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".
craig's latest stalking foray has taken the form of a string of increasingly hectoring challenges to confront him in oxford this october. i took pleasure in refusing again, which threw him and his followers into a frenzy of blogging, tweeting and youtubed accusations of cowardice. to this i would only say i that i turn down hundreds of more worthy invitations every year, i have publicly engaged an archbishop of york, two archbishops of canterbury, many bishops and the chief rabbi, and i'm looking forward to my imminent, doubtless civilised encounter with the present archbishop of canterbury.
in an epitome of bullying presumption, craig now proposes to place an empty chair on a stage in oxford next week to symbolise my absence. the idea of cashing in on another's name by conniving to share a stage with him is hardly new. but what are we to make of this attempt to turn my non-appearance into a self-promotion stunt? in the interests of transparency, i should point out that it isn't only oxford that won't see me on the night craig proposes to debate me in absentia: you can also see me not appear in cambridge, liverpool, birmingham, manchester, edinburgh, glasgow and, if time allows, bristol.
but craig is not just a figure of fun. he has a dark side, and that is putting it kindly. most churchmen these days wisely disown the horrific genocides ordered by the god of the old testament. anyone who criticises the divine bloodlust is loudly accused of unfairly ignoring the historical context, and of naive literalism towards what was never more than metaphor or myth. 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. and verses 16 and 17 are even worse:
"but of the cities of these people, which the lord thy god doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: but thou shalt utterly destroy them."you might say that such a call to genocide could never have come from a good and loving god. any decent bishop, priest, vicar or rabbi would agree. but listen to craig. he begins by arguing that the canaanites were debauched and sinful and therefore deserved to be slaughtered. he then notices the plight of the canaanite children.