents of God’s will. There’s absolutely nothing that Dr. Craig can say against their behavior in moral terms, apart from his own faith-based claim that they’re praying to the wrong God. If they had the right god, what they were doing would be good on divine command theory. Now I’m obviously not saying that Dr. Craig or all religious people are psychopaths and psychotics, but this, to me, this is the true horror of religion: it allows perfectly decent and sane people to believe by the billions what only lunatics could believe on their own.
If you wake up tomorrow morning thinking that saying a few Latin words over your pancakes is gonna turn them into the body of Elvis Presley, you have lost your mind. But if you think more or less the same thing about a cracker and the body of Jesus, you’re just a Catholic.
And I’m not the first person to notice that it’s a very strange sort of loving God who would make salvation depend on believing in him on bad evidence. If you lived 2000 years ago, there was evidence galore; he was just performing miracles. But apparently he got tired of being so helpful. And so now we all inherit this very heavy burden of the doctrine’s implausibility. And the effort to square it with what we now know about the cosmos and what we know about the all-too-human origins of scripture becomes more and more difficult.
It’s not just the generic god that Dr. Craig is recommending; it is God the father and Jesus the son. Christianity, on Dr. Craig’s account, is the true moral wealth the world. And I hate to break it to you here at Notre Dame, but Christianity is a cult of human sacrifice. Christianity is not a religion that repudiates human sacrifice; it is a religion that celebrates a single human sacrifice as though it were effective: “God so loved the world he that gave his only son,” John 3:16. The idea is that Jesus suffered the crucifixion so that none need suffer hell, except those billions in India and billions like them throughout history.
This doctrine is astride a contemptible history of scientific ignorance and religious barbarism. We come from people who used to bury children under the foundations of new buildings as offerings to their imaginary gods.
Just think about that. In vast numbers of societies, people would bury children in postholes—people like ourselves—thinking that this would prevent an invisible being from knocking down their buildings. These are the sorts of people who wrote the Bible.
If there is a less moral moral framework than the one Dr. Craig is proposing, I haven’t heard of it.”