atheism, philosophy

Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig: Thoughts and Links

The debate I’ve been hyping to friends and family happened tonight: Sam Harris, one of the “New Atheists” and author of the books The Moral Landscape, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The End of Faith went up against William Lane Craig, one of my favorite living philosophers. Craig has a PhD in philosophy, as well as a ThD. He’s written extensively on philosophy of religion, apologetics, and time. He’s the author and editor of too many books to list, but they include The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Reasonable Faith, and Time and Eternity. The topic of the debate was “Is Good from God?”

I wanted to share some links for all of you, along with my thoughts about the debate.

Links

Audio of debate here.

Video of the debate here.

Craig rebuts Harris’ allegation of misquotations here.

Craig’s brief post-debate impressions here.

Craig’s thoughts on his strategy in the debate here.

Another analysis of the debate here.

See Wintery Knight’s summary of the debate here.

More links will be posted as I find them.

Analysis of Debate

It is important to note that the topic of the debate is “Is Good from God?” The topic is not “Does God exist?” Nor is it “Is the God of the Old Testament Evil?” Remember this. Also, my apologies in advance for my tense shift throughout. It’s almost 2AM and I’m tired.

Craig Opening

Craig’s opening statement started with him asserting he’d maintain two propositions

I. If God exists, then we have a solid foundation for objective moral values.

He backed this contention up by saying that it is true even if God does not exist, because it is a conditional statement (“If God exists…”). Further, he argued that God’s nature provides the standard against which all moral vales are measured. Important: Note that here Craig is not arguing that objective moral values are grounded in arbitrary commands from God, rather, Craig argues that God is the standard against which morals are judged. It would be true to say God is good simpliciter.

As far as moral duties are concerned, it is these which are constituted by God’s commands, however that does not mean the commands are arbitrary, but rather grounded in the essential nature of God.

Craig’s second contention was:

II. If God does not exist, then there is no strong foundation for objective moral values.

He argued:

1) Why think that human beings have objective moral worth? On atheism, humans are merely “accidental byproducts” of naturalistic evolution. What therefore would mean that humans are more valuable than hyenas, other primates, rocks, etc.?

2) He quotes Michael Ruse, an atheistic philosopher, who points out that morality is, on atheism, illusory. It is a mere socio-biological convention. And to think that morality is objective is simply false. He also quotes Dawkins as saying that we are just machines for propagating DNA. On such a view, how can we be objectively valuable?

3) Craig argues that Harris simply redefines good in nonmoral terms. He argues by stipulation that “well-being” = good, which is to beg the question. Craig argues that Harris has provided no reason to equate the two, and in fact has no grounds from which to do so.

4) Natural science only shows what “is” not what “ought” to be. It can only describe actions, not prescribe them.

5) Harris explicitly denies free will within his writing and so it seems impossible for there to be any culpability for actions. How can someone have “ought” applied to them if they are not free to make choices about their actions?

Harris Opening

Harris begins by noting, as did Craig, the areas of agreement. He agrees that to deny objective morality can lead to some horrific views, and he uses anecdotes to support this claim. Craig and Harris seem to agree that objective morality is something necessary for meaning in the universe. I find no contention with this part of Harris’ discussion.

He goes on to argue that there are “facts” and there are “values.” He argues that science can move from the subjective facts to objective values, although I found his argument here unclear.

Finally, he gets to the point where he specifically outlines his view, which is based upon the well-being of conscious creatures.

Harris argues that “If the word ‘bad’ applies, it is ‘wrong.’” Further, “The minimum standard of moral goodness is to avoid the most possible misery for everyone.” Harris asks us to envision a world in which every conscious being was suffering to the maximum possible extent. He says that this is obviously bad (= wrong) and so we can scientifically determine what is good by working towards the well-being of conscious creatures.

At this point in my notes I wrote “Why?” next to the quotes from Harris. And I think that is exactly the problem. Thus far, Harris has done a good job outlining what he thinks is wrong, but he hasn’t done anything to say why it is wrong, other than by stipulating that it is wrong.

Harris goes on to argue that

1) Questions of right and wrong depend upon minds

2) Minds are natural phenomena

3) Therefore, morality can be understood by science because we can study minds

Against Harris, I would note that each of these premises are contentious, and he doesn’t argue within the debate to support any of them. First, premise 1) is questionable because it actually goes against the nature of objective morality. If something is objectively wrong, even were  there no minds in the universe, the action would still be wrong. Here Harris makes the mistake of thinking that because minds make moral judgments, moral judgments are dependent upon minds. I think that is false, and it needs argumentation to support.

Second, premise 2) assumes physicalism, which is the position that our minds are wholly composed of matter, and there is no non-physical property of mind. I’ve argued against this position elsewhere (see for example, my posts here and here). But the thing is that Harris simply takes 2) as given. To be fair to Harris, this is a debate so he hardly has the time to make a substantive case for physicalism. My point here is that Harris’ argument hardly establishes his conclusion–there is a lot of footwork to be done to establish 1) or 2). I think that both have serious difficulties and are generally non-starters.

Finally, Harris briefly asserts that the God of the Old Testament is evil.

Craig First Rebuttal

Craig’s first rebuttal began with him summing up his contentions I and II above. He points out that Harris didn’t attack either contention directly.

Craig points out that the debate is not about Old Testament ethics, but cites Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? for those interested in the topic.

Harris in particular did not argue against contention I at all, so Craig turns his guns against Harris’ assertions about objective morality on atheism.

First, Craig asks “If atheism is true, what makes flourishing of conscious creatures objectively good?” He goes on to say “They might like to flourish” but that does not provide an objective reason to ground morality in their well-being.

Second, Harris admits that it is possible for rapists/murderers to be happy (in a state of well-being) to the point of being a “peak” in his “moral landscape.” But if that is the case, then an objectively evil entity, on Harris’ account, could occupy the peak of the moral landscape, which would entail a contradiction, because an objectively bad person was viewed as an objectively good thing/state of affairs. I found this particularly powerful to refute Harris, and I liked how the camera shifted to him almost immediately after this statement by Craig. Harris did not look happy.

Finally, Craig argued that because Harris denies freedom of the will, he can’t actually hold that humans have any obligations whatsoever.

Harris Rebuttal 1

Harris started off by saying “that was very interesting.” Fair enough.

Then he says, “Ask yourselves what is wrong with spending eternity in hell”. As he continued along this line of reasoning, I wrote “Harris is curiously arguing against hell…?”

Basically, rather than trying to defend his view whatsoever from Craig’s lucid attacks, Harris turned to the problem of evil. It was here that any doubt in my mind about this debate faded away. Harris made no attempt to defend his position, but rather argued that we have no way to know that Islam is not the true religion, on Craig’s argument, and that the God of the Old Testament is evil. In other words, he abandoned the attempt to defend his position immediately upon the gaping holes Craig’s rebuttal blew through it.

He also seems to have missed Craig’s point that God is essentially good and instead argues against a straw man by asserting that God is not bound by duties, which Craig had already explicitly denied. Then Harris made some offhand remark about psycopathy and religion. He says that he can’t think of a less moral framework than that of the God of the Old Testament.

Craig Rebuttal 2

Craig starts his response by saying, “The less moral framework is atheism!” because it is “not a framework!” Craig seems as baffled as I am that Harris didn’t actually respond to any argument he had leveled against Harris’ “landscape.” Further, he points out that Harris is resorting to red herrings–Sam is trying to derail the debate into a discussion of the problem of evil and Old Testament ethics rather than a debate about whether atheism or theism can better ground objective morality.

Further, Craig notes Harris is totally wrong when he argues the goal of theism is to avoid hell. Rather, theism worships God because He, as the greatest possible being and source of our existence, etc., etc. is worthy of worship, not because of the desire to avoid hell. That is a simple misrepresentation of theism!

Interestingly, Craig also notes that all theists can utilize his contention I, whether they be Hindu, Muslim, Jew, or Christian (etc.). Remember this.

Harris Rebuttal 2

Harris finally attempts to defend his position by saying his position is defended because we “need only assume that the worst possible suffering” for every conscious being would be an objectively bad state of affairs. He says “My argument entails that we can speak objectively about a certain class of subjective facts” namely, moral values. So basically, his argument boils down to “Just believe that x is objectively bad, and my view works!”

Unfortunately, Harris once more gets sidetracked in trying to argue against the existence of God by asserting that the pluralistic nature of religions experience disproves religions. As I’ve noted elsewhere, a mere plurality of opinions does not entail the falsity of all.

Craig Closing Statement

Craig notes that God is the greatest conceivable being, so to ask “Why should we think God is good?” is like asking “Why are bachelors unmarried?”

Further, he points out that Harris has yet to answer the schoolyard question, “Why?” Why, on atheism, should we think that the worst possible state of affairs is objectively bad? We might not like it, but that doesn’t ground it objectively.He closes by saying “All together now, ‘says who?’”

Harris Closing

Again, Harris leads with an argument from religious diversity. He also complains that Craig’s argument for a theistic ground of morality could equally be used by the Muslim, which is exactly correct. Craig said earlier that any theist could ground their morality on God.

Finally, Harris notes that just as we aren’t losing any sleep over the fact that Muslims think we (Christians) are going to hell, he isn’t losing any sleep over Christians thinking he is going to hell. But what kind of argument is this? Someone is unconcerned about a rival hypothesis, so we should think the rival is false? I mean, I’m not losing any sleep over the fact that Harris thinks the basis of my religion is psychosis, because I think it is ridiculous!

Q and A

I simply can’t ignore the Q and A from this one. Some of the questions were just silly, but the two that struck me were both asked of Harris. The first question was from someone who basically asked “If a God were proposed that would meet your [Harris'] definitions of objective morality, would you grant that he could ground morality?” Harris answered very well by saying yes, but then there would be no reason to propose God as the grounds for the morality, for one would have to grant Harris’ account worked.

The second question was the kicker. The person asked, basically “You base objective morality on the an assumption that the worse possible world is bad, why think that is not subjective [based upon an arbitrary assumption]?” Harris answered the only way he could. He said we have to take it as axiomatic that it is objectively bad.

So basically, Harris admits that on his view, we must simply have faith that some things are objectively bad and that the well-being of conscious creatures is objectively good. We must simply assume that something is true, and that is to be our grounds for belief. As Harris put it, it is axiomatic, so it doesn’t have to be justified. On such an account, then, belief in objective morals is, on atheism, a leap of faith–an ungrounded, unjustified (epistemically) leap. I’ll have to be forgiven for thinking Harris failed to adequately defend his position.

Overall, I’d say Harris seemed to fare better than Lawrence Krauss in his debate with Craig (my analysis here), but upon thinking about it, I think Harris may have done far worse. The bottom line is Harris lined up atheism’s best attempt to ground objective morality like a house made of building blocks. Craig came along and knocked them over. Then he laughed.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

About these ads

About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

77 thoughts on “Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig: Thoughts and Links

  1. First, premise 1) is questionable because it actually goes against the nature of objective morality. If something is objectively wrong, even were there no minds in the universe, the action would still be wrong. Here Harris makes the mistake of thinking that because minds make moral judgments, moral judgments are dependent upon minds. I think that is false, and it needs argumentation to support.

    Actually I think Harris is correct here, if you ground moral duties in Gods commands you have to grant that morality is dependent on mind. It also seems plausible that moral obligations function like requirements or commands or demands made on one person by another.

    What’s interesting however is that if you grant this, then unless you ground morality in something like God its hard to preserve the objectivity of our duties. If you ground them in human minds, explaining it in terms of the minds of another human person or group of human persons, you have relativism, and if you utilise an idealised person you end up with something very much like God except with less explanatory power.

    Posted by Matthew Flannagan | April 8, 2011, 6:32 AM
    • The problem is that I could grant the first premise and still maintain that premise 2) is simply false. But I don’t see any reason to grant premise 1) either. I don’t grant that morals are dependent upon God’s mind. I grant that they are dependent upon God’s ontology.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 8, 2011, 10:42 PM
  2. Great review JW. I thought it odd that he defaulted to logic. For while many, even most of us, perceive objective moral values to be true and binding just as we do logic, it doesn’t follow from this that they are grounded in naturalism. He may as well just stayed at home, and e-mailed his response and argument in: you have to believe naturalism is true because it’s true.

    Posted by Randy Everist | April 8, 2011, 7:22 AM
  3. I noticed during the debate that Sam Harris had trouble clearly and authoritatively summing up his defense for objective morality given atheism. I suppose in the end it must have been embarrassing to cop out with his actual answer- that the well being of our species being good is axiomatic and obvious. Really? I don’t know, maybe I just need a little faith to buy into that argument…

    Posted by APerson | April 8, 2011, 8:38 AM
  4. I thought Harris did very well in this debate.
    He was direct and clear, and pointed out how Craig’s Divine Command Theory is really barbaric based on everything we consider to be “objectively moral,” therefore his (craig’s) view of morality was a bad one. Craig accused him of “redefining” morality to basically mean maximizing well being, but that’s not what Harris was doing at all. He was saying that’s what all moral systems are about.

    Posted by Ramses | April 8, 2011, 3:29 PM
    • Interestingly, Craig didn’t argue for divine command theory as the basis of morality, he explicitly denied this. He grounded ethics in God’s ontology, not in his commands. It was duties, not ontology, which Craig grounded in commands. You, like Harris, seem to have missed this.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 8, 2011, 10:44 PM
    • “Craig accused him of “redefining” morality to basically mean maximizing well being, but that’s not what Harris was doing at all. He was saying that’s what all moral systems are about.”

      See, I think you contradicted yourself here. First, the maximizing of well being, commits the naturalistic fallacy, and crosses the is/ought gap that David Hume brought up. G.E. Moore gave a good critique of such reasoning, and it was found fallacious. The second problem is that it is based on a utilatarian conception of morals, and there is also deontic morals, which is what Kant talked about. This also neglects that there is also virtue ethics. You also have the amoral moral system, which does not care about morals. These three systems are not concerned with maximizing of well being. Also, the Divine Command theory, whatever you personally feel about it, is still a moral framework. So maximizing well being is not “what all moral systems are about”. This is clearly false.

      Posted by gondoliere | April 18, 2011, 8:06 PM
      • Thanks for your comment gondoliere! I agree that Divine Command theory is still a moral framework–but I think the key to remember is that Craig’s argument didn’t hinge upon divine command theory. Craig only used divine commands for moral duties not for the grounds of morality itself.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 19, 2011, 10:53 PM
  5. This is not a remotely objective evaluation of this debate.

    First, let me say: I agree with you that Krauss did terribly in his debate with WLC. No argument there.

    But I think you omit the key fact in this debate (and one that was ably pointed out by Harris): WLC did not debate the moral system offered by Harris. Instead, he critiqued a straw-man version of that moral system, which Harris then (properly) ignored in his second rebuttal.

    Posted by Andrew EC | April 8, 2011, 10:27 PM
    • Interesting. Harris didn’t point to any area where his ethical theory was made into a straw man. As noted in this post, Harris literally immediately stopped defending his position once Craig had destroyed it. Perhaps that was his smartest move: he knew he lost, so he changed the topic.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 8, 2011, 10:45 PM
    • So you’re saying Harris does not believe the good is defined by human well-being? Then what does he think the good, ontologically, is? Surely not his epistemic view of moral intuition! How we come to know morals cannot possibly be an objective grounding, since we have not always existed!

      Posted by Randy Everist | April 9, 2011, 9:30 AM
      • You are assuming that humans are the source of objective morals. As WLC clearly argues that God is the basis for objective morals, therefore, if we would not have come into existence objective morals would in fact still exist.

        Posted by B | June 26, 2011, 11:44 AM
  6. It amazes me that you look through such narrow lenses. possibly aside from his debate with Kagan, I do not believe Craig ever lost a debate. Harris, however, destroyed him. You can spin it anyway you like. To me, it appears you didn’t like the outcome so you criticize the means and the way Harris elected to steer the argument. Harris impressed me and Craig isn’t the god I thought. Craig was always able to win debates using impeccable logic while appealing to common sense. Harris’ arguments may not have been Philosophically sophisticated, but they did not need to be. He turned the tables on Craig and appealed to the collective common sense of the audience. It worked.
    Your failure to see it is troubling. Your blog has really lost credibility with me since it is quite obvious that you will NEVER be impartial.

    Posted by S T Mcginnis | April 9, 2011, 2:01 AM
    • “Harris destroyed [Craig].” Really? Could you explain to me how Harris got around Craig’s arguments against Harris’ facile view? Harris literally said that you just have to take it as true that his view is correct, that’s the only way it will work. So he admitted that his view is just an assumption. We just need to assume he is correct. Craig provided many reasons to think he’s wrong.

      Harris’ “appeal to common sense” was to sidetrack the debate. Rather than defend his position, he abandoned it.

      Plus, I never claimed to be impartial or unbiased. I like Craig very much. But that doesn’t mean I can’t watch a debate and see who won. The fact remains that Harris totally left the topic of the debate after Craig’s first rebuttal. He had already lost.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 9, 2011, 6:18 AM
      • I appreciate where you are coming from, but the point I am making is that you wanted Harris to address the issues in a manner that YOU wanted them addressed. You mention that Harris’ view is an assumption. Isn’t WLC’s view also an assumption that he (and you) believes to be correct? Harris clearly believes that philosophy has not been especially useful in answering the ‘moral question’. I don’t think Harris’ appeal to common sense was a sidetrack to the debate. Craig wanted to define the entire debate as a philosophical discussion, like he always does. However, Harris isn’t obliged to argue on the terms that Craig (or you) wants. I agree that Harris veered off the ‘philosophical track’ and did so intentionally, but I felt he clearly showed how bankrupt religious moral epistemology is. WLC has always appealed to our collective common sense and emotions – and is brilliant at doing so. On this particular night, however, Harris did exactly that and did it much better than Craig. If you prefer that the matter be presented as a philosophical discussion, you need look no further than the WLC debate with Kagan. Anyway, I have agreed with you and your analysis on some prior debates. On this one, however, we can agree to disagree. I do, however, take issue with your statement, “But that doesn’t mean I can’t watch a debate and see who won.” This comment is very disingenuous on your part. You, like many others in the field of apologetics, are devoid of objectivity on these matters. True introspection on your part should produce the honest assessment that there is no argument that can be postulated that will sway you from your dogma.

        Posted by S T McGinnis | April 9, 2011, 2:36 PM
      • I take it you think you are the objective arbiter of truth? I find this objection interesting whenever I see it. Frequently, people say “Christian apologists are so biased.” as if others are not. It perplexes me that people assume atheism is some kind of epistemically neutral position, which is simply false (see here). It just so happens that apologists reveal their bias, while their opponents tend to try to hide it. Everyone has cognitive biases (for example a tendency to weight empiricism over other types of evidence), some are just more honest about them.

        “You mention that Harris’ view is an assumption. Isn’t WLC’s view also an assumption that he (and you) believes to be correct?”

        First, even were I to grant this, your argument would then amount to little more than a tu quoque, which is logically fallacious. Saying “Sure we just assume our position is true, but so do you! HA!” doesn’t do anything to salvage the inefficacy of grounding ethics in atheism.

        Second, Craig actually provided reasons for believing God could act as the basis for morality in his opening statement, as well as his rebuttals. Harris provided one reason: “Assume it’s true” and then proceeded to run away from the debate and into Old Testament ethics as quickly as possible.

        “True introspection on your part should produce the honest assessment that there is no argument that can be postulated that will sway you from your dogma.”

        I believe this is a textbook example of “poisoning the well.”

        So far I fail to see the weight of your arguments. Rather than actually defend Harris’ position, you take his tact: red herrings. Chase the debate away by arguing that people don’t have to use philosophical discussion; poison the well; and issue tu quoque types of arguments. Tell me, why should I think Harris was correct? So far all you’ve done is attack my character and that of other Christian apologists, and then implicitly admit your position is merely an assumption.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 9, 2011, 5:25 PM
    • “Harris’ arguments may not have been Philosophically sophisticated, but they did not need to be. He turned the tables on Craig and appealed to the collective common sense of the audience. It worked.
      Your failure to see it is troubling.”

      No where here do you claim that Harris’ philosophically unsophisticated arguments were good, sound, or even strong arguments. I think your observation that he tried to appeal to the collective common sense of the audience is spot on. Unfortunately, just as Harris’ common sense approach to defend moral obligation on atheism was shown to be incoherent, the same can be said for his common sense approach to attack Craig’s position. The “common sense” arguments which Harris brought to the debate were shallow, incoherent, and red herring arguments that shouldn’t convince any reasonable person of anything.

      Perhaps, as you say, his appeal worked, but this says nothing about the quality of his arguments and everything about the people who bought them.

      Posted by APerson | April 9, 2011, 8:58 AM
    • ST, it seems you have fallen prey to the red herring! About half of what Harris said was defending objective morality; that it made sense doesn’t refute any of what Craig said! The other half was critiquing the Christian–specifically–Old Testament view of God, which also doesn’t negate 1. On theism, objective morality can be grounded, nor does it negate 2. On atheism, objective morality cannot be grounded.

      This is why red herrings are so effective to the general population. They implicitly assume if they agree with what the speaker is saying, that the other speaker is wrong. There’s only one problem: what if the speaker isn’t saying anything relevant to the actual debate? Suppose you and I debated over which basketball team was better: The 1989 Detroit Pistons or the 1988 Los Angeles Lakers. I argued for Detroit and you took LA. Now suppose after I had extolled the Bad Boys of D, you got up and said, “Isaiah Thomas is an idiot. Have you seen the way he’s been acting!” Most people listening would agree with you, but it doesn’t follow at all that your overall position in the debate topic is correct!

      Posted by Randy Everist | April 9, 2011, 9:28 AM
    • It should be pointed out, Craig and Harris audience was from a specific region, and society. So their “common sense” does not mean it is shared by those in other societies, let alone in different times, like ancient times. This means, his appeal to common sense, is not very good. It also boarders on appeal to the masses, which is fallacious. That is the problem.

      Posted by gondoliere | April 18, 2011, 8:13 PM
  7. I’d have to listen to it again, but it sounded to me that Harris was heavy on rhetoric and low on substance. I think he gave at least somewhat of a cogent argument but he didn’t really defend it, he just railed mostly on the whole “Yahweh is a moral monster” canard and the problem of evil and Christian particularism. These points were hardly relevant to the debate. I sorta wished Craig would have emphasized more that if God exists he would create us with a sense of what is right/wrong within our minds/heart and maybe then maybe give Plantinga’s argument against naturalism. I think that maybe would have made things more clear, there seems to be a confusion that divine command theory is limited to say …obeying the laws laid out in the Pentateuch, or the Koran or the new testament. It would have been clearer that if he stated more that God made man in his image, we have this moral law/duty sense built in us, that’s why Harris and I agree on most of objective moral values and duties we have.

    Posted by erik | April 9, 2011, 12:59 PM
    • “These points were hardly relevant to the debate.”

      That was my main problem with his debate.

      I think the main reason Craig didn’t go there is because he had no reason to do so. I see your point though, because had Craig defended against the problem of evil more, the audience may have felt more inclined towards his position even though he was allowing Harris to derail the debate. As a philosopher though, I think Craig was much more successful just continuing to destroy Harris’ position than to chase the rabbit trails Harris was trying to go down.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 9, 2011, 5:36 PM
  8. Oh, and when Harris made the “pray over your pancakes and they turn into the body o Elvis” joke (IIRC, it was something like that) – that was a low blow. You don’t go to Notre Dame and insult the Eucharist. I’m not catholic, and I disagree with the transubstantiation doctrine, but that’s just rude.

    Posted by erik | April 9, 2011, 1:01 PM
  9. While we’re on the subject of “tu quoque” fallacies, it seems that the god of analytic philosophy himself (Dr. William Lane Craig, of course) commits one at the :50sec mark in this video:

    I wonder if your unwavering love for Craig will keep you from recognizing this obvious lapse…

    Posted by Zeke | April 9, 2011, 7:27 PM
    • I fail to see what this is supposed to do other than show that Craig clearly answers the fallacious assumption within the question “who caused God?” namely, that the premise was “whatever began to exist has a cause” not “everything has a cause.” so Basically, you have managed to demonstrate that you failed to understand the first premise of the Kalam, but did not demonstrate that Craig’s argument was a tu quoque. Not only that, but I don’t think you are aware of the meaning of tu quoque. There are some fantastic resources on logic out there. Might I recommend to you Copi and Cohen’s “Introduction to Logic”?

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 9, 2011, 8:48 PM
      • I understand Craig’s counter to the “who caused God?” question, although I believe there are good reasons not to be convinced by it. This is an ENTIRELY separate discussion, of course. The reason I specifically identified the final portion of the video starting at :50sec was to point out that Craig’s rebuttal to the “special pleading” objection – that when atheists say the universe is eternal, they are committing the same error – is a classic “tu quoque” fallacy. I chose not to explain exactly why this qualifies as a “tu quoque” fallacy because I overestimated your competence with logic. To be crystal clear, Craig rebuts the “special pleading” charge (against the first premise of the Kalam) by simply stating that atheists (those who make this charge) have made the same error. Again, please tell me exactly what we call this in philosophy?

        If you can’t pick up on the “tu quoque” fallacy at this point, it is you who needs to reread Copi and Cohen. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case.

        Posted by Zeke | April 9, 2011, 9:50 PM
      • Craig is not pointing to a tu quoque here. He is saying atheists realize that, were the universe necessarily existent (and eternal), it would be nonsensical to argue that it needs a cause. In fact he points this out explicitly. He agrees in his literature that were the universe eternal and necessarily existent, it would be true that the Kalam would not apply. So no, he’s not making a tu quoque argument here at all. He’s saying that anything which is eternal/necessary, which atheists used to argue was the case of the universe, does not have a cause.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 9, 2011, 11:21 PM
      • For those who haven’t understood yet, accusing the atheist of committing a special pleading fallacy when s/he says that the universe is eternal does not invalidate the special pleading charge leveled against the first premise of the Kalam; namely that asserting that the first cause is exempt from having a cause qualifies as special pleading. There may be other means of refuting this claim, but Craig doesn’t employ them here. In fact, the only counter argument he uses is, as I’ve shown, not an argument at all.

        Posted by Zeke | April 9, 2011, 10:02 PM
      • So your complaint is that in a ~1 1/2 minute video, Craig doesn’t address something he addresses at length in his body of work.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 9, 2011, 11:22 PM
  10. I’ve read some of Craig’s work and I’ve never seen him effectively refute the special pleading objection. In fact, he makes the same “tu quoque” rebuttal on the bottom of page 195 in “The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology”:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=g8bHRrVu3SsC&pg=PA195&lpg=PA195&dq=william+lane+craig+special+pleading+efficient&source=bl&ots=6S_loioq0v&sig=3gCVnrelInHxzobzUjN5iKqcWCU&hl=en&ei=loyhTbmfMNG5hAej2ImNBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&sqi=2&ved=0CBMQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=special%20pleading&f=false

    Where else does Craig address the special pleading objection? I can imagine a rebuttal to special pleading that takes the form of distinguishing between material causation and efficient causation, and saying that God is a better explanation for the existence of the universe than the universe coming to being on its own, because God at least provides an efficient cause. However, this doesn’t invalidate the special pleading objection (for one, why does this efficient cause have to be God?) and it doesn’t mean that just because positing God may, in principle, be better than another unlikely explanation, it is actually a good explanation for the beginning of the universe.

    Of course, this doesn’t even touch upon the problems of equivocating on causation (which Dr. Craig deals with unsatisfactorily on that same page), since it’s not clear at all that we can speak intelligibly of a causal principle (“whatever begins to exist has a cause”) outside the context of the universe. Craig says that, “the unequivocal concept of ’cause’ employed throughout the argument is the concept of something which brings about or produces its effects” (195). But this is not entirely true – the initial concept of ’cause’, at least in the first premise of Kalam, is the concept of something which brings about or produces its effects ‘WITHIN the universe’. The concept of cause in the second premise is the concept of something which brings about or produces its effects outside of or ‘WITHOUT’ the universe. We don’t know what application (if any) the causal principle might have outside the universe; it is, therefore, misleading to use this principle to discuss two different concepts of cause. Craig’s treatment of these as a unified concept is a fallacy of equivocation.

    Posted by Zeke | April 10, 2011, 6:40 AM
    • Again, put simply, Craig is not issuing a tu quoque. He’s saying that 1) Whatever began to exist had a cause. The universe, on some brands of atheism, had no beginning, so 1) would not have applied. God, on theism, has no beginning, and so 1) does not apply. Tu quoque types of arguments point out that an opponent is acting in a way hypocritical with their worldviews. Craig is not doing that, he is saying quite simply that a view which holds the universe is eternal would also hold it has no cause. Argument, to rest.

      Now, it seems to me that just like Harris, you have been seeking to divert the conversation by following Red Herrings.

      So back to the problem at hand. Harris did not support his position whatsoever. Craig did.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 10, 2011, 11:23 AM
      • What you’ve said here is that Craig isn’t issuing a tu quoque because his response to the special pleading objection is simply an observation about a certain brand of atheism and so, not an argument (rebuttal) that he hasn’t actually committed a special pleading fallacy. I’m not sure Craig intends that to be the case, but even if did, it doesn’t change the fact that, though he may have deflected the special pleading charge by making a trivial observation, he STILL hasn’t responded to the objection.

        Posted by Zeke | April 10, 2011, 11:48 AM
      • 1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 10, 2011, 11:53 AM
    • I happen to have the Blackwell’s Companion to Natural Theology, and the relevant passage on p. 195 states, “(2) If everything has a cause of its existence, then the cause of the universe must also have a cause of its existence…The argument does not presuppose that everything has a cause. Rather the operative Causal Principle is that whatever begins to exist has a cause. Something that exists eternally and, hence, without a beginning would not need to have a cause. This is not special pleading for God, since the atheist has always maintained the same thing about the universe: it is beginningless and uncaused.”

      The so-called tu quoque is in response to the charge that such a claim is special pleading for God. Special pleading is the fallacy which states a normative rule but with a special exception for one’s own view without any compelling reason. Craig’s response is that the atheist maintains the same thing, thus a metaphysically-ultimate cause or being or existence (as argued in the sentences prior). However, this is exactly how you defeat the charge of special pleading: point out another example. To give the defeater of the objection greater force is to point out such an ultimate explanation is not fallacious because of a view held by the objector. Hence, it is not fallacious to do this; on the contrary, this is the best way to defeat a charge of special pleading!

      Posted by Randy Everist | April 11, 2011, 5:47 PM
  11. The point is, if Craig’s response is intended to be an argument, then it is a tu quoque — because, all he could possibly be saying is: ‘Special pleading is not a relevant charge, because there are atheists who make a certain argument about the universe which would qualify as special pleading’. If Craig’s response isn’t an argument, we are still left wondering why the premise 1 of the Kalam is not a case of special pleading.

    Posted by Zeke | April 10, 2011, 11:54 AM
  12. It is fairly clear why simply italicizing “begins” doesn’t do the trick. In fact, you’re only highlighting why the objection is valid. It is that particular wording, used in order to immunize only God from requiring a beginning, which constitutes special pleading because it makes God the only possible uncaused cause. I actually think I made a more sophisticated argument against the special pleading objection in drawing a distinction between material and efficient causes; fortunately, I was able to successfully rebut that one as well.

    Posted by Zeke | April 10, 2011, 12:09 PM
  13. I realize the use of the word “begins” is an attempt to circumvent special pleading, but it seems that the modified Kalam still falls victim to it.

    Posted by Zeke | April 10, 2011, 12:13 PM
    • Again, it’s a basic distinction between necessary and contingent beings. And this continues to sidetrack from the topic at hand: on atheism, there is no grounding for objective morality. On theism, there is. As of now, I am cutting off the red herring. You can view the comment policy here.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 10, 2011, 12:20 PM
  14. JW, after reading Randy and your comments, I watched the debate again. With your points in mind, I agree with most of what you two said. Harris did seem to ignore much of the debate topic that I assumed was agree upon by both he and WLC. I totally missed it the first time around and am a little embarrassed I took the bait so easily. Although much of what Harris spoke about deserves dialog, this debate was not the forum for it.

    Posted by S T Mcginnis | April 13, 2011, 9:17 AM
    • I appreciate the willingness to go back and re-evaluate your position! You’re absolutely right–many of the points Harris raised are worth discussing, but he failed to defend the matter at hand. Thanks for your comment, it made my day.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 13, 2011, 9:21 AM
  15. hm apparently my last post was either insulting or not helpful cuz it got deleted. Let me try again and I’ll work harder to avoid generalizations.

    I’ll focus specifically on this God=Good simpliciter assumption, because I think that really is the root of the disagreement. In what way does god’s nature establish objective morality? Just as one can say ‘Humans have a notion of morality but it’s just their subjective opinions’ one is free to say ‘God has an opinion about how things should be but there’s no independent objective reason things should really be that way.’

    The is/ought barrier is a universal nullifier of moral truth if its taken seriously whether God exists or not.

    Put another way, how would an evil God be different from a good God? I suspect that most people would say that, broadly speaking, an evil God would be indifferent to the wellbeing of his creation, or perhaps even seek to make his creation miserable. Someone who says this is implicitly using Harris’s moral landscape, which at its root values wellbeing.

    The reason Harris kept bringing up the problem of evil is because this is evidence that if God does exist He is an evil God, which would be a definitional refutation of Craig’s opening contention number 1. The reason Harris kept bringing up evil conceptions of God such as the old testament God is because this is proof that the mere existence of a God does not imply an objective moral framework as Craig asserted in contention number 1. Craig kept insisting that this was irrelevant to the debate, but if the question is “Does God’s existence imply objective morality” then the moral stature of God is probably the most relevant topic one could discuss.

    You didn’t really describe Harris’s contention that divine command theory is based on an inherently psychopathic assumption, namely that moral obligation is a response to an imperative issued by a competent authority, which is exactly how psychopaths view morality.

    Maybe I don’t understand this God defines good assumption very well, but I genuinely don’t understand how it is different from might makes right. This whole idea that he is the being greater than which no being can be conceived of strikes me as false on its face. One such conceivable being would be a being identical to God who simply performed miracles to cure the millions of toddlers who die of dysentery every year (this is again why the problem of evil is so relevant). I don’t understand how that wouldn’t be a God greater than God, and so God cannot be the source of goodness since we can imagine things greater than him.

    Posted by JWW | April 13, 2011, 7:47 PM
    • Thanks for the comment.

      I think the best explication of the God = good is found in Robert Merrihew Adams’ Finite and Infinite Goods, which is one of my favorite books ever. On p. 14 he writes, “The role that belongs to the Form of the Good in Plato’s thought is assigned to God, and the goodness of other things is understood in terms of their standing in some relation, usually conceived as a a kind of resemblance, to God.” It is therefore God’s very nature which simply is good simpliciter. So when you write “God has an opinion about how things should be but there’s no independent objective reason things should really be that way” it is a confusion about what is meant by the theist in grounding objective goodness in God. It is correct to say, in a literal sense, God is good. All things which we are capable of making moral judgments about are to be compared to God and their goodness judged by how closely the resemble God, who is the source of being and goodness itself.

      Things aren’t good because God likes them, or because God thinks they are good. They are good because they are like God, who takes the place of Plato’s Form of Good.

      Harris was more questioning OT ethics than it seems he was utilizing the problem of evil. But regardless, I think that Craig answered Harris quite well–by ignoring the red herring. Craig was defending a broad theistic basis for objective morality, Harris was attacking specific instances in the OT which he felt were evil. I, like Craig, don’t wish to get too far afield here, because like any position, we could keep bringing up specific instances ad nauseum without getting us anywhere. There are answers to all of Harris’ objections, and most of them center around simply understanding the cultural context of the Old Testament, which Harris obviously does not (just as he revealed his obvious misunderstanding about Christian sacraments).

      As for Harris’ objection to divine command theory–it only applies if that were all the theist were using. But note what Craig (and most theists) argued: it wasn’t “God said it, therefore it is good.” It wasn’t “God said it, and therefore it is permissible/right/etc.” It was “God is objectively Good. His commands would therefore reflect His nature, so we know they are objectively good.” If divine command were all we had, theists would be in serious trouble. But anti-theists misunderstand the whole of theistic ontology for ethics when they make objections like this (as does Euthyphro), because the theist doesn’t start with divine commands, rather, he starts with the very nature of God.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 14, 2011, 9:44 AM
  16. Well, maybe a good pre-debate question would have been ‘can there be such a thing as platonic goodness.’ I don’t buy platonic goodness, and Harris’s Moral Landscape doesn’t either. The validity of ‘platonic goodness’ implies that there could be something which is good, but which cannot possibly affect anyone ever, and so nobody could ever possibly care about it (see your universe with no minds that still has operating principles of right and wrong), which seems fishy. To me, things which cannot possibly affect anyone are the definition of irrelevant.

    Furthermore, your response leaves open what I think is the critical question and the whole point of bringing up the problem of evil and OT ethics etc. Basically, if it is in God’s nature to torture things (which is what the problem of evil suggests), and God is the platonic good, then torturing things should be good via its similarity to God’s nature.
    Leaving aside any potential objection to the problem of evil (mysteriousness, original sin, etc), lets speak hypothetically. What if this were true? Would we say ‘Torturing things is actually good,’ or would we say ‘There is no reason to impose this misery on the world; none of us like it; God is evil.’ I think this is a solid thought experiment, but let me know if something about it looks shaky.

    Also, as far as I can tell Craig was indeed endorsing divine command theory as his moral foundation. My description of it was quoting his explanation of what provides moral obligation from the Q&A section. I know that you define ‘good’ by God’s nature not his commands, but I don’t see the point to this distinction. Anyone giving commands tends to give commands in line with their nature… the question is why one assumes this nature to be good, let alone the DEFINITION of good.

    Lastly, to return to the applicability of the is/ought barrier to God’s goodness, I still don’t see why God’s nature ‘should’ define right and wrong. If everyone universally found His nature objectionable, and worshipping Him was an entirely miserable experience, in what sense would His nature be objectively good? We are still free to say that it is ‘platonically’ good by definition, but regardless of what you call it I simply don’t see a way to value a ‘platonic good’ that produces misery. If you counter by saying that this is fallacious because worshipping him is NOT a miserable experience, then you are ‘smuggling in’ Harris’s moral rubric of wellbeing as the salient factor.

    Posted by JWW | April 14, 2011, 12:43 PM
    • Give me a bit to get back to you. Working on homework, then off with the fiancée for a while.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 14, 2011, 2:54 PM
    • Could you explain why you think it is in God’s nature to torture things?

      I’ll get back to you on the rest on Monday at the latest.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 16, 2011, 10:57 AM
      • Again, the problem of evil suggests that if god exists it is in his nature to torture things because of all the suffering we observe in the world. The arguments you call red herrings all suggest that god in fact pursues the suffering of his creation.

        Posted by JWW | April 16, 2011, 12:44 PM
    • The key to remember with theistic objectivity is that we aren’t arguing for such a thing as platonic goodness. We’re importing the theory into a theistic framework. The main problem with moral platonism is that there is no reason to think “formland” exists. There’s no reason to think that floating out there, somewhere, there are platonic forms of “good” or “table” or “chair.” But if God exists–which is to be granted for the sake of argument here–it makes perfectly good sense to think that these “forms” could exist not in “formland” but in God’s mind or being.

      The theist need not argue for moral platonism–for that is not his view. Rather, his view is that if God exists (as is granted for the sake of argument when the topic is “Is good from God?”), then it would make sense to say a kind of platonic interpretation of “Good” is God–and things are measured against this standard.

      You wrote:
      “What if this were true? Would we say ‘Torturing things is actually good,’ or would we say ‘There is no reason to impose this misery on the world; none of us like it; God is evil.’ I think this is a solid thought experiment, but let me know if something about it looks shaky.”

      The problem is that the theist, as Craig points out, sees this kind of question the same as asking “What if there _were_ a square circle? What then?” It’s simply nonsensical.

      You wrote, “Also, as far as I can tell Craig was indeed endorsing divine command theory as his moral foundation. My description of it was quoting his explanation of what provides moral obligation from the Q&A section. I know that you define ‘good’ by God’s nature not his commands, but I don’t see the point to this distinction. Anyone giving commands tends to give commands in line with their nature… the question is why one assumes this nature to be good, let alone the DEFINITION of good.”

      It seems to me you answer your own question. The commands issue from the nature of God. The grounding is not in the commands, but in the nature. Thus, the commands would have to be understood in light of the nature, not vice versa. Craig argued that ethics were grounded in the nature of God; duties were grounded in His commands. It’s not the other way around, which is the only way the Euthyphro and other objections would work. And, as I said, you answer your own question. There simply is a distinction between commands and nature. A command reflects the nature, but it is not the nature simpliciter.

      You wrote, ” If everyone universally found His nature objectionable, and worshipping Him was an entirely miserable experience, in what sense would His nature be objectively good?”

      I’m not sure how this argument is supposed to pan out. I simply can’t see it as being valid in any way. It could be the following:
      1) If worshiping a being is miserable, that being is not objectively good.

      In this case, there are implied premises such as “misery cannot come from worship of something objectively good.” But those premises would clearly need a defense. Suppose I’m a perfectly evil being. Obviously, worshiping a perfectly good being would be utter misery. Would that be a strike against the goodness of the perfectly good being? Obviously not.

      Further, the argument implied therein would not reflect the thing itself, it would rather reflect the character of the worshipers. I propose a rebuttal:

      2) If a being is perfectly good, it will be pleasurable to worship such a being.

      As such, any being which feels misery from worship of said being should not find evidence against the being’s goodness; rather, they have found evidence of some fault within themselves which prevents them from finding pleasure in worship of the perfectly good being. Christian doctrine reflects this when it discusses the nature of sin, which is often construed as a separation from God–an active willing of going against perfect goodness.

      Finally, your hypothetical situation begs the question in that it assumes human pleasure is the basis of morality.

      So your counter “If you counter by saying that this is fallacious because worshipping him is NOT a miserable experience, then you are ‘smuggling in’ Harris’s moral rubric of wellbeing as the salient factor.” is simply off the mark. I do not counter by saying worshiping him “is” not a miserable experience; rather I say that if it is a miserable experience, that reflects upon the one who worships rather than the object of worship. Such would be the nature of objective goodness.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 19, 2011, 11:13 PM
      • OK, well thanks for responding. I think we’ve reached the point where any more responses will undoubtedly start doubling back on ground already covered. Ultimately I suppose we simply use different definitions of Good, and so we’re doomed to talk past each other. I’ll take one last shot then I think I’ll have to let it lie.

        I still don’t see the point to the distinction between God’s commands and his nature; it strikes me as a use of words that doesn’t add anything functional to the argument but is supposed to make the doctrine seem less authoritarian.

        The problem with you’re comparison of a God who enjoys torture to a square circle is that it plays double agent with the definition of good. Here’s how your argument seems to go:
        1) God is the creator of all things
        2) We define good as identical to God’s nature
        3) Torturing things is not good, therefore it cannot be in God’s nature

        Here you are introducing a second definition of Good by presuming that torture is not good. I see no reason there couldn’t be a creator of all things that likes to torture things. Here the theist has one of two options:
        a) admit that yes, if it is in god’s nature to torture things then torture is a noble act (note this is a conditional statement, and the theist then has the option of dealing with the question of God’s actual nature). This response leaves divine command theory intact, but one is compelled to question this distribution of priorities.
        b) admit that if it is in God’s nature to torture things we should reject God as a morally respectable figure (again, this is conditional and the theist can then address the question of God’s actual nature directly). This response would destroy the God=Good simpliciter assumption, and endorse Harris’s Landscape.

        You propose that:
        “If a being is perfectly good, it will be pleasurable to worship such a being.”
        This smuggles in Harris’s landscape which defines goodness as enhancing wellbeing. You are presuming the definition of good to determine whether God is in fact a good being, which implies that good is a principle separable from God.

        The one thing I’d point out in closing is that if one is trying to decide which definition of Good to use, I don’t see that appeals to Godliness would necessarily hold any sway to someone who doesn’t already value God, and there are plenty of people who don’t. As far as I can see however, everyone already values wellbeing to some extent by dint of being a thing that can suffer, and so you have an objective basis on which to start the conversation.

        Posted by JWW | April 20, 2011, 7:41 AM
  17. Hehe no worries have a good time. I just had some time and I’m a slight junkie for these conversations, didn’t mean to bombard you with comments.

    Posted by JWW | April 14, 2011, 3:25 PM
  18. JW
    I was wondering if you could comment on Sam Harris’ take on the debate, The below is taken from his website. Thanks.

    “While I believe I answered (or preempted) all of Craig’s substantive challenges, I’ve received a fair amount of criticism for not rebutting his remarks point for point. Generally speaking, my critics seem to have been duped by Craig’s opening statement, in which he presumed to narrow the topic of our debate (I later learned that he insisted upon speaking first and made many other demands. You can read an amusing, behind-the-scenes account here.) Those who expected me to follow the path Craig cut in his opening remarks don’t seem to understand the game he was playing. He knew that if he began, “Here are 5 (bogus) points that Sam Harris must answer if he has a shred of self-respect,” this would leave me with a choice between delivering my prepared remarks, which I believed to be crucial, or wasting my time putting out the small fires he had set. If I stuck to my argument, as I mostly did, he could return in the next round to say, “You will notice that Dr. Harris entirely failed to address points 2 and 5. It is no wonder, because they make a mockery of his entire philosophy.”

    As I observed once during the debate, but should have probably mentioned again, Craig employs other high school debating tricks to mislead the audience: He falsely summarizes what his opponent has said; he falsely claims that certain points have been conceded; and, in our debate, he falsely charged me with having wandered from the agreed upon topic. The fact that such tricks often work is a real weakness of the debate format, especially one in which the participants are unable to address one another directly. Nevertheless, I believe I was right not to waste much time rebutting irrelevancies, correcting Craig’s distortions of my published work, or taking his words out of my mouth. Instead, I simply argued for a scientific conception of moral truth and against one based on the biblical God. This was, after all, the argument that the organizer’s at Notre Dame had invited me to make.”

    Posted by S T McGinnis | May 12, 2011, 9:57 AM
    • Not sure which of us you’re talking too…. haha. Sorry to reply so late, I just noticed this post. Honestly I think his post was a little dodgy but I suppose I understand it. I don’t understand where all this fear of Craig comes from (I think his points are usually pretty straightforward), but apparently he’s a nightmare to debate. I think this dodginess is a cop out for not being willing to tango with people down the rabbit holes of the hidden implications of more basic intuitions, and I don’t think its particularly noble but I understand it. To his credit he doesn’t seem to do it in his book – he outlines every potentially ugly implication of his landscape and addresses it all dispassionately with honestly and realism. Atheist debaters don’t want to get drawn into ugly arguments about the ontology of free will and combatibalist conceptions of it, etc etc. They want to make the simple point that you don’t have to live accountable to the bible and leave it at that, leaving people to form their views as they will. I think this might be a disservice – I think people could benefit from seeing this brought down to the ground of philosophical grit and seeing where the chips ultimately lay. But I understand the desire to avoid that.

      Posted by JWW | May 17, 2011, 6:17 PM
    • Thanks for your comment! I have already read his blurb on the debate and find it inadequate at best. The bottom line is that Craig’s critiques of Harris’ position were devastating and he failed to so much as comment upon them. Rather, he went off into the field of OT ethics.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 19, 2011, 4:17 PM
  19. “Further, Craig notes Harris is totally wrong when he argues the goal of theism is to avoid hell. Rather, theism worships God because He, as the greatest possible being and source of our existence, etc., etc. is worthy of worship, not because of the desire to avoid hell. That is a simple misrepresentation of theism!”

    Worthy of worship? Worthy according to whom? Moreover, why is worship obligatory? This seems like a case of cosmic feudalism, based on the assumption that if such a being exists, we should worship it. Why? Certainly not because it will further our well-being…

    “Second, Harris admits that it is possible for rapists/murderers to be happy (in a state of well-being) to the point of being a “peak” in his “moral landscape.” But if that is the case, then an objectively evil entity, on Harris’ account, could occupy the peak of the moral landscape, which would entail a contradiction, because an objectively bad person was viewed as an objectively good thing/state of affairs”

    This is to assume that rape is objectively evil, which is a confusion of values and obligations. Rape isn’t evil, on this view, for anything intrinsic to the act, but because of it’s impact on well-being (i.e. the victim(s)). If in some strange universe, rape increased the well-being of all involved, it would be good by virtue of it’s effects, not for anything specific to the act. To call this a contradiction is to assume your own view of objective morality in deeming rape evil (an epistemic conclusion I see no grounds for in the context of the debate), and then putting the rapist on a peak. As I’m sure we would agree, this is not such a world. But even if such a world existed at the same time this one does, and rape was both evil, and not evil, there is no contradiction in the underlying moral system. Well-being is still good, and the worst possible misery for everyone is still bad, there’s simply more than one way to go about achieving the first, and avoiding the second.

    “First, premise 1) is questionable because it actually goes against the nature of objective morality. If something is objectively wrong, even were there no minds in the universe, the action would still be wrong. Here Harris makes the mistake of thinking that because minds make moral judgments, moral judgments are dependent upon minds. I think that is false, and it needs argumentation to support.”

    God is viewed as a disembodied mind. Craig’s own argument provides the support for this premise. If there can be such a thing as objective morality independent of any mind, then god is simply adhering to a standard of good he is no more capable of altering than we are.

    “But the thing is that Harris simply takes 2) as given.”

    Opening the door to Craig to argue for metaphysical dualism, and smash the argument to bits. Oddly enough, though Craig assumes this position, in his critique of Harris’ position on free will/determinism, he doesn’t actually argue for it.

    As far as Harris’ discussion of OT ethics, this was in response to Craig’s assertion at the start of the debate that both of them “largely agree” on what is good and bad. Harris agrees that some things are objectively good/bad, but he holds that it matters what these things end up being. Craig has, elsewhere, defended the actions of the Israelites in slaughtering men, women, and children, as morally good because they were commanded by God. That is a morally bankrupt, and robs ‘good’ of any compelling reason to adopt the moral point of view. As Arif Ahmed pointed out, even if objective morals do exist, they are not going to be such that things like that are considered morally good actions.

    Lee.

    Posted by Lee | July 19, 2011, 11:30 AM
  20. I would like to explain what people refer to as “The Gospel” or “Good News”. In this explanation, I will discuss God’s grace, which unfortunately so many people do not understand or have never been clearly explained.

    Unfortunately, many people attend a Christian church regularly (or attended one in the past) but have never been clearly taught what the Bible stresses as the most important decision that one could ever make. It is only in making this decision that one actually becomes one of God’s children and is “saved” from His eternal judgment. This decision deals with what is referred to as “The Gospel”. If you have never heard “The Gospel” before, here it is. Around 33 AD, Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate, paid the price for every single person’s sin in history by dying the death of crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. He willingly died for every person’s sin that has ever lived and every will live. That includes both you and me. He willing died a death that we deserve for our moral failures in life. Jesus was brutally beaten, whipped, mocked, spit upon, nailed to a wooden cross, and then died. Three days later, He rose from the dead, as He foretold His disciples (group of followers). Jesus then ascended into heaven forty days later. He currently lives with God, His father, in heaven today. During Old Testament times (times prior to the birth of Jesus Christ – B.C.), people had a keen awareness of their moral guilt, as any honest person still does today. I know that I have wronged many people and have felt a deep-seated guilt within many areas of my life. Many people during Old Testament times sacrificed animals to God as a form of limited atonement for their immoral actions. God often accepted these sacrifices, but only in a temporary and limited way. Over time, God changed this extremely limited form of atonement, as He had planned from the very beginning of time. Moreover, God sent His one and only son Jesus Christ down to the Earth. Since Jesus was both sinless and blameless, He willingly died on the cross as an unlimited atonement. It was in God’s will for His son to die in this way. This unlimited atonement is available to any person who whole-heartedly repents of their sins (moral failures) and then asks God to personally apply Jesus’ undeserved death and resurrection as a payment for their sins. It is imperative here that one believes the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was ultimately an act of God’s grace. God did not have to offer an escape from our moral guilt and eternal punishment. However, God is gracious. He has a compassion and love for people that is indescribable. God wants to “wipe the slate” clean for us, in regards to our moral failures. Through this action, we could then enter a personal relationship with His son Jesus Christ and escape his eternal judgment. The Bible refers to moral failures as ‘sin’, or missing the mark of God’s perfect standard of morality. “Sin” is an ancient archery term for an arrow that missed the target. God is loving in the purest sense of the word and would like to grant us victory over the sins that still haunt us from our past. All we have to do is accept this gift of grace from Him. It is free.

    God promises us a way to become morally blameless and gain entrance into heaven after living our physical live here on Earth. Here is what we must willingly do on our part. First off, we must truly believe that God is gracious and extended His grace by allowing His one and only son to die as a ransom for our sins on the cross. We must admit to God that we have failed morally during our lifetime and that Jesus Christ’s brutal death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could ever forgive our sins. After making this decision (accepting God’s grace), we are immediately forgiven of all past, present, and future sins. In addition, we would be guaranteed entrance into heaven after our physical death here on Earth. We would then live with both God and His son Jesus forever. We would be guaranteed to see all of our loved ones who had made this decision during his or her physical lives on Earth.

    You could make this decision today. Please do not wait for the “perfect time”. You could ask God for eternal forgiveness through applying the death and resurrection of Jesus to your life within the quietness of your bedroom tonight. This is the most important decision that you will ever make.

    So you might be asking, “Where in the Bible does it explain what has just been summarized?” Here are some passages clearly stating that Jesus seeks a personal relationship with us:

    “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
    – Romans 10:9-10

    “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; “
    - Acts 3:19

    “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
    – John 3:16

    As long as you repent of your past sins (moral failures) from the heart, confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and apply Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross as a payment for your sins, you are guaranteed eternal life with God in heaven. You can make this decision at any time, anywhere. You can make this decision alone with God or within a group setting.

    Please know that one cannot sit the fence on making this decision of accepting God’s gift of grace. If one chooses not to decide, he or she has still made a choice. This would be like receiving a check (hearing “The Gospel”) but never endorsing and cashing it in at the bank (personally applying Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection towards one’s sins).

    “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
    - John 3:18

    The result of not choosing to accept Gods gift of grace, which offers eternal life with both Him and Jesus in heaven is clear. You will live the remainder of your life here on Earth apart from Jesus Christ and His empowerment. You will then follow your life plan and not His plan for you. After you physically die, you will then be brought to a dark place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. It is a place of eternal regret. Here, you will remember this very letter and how you were told the truth but chose not to repent and begin a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Remember, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. You could be diagnosed with a terminal illness tomorrow or be the recipient of a head-on collision while returning home on that all too familiar, two-lane highway this Friday night. If you are considering starting your personal relationship with Jesus Christ, please do not wait to make this decision. You never know what tomorrow will bring.

    The following passage outlines the only requirements Jesus Christ has set to both gain eternal life and begin a personal relationship with Him while you are still alive here on Earth. He makes it crystal-clear in the Bible what is required…

    “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
    – Romans 10:9-10

    God has a plan for your life. You can watch this plan unfold once you accept His gift of grace. This great plan involves your life experience while here on Earth and continues after your physical death on into heaven.

    “For I know the plans that I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”
    - Jeremiah 29:11-13

    Please consider what I have said here. I am not sure if you have ever made this decision before, but I needed to make sure that you had the facts. If you should decide that you want to learn more about the life of Jesus and gain a better understanding of authentic Christianity, I strongly recommend reading the book of John within the Bible (NASB or NIV translation).

    In closing, here is a verse that someone once shared with me that finally brought me into a relationship with God during an extremely low point physically and emotionally. The understanding of Jesus’ desire to know me personally changed my life forever. Here it is:

    “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”
    - Revelation 3:20

    Posted by Allen | October 25, 2011, 12:12 PM
  21. I could not be more underwhelmed with Dr. Craig’s position. He repeatedly confuses Sam’s position. Sam is not arguing for absolute morality in the sense that Craig tries to suggest. That belief is one that Dr. Craig holds, not one that Sam holds. When Sam suggests that we “imagine a universe consisting only of rocks,” he addresses the fact that there simply is no morality in such a universe. It would have no meaning. Therefore, there exists no “objective morality separate from human opinion” as Dr. Craig purports there must be.

    Here are Sam’s premises as I understand them:
    1. A universe where every conscious creature suffers to the greatest extent possible is the worst state possible. Every other possible scenario is better… and better by varying degrees.
    2. Something can be considered morally good only as it relates to alleviating or circumventing human suffering or increasing human flourishing.
    3. There can be multiple, equally moral solutions to the same problem. These can be imagined as peaks on the moral landscape. Conversely, there can be many morally deficient ways to approach a situation. These can be envisioned as valleys.

    Please point to something that Dr. Craig says that puts any pressure whatsoever on Sam’s position. Even minute pressure will suffice. I simply think he argues against a strawman (i.e., Moral absolutism, moral ontology, and equivocating on the term “objectively good”).

    “I thought Craig made a good point with his argument that Harris simply redefines good in nonmoral terms. He argues that “well-being” = good, which is to beg the question. Craig argues that Harris has provided no reason to equate the two, and has no grounds to do so.”

    This seems like such a weak semantics argument to me. I am not just trying to be dismissive here… I really don’t understand this line of arguing. Good has no intrinsic meaning any more than any other word. Humans have created language in order to communicate. We use the word good to refer to a certain type of experience, event, feeling, action, etc. Why does Sam equate “good” with well-being? Because he understands English!
    Furthermore, “well-being” is not amoral. Try to give me an example of something that is morally good that has nothing to do with a conscious creature’s well-being. And go.

    “I also thought Craig’s point that natural science only shows what “is” not what “ought” to be somewhat intriguing. It can only describe actions, not prescribe them. Along those same lines, I found the idea that with Harris explicitly denying free will it would then logically be impossible for there to be any culpability for actions. How can someone have “ought” applied to them if they are not free to make choices about their actions?”

    -Is vs. ought. This is from Hume. Hume got it exactly backwards. Hume says you cannot derive an ought from an is. Sam says you cannot make a statement about what something is without first appealing to an ought. For example, you cannot say the sky IS blue without first realizing that you OUGHT to want to accurately describe reality and you OUGHT to want to speak the truth. So, once you establish that you want to be truthful and accurate in your description of the way the world is, only then can you make the statement, “the sky is blue.”

    Also, science does this all the time! I hope by now you are familiar with Sam’s analogy to physical health. We certainly do not question the philosophical underpinnings of medicine (I’d love to elaborate on this in face-to-face conversation if it’s not crystal clear already. I believe this analogy is incredibly strong).

    -Free will and culpability. How can we say that someone with a tumor growing in their prefrontal cortex is culpable for their actions if they commit a brutal murder? We cannot. We understand that the tumor took over that region of their brain and this fact, not random ill intent, informed his actions. We can still hold people accountable without judging their actions to be morally wrong. Let’s assume that the tumor is inoperable. Should this man be put in prison? (Well, that is another issue because our prison systems represent an enormous failure of justice.) But, we certainly have an obligation to protect society from him because he is a risk to others’ well-being. Does he deserve to be punished for his actions? No. He was not in control. Should he be locked up? Yes, I think that will probably be necessary.

    “Finally, and for me most telling, Harris gave up any appearance of attempting to defend his position, but rather then proceeded to argue that we have no way to know that Islam is not the true religion, on Craig’s argument, and that the God of the Old Testament is evil. I felt he was out of his element after Craig sort of philosophized his premise to smithereens.”

    That is his position! Here is why: You started out with Craig’s 2 premises that Sam didn’t address. Well, essentially he addressed them here. If you invoke God as the standard for morality, then you have done exactly nothing to describe morality. You then need to answer how you know what God deems to be good. This is where you ABSOLUTELY MUST appeal to a certain religion. Otherwise, you have just said, “God is the basis for all morality.” And have given no information about how to determine what God deems to be morally good. You have to take it a step further and describe what God is like. Well, each religion does this in its own way. There is no neutral or universal way to do this. If you want to say that God simply refers to the generic creator, then you have the exact same starting point as Sam. Good can only have meaning as it relates to the experiences of conscious creatures.

    “Harris also missed, I thought, Craig’s point that God is essentially good, but instead began to argue against his own straw man by asserting that God is not bound by duties, which Craig stated he didn’t believe”

    Ok.
    So I will argue against Craig’s point where Sam failed to: God is essentially good. Super. What the hell do you mean by good?

    To say something is moral has to mean something in reality. To say that homosexuality is morally wrong, you have to give a reason why it hurts someone or interrupts their well-being. It cannot be wrong simply because it offends God. That is the entire point. I feel like you and Craig and C.S. Lewis are just so caught up in the tired philosophical bull shit that allows you to say things like, “you have to explain why you think well-being and human flourishing is good.” That sentence is so nonsensical in the real world.

    This is why having 2000 years of doctrine makes Craig’s position weaker not stronger! I remember when this debate went down in real time. The day after, Craig mouthed off on his radio show about it. He was laughing about how superior he is and how Sam is so confused yadda yadda yadda. Craig is confused. He is confused because he thinks the old Lewis arguments from the 40′s and 50′s still hold water. That is the thing about philosophy. We are not bound by Aristotle and Plato in this day and age. We know so much more about how the world works and we have ample societal experiences to point to that they never knew about because they hadn’t occurred yet. Having 2000 years of apologetics is a liability not an asset. You are forced to endorse archaic thinking. Sam’s argument is brand new. It is not the old, tired, recycled arguments from bygone decades and eras… the only types of arguments that Craig has at his disposal.

    Also, you seem to be pulling for something that Sam is not willing to give… And I wish nobody would ever give. You are trying to define objective morality as absolute morality divorced from human opinion. This doesn’t exist. How could it exist? And how could it have any meaning or value whatsoever?

    I get what you’re saying. I know Sam circumvents all of the staple philosophical arguments and that upset a lot of people even in his own field. However, I think it is a necessary move and one in the right direction. But I have to ask you, what are you looking for in this? You want to hear a fresh perspective on objective morality form an atheist? Well, then Sam’s argument is what that’s going to look like. I find it difficult and frustrating to think of an alternative position that would have any meaning or value. I really can’t imagine what other stance there is to take… and I, for one, don’t think any other stance is necessary.

    Posted by Seriously? | January 7, 2012, 12:47 PM
    • You raised too many points for me to adequately address without quadrupling the length of my original post, so forgive me for the brief response here. I’m going to address two lines of reasoning that you utilized.

      First, you wrote, “When Sam suggests that we ‘imagine a universe consisting only of rocks,’ he addresses the fact that there simply is no morality in such a universe. It would have no meaning. Therefore, there exists no ‘objective morality separate from human opinion’ as Dr. Craig purports there must be.”

      I confess it’s been a while since I’ve listened to the debate, but if that were Harris’ position, then I do believe I’ve overestimated his philosophical abilities. If Harris argues in this way, he’s committing a rather blatant error–namely confusing the question of whether something exists with whether it obtains.

      Take the example you gave: “Imagine a universe consisting only of rocks.” [Let me have a brief aside--this thought experiment begs the question against the theist to begin with, because theists hold God is necessary, which means God exists in all possible worlds. So really the thought experiment would have to be "Imagine a universe consisting only of rocks... and God." And of course if this were true, moral truths would obtain just because God exists. But I'll grant this "imagined world" for the sake of argument.]

      Granting for the moment that such a universe is even possible [I don't], it still would not follow from this that “there simply is no morality in such a universe.”

      Why? Because if something is objectively true, its truth is just a truth, no matter what universe obtains. Some people (and apparently Harris, if this is indeed his argument) get confused here and don’t get the reasoning. A different example may do. Suppose I make the claim: “2+2=4.” This is thought of by most as one of the most basic necessary truths. In other words, it is true no matter what people think of it and no matter what exists.

      But then, imagine a universe in which there exists just a single particle. That is all. Now suppose I objected in the following way: “Since there are not two objects, nor can there be four objects, 2+2=4 is clearly false in this universe. There simply aren’t two objects, nor are there four!”

      Clearly, I’m making a rather heinous mistake here. Why? Because the truth value of 2+2=4 does not depend upon whether two things exist, or whether four things exist. It just is true.

      Similarly, Craig and most theists agree that morals are objectively (read= necessarily) true. But if that’s the case, then even in a universe in which only rocks exist, it is still a fact that murder is wrong. Just because there is nothing to murder doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong! Harris, if he makes this argument, and you, who do make this argument, are confusing a truths obtaining in a world with its truth value.

      The second point I wish to address. You wrote:

      “Having 2000 years of apologetics is a liability not an asset. You are forced to endorse archaic thinking. Sam’s argument is brand new. It is not the old, tired, recycled arguments from bygone decades and eras… the only types of arguments that Craig has at his disposal.”

      I hardly know where to begin with this paragraph. This kind of “modernist” perspective is grossly self-refuting. Consider the truths found in modern mathematics. They rely upon Newtonian theorems, which themselves were supported by Euclidean geometry. How about genetics? Gregor Mendel started that field off in the 1800s. Suppose we considered “old truths” to be archaic, recycled, etc. We’d have to throw out every “modern discovery” in the book. Really, this kind of reasoning just reveals a lack of knowledge about the development of science, religion, culture, sociology, and any other field I can think of.

      Finally, for a more thorough rebuttal and a truly serious challenge to Harris’ attempt to make sense of morality on atheism, see philosopher Glenn People’s podcast here.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 8, 2012, 4:24 PM
      • I think the universe of rocks is the most interesting point here. In a universe of rocks, “murder is morally wrong” is an utterly meaningless statement. However, if one was to say in this universe “if concious beings excited, murder would be morally wrong” this would be a sound statement. Sam’s point is that simply supposing that morality arises from conscious beings does not make it any less objective.
        Similarly, one may say in the universe of rocks “exercise is good for health” and be utterly nonsensical. At the same time a person could say “if humans existed, exercise would be good for health” and have a sound statement.

        Posted by cpsilva | December 20, 2012, 1:36 PM
      • If this is indeed what Harris is saying, then it does, as I’ve argued, undermine objective morality. For if moral statements are contingent upon there being moral beings, then they are clearly not objective but instead contingent. And that would undermine their being objectively binding.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 20, 2012, 3:55 PM
      • By this logic everything is contingent. In a universe of rocks without gas, the universal gas constant is meaningless, and yet it is an objective truth in our own universe. This kind of argument gets you nowhere. Simply being contingent upon conscious beings does not undermine objectivity.

        Posted by cpsilva | December 21, 2012, 9:53 AM
      • You’re confusing natural necessity with ontological necessity. It is important distinction.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 21, 2012, 1:58 PM
      • To summarize my point using one of Sam’s analogy of health: Both morality and health are contingent upon consciousness. If we can make objectives statements about health, contingency is a non issue with regards to the objectivity of morality.

        Posted by cpsilva | December 21, 2012, 1:59 PM
      • Right, and he also conflates the types of necessity. His analogy turns upon natural, not ontic, necessity. Furthermore, his analogy is extremely faulty, for a number of reasons which go beyond the simple fact of conflation.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | December 21, 2012, 2:01 PM
      • But thanks for your time, im new to this stuff. Im only 16

        Posted by cpsilva | December 21, 2012, 2:01 PM
  22. Harris clearly did not answer on question of the debate instead at the first site he saw that he had an intelligent debater on his hands that just destroyd his opening statement like a comedian (harris) went after the audience and his plan old testament god is evil look how many died he wants yoy to go to hell so he must be fake .So.he won part of the audio with witness that does not mean he won the debate. Thank you

    Posted by Tito Rodriguez | April 4, 2013, 7:49 AM

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig debate review (part 1) - April 11, 2011

  2. Pingback: Reviews of "Does Good Come From God?" Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig | The Apologist - April 13, 2011

  3. Pingback: Sam Harris on Christian Sacraments–Lunacy? « J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - April 14, 2011

  4. Pingback: Can people be good if God doesn’t exist? « Wintery Knight - April 14, 2011

  5. Pingback: Really Recommended Posts 9/23 « J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - September 26, 2011

  6. Pingback: William Lane Craig vs. Peter Millican- Thoughts and Links « J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - October 27, 2011

  7. Pingback: William Lane Craig vs. Peter Millican- Thoughts and Links - November 2, 2011

  8. Pingback: The Moral Argument: Mistakes to Avoid and Practical Advice « J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - January 9, 2012

  9. Pingback: The Ontology of Morality: Some Problems for Humanists and their friends « J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - February 27, 2012

  10. Pingback: Crítica do debate entre William Craig X Sam Harris - Logos Apologetica - June 26, 2013

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,319 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,319 other followers

%d bloggers like this: