The Heart of Slander

By Robin Schumacher

In the latter part of 2013, Christian apologist William Lane Craig engaged atheistic physicist Lawrence Krauss in a series of three debates that took place in different Australian cities. [1] In the first debate, which centered on the topic "Has Science Buried God?", Krauss used a portion of his time to begin a personal attack on Craig where he called Craig a liar. [2]

One of the issues Krauss raised was a podcast produced by Dr. Craig where Craig had commented on the yet-to-be-released movie The Unbelievers in which Krauss appeared. Craig had misattributed a quote in the movie to Richard Dawkins instead of someone else, and Krauss pounced on that point to accuse Craig of being dishonest over that and other things.

Krauss failed to mention that Craig had discovered the mistake himself shortly after the podcast aired and had corrected it. [3] Even after Dr. Craig discussed the matter with Krauss after the first debate ended and explained the situation, it didn't seem to dissuade Krauss.

In an article published afterwards, Krauss described his initial debate with Craig years earlier with his opinion being "the minute he started talking I thought, 'this guy is a con artist' and I still think so" and that "I said I'd never debate him again. But I agreed to do it publicly because I wanted to show that he was a liar...I don't think I can learn anything from Dr Craig because I don't think he's an honest man." [4]

To be sure, believers and unbelievers in God disagree about many things. There is everything right in having a debate and calling into questions various beliefs, positions, and the like and showcasing why a particular position may be wrong. But let's also understand that being a liar and dishonest is different from being wrong; being incorrect about a position is different than being a con artist.

I've noticed that it seems quite common these days for slander like Krauss's to play a major role in exchanges between parties who disagree about a particular truth claim. While it may seem efficient to chalk it up to an overall decline in cultural civility, I believe there is more to the story than that.

If You Can't Attack the Argument…

Attacks like those Krauss made upon Craig during their Australian series of discourses spring from either the willing or unwilling ignorance of at least three logical fallacies that have no place in such debates.

The first is the ad hominem fallacy, which promotes the position that if you cannot attack the argument, you attack the person in some way. Either you assault the character, as Krauss did by calling Craig a liar, or you attack other circumstances, such as various supplementary beliefs that the person holds that have little to no bearing on the matter at hand. Krauss did this by bringing up Craig's writings on Old Testament events such as Israel's attack on the Canaanites — something that in no way lent itself to the subject of their debate on science and God.

That example leads to the second fallacy of the red herring, which is an act of diverting the issue and distracting from the true topic of discussion.

The last fallacy that arises quite a bit is the genetic fallacy, which casts dispersions or doubts upon the source of the argument rather than dealing with the argument itself. This fallacy oftentimes is driven by the ad hominem fallacy and general pride. For example, Krauss said that when he was at the Vatican and surrounded by philosophers and theologians, he told them: "You have to listen to me, but I don't have to listen to you." [5]

But, bad as these fallacies are, I believe there is still a deeper root to the avalanche of slander we are subjected to these days.

The Origin of Slander

Most people who use the term "devil" don't know what the actual New Testament word means. The Greek term is diabolos, with a top Greek lexicon providing the following definitions: (1) pert. to engagement in slander, slanderous; (2) one who engages in slander. [6]

It is somewhat sobering to understand that when you slander someone, you are a devil.

The Bible contains several examples of Satan (a word that means "adversary") slandering and accusing everyone he possible can of sins, both real and imagined. In the Old Testament, Zechariah describes a scene of "Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him" (Zechariah 3:1). The ending book of the Bible, Revelation, speaks of Satan's ejection from Heaven this way: "Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night" (Rev. 12:10).

Not surprisingly, we are instructed in Scripture to "malign no one" (Titus 3:2), for "slander [to] be put away from you" (Ephesians 4:31), and that the one who abides with God is a person who "does not slander with his tongue" (Psalm 15:3).

Is it not reasonable to conclude that if Satan the slanderer is the "prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2) and the "ruler of this world" (John 16:11), that slander is par for the course in this life? While it may sound harsh to say, does it not also stand to reason that those estranged from God are simply following in their spiritual father's (John 8:44) footsteps when they slander others?

This being the case, how crucial it is that we as Christians adhere to the Bible's command to put "aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander" (1 Peter 2:1). Moreover, we are not to return insult for insult when attacks like Krauss' come, but instead we should remember Christ's promise of: "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad for your reward in Heaven is great" (Matthew 5:11-12).

1. First debate; second debate; third debate.
2. See first debate, 39 minute marker.
3. See the first debate transcript for more details.
4. Kaley Payne; "A clash of science and philosophy: our chat with Lawrence Krauss and William Lane Craig."
5. Ibid.
6. Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., online). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Image Credit: Dylan_Payne; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  |  Christian-Life  |  Sin-Evil

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Published 3-24-2014