This is a transcript of Richard Dawkins speaking:
“As it happens, the story of Joshua in Jericho is the subject of an interesting experiment in child morality, by the Israeli psychologist, George Tamarin. Tamarin presented to more than 1,000 Israeli schoolchildren aged between 8 and 14, the Book of Joshua’s account of the Battle of Jericho. He then asked the children a simple moral question: Do you think Joshua and the Israelites acted rightly or not? They had to choose between A (total approval) B (partial approval) and C (total disapproval). The results were polarised: 66% gave total approval, and 26% total disapproval, with rather fewer, 8%, in the middle with partial approval.
Here are three typical answers from the Total Approval A group. ‘In my opinion, Joshua and the sons of Israel acted well, and here are the reasons: God promised them this land, and gave them permission to conquer. If they would not have acted in this manner, or killed anyone, then there would be the danger that the Sons of Israel would have assimilated among the Goyen.’
‘In my opinion Joshua was right when he did it, one reason being that God commanded him to exterminate the people so that the tribes of Israel will not be able to assimilate amongst them and learn their bad ways.’
‘Joshua did good because the people who inhabited the land were of a different religion, and when Joshua killed them, he wiped their religion from the earth.’
The justification for the genocidal massacre by Joshua is religious in every case. Even those in Category C who gave total disapproval, did so in some cases for backhanded religious reasons. One girl for example, disapproved of Joshua’s conquering Jericho because in order to do so he had to enter it. ‘I think it is bad since the Arabs are impure and if one enters an impure land, one will also become impure and share their curse’
Tamarin ran a fascinating control group in his experiment. A different group of 168 Israeli children were given the same text from the Book of Joshua, but with Joshua’s own name replaced by General Lin and Israel replaced by a Chinese kingdom 3,000 years ago. Now the experiment gave opposite results. Only 7% approved of General Lin’s behaviour and 75% disapproved. In other words, when their loyalty to Judaism was removed from the calculation, the majority of the children agreed with the moral judgments that most modern humans would share. Joshua’s action was a deed of barbaric genocide. But it all looks different from a religious point of view, and the difference starts early in life. It was religion that made the difference between children condemning genocide and condoning it.”