Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig debate review (part 1)

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 11, 2011 in Debates,Reviews

Sam Harris launched the New Atheism movement. William Lane Craig is a philosopher, historian, and expert debater for evangelical Christianity. Recently, they debated for the first time: video above, audio here.

Below, I review the debate. Other reviews of the debate include: Nathan Schneider, Glenn PeoplesRussell Blackford, Wintery Knight, John LoftusRandy Everist, J.W. Wartick, Chris Hallquist, Matt Flannagan (2), and more.

The topic is secular morality (as in Harris’ The Moral Landscape) vs. theistic morality. For a longer, more substantive discussion of Harris’ book, see the Apologia episodes on it, to which I contributed.

 

Craig’s positive case

Craig opens with his standard arguments that without God, there is no foundation for objective moral values, where ‘objective’ means ‘independent of human opinion.’ He does not argue that God exists; that’s not the topic.

I’ve always found this position rather silly, for two reasons. First, ‘objective moral value’ is usually defined as being ‘independent of the opinions or attitudes of a person or persons.’ If moral value merely relates the opinions or attitudes of a person or persons, that is subjective morality. Theistic morality, where morality is defined with reference to the opinions or attitudes of a person named ‘God’, has always been a type of subjective morality. To my knowledge, theistic analytic philosophers only tried to frame theistic morality as ‘objective’ in about the 1980s, when they noticed they could just restrict the definition of ‘objective morality’ such that it meant ‘independent of the opinions or attitudes of a particular species of primate, homo sapiens.’ But that’s, well… kinda shady.

Secondly, even if we run with Craig’s new definition for ‘objective morality’, it is trivially easy to get ‘objective’ morality of that sort without God. Heck, just define morality in terms of the opinions and attitudes of a member of another species, say Washoe the chimpanzee. Since he’s not human, presto! We have ‘objective’ morality according to Craig’s definition.

There are also many standard atheistic moral systems that obligate or recommend actions without calling upon human opinion to do so – for example, hedonic act utilitarianism. This theory says we should do whatever it is that maximizes pleasure. Of course, pleasure is a natural phenomenon, and so we figure out what maximizes pleasure by doing natural science, and we need make no appeal to human attitudes or opinion.

Theories like hedonic act utilitarianism are ‘objective’ not only in Craig’s narrow sense but in the usual, broader sense as well. It’s not just that hedonic act utilitarianism doesn’t appeal to human opinions or attitudes. Hedonic act utilitarianism doesn’t appeal to the opinions or attitudes of any person or persons.

It’s trivially easy to show that God is not needed to get ‘objective’ morality, by Craig’s definition of the term or otherwise.

Moreover, theism doesn’t provide a solid foundation for moral values. As Wes Morriston puts it:

Either God has good reasons for his commands or he does not. If he does, then those reasons (and not God’s commands) are the ultimate ground of moral obligation. If he does not have good reasons, then his commands are completely arbitrary and may be disregarded. Either way, the divine command theory is false.

Craig’s negative case

Craig then makes a negative case against Sam Harris’ position in The Moral Landscape – that morality concerns the well-being of conscious creatures, and that is a matter for science to discover.

First, Craig says that you can’t ground moral values in nature because nature is morally neutral. As Craig puts it, “Natural science tells us only what is, not what ought to be.”

Second, Craig complains that Harris’ approach to morality is guilty of speciesism. This is false. Harris does not define morality in terms of the well-being of humans, nor in terms of what they evolved to judge as being moral. He defines morality in terms of natural facts about the well-being of conscious creatures, which is not guilty of speciesism, and will often contradict the deliverances of our evolved moral intuitions.

Third, Craig complains that Harris has arbitrarily redefined ‘morally good’ to refer to the well-being of conscious creatures. To quote Craig:

Dr. Harris has ‘solved’ the value problem just by redefining his terms. It’s nothing but wordplay. At the end of the day, Dr. Harris is talking about moral values at all. He’s just talking about what’s conducive to the flourishing of sentient life on this planet.

The ‘on this planet’ part is a misrepresentation – Harris makes no such limitation on moral value. But the definitions complaint has certainly been a central topic in atheistic critiques of Harris, too.

Finally, Craig argues that a denial of contra-causal free will makes moral responsibility impossible. Like many naturalists, I think the understanding that we lack contra-causal free will makes moral responsibility more real and compassionate.

Next, we consider Harris’ opening speech.

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{ 242 comments… read them below or add one }

poban April 11, 2011 at 5:18 am

I dont know what to say about the debate. I thought Sam Harris failed to show that objective morality is not contingent on the creator of universe, though I agree that he did a better job in showing that it is certainly not contingent in any of the abrahamic gods.

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poban April 11, 2011 at 5:29 am

BTW if any of you want Harris’ new book, mail me with TML @ bluesd_amazed@hotmail.com. I can mail you the pdf format in around 50-75 hours.

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Tristan D. Vick April 11, 2011 at 5:55 am
Citizen Ghost April 11, 2011 at 5:56 am

You’re right to observe that Craig is very loose with his his use of the term “objectve” – but then, that’s part of his game.

If objective means ‘independent of the opinions or attitudes of a person or persons’ then there are any number of good arguments for an “objective” moral basis – none of which requires a supernatural dimension, much less a personal deity. But Craig isn’t actually interested in moral philosophy (except to the extent it can support his fundamentalist Christian Apologetics).

That’s not to say that Harris’s “moral landscape” argument has no problems. But Harris correctly observes that Craig’s own basis for objective morality is nothing more than Divine Command Theory. Moreover, Harris is correct in pointing out that Craig’s assumption that God as the source of goodness is simply a “definitonal play” – in other words, a special pleading.

Craig is on stronger ground when he sticks to his cosmological and/or fine-tuning arguments. These arguments too are flawed – they are largely appeals to ignorance – but Craig is much more adept at resorting to those kind of appeals.

But on the subject of morality, Craig is hopelessly circular. When Craig argues for the existence of God, he presents a moral argument rooted in deductive logic:

1. Without God, objective moral values cannot exist
2. Objective moral values exist
3. Therefore God exists.

Something like that. Anyone who has watched Craig debate is familiar with this routine. But here, in the debate with Harris, they are essentially debating this first premise – what is the source or basis of “objective” moral values? And yet, in this very debate, Craig argues: “If God exists, objective moral values exist.”

So there you have it. It’s a perfect circle.

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DZ April 11, 2011 at 5:57 am

Thank you, Luke!
I always enjoy reading your reviews. I need to think more about the objections to Craig’s case that you raised, but I have one question concerning you last paragraph. You write:
“Finally, Craig argues that a denial of contra-causal free will makes moral responsibility impossible. Like many naturalists, I think the understanding that we lack contra-causal free will makes moral responsibility more real and compassionate.”
If I understand it right, and please correct me if I am wrong, contra-causal free will is mainly a feature of Libertarian postition and is not necessarily a part of Compatibilist view. If so, then I don’t see Craig making this argument in his speech, since what he was objecting is Sam Harris’ denial of BOTH compatibilist and libertarian notion AND still maintaining that people can be held morally responsible for their action. Did I miss something?

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Reginald Selkirk April 11, 2011 at 6:14 am

Second, Craig complains that Harris’ approach to morality is guilty of speciesism. This is false. Harris does not define morality in terms of the well-being of humans, nor in terms of what they evolved to judge as being moral. He defines morality in terms of natural facts about the well-being of conscious creatures

OK, so its not speciesism. Perhaps it should be termed Orderism, or Phylaism.

And why should we value consciousness so highly? How many other species would consider consciousness to be the most worthy trait? The chauvinism is pretty deeply ingrained.

Suppose I were to offer a moral system based on maximizing some other property than the well-being of conscious beings, such as self-sufficiency. Plants would do much better on that scale than animals like us. Can Harris explain why this would be an inferior scale to his own?

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Mike Gage April 11, 2011 at 6:31 am

Reginald, if it applies to all conscious creatures, then it could go beyond our own world, say, aliens are discovered or something. So, perhaps you could call it consciousnessism.

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Adam Drew April 11, 2011 at 6:34 am

I’ve always found the “there can be no objective morality” argument to be a total non-starter. There ISN’T objective morality. I think the evidence of behaviour, and the fact that “morals” are incredibly diverse between societies and even between individuals, establishes that _at best_ we could establish long-term inter-subjective morals.

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DZ April 11, 2011 at 6:52 am

Also, you write:
“Secondly, even if we run with Craig’s new definition for ‘objective morality’, it is trivially easy to get ‘objective’ morality of that sort without God. Heck, just define morality in terms of the opinions and attitudes of a member of another species, say Washoe the chimpanzee. Since he’s not human, presto! We have ‘objective’ morality according to Craig’s definition.”

From my reading of Craig (perhaps he was not as precise in the debate), he does not believe that the definition of objective moral and values and duties is MERELY ‘independent of the opinions or attitudes of a person or persons’. He usually adds or implies that they must somehow be BINDING on all of us. Thus, your exampe of Washoe the chimpanzee, although very funny, is hardly convinving as a candidate for the ground of morality which is binding on all people.

Would be cool to hear your thoughts or anyone else on the matter.

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Reginald Selkirk April 11, 2011 at 6:55 am

… and the fact that “morals” are incredibly diverse between societies and even between individuals, establishes that _at best_ we could establish long-term inter-subjective morals.

And for a Christian such as Craig, there is the added objection that morality has obviously changed over time, from the OT to the NT to the present-day world. Which period of history had the “objective” set of morals?

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muto April 11, 2011 at 7:01 am

DZ,

Would this mean that if I build a mashine that eternally punishes somone who violates the moral laws commanded by washoe the chimpanzee, they would be objective?

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DZ April 11, 2011 at 7:10 am

Reganald,
You write:
“And for a Christian such as Craig, there is the added objection that morality has obviously changed over time, from the OT to the NT to the present-day world. Which period of history had the “objective” set of morals?”
Craig usually makes a distinction between objective morality and absolute morality. What you are questioning is the notion of absolute morality, which is expressed in specific divine commands that are unchanging and binding for all time and for all people. Thus for instance it could be argued that a divine command for Israel to pay the tithe to the Levites was for them an objective duty in their specific situation, but not an absolute one. This implies that there are objectively (not absolutely) right and wrong actions in various situations. Thus given the change of circumstances, moral duties can change, yet their objectivity, if they are issued by God, does not change.
English is not my first language, so I apologize if what I wrote made sense to you :) Would be happy to hear your thoughts on this.

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DZ April 11, 2011 at 7:12 am

Muto,

Interesting thought :)
I need to think about it.

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drj April 11, 2011 at 7:15 am

I think the most dubious part of Craig’s case overall was where he tried to overcome the is/ought barrier. He claimed that morals become binding by way of commands issued by appropriate authority. Craig used the analogy of a policeman. He says we pull over for policemen by virtue of who he is (ie, an appropriate authority).

But why should one value respecting the commands of an authority, appropriate or not? If one is going to question why well-being should be valued, certainly it makes sense to question why authoritative commands should be valued. By what magic this overcomes is/ought, I do not know.

It was a major disappointment that Sam did not jump on this. He did go on about divine command theory a little bit, but I wish he could have been more targeted towards on this point.

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DZ April 11, 2011 at 7:20 am

For those interested, here is some of Craig’s thoughts on the debate
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/PageServer?pagename=q_and_a

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drj April 11, 2011 at 7:21 am

And why should we value consciousness so highly? How many other species would consider consciousness to be the most worthy trait? The chauvinism is pretty deeply ingrained.

Sam did have one great take-away quote in the debate. To paraphrase, he says,
“to ask why we should value well-being is to hit philosophical bedrock with the shovel of a stupid question.”.

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Silas April 11, 2011 at 8:22 am

And why should we value consciousness so highly? How many other species would consider consciousness to be the most worthy trait? The chauvinism is pretty deeply ingrained.

Species without consciousness cannot, by definition, consider anything. Morality must deal with sentient beings.

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Martin April 11, 2011 at 8:22 am

Unfortunately, I’m forced to agree with Craig yet again, as far as how the debate went. Craig says:

Harris was unable to raise any substantive objection to my Divine Command Theory and so reverted to his usual anti-Christian shtick, inveighing against biblical doctrines like hell and Christian particularism.

Concur.

Fuck.

How hard is it to at least look at the damn IEP before you start? It’s free!!!

Look, Sam, the main objection to DCT is Euthyphro: http://www.iep.utm.edu/divine-c/#H3

And then, there is a whole other list of problems: http://www.iep.utm.edu/divine-c/#H7

Craig continues:

Divine Command Theorists include theists who are neither Jews nor Christians nor place any stock in biblical infallibility…Harris’ criticisms are red meat for his partisans in the free thought community, but they had nothing to do with the debate topic that evening

Yep. Rhetorical points, only.

Gish Gallop for atheists.

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drj April 11, 2011 at 8:27 am

Species without consciousness cannot, by definition, consider anything. Morality must deal with sentient beings.

I’ll definitely throw in my hat with Sam on this one. If one disconnects “morality” from the welfare of sentient beings ,well… one has essentially disconnected it from any and all usefulness or conceivable human interest, and turned it into a mere curiosity which, by definition, holds no value at all to anyone, except to those philosophers who want to mentally masturbate about it.

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poban April 11, 2011 at 8:27 am

BTW ifany of you want Harris’ new book, mail me with TML @ bluesd_amazed@hotmail.com. I can mail you the pdf format in around 50-75 hours.
Sorry the book is in epub format. Actually it was Hitch 22 that was in pdf format.

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James Onen April 11, 2011 at 8:28 am

Reginald,

And for a Christian such as Craig, there is the added objection that morality has obviously changed over time, from the OT to the NT to the present-day world. Which period of history had the “objective” set of morals?

I think Craig would respond that what you are talking about is moral epistemology, but the issue at hand is moral ontology. Not that I specifically agree with him but that’s been his standard response through the years to that sort of query.

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ayer April 11, 2011 at 8:57 am

Luke: “Theistic morality, where morality is defined with reference to the opinions or attitudes of a person named ‘God’, has always been a type of subjective morality.”

“Opinions” and “attitudes” are changing and fluctuating; as I understand it, Craig’s position is that morality is grounded in the unchanging “nature” of God, which is identical to the Platonic “Good.” Isn’t that quite different?

Luke: “Heck, just define morality in terms of the opinions and attitudes of a member of another species, say Washoe the chimpanzee. Since he’s not human, presto! We have ‘objective’ morality according to Craig’s definition.”

Is Washoe’s nature identical to the Platonic Good (i.e., unchanging is all possible worlds)? I don’t think so. DZ also makes a good point: the only “competent authority” who could issue imperatives that become binding duties on humans would be an authority whose nature was identical to the Platonic Good. The chimp doesn’t qualify on that score.

Luke: “There are also many standard atheistic moral systems that obligate or recommend actions without calling upon human opinion to do so – for example, hedonic act utilitarianism. This theory says we should do whatever it is that maximizes pleasure.”

That still depends on the changing state of whatever “maximizes pleasure” in different possible worlds–so in some possible worlds cruelty, torture, hatred, etc. maximize pleasure, in others (e.g., ours) they don’t. That’s not an objective standard. Instead, it appears to be an exercise in moral semantics, i.e., redefining “morally good” to mean “maximizing pleasure” (the same mistake Harris makes with redefining it to mean the “well-being of conscious creatures”).

Luke: “He defines morality in terms of natural facts about the well-being of conscious creatures, which is not guilty of speciesism, and will often contradict the deliverances of our evolved moral intuitions.”

Ok, well it’s guilty of bias in favor of conscious creatures; what about the well-being of nonconscious creatures (plants, insects, etc). Why is their well-being not part of the definition of morality?

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cl April 11, 2011 at 9:25 am

Luke,

I wish you’d stick to simply reviewing the debate, instead of grabbing the horns and trying to fill in the blanks for Harris.

First, ‘objective moral value’ is usually defined as being ‘independent of the opinions or attitudes of a person or persons.’ If moral value merely relates the opinions or attitudes of a person or persons, that is subjective morality. Theistic morality, where morality is defined with reference to the opinions or attitudes of a person named ‘God’, has always been a type of subjective morality.

It’s been explained to you why this is false [here, among other places]. I find it discouraging that you keep asserting the same thing without addressing the explanation. I suppose we can just repeat our way to truth?

Secondly, even if we run with Craig’s new definition for ‘objective morality’, it is trivially easy to get ‘objective’ morality of that sort without God. Heck, just define morality in terms of the opinions and attitudes of a member of another species, say Washoe the chimpanzee. Since he’s not human, presto! We have ‘objective’ morality according to Craig’s definition.

This is amateur scholarship at its finest. I know you think many of these things are “settled issues” or whatever, but really, you should at least keep thinking about them, just in case, you know, you’re wrong or something.

Second, Craig complains that Harris’ approach to morality is guilty of speciesism. This is false.

You are correct, but as Reginald quipped, it’s trivial. However, guess what moral theory–as delineated thus far–absolutely IS guilty of speciesism? Hint: it’s the one that doesn’t use any empirical evidence to back up its applied ethics claims, and it starts with a “D.”

Reginald,

OK, so its not speciesism. Perhaps it should be termed Orderism, or Phylaism.

LOL! I agree.

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Ajay April 11, 2011 at 9:43 am

Ayer:

There’s a lot left to be desired in your responses:
1. Why is God’s nature unchanging, especially considering His attitudes and commandments certainly fluctuate almost whimsically?
2. Why is God’s nature identical to the Platonic Good? How do you know?
3. Why isn’t Washoe’s nature identical to the Platonic Good? How do you know?
4. Why is the Platonic Good the reference point here? Does it actually explain anything?

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Bill Snedden April 11, 2011 at 9:51 am

@ayer:

“Opinions” and “attitudes” are changing and fluctuating; as I understand it, Craig’s position is that morality is grounded in the unchanging “nature” of God, which is identical to the Platonic “Good.” Isn’t that quite different?

Only to the extent that Craig is willing to admit that such a basis utterly vitiates DCT. He plays fast and loose with definitions here, wanting to have his cake and eat it too. So yes, it’s different, but the difference is without distinction insofar as the point is really highlighting Craig’s intellectual dishonesty.

That still depends on the changing state of whatever “maximizes pleasure” in different possible worlds–so in some possible worlds cruelty, torture, hatred, etc. maximize pleasure, in others (e.g., ours) they don’t. That’s not an objective standard. Instead, it appears to be an exercise in moral semantics, i.e., redefining “morally good” to mean “maximizing pleasure” (the same mistake Harris makes with redefining it to mean the “well-being of conscious creatures”).

Well, I don’t buy into hedonistic utilitarianism, but Harris’ is not necessarily making the same mistake. While “pleasure” might be subject to the kind of redefinition you imply, “well-being” is arguably not. Physical sustenance of life is certainly necessary for well-being and is just as certainly not subjective in nature and thus not subject to redefinition. Similar arguments can be made (and have been) for other measures by which we might make other such judgments.

Ok, well it’s guilty of bias in favor of conscious creatures; what about the well-being of nonconscious creatures (plants, insects, etc). Why is their well-being not part of the definition of morality?

This is an absurd objection as has already been noted upstream. Morality only makes sense in the presence of consciousness. Rocks and plants are not and cannot be moral agents.

@cl:

However, guess what moral theory–as delineated thus far–absolutely IS guilty of speciesism? Hint: it’s the one that doesn’t use any empirical evidence to back up its applied ethics claims, and it starts with a “D.”

I’m no advocate of Desirism, but this seems to me obviously false. Under Desirism as I’ve seen it explained here, any species capable of possessing desires would be a candidate for moral agency and thus I don’t see how Desirism could necessarily be “speciesist” in nature.

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Ajay April 11, 2011 at 9:51 am

Furthermore, let’s address the common theistic claim of grounding morality in God’s ‘nature’ or his ‘character’. How does this resolve anything? Michael Martin writes:

“In any case, appealing to God’s character only postpones the problem since the dilemma can be reformulated in terms of His character. Is God’s character the way it is because it is good or is God’s character good simply because it is God’s character? Is there an independent standard of good or does God’s character set the standard? If God’s character is the way it is because it is good, then there is an independent standard of goodness by which to evaluate God’s character. For example, suppose God condemns rape because of His just and merciful character. His character is just and merciful because mercy and justice are good. Since God is necessarily good, God is just and merciful. According to this independent standard of goodness, being merciful and just is precisely what a good character involves. In this case, even if God did not exist, one could say that a merciful and just character is good. Human beings could use this standard to evaluate peoples’ character and actions based on this character. They could do this whether or not God exists.”

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/michael_martin/rape.html

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Citizen Ghost April 11, 2011 at 9:52 am

Martin,

I think you may have been watching a different debate.

Look, Sam, the main objection to DCT is Euthyphro

Exactly. If you watch the full debate, you’ll find that Harris specifically refers to the classic philosophical problem of Euthyphro’s Dilemma. It is Craig who has no response to it. Yet Craig’s entire moral theory rests on the assumption that our moral obligations are rooted in divine command only. It’s a non-starter.

Yet Craig is supposed to be the sophisticated philosopher? It’s almost funny.

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Andrew EC April 11, 2011 at 10:03 am

I did a series of posts on debating WLC a few years ago. It continues to be a source of frustration to me that so many people step up to debate Craig without doing their homework. Even though this is a slight detour off of Craig’s usual “Five Points” rodeo, everything he says here is cribbed from previous presentations. There is no reason for Harris to have gone in without the entire argument mapped out and pre-rebutted.

That being said, Craig is even sleazier than usual in his rebuttals here, deliberately straw-manning Harris’s position and refuting *that*, rather than being responsive.

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Garren April 11, 2011 at 10:05 am

@Reginald
…”And why should we value consciousness so highly? How many other species would consider consciousness to be the most worthy trait? The chauvinism is pretty deeply ingrained.”

It’s not so much that conscious is something to value as the fact that consciousness is what does all the valuing.

@drj
…”If one is going to question why well-being should be valued, certainly it makes sense to question why authoritative commands should be valued. By what magic this overcomes is/ought, I do not know.”

Yep, I noticed this too. Wish Harris had.

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Patrick April 11, 2011 at 10:09 am

I think its hilarious that, in a debate about objective morality, both Craig and Harris chose to define “objective morality” in a way that isn’t objective.

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ayer April 11, 2011 at 10:10 am

Ajay: 1. Why is God’s nature unchanging, especially considering His attitudes and commandments certainly fluctuate almost whimsically?

Where is your evidence that God’s attitudes fluctuate whimsically? If it is the Bible, Craig explicitly stated he was not basing his case on the Bible, but instead presenting a case that would be in line with generic Theism (“perfect being theology”) or even Deism.

Ajay: 2. Why is God’s nature identical to the Platonic Good? How do you know?

Because God is the greatest conceivable being and Goodness is a “great-making” property. God as The Good is inherent in the very concept of God as the perfect being. To ask “why is God The Good”, as Craig pointed out in the debate, is like asking “why are bachelor’s unmarried?”

Ajay: 3. Why isn’t Washoe’s nature identical to the Platonic Good? How do you know?

Because Washoe is not that being greater than which none can be conceived (he is not omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, etc.)

Ajay: 4. Why is the Platonic Good the reference point here? Does it actually explain anything?

The Platonic Good is the only standard that is truly “objective” (i.e., exists unchanging in all possible worlds). If it is identical to the nature of God than God is necessary for objective moral values and duties.

Snedden: Well, I don’t buy into hedonistic utilitarianism, but Harris’ is not necessarily making the same mistake. While “pleasure” might be subject to the kind of redefinition you imply, “well-being” is arguably not.

Yes, it is, as Craig pointed out in the debate:

Craig: “there is a possible world which we can conceive in which the continuum of human well-being is not a moral landscape. The peaks of well-being could be occupied by evil people. But that entails that in the actual world the continuum of well-being and the moral landscape are not identical either. For identity is a necessary relation. There is no possible world in which some entity A is not identical to A. So if there is any possible world in which A is not identical to B, it follows that A is not in fact identical to B. ”

Snedden: Morality only makes sense in the presence of consciousness. Rocks and plants are not and cannot be moral agents.

Actually, morality only makes sense in the presence consciousness plus contra-causal free will. But Harris is a determinist, and on his view humans have no more free will than a nonconscious creature. So why privilege the well-being of conscious creatures on determinism?

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drj April 11, 2011 at 10:29 am

Actually, morality only makes sense in the presence consciousness plus contra-causal free will. But Harris is a determinist, and on his view humans have no more free will than a nonconscious creature. So why privilege the well-being of conscious creatures on determinism?

Only if you buy into and assume from the get-go Craig’s own moral semantics (or something similar). One of his dirtier tricks in the debate was to simply smuggle in his own moral sematics while chastizing Sam for irrelevance, for making a case for his. You can’t meaningfully argue about ontology until you’ve established definitions, etc.

Too bad Sam wasnt astute enough to do much of anything about it.

Determinists have their own moral semantics. Are you just not familiar with them, or do you just think they all fail for some reason?

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Garren April 11, 2011 at 10:35 am

If Craig can set aside specifically Biblical issues, surely Harris can set aside his views on Free Will. Both of them are guilty of Schopenhauer-style ad hominem arguments on this count (i.e. arguing from another position held by the opponent, rather directly to the truth of the proposition under consideration).

I would also consider Craig’s harping on free will to be an instance of this:

“If you have no argument ad rem, and none either ad hominem, you can make one ad auditores; that is to say, you can start some invalid objection, which, however, only an expert sees to be invalid. Now your opponent is an expert, but those who form your audience are not, and accordingly in their eyes he is defeated; particularly if the objection which you make places him in any ridiculous light.” — Schopenhauer, The Art of Controversy XXVIII

It’s very easy to claim determinism precludes morality, but difficult to explain to new people why this isn’t a slam dunk among philosophers. Therefore it was a smart move by Craig to try putting this burden on Harris.

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PDH April 11, 2011 at 10:38 am

Garren wrote,

It’s not so much that conscious is something to value as the fact that consciousness is what does all the valuing.

Exactly. The question is, ‘to whom is it valuable?’ The whole idea of intrinsic value is confused and would not provide a basis for morality even if it existed, which it doesn’t.

The agent would always be able to say, ‘why should I care?’

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drj April 11, 2011 at 10:39 am

Yep, I noticed this too. Wish Harris had.

Yea, the other big issue regarding the whole analogy, is that we clearly don’t pull over for policemen, simply by virtue of who they are. We pull over for policemen, because its best for our overall well-being to do so. Its for our own well-being that WE create law, and entrust authorities to enforce it.

Again, its just sad how many opportunities Harris missed, as he could have easily turned that analogy to his favor, and undermined a huge portion of Craigs argument in the process.

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Silas April 11, 2011 at 10:55 am

Actually, morality only makes sense in the presence consciousness plus contra-causal free will. But Harris is a determinist, and on his view humans have no more free will than a nonconscious creature. So why privilege the well-being of conscious creatures on determinism?

Actually, neither determinism nor libertarianism go well with “morality”. With determinism, no one can do anything but what has been determined by the laws of physics. There is no ought. Everything is what it is. But it is useful to talk about morality because we can recognize that some states of the brain cause the perception of “good” and “bad” and so forth.

With libertarianism, humans are basically randomization machines that cannot do anything based on a previous event. A completely random “choice” generator generates actions. Again, there is no ought. There isn’t even is. It’s like a giant cosmic quantum number generator acting inside the physical brains of humans.

Both are more or less incompatible with the notion of “morality”, but with determinism, at least, we have the means of studying the underlying processes of the brain.

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Kaelik April 11, 2011 at 10:55 am

So Ayer, can you define what “good” is in an informative way?

If not, then 90% of your post is gibberish. So you should probably work on that.

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Bill Snedden April 11, 2011 at 11:06 am

@ayer:

Yes, it is, as Craig pointed out in the debate:

Craig: “there is a possible world which we can conceive in which the continuum of human well-being is not a moral landscape. The peaks of well-being could be occupied by evil people. But that entails that in the actual world the continuum of well-being and the moral landscape are not identical either. For identity is a necessary relation. There is no possible world in which some entity A is not identical to A. So if there is any possible world in which A is not identical to B, it follows that A is not in fact identical to B. ”

Well, I would have to ask Craig what he means by “The peaks of well-being could be occupied by evil people.” Does he mean that evil people could still be healthy, wealthy and enjoy what seems to them to be fulfilling lives? If so, this is certainly true but utterly irrelevant to the point. That some people may seek to and succeed in curtailing the well-being of others does not in any way impugn the value of well-being overall. What kind of nonsensical argument is this?

In point of fact, there is no possible world in which the elements which sustain human life can fail to be valuable. Therefore, there is no possible world in which those base elements which allow human well-being at all can fail to be valuable and there is no possible world in which human well-being at this base level will not present a moral continuum.

Actually, morality only makes sense in the presence consciousness plus contra-causal free will. But Harris is a determinist, and on his view humans have no more free will than a nonconscious creature. So why privilege the well-being of conscious creatures on determinism?

If you knew your original question was nonsensical, why did you ask it?

There is no such thing as “contra-causal” free will; it is an incoherent concept. Even so-called libertarianism still has a cause: the agent. In compatibilistic as well as libertarian systems, the agent is the ultimate MORAL cause and therefore compatibilists have the exact same standing in re: consciousness in this context.

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Bill Snedden April 11, 2011 at 11:13 am

@Andrew EC:

It continues to be a source of frustration to me that so many people step up to debate Craig without doing their homework. Even though this is a slight detour off of Craig’s usual “Five Points” rodeo, everything he says here is cribbed from previous presentations. There is no reason for Harris to have gone in without the entire argument mapped out and pre-rebutted.

EXACTLY. Craig is like a broken record: the same worthless arguments presented in essentially the same stale fashion. He is on somewhat firmer ground debating apologetics, like the resurrection, or cosmology (at least there he has some wiggle room), but there is simply no excuse for Harris’ less-than-stellar showing here, where Craig’s moral arguments aren’t just bad, they’ve been known by most philosophers to be bad for many, many years.

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salbannach April 11, 2011 at 1:29 pm

I find Harris’s moral theory largely pointless. It amounts to: assume something like utilitarianism, and then argue that science can teach how to maximize utility (or “well-being”, whatever that may be). But the assumption is highly controversial, and the argument is trivially true. Whatever we’re calling “well-being” is going to be the crux of the debate, and Harris offers no way to determine that. But given that, whatever we assume that well-being to consist of, we can then use science to maximize that well-being, is something I’ve never heard anyone argue against.

So I can’t see what Harris brings to any debate. That “well-being” is a good deal more elastic than “utility” only makes the theory worse, as it removes any chance at falsification (e.g., I say that wearing a chador is an intricate part of well-being!).

Craig won the debate, which isn’t surprising, as Harris is incompetent.

Contrary to most commenters here, I think Craig’s free-will argument was thought-provoking, and I did find it telling that Harris never addressed it, despite Craig’s repetition of the point. I ultimately disagree with Craig because I’m willing to admit moral nihilism. One man’s modus tollens…

Ayer, do you have a blog?

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Thomas April 11, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Moreover, theism doesn’t provide a solid foundation for moral values. As Wes Morriston puts it . . .

So basically you just state the basic Euthyphro Dilemma and conclude that “that´s it for theistic morality!” Well no. I´m not a Divine Command Theorist, but I can still see that the Euthyphro Dilemma is a pretty weak objection to it. If you really think that this is a devastating objection to the DCT, then you ought to look at the most sophisticated DCT theorists, like Robert Merrihew Adams (see his magnificent Finite and Infinite Goods).

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MarkD April 11, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Agreed, salbannach. The primary goal of The Moral Landscape seemed to be to rediscover utilitarianism and color it with recent neuropsychological findings. The latter might be the contribution. As I watched the debate, I found myself wondering if Craig disputes economic theories and laws as having any “objective nature” with equal vigor.

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Luke Muehlhauser April 11, 2011 at 2:11 pm

DZ,

That’s a good question. I don’t think you need even compatibilist free will for the kind of moral responsibility that makes sense without contra-causal free will.

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Citizen Ghost April 11, 2011 at 2:12 pm

The primary goal of The Moral Landscape seemed to be to rediscover utilitarianism and color it with recent neuropsychological findings

If that were ALL he was doing – providing an argument for utilitarianism – he’d still be miles ahead of Craig. Harris is at least offering a particular moral theory and a foundation for what morality consists of. In contrast, Craig’s Divine Command Theory is a non-starter. It is incapable of telling us the first thing about what makes one thing good and another thing bad.

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Zak April 11, 2011 at 2:13 pm

salbannach,

Why should Harris address Craig’s free will questions, when the question of the debate was where morality comes from? It seems that if Craig wants to complain that Harris bringing God’s moral commands into question is irrelevant to the debate, then so is any discussion on free will.

You think Harris is incompetent? Really? He seems quite intelligent, clear and lucid to me.

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Chris Hallquist April 11, 2011 at 2:25 pm

@Andrew EC:

As someone who attended the debate live (full review on my blog), I thought Harris was very effective, both in terms of his arguments and rhetoric. I can’t see that it would have been improved by throwing his actual remarks out in favor of a tedious point-by-point for the benefit of the debate team judges.

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Chris Hallquist April 11, 2011 at 2:33 pm

@cl,

Why on Earth shouldn’t Luke talk about the merits of the arguments Craig used in this debate? I know you would love it if atheists did nothing but be bummed out about how good of a debater Craig is (something I have some doubts about after this debate), and never point out the flaws in his arguments, but why should we oblige you?

BTW, Luke, this was a great post. We need more like it in the aftermath of these debates.

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Bill Snedden April 11, 2011 at 2:34 pm

@Thomas: No, Adams “modified divine command” theory does NOT escape Euthyphro despite claims to the contrary. By grounding God’s commands in his nature, it actually falls squarely on the “second horn”, rendering God’s will logically contingent upon his nature. It is essentially the same thing as saying, as Plato puts it, “…the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy…” IOW, “good” is not grounded in God’s will and thus DCT (as a meta-ethical theory) is still a non-starter.

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Bill Snedden April 11, 2011 at 2:37 pm

@poban: Unless Harris is giving away copies of his book, offering free e-copies to others would be stealing. Please don’t do that. If anyone wants a copy, they should visit their nearest bookstore and purchase one.

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lackofcheese April 11, 2011 at 3:07 pm

No, it wouldn’t be stealing. It would be copyright infringement.

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cl April 11, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Bill Snedden,

Under Desirism as I’ve seen it explained here, any species capable of possessing desires would be a candidate for moral agency and thus I don’t see how Desirism could necessarily be “speciesist” in nature.

Despite the fact that humans are animals, Alonzo Fyfe writes that “animals are not considered moral agents.” The desirist stance on animals is not clear, but what seems clear as day to me is that only species with desires can factor into the equation. Actually, it’s more restricted than that: only species with malleable desires can factor into the equation. Desires are the only reasons for action that exist.

If I’m missing something, point me in the right direction, please.

Chris Hallquist,

Why on Earth shouldn’t Luke talk about the merits of the arguments Craig used in this debate?

I’m not saying he shouldn’t. I’m saying Luke shouldn’t simply repeat the same exact claim over and over again when it has already been demonstrated as problematic. I get that he likes to ignore me when it behooves him and all, but this just isn’t an intellectually responsible way to debate.

I know you would love it if atheists did nothing but be bummed out about how good of a debater Craig is…

Don’t be silly, that’s not true at all. Anybody–theist or atheist–should point out the flaws in his arguments. The problem is, you have to point out *actual* flaws, not just keep repeating pseudo-flaws and pretending like they haven’t been responded to.

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Rob April 11, 2011 at 4:47 pm

This is the question I was waiting for:

“Dr Craig, since we know from the Bible that it is compatible with God’s nature for God to command genocide, if God commanded you to kill as many black people as you can, would you be morally obligated to start killing black people?”

Any ideas about how he would respond?

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MauricXe April 11, 2011 at 5:37 pm

He writes:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5767

“So the problem isn’t that God ended the Canaanites’ lives. The problem is that He commanded the Israeli soldiers to end them. Isn’t that like commanding someone to commit murder? No, it’s not. Rather, since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder. The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.

On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command.”

I think he would say yes.

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cl April 11, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Rob,

Why don’t you make an accurate analogy?

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bossmanham April 11, 2011 at 5:57 pm

Luke, it’s almost surprising how much you misstate the divine command theorist’s position as “where morality is defined with reference to the opinions or attitudes of a person named ‘God’”. I’ve corrected you before on this issue. SOME people who hold to DCT do put it within the whims of God, which would make it subject to God’s will, but even there, as God is the ultimate reality, all other reality would be under that, ergo it would be objective, but perhaps arbitrary. Craig and other recent DCT-ers place the moral realities in the person and nature of God, which exists necessarily and eternally. Further, this move goes at least back to Augustine, so in no way could one call it “new.”

Now that that’s been explained, it’s patently obvious that you couldn’t place this in the whims and desires of Washoe the chimp. Washoe is a contingent being who comes into being at a certain point in time.

If morality is independent of what anyone thinks, then it would be impossible to ground it in anyone’s thinking! Utilitarianism, ethical egoism, and all other futile attempts at establishing an objective morality all rely on what some contingent creature thinks/prefers. God’s nature exists necessarily and unchangably. Washoe’s doesn’t.

I wonder if you’ve ever understood divine command theory if this is the straw-man you’ve constructed…

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Anton A. Hill April 11, 2011 at 6:42 pm

It irks me to read that Craig is an “expert” debater, but I can’t deny Luke’s assertion not only that the man knows what he’s doing, but also that we atheists always underestimate apologists. I’ve often come unprepared and floundered. I’m thinking, though, of purposefully doing so in a formal setting just for practice.

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Christopher Zimny April 11, 2011 at 6:54 pm

I personally like the Euthyphro Dilemma. It’s pretty powerful against Craig’s stance.
Also, I say that a perfectly moral being cannot stem from the omnipotent being that Craig posits. One that is omnipotent must be morally good, he says. He misses that it also must be morally bad if we follow his logic. If morals are independent of God’s word, then we need not look at him to begin with.

I also like to make an alternative hypothesis (which I’m sure is not new). God, in his omnipotence, creates the universe, guides evolution, let’s us do our thing here and there, speaks to Moses and tells him to commit genocide and infanticide, lets someone claim to be his son, lets another claim to listen to him and fly to heaven on a horse, watch us kill each other, enslave each other, oppress and deceive each other for millennia… all for his own amusement. A rather sinister, ludic god he would be, and indeed could be. It gave me the urge to slip out a poem, anyone who sees it say if you like it:

Oh, What a tangled web we weave!
When first we practice to deceive.
Plant the seed of evil early on
So they know not as time goes on
Deus ex machina makes no remark,
But give an inkling, a hope, a spark.

Then steal the knowledge from their minds!
To watch them squabble and war and find
That from their nascence they did not know
And never will, too strong the row:
The inquisition which they explore,
Is but a contraption, and nothing more.

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Christopher Zimny April 11, 2011 at 7:02 pm

By the way, it’s called “Of His Experiment”

Oh, What a tangled web we weave!
When first we practice to deceive.
Plant the seed of evil early on
So they know not as time goes on
Deus ex machina makes no remark,
But give an inkling, a hope, a spark.

Then steal the knowledge from their minds!
To watch them squabble and war and find
That from their nascence they did not know
And never will, too strong the row:
The inquisition which they explore,
Is but a contraption, and nothing more.

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ayer April 11, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Ayer, do you have a blog?

No, no blog, too time consuming. But thanks for asking.

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ayer April 11, 2011 at 7:26 pm

This is the question I was waiting for:

“Dr Craig, since we know from the Bible that it is compatible with God’s nature for God to command genocide, if God commanded you to kill as many black people as you can, would you be morally obligated to start killing black people?”

Any ideas about how he would respond?

If that was asked at the Harris debate, I think he would respond “what does that have to do with moral ontology? That is not the topic of tonight’s debate.” And he would be correct (just as he was with that questioner who *claimed* to be hearing from God that gay marriage is ok and Craig appropriately shot him down).

Outside the context of that debate, I think he say that God would not issue commands inconsistent with the revelation provided in the Bible, and it is clear from the Bible that we are now in the New Covenant in which the ethic of Jesus governs. A proper interpretation of the Bible would show that those particular violent commands of the Old Testament were limited in application to a narrow slice of ancient Israel’s history and would be inconsistent with the Christian mission under the New Covenant. So someone who claimed to hear the command you describe would be like the Taliban today and should get the same response–you are not hearing from the true God.

Of course, all of that assumes that you accept those Old Testament accounts literally, and many orthodox Christians do not.

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) April 11, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Also, you write:
“Secondly, even if we run with Craig’s new definition for ‘objective morality’, it is trivially easy to get ‘objective’ morality of that sort without God. Heck, just define morality in terms of the opinions and attitudes of a member of another species, say Washoe the chimpanzee. Since he’s not human, presto! We have ‘objective’ morality according to Craig’s definition.”

From my reading of Craig (perhaps he was not as precise in the debate), he does not believe that the definition of objective moral and values and duties is MERELY ‘independent of the opinions or attitudes of a person or persons’. He usually adds or implies that they must somehow be BINDING on all of us. Thus, your exampe of Washoe the chimpanzee, although very funny, is hardly convinving as a candidate for the ground of morality which is binding on all people.

Would be cool to hear your thoughts or anyone else on the matter.

I never understood Craig’s fixation with “binding.” Binding here just seems to mean that there’s some sort of threat upon us all if we disobey, which doesn’t really seem to do much of anything in deriving an “ought,” because, were we to not care about the consequences, then there really is nothing binding. As somebody else noted, if I don’t give two fucks about my physical welfare or ability to go almost anywhere, I wouldn’t pull over because I saw a cop; it’s implied that I have to accept the authority first, and, other than the authority threatening me in some way, there’s not much else that’s “binding.” Not to mention this doesn’t really say anything about what’s good. It’s just whatever the authority happens to like.

ayer:

“Opinions” and “attitudes” are changing and fluctuating; as I understand it, Craig’s position is that morality is grounded in the unchanging “nature” of God, which is identical to the Platonic “Good.”Isn’t that quite different?

I don’t see how it is. If I were to ground morality upon the opinions of a very stubborn person, or, hell, even some computer code that always says “killing is wrong” regardless of the input, it too would be unchanging.

Moreover, suppose God’s nature was that of killing children or raping virgins. That too would be objective morality, regardless of the consequences, situations, etc. This just brings to light how even if we deem this “objective” morality, it isn’t very useful since it doesn’t tell us anything about the acts themselves, just what God thinks about them, even if there is no basis to his opinions and/or whatever his nature happens to be.

Luke: “Heck, just define morality in terms of the opinions and attitudes of a member of another species, say Washoe the chimpanzee. Since he’s not human, presto! We have ‘objective’ morality according to Craig’s definition.”

Is Washoe’s nature identical to the Platonic Good (i.e., unchanging is all possible worlds)?I don’t think so.DZ also makes a good point:the only “competent authority” who could issue imperatives that become binding duties on humans would be an authority whose nature was identical to the Platonic Good.The chimp doesn’t qualify on that score.

I have no idea what, exactly, makes God “competent” in this case. Just seems to be “Oh well, he’s God! can’t get more competent than that!

Luke: “There are also many standard atheistic moral systems that obligate or recommend actions without calling upon human opinion to do so – for example, hedonic act utilitarianism. This theory says we should do whatever it is that maximizes pleasure.”

That still depends on the changing state of whatever “maximizes pleasure” in different possible worlds–so in some possible worlds cruelty, torture, hatred, etc. maximize pleasure, in others (e.g., ours) they don’t.

I don’t think that makes sense. For example, torture seems to be defined as inflicting unwarranted pain on others. That has nothing to do with pleasure. The same sort of thing seems to go to “cruelty” and “hatred.”

That’s not an objective standard.Instead, it appears to be an exercise in moral semantics, i.e., redefining “morally good” to mean “maximizing pleasure” (the same mistake Harris makes with redefining it to mean the “well-being of conscious creatures”).

I suggest reading Garren’s blog. It’s pretty neat in explaining this sort of stuff (specifically his response to G.E. Moore).

Luke:“He defines morality in terms of natural facts about the well-being of conscious creatures, which is not guilty of speciesism, and will often contradict the deliverances of our evolved moral intuitions.”

Ok, well it’s guilty of bias in favor of conscious creatures; what about the well-being of nonconscious creatures (plants, insects, etc).Why is their well-being not part of the definition of morality?

My main point is, why should it? I don’t see why ants or plants care about morality since they can’t value anything (as said before). I find it interesting that you didn’t mention bacteria and prokyarotes. Why not? Should E. Coli be granted anything by virtue of being living organisms? I think the reason why we consider trees and insects is because they affect us in some way as conscious beings.

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) April 11, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Nooo, stupid blockquotes…

Let’s try and make this readable for Ayer and everybody else:

“Opinions” and “attitudes” are changing and fluctuating; as I understand it, Craig’s position is that morality is grounded in the unchanging “nature” of God, which is identical to the Platonic “Good.”Isn’t that quite different?

I don’t see how it is. If I were to ground morality upon the opinions of a very stubborn person (or somebody whose nature, for whatever quirk of nature, never changes), or, hell, even some computer code that always says “killing is wrong” regardless of the input, it too would be unchanging.

Moreover, suppose God’s nature was that of killing children or raping virgins. That too would be objective morality, regardless of the consequences, situations, etc. This just brings to light how even if we deem this “objective” morality, it isn’t very useful since it doesn’t tell us anything about the acts themselves, just what God thinks about them, even if there is no basis to his opinions and/or whatever his nature happens to be.

Luke: “Heck, just define morality in terms of the opinions and attitudes of a member of another species, say Washoe the chimpanzee. Since he’s not human, presto! We have ‘objective’ morality according to Craig’s definition.”

Is Washoe’s nature identical to the Platonic Good (i.e., unchanging is all possible worlds)?I don’t think so.DZ also makes a good point:the only “competent authority” who could issue imperatives that become binding duties on humans would be an authority whose nature was identical to the Platonic Good.The chimp doesn’t qualify on that score.

I have no idea what, exactly, makes God “competent” in this case. Just seems to be “Oh well, he’s God! can’t get more competent than that!

Luke: “There are also many standard atheistic moral systems that obligate or recommend actions without calling upon human opinion to do so – for example, hedonic act utilitarianism. This theory says we should do whatever it is that maximizes pleasure.”

That still depends on the changing state of whatever “maximizes pleasure” in different possible worlds–so in some possible worlds cruelty, torture, hatred, etc. maximize pleasure, in others (e.g., ours) they don’t.

I don’t think that makes sense. For example, torture seems to be defined as inflicting unwarranted pain on others. That has nothing to do with pleasure. The same sort of thing seems to go to “cruelty” and “hatred.”

That’s not an objective standard.Instead, it appears to be an exercise in moral semantics, i.e., redefining “morally good” to mean “maximizing pleasure” (the same mistake Harris makes with redefining it to mean the “well-being of conscious creatures”).

I suggest reading Garren’s blog. It’s pretty neat in explaining this sort of stuff (specifically his response to G.E. Moore).

Luke:“He defines morality in terms of natural facts about the well-being of conscious creatures, which is not guilty of speciesism, and will often contradict the deliverances of our evolved moral intuitions.”

Ok, well it’s guilty of bias in favor of conscious creatures; what about the well-being of nonconscious creatures (plants, insects, etc).Why is their well-being not part of the definition of morality?

My main point is, why should it? I don’t see why ants or plants care about morality since they can’t value anything (as said before). I find it interesting that you didn’t mention bacteria and prokyarotes. Why not? Should E. Coli be granted anything by virtue of being living organisms? I think the reason why we consider trees and insects is because they affect us in some way as conscious beings.

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Chris Hallquist April 11, 2011 at 7:42 pm

cl,

You wrote: “I wish you’d stick to simply reviewing the debate, instead of grabbing the horns and trying to fill in the blanks for Harris.”

I don’t know how you pass that off as merely a request to respond to your points.

Incidentally, I’ve read your “demonstration” that Luke is wrong, and think it isn’t one.

And I don’t think Luke’s pretending anything: he’s just choosing not to spend his time responding to you, which is understandable, given that you implied he shouldn’t be allowed to speak on college campuses.

But, I’m a compulsive time waster, so I’ll bite.

You write, “Luke makes clear that he means attitudes of the arbitrary or whimsical variety

This, though, is just your inference, not something Luke ever says.

Also, while I’m perfectly well aware that Craig claims God’s commands aren’t arbitrary, Craig has admitted that on his view, God has no moral duties, so can command whatever he wants.

Furthermore, on Craig himself has said that whatever God commands is right, even if he commands the massacre of an entire tribe, or commands you to kill women who show too much skin.

Any theory that entails that is as obviously false as a theory that says if the Nazis had won and brainwashed everyone into accepting them, the Holocaust would be right.

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Rob April 11, 2011 at 8:03 pm

My question was not “If you thought God commanded . . . ” but rather “If God commanded”, so your response does not work. Nice try though.

It is clear that according to Craig whatever God commands is by definition moral. I just wonder if he has the balls to admit in public what that implies.

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RRC April 11, 2011 at 8:30 pm

IMHO Harris simply did not engage in the debate at all. Craig was attacking the moral ontology of his ethical system and I did not hear any responses to these attacks. Harris tries to escape the Is/Ought problem by simply taking it as assumed that one ought to promote the flourishing of sentient life. Why must this be assumed? I can almost hear Dawkins voice breaking in over the PA system to save Harris: “We don’t know, but science is working on it.” This is not even to mention the problem determinists face when rejecting the dictim that ought implies can. As far as I can tell, compatiblists and hard-determinists just kinda shrug at this and then move on to figure out ways to convince or coerce the rest of the world to adopt their particular moral schemata. Might makes right, if there is no freedom.

But please, let us know when science figures out how to pull an “ought” statement out of an “is” statement! I’m sure it will come right after they explain how something can come from nothing (oh yeah, Krauss already explained this in the debate a few days earlier… we just have to stipulate that the quantum foam is “nothing”).

Harris’ attacks amounted to pointing out the epistemological problems of adopting Divine Command Theory… these are interesting problems, but they have little to do with whether it is necessary for there to be a God to ground morality. Harris thought it was sufficient to attack the God of the Old Testament, or the Taliban’s morality. As was pointed out, the Euthyphro dilemma would have been a more interesting angle. However, it was not until the Q&A period that Harris referenced this, right (or did I fall asleep)? They were not allowed to respond to one another during that period, but Craig has a good deal of work in response to Euthyphro, i.e. God’s nature simply is good. This does require some explanation and would have been a good avenue to explore, but Harris didn’t think to mention it during the debate period .

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Rob April 11, 2011 at 8:40 pm

How to get an “ought” from an “is”? Simple, it just takes an “if”.

If you want to get along with other people and live in a peaceful society, then you ought not go around raping and pillaging. If you want you car to run properly, you ought to get your oil changed.
————————-
Harris was quite clear about his axiomatic starting point, and he argues that in fact most ethical systems ultimately reduce to the same starting point (even DCT).

It seems to me that neither Craig nor his usual bootlickers even listened to Harris’s argument.

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drj April 11, 2011 at 8:43 pm

But please, let us know when science figures out how to pull an “ought” statement out of an “is” statement!

The only conceivable way to get from and “is” to an “ought” is by way of value. “If you value X, then you ought to…”. Clearly that’s all subjective though.

It is possible to move from that subjective position to either objectivity – depending on how “objective” is defined, of course – or at the very least, to universality, If all minds share a value universally – in other words, if valuing some thing is an objective universal property of minds – then one might have a basis for objective/universal morality on naturalism.

You can see how Sam keeps wanting to say something *like* that, but never quite really does. Richard Carrier does a far better job on naturalist morality.

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ayer April 11, 2011 at 8:44 pm

I don’t see how it is. If I were to ground morality upon the opinions of a very stubborn person (or somebody whose nature, for whatever quirk of nature, never changes), or, hell, even some computer code that always says “killing is wrong” regardless of the input, it too would be unchanging.

Yes, it would be unchanging, and that is why it is different from “opinions” and “attitudes.” The best example of a “non-God” objective standard (unchanging and true in all possible worlds) would be the Platonic form of The Good–a free-floating abstract object. While this may work to ground objective moral values, it does not work in grounding objective moral duties–you need God as the competent authority (whose nature is identical to the Good) to issue imperatives.

Moreover, suppose God’s nature was that of killing children or raping virgins. That too would be objective morality, regardless of the consequences, situations, etc.

I think you’re confusing moral ontology with moral epistemology here. As Craig said in his debate with Harris, he was granting that he basically agreed with Harris’ applied ethics (e.g., that killing children and raping virgins is wrong); we know these things, and the theory of how we know these things is moral epistemology. The theory of how those truths are ontologically grounded in moral ontology.

I have no idea what, exactly, makes God “competent” in this case. Just seems to be “Oh well, he’s God! can’t get more competent than that!

Well, in a sense that is true, since God is that being greater than which none can be conceived, Goodness is a great-making property, and Goodness would be the primary criteria for “competence” in issuing moral imperatives.

I don’t think that makes sense. For example, torture seems to be defined as inflicting unwarranted pain on others. That has nothing to do with pleasure.

As Harris says in his book, several million Americans are psychopathic and enjoy inflicting pain on others.

My main point is, why should it? I don’t see why ants or plants care about morality since they can’t value anything (as said before).

That would only mean ants and plants have no moral duties–but it’s still seems entirely arbitrary to say that moral agents have duties only to maximize the well-being of conscious, and not nonconscious, creatures

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ayer April 11, 2011 at 8:50 pm

If you want to get along with other people and live in a peaceful society, then you ought not go around raping and pillaging.

And if you happen to get your jollies from violating other people by force, and the risk of getting caught makes it even more exciting for you, then you ought to go around raping and pillaging. This is the kind of result that such “if/then” consequentialism gets you.

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lackofcheese April 11, 2011 at 8:56 pm

It is possible to move from that subjective position to either objectivity – depending on how “objective” is defined, of course – or at the very least, to universality, If all minds share a value universally – in other words, if valuing some thing is an objective universal property of minds – then one might have a basis for objective/universal morality on naturalism.

I very much doubt that there is any value that is a necessary property of a mind. However, I do think that there is quite a lot of commonality between the most basic things humans care about, such as happiness, freedom, love, and consciousness. That is what we must base morality upon.

Every time William Lane Craig says “freedom of the will” or “objective morality” it annoys me greatly that he doesn’t give any clarification at all as to what he means by those terms. He gets away with far, far too much leeway by using these terms without clear definitions.

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drj April 11, 2011 at 8:58 pm

And if you happen to get your jollies from violating other people by force, and the risk of getting caught makes it even more exciting for you, then you ought to go around raping and pillaging.This is the kind of result that such “if/then” consequentialism gets you.

The questions become to what extent are many people mistaken about what brings them well-being, and what can science actually objectively say about happiness and well-being in order to correct any mistakes.

Perhaps the man who thinks he can live a fulfilled and satisfied life by raping and killing is simply mistaken, and knows not what he misses by choosing that path. The pleasures he gets from those activities might be transient, and ultimately rather empty. Its possible that had he built up the virtues of love, compassion and empathy, he might have lived a much more satisfying life.

The science of happiness is a budding field – which is starting to corroborate what many of the mystic traditions have claimed for a long time… that foregoing the superficial and transient pleasures in this life, while building into your character the traits we generally consider virtuous (charitable, forgiving, loving, etc) leads to greater amounts of measurable happiness than any lives of crime and selfishness.

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drj April 11, 2011 at 9:01 pm

I very much doubt that there is any value that is a necessary property of a mind. However, I do think that there is quite a lot of commonality between the most basic things humans care about, such as happiness, freedom, love, and consciousness. That is what we must base morality upon.

I think it might be possible to make a compelling case, that all minds universally share a desire for well-being.

Or if there were a minds that didnt actually care about even their own well-being, they might similarly be excluded from the moral sphere, like mindless living things or inanimate objects.

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cl April 11, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Chris,

You wrote: “I wish you’d stick to simply reviewing the debate, instead of grabbing the horns and trying to fill in the blanks for Harris.”

That’s correct. In my opinion, Luke has a talent for reviewing debates. In the John Shook vs. Doug Geivett review, Luke is [more or less] detached. He describes it like a chess game, noting how each person opened, and continued to identify and explain the argument structure with detached elegance. Sure, he noted how Craig opened here, but immediately after, he started off with, “I’ve always found this position rather silly…” and carried on for two paragraphs about his response to Craig’s argument. It’s his blog, he’s got the right to do that, but I don’t want to read a rehash of Luke’s [hypothetical] debate with Craig. I want something like Shook / Geivett for Harris / Craig. I’m allowed to express what I want just as much as anybody else, right? I didn’t insult him, so… let’s do the whole “live and let live” thing.

And I don’t think Luke’s pretending anything…

I say “pretending” because he’s been made aware of a response, not just by me but also others as you can see from bossmanham up there, Ex yet without addressing them he repeats the argument. That’s sort of thing is fine on a blog, but… a university? He could have at least told people about the objections and responded to them. But whatever–we’re getting off the topic here.

…you implied he shouldn’t be allowed to speak on college campuses.

Where? It’s certainly possible that I overstated something in a hurried moment. Are you talking about this? If so, I went on to explain exactly what I was getting at which wasn’t anything against Luke speaking per se as much as the “checks and balances” I alluded to. I mean, he labeled me a “troll,” yet here I am still trying to get answers. I mean, it’s not like I’m bringing up some unrelated ax to grind here, this post is about the very same issue that I allege is unresolved.

Incidentally, I’ve read your “demonstration” that Luke is wrong, and think it isn’t one.

Well then by all means, explain why. All you did in your last comment was cite two of Craig’s positions and a rhetorical gesture towards Nazis, neither relevant to the core issue of whether or not God-based morality can be rightly called objective. I argue that Luke pleads specially, because the very same property that enables him to call desirism an “objective” moral theory must equally render God-based moral theory objective, given said property.

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Rob April 11, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Ayer,

Yes, we will always have to deal with psychopaths. But, some peoples opinions are not worthy of consideration.

I really don’t know what “objective morality” is supposed to mean exactly, but intersubjective morality seems something near enough.

But, sense Christians worship a character in a book that is clearly a psychopath, we have difficulty finding common ground.

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ayer April 11, 2011 at 9:24 pm

But, sense Christians worship a character in a book that is clearly a psychopath, we have difficulty finding common ground.

Jesus a psychopath? Well, that’s one view. But that would be no obstacle to embracing a generic “perfect being theology” theism, which is what Craig was defending in his debate with Harris.

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ayer April 11, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Perhaps the man who thinks he can live a fulfilled and satisfied life by raping and killing is simply mistaken, and knows not what he misses by choosing that path.

Maybe so, but on Harris’ view there is no reason to think he has any *moral* obligation not to pursue the his mistaken view of the path to well-being (just as someone with a flawed chess strategy has no *moral* obligation to pursue the superior strategy)

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drj April 11, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Maybe so, but on Harris’ view there is no reason to think he has any *moral* obligation not to pursue the his mistaken view of the path to well-being (just as someone with a flawed chess strategy has no *moral* obligation to pursue the superior strategy)

I guess it all depends on what you mean by “moral obligation”, but I don’t really know what it could mean, other than “has a rationally compelling and overriding reason to act”. I really think that’s the best one can hope to get out of any moral theory, really.

With that in mind, your sentence above becomes “… on Harris’ view there is no reason to think he has any rationally compelling and overriding reason to act contrary to his mistaken view of the path to well-being”. And he certainly has that, since his own self-interest is at stake – and is something he values.

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Rob April 11, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Ayer,

Please don’t stoop to the level of cl: deliberately “misunderstanding” what other people write. You know which character I was referring to.

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Luke Muehlhauser April 11, 2011 at 9:58 pm

Chris is correct. I am choosing to not spend time responding to cl.

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bossmanham April 11, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Chris is correct. I am choosing to not spend time responding to cl.

Why?

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Ajay April 11, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Probably because life is short.

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) April 11, 2011 at 10:28 pm

@ Ayer:

*Preliminary note* I had written a piece by part by part response to what you said, then realized it was circular, misunderstanding what you said at parts, and so on so forth, so it’s just one huge response now. Sorry if it’s a bit harder to answer
—-

Not at all (directed at the idea that only a “nature” can be unchanging but not an opinion). Throughout my life, my opinion that artificial strawberry flavoring tastes godawful has stayed the same. I don’t see it changing any time soon. It’s conceivable that I can have this opinion about the flavor throughout my life, and, if I were to live forever, for eternity. Even more troubling, suppose that my dislike of the taste comes from the way my brain is “programmed” and the only way that changes is by some alteration of the programming. Could we not say, if every brain were programmed as my brain is and not altered from there, it would be everyone’s unchanging opinion that strawberry flavoring tastes bad?

All of a sudden, “unchanging” also becomes unclear. Does it mean, “Given X wiring of the brain, the result will always be Y” or do we mean “Nobody can alter the brain”?

If you mean the latter, we can actually derive objective morality (well, according to your definition) from fluctuating opinions. Consider the following: Whatever the King thinks at 12:00 PM tomorrow about abortion will be moral. It will be unchanging since the King’s opinion at that particular point in time wont change, since it will be in the past, and no other changes are admitted into our definition of good. See? Whatever the King thought at 12:00 PM is unchanging, even if his opinion changes after that particular point in time.

If it’s the latter, then I fail to see the relevance of “unchanging.” It just means that it can’t be altered and will stay fixed. What does that have to do with being morally relevant?

Moreover, you yourself seem to be confused about what you mean when you say “unchanging” morality. To see why this “unchanging” morality is so confusing, let us consider the hedonistic moral system. No matter what, according to this moral system, maximizing net pleasure is good. That seems pretty unchanging to me, even if it means doing different things given the circumstances, but the goal remains the same. In fact, nothing about the hedonistic moral system changed. You’re still trying to achieve net pleasure, that hasn’t changed, just your methods of bringing about the maximization of pleasure.

This also seems to apply to your version of Divine Command Theory. What if God says “make everyone around you happy!” because his nature is of happiness or whatever. So you go and ask me what would make me happy. I tell you buying me a Caffe Latte from Starbucks would do the trick. You then go do that. Then you ask me what would make me happy after I finish it. I then tell you a Six Dollar Burger from Carl’s Jr. Uh-oh! We seem to run into the same “changing actions” as the hedonistic system. I guess you can argue that God wouldn’t command an imperative that would force us to commit different actions and call that unchanging…I have no idea how that even works out.

At any rate, I still don’t see why an unchanging nature is of any particular concern when it comes to morality. It doesn’t seem to gain any more meaning than basing it on fluctuating natures or totally random ones. The only difference is that everything is decidedly set in one and in the other, it isn’t. Whoop-de-doo.

But we’ve gone off-topic. Point is, by Craig’s definition of objective morals, a lot of things normally referred to as subjective are deemed “objective”, which seems to make the term really, really useless.

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) April 11, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Why?

Er…did you read his response to Luke about objective morals? I started out eagerly hoping that it would explain something but after reading the first few sentences it just seemed like a whole assault on Luke (complete with “And I effectively discredited him HERE, HERE and HERE). It was really quite distasteful.

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) April 11, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Ayer:

And if you happen to get your jollies from violating other people by force, and the risk of getting caught makes it even more exciting for you, then you ought to go around raping and pillaging.This is the kind of result that such “if/then” consequentialism gets you.

And your point is? Your system doesn’t avoid this either, since if God’s nature loves to see us go around pillaging and raping others, especially at a high risk of the perpetrator getting caught, that’s objective morality!

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bossmanham April 11, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Probably because life is short.

I guess I expect when you keep using the same arguments that people have offered responses for, you’d take the time to defend them if you think they’re still viable. Both cl and I have argued that Luke’s critique of DCT doesn’t work, and I haven’t seen a response. I guess he can keep doing this, it’s his blog. But it looks awful irrational.

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Ajay April 11, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Here’s the problem, I think. You and cl love this kind of line: “Luke, listen, I’ve already defeated this argument on my blog [link here] so I don’t know why you keep trotting out these arguments.”

I’m really surprised, honestly, with how you guys state this so forwardly. Clearly Luke doesn’t agree. And clearly he has hundreds of posters here, so he probably can’t respond to everyone’s comment on their own blog.

Likewise, you claimed in your earliest post on this thread that DCT is grounded in God’s nature. So look up my post earlier in this thread about how God’s nature is whimsical, and also my reference to a Michael Martin post about how the Euthyphro Dilemma can be restated to take into account God’s nature. So by retreating to say morality is objective because it’s grounded in God’s nature DOES NOT DEFEAT ATHEIST OBJECTIONS.

At this point, I could write something like: “Jeez bossmanham and cl, I have already debunked your arguments but you two keep ignoring me. I guess you can keep doing this, but it looks awful[ly] irrational.”

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lackofcheese April 11, 2011 at 11:37 pm

I think it might be possible to make a compelling case, that all minds universally share a desire for well-being.

I can agree that this would hold for almost all human beings, but I see no reason why an artificial intelligence would care about well-being unless it was specifically programed to.

Or if there were a minds that didnt actually care about even their own well-being, they might similarly be excluded from the moral sphere, like mindless living things or inanimate objects.

That’s an interesting question. Is happiness inseperably intertwined with caring about happiness?

I’m not sure that a mind that doesn’t care about its own well-being is one we shouldn’t care about at all. This kind of question becomes particularly relevant when we consider how we should treat animals.

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Citizen Ghost April 12, 2011 at 4:19 am

drj,

I guess it all depends on what you mean by “moral obligation”, but I don’t really know what it could mean, other than “has a rationally compelling and overriding reason to act”. I really think that’s the best one can hope to get out of any moral theory, really.With that in mind, your sentence above becomes “… on Harris’ view there is no reason to think he has any rationally compelling and overriding reason to act contrary to his mistaken view of the path to well-being”. And he certainly has that, since his own self-interest is at stake – and is something he values.

I agree that how one views the meaning of “moral obligation” is a key element here.

But if by “moral obligation” we mean a “rational reason to act” then we aren’t really talking about objective morality. And that’s OK – maybe we shouldn’t be. It’s clear that Craig & Harris don’t mean the same thing when they talk about “objective” moral values. The assumption that Craig makes is that “objective” morality is the only kind of morality that is real or could be meaningful. In his view, moral values are either “objective” or they are an illusion. This, I think, is a false dichotomy which ignores centuries of moral philosophy. Craig also understands “moral duties” as mere commands which strikes me as a nonstarter.

In short, it seems to me that for Craig, morality can only be grounded in authority. For Harris, morality is grounded in reason.

But even if a moral obligation is “a rationally compelling and overriding reason to act” I don’t think Harris would reduce the reason to mere self-interest. There is a communal or species-based aspect to Harris’ view of morality. Some notion of utilitarianism or the “greater good.”

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Bill Snedden April 12, 2011 at 4:46 am

@cl: “If I’m missing something, point me in the right direction, please.”

Saying, “non-human animals are not moral agents” is not an example of speciesism. Saying, “hon-human animals cannot be moral agents” is.

Nothing in Desirism (or ethical egoism, or humanism, or any of another host of meta-ethical stances) holds that non-human animals cannot be moral agents. That is to say, the basis for moral agency is not a genotypical distinction like “species”. It is rather a metaphysical or cognitive distinction that a non-human animal may not now meet, but in principle could. Desirism could still hold true for dolphins, bonobos, space aliens or AI, provided such creatures possessed malleable desires. That they don’t currently or in this world is irrelevant.

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Bill Snedden April 12, 2011 at 4:51 am

@bossmanham:

Utilitarianism, ethical egoism, and all other futile attempts at establishing an objective morality all rely on what some contingent creature thinks/prefers.

Actually, they don’t. Methinks before you rail at others for allegedly misunderstanding something, you might want to check your own facts first…

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Chris Hallquist April 12, 2011 at 5:52 am

Okay, now I’m not responding to cl either.

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Kaelik April 12, 2011 at 5:52 am

@bossmanham:
Actually, they don’t.Methinks before you rail at others for allegedly misunderstanding something, you might want to check your own facts first…

I think a more true criticism would be:

Utilitarianism, ethical egoism, and all other futile attempts at establishing an objective morality all fail to present any compelling reason why “moral agents” should base their decisions on the things that are claimed as the basis of decision making.

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salbannach April 12, 2011 at 7:35 am

MarkD,

My guess is, so far as those theories make normative claims, Craig believes they need supernatural grounding.

Zak,

I’d say if Harris believes atheism can ground moral values, and yet atheism implies a determinism that, arguably, makes morality impossible, then it’s fair to point this out. Is it equally fair to point out the Biblical God does unsavory things if that’s the God being used to ground morality? Yes.

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Citizen Ghost April 12, 2011 at 7:38 am

I’m curious. Why is the charge of “speciesism” even a problem?

Suppose Harris is a speciesist. So?

If morality is about the flourishing of conscious creatures and we recognize that only human beings posesss the sort of consciousness that allows individuals to be moral agents, then why shouldn’t we be speciesists?

In any event there’s something ironic when someone like William Lane Craig – who believes that only human beings (and not the 99.9% of species that go extinct) possess souls and who further believes that the entire universe was created so that a single species can live eternally in fellowship with God – can, with a straight face, call someone else a “speciesist.”

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salbannach April 12, 2011 at 8:01 am

Citizen Ghost,

I think you’re missing the point. Craig is a speciesist, and he thinks that theism allows him to be one. As Harris has no justification for being a speciesist, Craig think it’s a meaningful attack to call him one.

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Garren April 12, 2011 at 8:21 am

Luke,
..”I don’t think you need even compatibilist free will for the kind of moral responsibility that makes sense without contra-causal free will.”

That’s a good thing, since compatibilism and hard determinism tend to affirm the same substantial facts and merely label them differently.

Ajay,
..”So look up my post earlier in this thread about how God’s nature is whimsical, and also my reference to a Michael Martin post about how the Euthyphro Dilemma can be restated to take into account God’s nature. So by retreating to say morality is objective because it’s grounded in God’s nature DOES NOT DEFEAT ATHEIST OBJECTIONS.”

Yes, I find it a bit annoying how apologists think all they need to do to respond to Euthyphro is move the locus of the conversation away from ‘divine commands.’ The original argument referenced divine nature, not commands!

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salbannach April 12, 2011 at 8:46 am

I’ve listened to the debate a second time now. I stand by my opinion that Harris is incompetent. His responses are rambling, dull, and largely irrelevant to the points at hand. It’s as if he’s riffling through his memory for atheist sound bites.

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drj April 12, 2011 at 8:53 am

I’ve listened to the debate a second time now. I stand by my opinion that Harris is incompetent. His responses are rambling, dull, and largely irrelevant to the points at hand. It’s as if he’s riffling through his memory for atheist sound bites.

For the most part I agree he’s not very competent at debating, though he did actually produce a couple good sound-bites. He’s much better paired up with guys like D’Souza… where they don’t so much a debate, but a rhetoric contest.

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salbannach April 12, 2011 at 9:05 am

Being suited to dialog with D’Souza ain’t what I’d call a compliment.

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Silas April 12, 2011 at 9:43 am

I’ve listened to the debate a second time now. I stand by my opinion that Harris is incompetent. His responses are rambling, dull, and largely irrelevant to the points at hand. It’s as if he’s riffling through his memory for atheist sound bites.

Yeah, I couldn’t have written a better description myself.

WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: So, what time is it? Harris?
SAM HARRIS: I remember one instance when a muslim woman reached up her sleave, careful not to reveal any skin, and produced a clock. When dealing with the most basic everyday things, this woman couldn’t let go of her deep religious indoctrination. Abrahamic religions are not the basis for clock-based morality. What time it is? We will never know. It will be forever lost up the sleeve of a burqa wearing woman.
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: What the F*CK are you talking about?

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ayer April 12, 2011 at 9:46 am

For the most part I agree he’s not very competent at debating, though he did actually produce a couple good sound-bites. He’s much better paired up with guys like D’Souza… where they don’t so much a debate, but a rhetoric contest.

I agree. Someone like Wes Morriston is needed to engage Craig on these issues. Harris is more on the D’Souza/Hitchens level.

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MarkD April 12, 2011 at 10:11 am

I agree.Someone like Wes Morriston is needed to engage Craig on these issues.Harris is more on the D’Souza/Hitchens level.

Out of curiosity, I checked The Moral Landscape to see whether he addresses is/ought or ontological notions of objective and he does. In other words, he could have more directly attacked Craig and dismissed the core claims (he later mentions Euthyphro, as well, so he had additional ammunition). Having done so, he would then have faced Craig’s possible worlds argument that I would need to hear again to make sense of.

Harris also has a single endnote related to utility theory and how bias structure relates to it that he could have used to draw a fresh distinction with preference utilitarianism and reinforce the objectivity claim.

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cl April 12, 2011 at 11:11 am

Excuses, excuses… making excuses for the pastor.

Esteban R.

…it just seemed like a whole assault on Luke…

Actually, by that point, what you were reading was a response to Luke’s personal attack on me.

(complete with “And I effectively discredited him HERE, HERE and HERE). It was really quite distasteful.

Excuse me buddy, but I think it’s distasteful to QUOTE me as saying something I did not. That’s more than distasteful, it’s deplorable. Regardless, why let your emotions get the best of you and stop reading after the first few sentences? When it comes to whether or not God-based morality can be objective, who cares whether you think it was distasteful? Analyze the arguments, not the side-stuff.

Ajay,

Clearly Luke doesn’t agree. And clearly he has hundreds of posters here, so he probably can’t respond to everyone’s comment on their own blog.

Of the hundreds of posters here, only the minority actually respond on their own blog, so this excuse seems weak.

So look up my post earlier in this thread about how God’s nature is whimsical,

My post addresses this. I’d love to hear your response.

Bill Snedden,

Desirism could still hold true for dolphins, bonobos, space aliens or AI, provided such creatures possessed malleable desires.

That’s irrelevant. The point is that the vast majority of species cannot be rightly classified as having malleable desires.

Chris Hallquist,

Okay, now I’m not responding to cl either.

Oh, gee… you must have some really strong arguments! Ridiculous.

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Bill Snedden April 12, 2011 at 11:26 am

@Kaelik:

Utilitarianism, ethical egoism, and all other futile attempts at establishing an objective morality all fail to present any compelling reason why “moral agents” should base their decisions on the things that are claimed as the basis of decision making.

Actually, I think an even more accurate statement might be:

Utilitarianism, ethical egoism and all other attempts at establishing an objective morality can all be argued to fail to present any compelling reason why “moral agents” &c…

I say “can be argued” as I think it’s certainly possible to make this argument, but I don’t agree that it succeeds (based on what one means by “objective”). ;)

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Bill Snedden April 12, 2011 at 11:45 am

@cl:

That’s irrelevant. The point is that the vast majority of species cannot be rightly classified as having malleable desires.

Hmmm…”Speciesism” is “…the assigning of different values or rights to beings on the basis of their species membership.” (Wikipedia) Or, as Richard Ryder (the guy who coined the word) puts it, “…speciesism can refer to such beliefs and behaviours if they are based upon the species-difference alone, as if such a difference is, in itself, a justification.”

Whether a species does or can actually possess(es) malleable desires is, in fact, irrelevant to the extent that the possession of malleable desires is not a determining factor in “species-difference”. IOW, what I said previously: the relevant difference is metaphysical/cognitive, not genotypical. The term “speciesism” clearly refers to the belief that the relevant difference is genotypical, as though “being human” were somehow a quality that confers moral value. As this is absolutely not the case with Desirism (the relevant quality being “possesses malleable desires” NOT “being human”), Desirism is not a “speciesist” system.

Would it help if I drew a Venn diagram?

And I’m not making any “excuses” for anyone nor do I consider Luke to be a “pastor”. I’m merely interested in correcting a misconception that you seem to have, and the only reason I’m interested in that is as a Humanist, I’m often accused of the same thing and it’s just as untrue.

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salbannach April 12, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Silas,

I try to approach debates like this as robotically as possible. Nonetheless, that’s fucking funny.

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bossmanham April 12, 2011 at 12:43 pm

@bossmanham:

Actually, they don’t.Methinks before you rail at others for allegedly misunderstanding something, you might want to check your own facts first…

Actually they do. HA what now?

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Luke Muehlhauser April 12, 2011 at 12:46 pm

ayer,

Unfortunately, Morriston speaks so softly you can barely hear him. :)

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bossmanham April 12, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Here’s the problem, I think. You and cl love this kind of line: “Luke, listen, I’ve already defeated this argument on my blog [link here] so I don’t know why you keep trotting out these arguments.”

It’s the straw man of Craig’s position I’m critiquing. He can’t not disagree with that, because the fact is how he’s representing Craig’s position isn’t correct.

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Luke Muehlhauser April 12, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Silas,

LOL.

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Haecceitas April 12, 2011 at 1:07 pm

One that is omnipotent must be morally good, he says.

Where has he said that?

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Citizen Ghost April 12, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Craig is a speciesist, and he thinks that theism allows him to be one. As Harris has no justification for being a speciesist, Craig think it’s a meaningful attack to call him one

But that’s exactly the point. Theism allows Craig to say absolutely anything. We see it time and time again.

But Harris certainly does provide a justification. If morality is concerned with the well-being of conscious creatures and humans are the only creatures (as far as we know) that possess this kind of conscioiusness, then his “speciesism” is plainly justified.

And Craig’s justification? Well, according to the bible, God is a “speciesist” (only one species was created in God’s image and has the opportunity for eternal life) so Craig has license to be one too. Terrific.

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cl April 12, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Bill,

Whether a species does or can actually possess(es) malleable desires is, in fact, irrelevant to the extent that the possession of malleable desires is not a determining factor in “species-difference”.

Whether or not an organism has desires is fundamentally connected to its position in the family tree, e.g. it’s species membership. This is all side business, though. The point of my original “desirism is speciesist” comment was that nothing has been offered to justify the exclusive of some species of living creatures simply because they don’t have brains sufficient for the production of desires. For example, can we do whatever we want to trees because they don’t have brain states?

The term “speciesism” clearly refers to the belief that the relevant difference is genotypical, as though “being human” were somehow a quality that confers moral value. As this is absolutely not the case with Desirism (the relevant quality being “possesses malleable desires” NOT “being human”), Desirism is not a “speciesist” system.

I think of “speciesism” as that which occurs when one species refuses to give equal consideration to other species, based on differences intrinsic to being a member of the species(‘) in question. That parenthesized apostophre is important because it means groups of species can withhold consideration to other groups of species. I already affirmed my support for Reginald’s comment earlier in the thread. We’re talking about something more like Orderism or Phylaism, not speciesism.

We’re talking past each other, but I appreciate that you’re talking at all [as opposed to making up excuses not to talk].

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salbannach April 12, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Citizen Ghost,

One, it’s far from clear that humans are the only conscious creatures. The contrary seems more likely. And note, that Harris did not, in the course of the debate, state that humans are the only conscious creatures, which suggests he’s uncertain of where he comes down as well. (Others are welcome to point out if Harris defines the set of conscious creatures elsewhere.) So, so far as Harris reserves consideration for humans alone, he’s being speciest. I’m not sure if he does so reserve consideration, but I note he didn’t deny it.

Two, Craig cannot say “absolutely anything.” He certainly couldn’t plausibly argue that the world was created for, for example, cattle, since the clear thrust of the Biblical narrative is that humans are the intended beneficiaries.

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Bill Snedden April 12, 2011 at 2:48 pm

@bossmanham:

Actually they do. HA what now?

Like I said, check your facts. You’re just plain wrong.

Natural Law (both theistic and non-theistic versions) is an objective moral system that absolutely does NOT depend upon what some “contingent creature thinks/prefers”. That vitiates your earlier statement flat out.

Additionally, both Utilitarianism and Ethical Egoism (at least the versions with which I am familiar) hold that there is a matter of fact truth, irrespective of what any individual thinks or says, in what constitutes “the greatest good”, or one’s “rational self-interest” respectively. Now, they may be wrong in that no such matters of fact exist, but if so they would simply prove to be without foundation, not somehow magically subjective.

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Citizen Ghost April 12, 2011 at 3:13 pm

salbannach,

You’re quite right to observe that Harris does not state that humans are the only conscious creatures. Nor does Harris define morality in terms of the well-being of humans alone – so in that sense, it’s probably not accurate to call him a “speciesist.”

But I was making the point that even if he WAS a speciesist, that would hardly be a criticism of his moral theory. Whether or not other creatures posess something called “consciousness” it’s probably fair to say that it’s not same quality of consciousness that we, as humans, possess. Based on our current understanding of neuroscience and animal behavior, we may be justified in identifying morality as a uniquely human trait or at least distinguishing “human morality” from the moral world of other creatures.

He [Craig] certainly couldn’t plausibly argue that the world was created for, for example, cattle, since the clear thrust of the Biblical narrative is that humans are the intended beneficiaries

Well sure he could. Is theism limited to the biblical narrative? If Craig thinks it is, he should say so. But Craig claims to be arguing for a theist account on the basis of logic and reason, not biblical revelation. Logically speaking, a theistic God would be just as capable of imparting a higher consciousness (or eternal life) in cattle. How can we know that that God does not reveal himself to cattle?

It’s an interesting thing. Critics of Harris complain that he spends too much time in this debate on”atheist soundbites” and tangential criticisms of religion. But your comment here helps demonstrate precisely why Harris’ remarks about religious indoctrination are very much on point. Because it’s clear that the ontological basis of morality offered by Craig is squarely rooted in the acceptance of the Christian bible as the word of God.

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) April 12, 2011 at 5:47 pm

@bossmanham:

Like I said, check your facts.You’re just plain wrong.

Natural Law (both theistic and non-theistic versions) is an objective moral system that absolutely does NOT depend upon what some “contingent creature thinks/prefers”.That vitiates your earlier statement flat out.

Additionally, both Utilitarianism and Ethical Egoism (at least the versions with which I am familiar) hold that there is a matter of fact truth, irrespective of what any individual thinks or says, in what constitutes “the greatest good”, or one’s “rational self-interest” respectively.Now, they may be wrong in that no such matters of fact exist, but if so they would simply prove to be without foundation, not somehow magically subjective.

Bill, Citizen Ghost great comments.

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Kaelik April 12, 2011 at 6:40 pm

@Kaelik:
Actually, I think an even more accurate statement might be:
Utilitarianism, ethical egoism and all other attempts at establishing an objective morality can all be argued to fail to present any compelling reason why “moral agents” &c…

I say “can be argued” as I think it’s certainly possible to make this argument, but I don’t agree that it succeeds (based on what one means by “objective”). ;)

You would be technically correct, in that it can be argued, but contextually incorrect, because the statement is true, and not really subject to argument. Irrespective of the definition of objective, because the statement is identical without even mentioning objectivity:

See: “Utilitarianism, ethical egoism, and [a specific subset of] other futile attempts at establishing a morality all fail to present any compelling reason why “moral agents” should base their decisions on the things that are claimed as the basis of decision making.”

Or, for more clarity: Utilitarianism, Ethical egoism, and all other futile attempts at establishing an objective morality, where objective means not grounded in the values of the specific acting moral agents, fail to present any compelling argument for moral agents acting based on their proposed values, barring the agent valuing these things already.

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Ralph April 12, 2011 at 8:42 pm

Craig’s 30 yrs of experience in debating and his solid background in the philosophy of religion is a rare combination. It would be the rare individual who could stand toe-to-toe with him and win on both style and substance. Clearly Harris could have done a better job in demolishing Craig’s arguments, but for me, given Sam Harris’ lack of a solid background in philosophy, I think that what he did was the best strategy for him. Most of the time, Craig wins on rhetoric even when he loses on substance. Had Harris gone for a definite clash on the arguments, he would have been mired in technicalities and would have been out of his depth (he is no philospher) and would have lost both on style and substance. By framing the debate his way, Sam Harris wins on rhetoric even if he does lose on a point-by-point accounting of the arguments. Anyway, Craig’s arguments are so unsound that it could be eviscerated more effectively in the written medium (electronic or print).

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Ajay April 12, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Cl:

In that post you linked to on your website, you actually don’t say very much about God’s nature, except:

“The question becomes, ‘Are there parameters that even God must abide by? Or, could God simply declare as moral whatever God wishes?’ I argue that there are parameters, and the parameters flow logically from God’s nature.”

Again, this doesn’t overcome the objection I posted above. Re-read the Martin quote and try again, please.

On this, let me quote you again:

“I find it discouraging that you keep asserting the same thing without addressing the explanation. I suppose we can just repeat our way to truth?”

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cl April 12, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Then you must’ve missed this:

Next, recall that Luke’s definition of objective moral value is, “moral value grounded in something beyond the attitudes of a person or persons.” The key word there is attitudes, and Luke makes clear that he means attitudes of the arbitrary or whimsical variety when he says, “If God approved of rape [and racism], rape [and racism] would be good.” As I’ve said before, I wholeheartedly agree with Luke that this kind of God-based morality cannot rightfully be called “objective.” However, it is not valid to infer that type of God-based morality from any reasonable exegesis of scripture. As we saw yesterday, the Bible strongly implies that God cannot pronounce moral truths arbitrarily [cf. Hebrews 6:18, 13:8 ]. In other words, the Bible clams that God cannot decide via mere change in attitude that lying – or rape or racism – are suddenly “morally good.”

God is not an “almost whimsical” arbiter of morality. That takes care of your (1) and also seems to falsify what Luke claims about God-based morality.

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dm April 12, 2011 at 11:44 pm

“Theistic morality, where morality is defined with reference to the opinions or attitudes of a person named ‘God’, has always been a type of subjective morality”

I am not sure this is correct under St Anselm definition of a maximally great being that Craig defends. It’s not like “good” is God’s opinion, according to Craig it’s just who he is. If God is a necessary being who is the locus of morality (a necessary attribute) or the “good” himself as described in the euthyphro dilemma thing-a-mig-jig, then its not really subjective is it? If Craig’s argument is correct then it’s not really up to God’s opinion because that seems to leave open the possibility that morality could have been different, and i don’t think this is possible under his definition of God. lukeprog, what say you?

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dm April 12, 2011 at 11:50 pm

ignore my last post sorry, i see that ayer already brought this up.

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AJ April 13, 2011 at 12:48 am

Then you must’ve missed this:God is not an “almost whimsical” arbiter of morality. That takes care of your (1) and also seems to falsify what Luke claims about God-based morality.

Is anyone planning on rebutting this?

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mpg April 13, 2011 at 2:36 am

The hypothetical involving the ‘objectivity’ of moral values is deeply flawed. The hypothetical: do moral values exist independent of human opinion, itself depends on human opinion for its conclusion. One cannot get outside of the referent to analyse it.

What Dr Craig is really trying to ask is: in a world without sentient beings, is there still a moral evaluator? Some apologists put it this way: “if nothing existed, would it still be true that killing and raping babies for fun is wrong”? If the respondent says yes, then the respondent is really saying, “there is still a moral evaluator in this scenario”. The flaw here is that the moral evaluator in the hypothetical is still the respondent, not the transendent God suggested by Craig et al. Once you realise that the hypothetical scenarios cannot escape the moral evaluator, the respondent, we can then realise that the conclusion, that there must be a transcendent moral evaluator is fallacious.

PS. I am not a moral nihilist, my own ontology of morality states that morality IS a construct, but its based on something deeply true of reality, IMHO.

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Ajay April 13, 2011 at 2:43 am

Well, cl, in order to buy that argument I’d have to:

a.) buy into the assumption that Scripture is relevant (and it’s not clear why I should believe that at all, nor does that help you explain why ‘God’ is the source of morality rather than the ‘Christian God’)

and b.) doesn’t God clearly change his views? He created all living things and then drowned them. What the hell is that? He clearly condones numerous terrible things, but seems to change his mind after the ‘New Covenant’ as ayer suggested.

It sounds like you did this: you saw God change his mind, found a Bible verse which states “God does not change his mind” and then used that to somehow rebut the fact that God did actually change his mind.

Yeah: you have not answered my objection.

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reticularimus April 13, 2011 at 2:44 am

The University of Notre Dame has posted a higher quality copy of the debate to their youtube channel, NDdotEDU. The top resolution is 640×360, the file is about 403.47MB.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqaHXKLRKzg

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mister k April 13, 2011 at 3:12 am

If we define God to be the unchanging arbiter of good, from whom good flows, then we’ve probably got an objective morality, but sadly we don’t know what it is, as we’ve yet to encounter a God like that, who after all doesn’t sound terribly like any god described by a religion thus far. Perhaps a deist god might come close, but such a god isn’t terribly communicative, so I’m not sure where we get our morality from in that case.

My issue with a god based morality is that it doesn’t get us anywhere. What should we think is good under a god based morality? We surely can’t trust holy texts, which we know are not perfect collections of gods thoughts (if we’re going to accept that we have to be rather silly, so lets assume we are not silly), so where are we actually looking for answers? If the solution is to think about the way humans are for a while, then how is our morality terribly different to a non-theistic morality?

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Michael April 13, 2011 at 3:13 am

Then you must’ve missed this:

God is not an “almost whimsical” arbiter of morality. That takes care of your (1) and also seems to falsify what Luke claims about God-based morality.

Hmm, cl what would you say to someone who argued the following:
“It’s all good saying that God is not a whimsical arbiter of morality, saying that he only acts according to his necessary nature, which in turn is kind, gracious, compassionate, just etc.
However, from the Bible we know that it fits perfectly well with God’s ‘nature’ to command genocide one moment using moral reasoning such as the end justified the means, and then say it’s immoral the next, to allow polygamy one minute, then ban it the next, to ban eating pork one minute, then allow it the next. Therefore to speak of God’s nature is really to speak of nothing- because on countless issues he gives completely opposite commands to what he’s given before.
—>Therefore when he gives his commands, he’s not just doing something tautological with his nature, as if his necessary nature only ALLOWS for him to approve of generosity and disapprove of genocide. Clearly we have seen that both commands are consistent with God’s nature. So if he’s not simply following his nature, he must be acting according to something else.
—> Either his actions have a reason or they don’t. If they don’t, they are arbitrary and can be disregarded. If they do, and these are the reasons that God appeals to for making his command a moral one, surely those reasons would be these basis for morality?

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stag April 13, 2011 at 4:15 am

Allow me, as a first time visitor, to wade into the already deep, and somewhat murky, waters of this debate on the source and the nature of morality.

It seems to me that cl is on the right lines by refusing any version of the DCT that would imply arbitrariness in God. But to eliminate arbitrariness does not automatically compromise omnipotence in God, as the Euthyphro dilemma has it. It must be remembered that:
1) According to a theist, God created all beings, including humanity: and his creation is good;
2) The “good” (small g) is always relative to the entity for whom it is desirable;
3) Part of human nature is rationality.
By remembering these three things, I think the Euthyphro dilemma can be resolved in a particular way – ie, God commands what is just because it is just – without implying that God is “subordinate” to a preexisting moral order. Note – this is about showing that a theist position can be coherent. I am not going to rigorously prove all my principles.

Let’s start with (2): the “good” is, in general, entity-relative. This simple point is the key to the whole thing, IMO. The moral good needs to be located within the overall genus of the good, as the good OF a particular entity. A “good dog” is not good for the same reasons as a “good man”; but their respective goodness will be legislated by the nature of each of the entities in question. It seems strange to speak about a good dog in this way – but if (1) is correct, dogs, when they do doggy things, are good. When do dogs NOT do doggy things? Never, actually. So doggy activity, insofar as it flows directly from doggy nature, is good.

What about a good man? If the cases are parallel, there cannot be a bad man. But there are bad men. What, then, separates human action from doggy action in terms of relationship to the good? This is where (3) comes in. God gave us a rational nature, due to which the flow of actions from nature is not direct immediate as with dogs: we apprehend and judge and deliberate before acting. However, what is good is still, as per (2), determined by what we are. This amounts to saying that, in our case, the good, although “legislated” by nature/type of entity, is not simply a consequence of that nature: our “good” is, to an extent, left up to us. Our action insofar as it is informed and guided by the rational principle gives us the ability to span the gulf between nature and the good. This, I suggest, is where “good” becomes “moral” good.

How do divine commands fit into this picture? By issuing an external command or law, God is not changing human nature, and therefore he is not changing the human (ie the moral) good, either. By (2), he is simply – on the theistic hypothesis – commanding what is good for us. However, unlike other entities, for us the good can be attained via a law or command that is not only immanent to our nature (the nature of a dog is a kind of “law” for its action) but also transcendent (insofar as the immanent good can be KNOWN rationally, and hence become a MORAL and not simply naturalistic law).

A question: if what is good is known through reason, why does God command it? Well, although it is in principle knowable through reason, lots of people don’t in fact get there. They make mistakes, they think the good is this or that or the next thing. Divine law comes in to clarify and guide. But even when people knew the divine law and believed in it, they could not keep it. That is the whole point of Christianity…

On this picture, the Euthyphro dilemma receives a definite answer. Saying “it is just because God commands it” is locating the source of law too high – it is already there first at the natural (the good) then at the rational (the moral good) levels. But both of these were created by God; and human beings were created “in the image” of God…

Old Testament divine law is about effectively knowing the good (in principle available to reason. Note that Christians do NOT believe that OT Law is God’s definitive highway code for humanity); New Testament Law is about effectively doing the good (while also bringing about a perfection of knowledge).

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lackofcheese April 13, 2011 at 4:31 am

If the “good” is grounded in the nature of human beings and in rationality, then it does not require God for the “good” to exist. This invalidates Craig’s contention that the lack of a divine being implies the lack of an objective morality.

However, Craig’s idea of objective morality is something of a moot point either way. Morality is clearly a concept that resides within human brains. To consider an “objective” morality as something that is somehow outside of human brains is absurd.

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Kaelik April 13, 2011 at 5:36 am

Then you must’ve missed this:

God is not an “almost whimsical” arbiter of morality. That takes care of your (1) and also seems to falsify what Luke claims about God-based morality.

Remember when I asked Ayer to define good in an informative way, and he never did. Now it’s your turn. Saying something is a maximally great being doesn’t actually mean anything without an informative definition of good.

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stag April 13, 2011 at 5:42 am

lack of cheese,
Recall that the intrinsic relation of a nature to its good can only give foundation to moral objectivity if the (subjective) good aimed at by entity x is itself (objectively) good. So, for example, if the existence of the universe is entirely explainable by evolution and the laws of matter (which it isn’t), there will be a whole lot of natures constituted in relation to a whole lot of “goods” – but none of this will mean anything morally, objectively speaking. If on the other hand the universe is created by God (with its laws and its evolution and whatever else), these things will mean something, since the creation, and every entity in it, is itself (objectively) good. For an entity to conform itself to its innate “law” (or good) will be objectively good. For other beings, this conformity means nothing but existing and (perhaps) acting; for us, it means understanding and choosing as well. The objectivity of the good, in this way, is seen to depend upon our cosmology and ultimately our metaphysics.

My beef with Craig on this topic, as a Christian, would be that he forgets that creation implies a structure of mediation of legality. To say that in a more intelligible way, the fact that God creates such-and-such beings, and gives then such-and-such natures, is the real Christian philosophical foundation for ethics: not that God says “Do this/that”. The “do this” is already immanent in the world. For humans, it becomes a specifically moral imperative, because we have reason and can choose.

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drj April 13, 2011 at 5:46 am

Remember when I asked Ayer to define good in an informative way, and he never did. Now it’s your turn. Saying something is a maximally great being doesn’t actually mean anything without an informative definition of good.

Yep, I’d like to hear the response….

If one says “God is maximally good/great”, and both are defined according to what God’s nature is, all you are really saying is:

God is maximally God.

Brilliant!

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Citizen Ghost April 13, 2011 at 6:14 am

Kaelik,

Saying something is a maximally great being doesn’t actually mean anything without an informative definition of good

I think that’s exactly right. Ultimately Craig is hopelessly circular here: God = Good and Good = God. (He at least has etymology on his side, if not logic.)

Craig tries to get around this circularity by making a distinction between ontology and semantics. This too is hopeless. Because how you can argue for a basis of objective morality while avoiding the very meaning of objective morality? It’s as if Craig imagines that if he makes sufficient noise talking about what makes something “objective,” nobody will notice that he’s not providing any basis for determing what makes it moral.

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salbannach April 13, 2011 at 6:27 am

Citizen Ghost,

I’ll respond to your comment when I have time. I just want to nitpick now–the two words, though they look similar, are not etymologically related.

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ayer April 13, 2011 at 6:36 am

Remember when I asked Ayer to define good in an informative way, and he never did. Now it’s your turn. Saying something is a maximally great being doesn’t actually mean anything without an informative definition of good.

Sorry, I had a lot of comments to respond to and forgot about yours. The definition of “good” is an exercise in moral semantics, not moral ontology. As Craig said in his debate with Harris, he and Harris would overwhelmingly agree on most issues of applied ethics (i.e., “what actions are good”). We (except for psychopaths) apprehend a realm of objective “good” and “evil” (e.g., some things are really morally evil–torturing babies for fun; some things are really morally good–rescuing someone from the holocaust). God’s nature is identical with those virtues we call “good”–justice, compassion, etc. He has no evil qualities and commits no evil acts. Thus he is “maximally good.” Which makes sense, since he is the maximally great being, and goodness is a great-making property.

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Luke Muehlhauser April 13, 2011 at 6:37 am

reticularimus,

Thanks!

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drj April 13, 2011 at 6:42 am

Sorry, I had a lot of comments to respond to and forgot about yours.The definition of “good” is an exercise in moral semantics, not moral ontology.As Craig said in his debate with Harris, he and Harris would overwhelmingly agree on most issues of applied ethics (i.e., “what actions are good”).We (except for psychopaths) apprehend a realm of objective “good” and “evil” (e.g., some things are really morally evil–torturing babies for fun; some things are really morally good–rescuing someone from the holocaust).God’s nature is identical with those virtues we call “good”–justice, compassion, etc.He has no evil qualities and commits no evil acts.Thus he is “maximally good.”Which makes sense, since he is the maximally great being, and goodness is a great-making property.

To employ this strategy one has simply jumped out of the frying pan, into the fire. One is defining good in terms of properties that God possesses, not that he defines… Euthyphro wins again

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Bill Snedden April 13, 2011 at 6:50 am

@stag:

My beef with Craig on this topic, as a Christian, would be that he forgets that creation implies a structure of mediation of legality. To say that in a more intelligible way, the fact that God creates such-and-such beings, and gives then such-and-such natures, is the real Christian philosophical foundation for ethics: not that God says “Do this/that”. The “do this” is already immanent in the world. For humans, it becomes a specifically moral imperative, because we have reason and can choose.

THIS. ^

And not only a Christian foundation. The idea originally comes from Aristotle, of course. And as Grotius said, it doesn’t really matter if God created Man or not; his (Man’s) nature still provides the necessary grounding for a moral system.

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Kaelik April 13, 2011 at 7:17 am

Sorry, I had a lot of comments to respond to and forgot about yours.

I know, that’s why I said didn’t, instead of couldn’t.

The definition of “good” is an exercise in moral semantics, not moral ontology.As Craig said in his debate with Harris, he and Harris would overwhelmingly agree on most issues of applied ethics (i.e., “what actions are good”).We (except for psychopaths) apprehend a realm of objective “good” and “evil” (e.g., some things are really morally evil–torturing babies for fun; some things are really morally good–rescuing someone from the holocaust).God’s nature is identical with those virtues we call “good”–justice, compassion, etc.He has no evil qualities and commits no evil acts.Thus he is “maximally good.”Which makes sense, since he is the maximally great being, and goodness is a great-making property.

So when you say God is Maximally Good. You actually mean “God has all the qualities that I personally like, and none of the ones that I personally don’t like.” Well then clearly morality doesn’t come from God. It comes from you. Because you decide what is good, and then just decide that God has those things.

1) People don’t agree on what is good. Harris and Craig disagree. Luke disagrees with both of them. I disagree with all three of them. People don’t have a shared since of what is good and bad.

2) Where people do have a shared sense of good, it says nothing about the objective nature or source of that good. People are all very similar, being people, that a large number of people agree about torturing babies is indicative of the fact that torturing babies is something that is very common to people who are all related to each other, not indicative of the mythical Platonic Badness of baby torture. Hell, we torture non human babies all the time and enjoy it.

3) History note: Current people who have been raised to believe the holocaust was the worst thing ever agree that saving people from the holocaust is good. People at the time did not. Many countries were offered the chance to save many Jews, even without engaging in war, but they didn’t. Those people perpetrating the Holocaust? Some of them were just following orders, some of them thought it was good. An entire country of psychopaths is less likely than “People don’t actually apprehend a realm of objective good and evil, they just think the things they apprehend as good and evil are them apprehending objectivity, when they are merely subjective.”

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Bill Snedden April 13, 2011 at 7:24 am

@stag: Oops…it looks like I read too quickly.

Recall that the intrinsic relation of a nature to its good can only give foundation to moral objectivity if the (subjective) good aimed at by entity x is itself (objectively) good. So, for example, if the existence of the universe is entirely explainable by evolution and the laws of matter (which it isn’t), there will be a whole lot of natures constituted in relation to a whole lot of “goods” – but none of this will mean anything morally, objectively speaking.

This is confused. It is impossible for the “subjective” to be “objective”, by definition. The value relation between subject and object can only be subjective. “Good” is necessarily a subjective term, existing only in the mind and obtaining only within context between subject and object.

So-called “Objective” moral systems can only derive their “objectivity” through a recognition of necessary subject-object relationships. IOW, when the value relationship between subject and object does not depend upon the subject but rather upon the the context between subject and object. For example, “food” has a positive value for living creatures not because we prefer it, but because our natures demand that we sustain our lives via its consumption. It is not our preferences therefore that determine the value of food nor is the value intrinsic to food (an incoherency), but rather the value arises out of necessity due to the context of the relationship between subject and object.

These subject-object relationships are what they are due to our natures (both biological and metaphysical) and hence would be what they are regardless of whether or not we are created or have evolved. That is what (I believe) Grotius was recognizing when he, as a Christian, says things like, “…for the Mother of Natural Law is human Nature itself…” and “…the Law of Nature is so unalterable, that God himself cannot change it…” (both from De Jure Belli ac Pacis.

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PDH April 13, 2011 at 7:25 am

What’s arbitrary is the decision to base morality on God as opposed to something else. Why should I care about the Platonic Good? Because it’s really, really good?

2+2=4 is a necessary fact. I could choose to base my morality on this eternal, unchanging truth and make it a crime to get it wrong. Any child who didn’t listen in maths classes would be executed. But that would be an arbitrary decision.

The theist has not provided a basis for morality. It doesn’t matter whether God’s nature is fixed or not, necessary or contingent. They have given us no reason for action that might lead us to base our morality on God’s nature or commands as opposed to any other thing. Just insisting that it’s really good – or even THE Good – is no better than what they accuse Harris of doing with his well-being of conscious creatures nonsense. But at least in the case of Harris’ morality I can see why conscious creatures would bother maximising their well-being.

Why shouldn’t I aspire to the Platonic bad instead? Because God will punish me? If God let me off the hook would it then be OK? And what if I don’t mind being punished? What if I want that? These stupid questions work just as well against theism – if not better. Harris has the advantage of at least maximising something that most people genuinely do value.

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ayer April 13, 2011 at 7:26 am

My beef with Craig on this topic, as a Christian, would be that he forgets that creation implies a structure of mediation of legality. To say that in a more intelligible way, the fact that God creates such-and-such beings, and gives then such-and-such natures, is the real Christian philosophical foundation for ethics: not that God says “Do this/that”. The “do this” is already immanent in the world. For humans, it becomes a specifically moral imperative, because we have reason and can choose.

I don’t think Craig would disagree with this; he would say that is an issue of moral epistemology rather than moral ontology–we apprehend those imperatives (which we experience as “the natural law”) as immanent in the world. The natural law, however, is ontologically grounded in God’s nature.

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Kaelik April 13, 2011 at 7:27 am

Addendum: Can people stop saying this stupid shit, “and goodness is a great-making property.”

It was probably initially said in some language besides English where it needed to be said, but it sure as shit has never been needed in English.

Great means “is/has good.” That’s all it has ever meant.

I don’t go around saying, “and longness is a length-making property.” Because that’s a waste of everyone’s time. That’s the definition of length, thanks, we already knew that. If I say X is great, it tautologically true that I am also saying that X has the quality of being good.

Please stop inserting generic tautological cliches into your posts like the possess meaning of any kind.

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ayer April 13, 2011 at 7:51 am

Great means “is/has good.” That’s all it has ever meant.

No, because power (which if held to the maximal extent is “omnipotence”), knowledge (which if held to the maximal extent is “omniscience”), etc. are also “great-making” properties, and they have nothing to do with moral “goodness.” But moral goodness is also a great-making property, because a being who is maximally morally good is maximally excellent in a way that a morally flawed being is not.

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Citizen Ghost April 13, 2011 at 8:01 am

Salbannach,

I look forward to your response.

On the issue of etymology, it was my understanding the English/Germanic word “good” dervives” from the word “god.” Presuambly the Old English word (which was actually spelled “god”) has it’s origins in the properties and virtues associated with “God.” Is that incorrect?

A bit tangential, but interesting nonetheless.

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stag April 13, 2011 at 8:09 am

@ Bill Snedden

The reference to Aristotle is absolutely right, and it is no secret that his philosophy was of key importance to Christian thought in its most systematic era. But I do want to insist on something that the Christian thinkers added, which, while maintaining the structure, changes the whole direction of Aristotelian ethics: namely, creation (by God) as communication of being.

In Aristotle the key link between nature/entity and good is already largely worked out; but, if you know Aristotle, you will know that the nature-good relationship is transitive – by that I mean that natures/entities are not already good by virtue of their existence, but tend towards their good as towards the full realization of themselves. God is involved too, but he is an exemplary cause of the good, that which all things imitate within the limits of their nature.

With the Christian view of creation, good was predicable of all entities not only as a final state, but also as an initial condition: “And God saw that it was good”. Aristotle listed among the “transcendental predicates” (those predicable of all things insofar as they exist) oneness (definitely) and truth (I think) – but not goodness. Goodness was, however, included as a transcendental predicate by Christian thinkers, as a necessary consequence of the relationship of created reality to its Creator-Cause. Things in general – men, animals, plants, rocks, oceans, planets and stars – are good simply because they exist. This means that the “structure of mediated legality” to which I referred, which emerges naturally from their being-such-and-such, is ITSELF good.

It is this last part that you can’t get from Aristotle, or Grotius. Or, if you can get it from Aristotle, you can only insofar as the becoming of the universe is an incrementation of good IN IMITATION of the subsistent Good which Moves but is not moved. Good can be defined in relation to a legality in nature simply in terms of the nature in question and its own ends. But this doesn’t allow us to define OBJECTIVE good. That would require immanent legality to be referred to a standard beyond itself. In Aristotle, this was the Unmoved Good that (literally) made the world go round; in Christian thought, it was God who, by his CREATIVE ACT, made all entities according to their specific natures, and made them “good”, and therefore guaranteed the objective goodness of immanent legality.

My conclusion is, that whether we are in an Aristotelian or Christian framework, the transcendent principle is needed to justify (philosophically) the claim of the immanent good.

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stag April 13, 2011 at 8:27 am

hi again Bill,

have just read your next comment. It is true that “good” implies a relation between subject and object. Classical Christian thought defined good in terms of the relation of entities to an appetitive power (for human beings, especially to the will). But recall that Christians think God too has a will. And recall that created realities are in relationship with God. Hence, it is possible – necessary, on a Christian worldview where the universe is caused by God’s own Goodness – to state that things themselves are good in relation to God’s will. But since God is the measure of all goodness, this is to say that things are good in themselves.

The inherent goodness of things is a necessary consequence of the Christian theology of creation.

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stag April 13, 2011 at 8:41 am

@ ayer,

When you say “The natural law, however, is ontologically grounded in God’s nature”, I feel the need to complement that with “and also in human nature”. If God had chosen not to create us, there would only be the eternal law which is coincident with God’s nature, the divine nature itself.

In creating human beings “in the image of God”, God makes possible a participation in the eternal law, which we know as natural law. So certainly, natural law is grounded in God’s nature. However, the participation in the eternal law (at the level of morality) works in a similar way to the participation in the “divine light” of knowledge: not as a prefabricated set of ideas and truths, but as a power by which we discover truth (truth available to reason that is) for ourselves. The natural law, in a similar way, is discovered by reason and referred immediately to the ontology of created realities – namely, to our constitutive nature as rational human beings – before, also legittimately, being grounded and founded upon the Creator. I am arguing for a more layered ontological foundation of legality, certainly not against God as the ultimate foundation.

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ayer April 13, 2011 at 9:29 am

When you say “The natural law, however, is ontologically grounded in God’s nature”, I feel the need to complement that with “and also in human nature”. If God had chosen not to create us, there would only be the eternal law which is coincident with God’s nature, the divine nature itself.

I have no problem with that. God created humans with an objective nature and purpose, and objective moral values and duties applicable to human beings can be apprehended through reason. We experience these values and duties as imperatives, e.g., “you must not torture babies for fun.” We can apprehend those imperatives through general revelation, without the specific revelation of any particular holy book. This is why natural law morality coheres so well with theism, but natural law on atheism would, while having a good moral epistemology, would be ontologically problematic.

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lackofcheese April 13, 2011 at 10:01 am

Except, of course, that God doesn’t exist, and morality exists only in your brain.

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cl April 13, 2011 at 10:23 am

Does anybody have a valid refutation for the arguments I gave? Ajay’s attempt fails, and everything else offered after that reduces to questions–which, of course, I’m willing to answer.

Ajay,

Yeah: you have not answered my objection.

False. You’re the one who’s up against the wall here buddy. You attempted a three-tier response, but: 1) The question “is Scripture relevant” is irrelevant; 2) the Flood doesn’t nullify the objectivity of God-based morality because punishment for unrepentant sin is not murder; 3) and changing one’s mind is not necessarily a demonstration of whimsical, arbitrary morality.

mister k,

BTW, thanks for the input and very interesting contributions in the “singularity” thread over at my place a few weeks back. Just wanted to say that here, in case I don’t see you around.

My issue with a god based morality is that it doesn’t get us anywhere.

I suppose this is a matter of opinion. I happen to think it can get us everywhere. There’s only one catch, and it’s a big one, especially for those proud types who like to have everything “proven” to them: we can’t prove that any given decree from God is actually good. I think your criticism is more forceful in this day and age, but not in the age the Bible describes as coming in the future, where people will be directly in God’s presence. Then, we won’t refer to intermediaries of paper and flesh.

Michael,

However, from the Bible we know that it fits perfectly well with God’s ‘nature’ to command genocide one moment using moral reasoning such as the end justified the means, and then say it’s immoral the next, to allow polygamy one minute, then ban it the next, to ban eating pork one minute, then allow it the next. Therefore to speak of God’s nature is really to speak of nothing- because on countless issues he gives completely opposite commands to what he’s given before.

First, I’d ask you to define the emotionally-charged trigger word, genocide. What exactly do you mean there? Since that is probably the most problematic point you’ve raised, let’s start there and address pork and polygamy for desert.

Either his actions have a reason or they don’t. If they don’t, they are arbitrary and can be disregarded.

I agree.

If they do, and these are the reasons that God appeals to for making his command a moral one, surely those reasons would be these basis for morality?

Not if the reasons themselves reduce to conformity with God’s nature.

drj,

Yep, I’d like to hear the response…

Humans already have a solid idea on what good is. Sure, many wantonly disregard good for personal gain, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t apprehended the basic foundations of morality. Defining God as good doesn’t preclude the obtaining of useful information about either God or good.

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ayer April 13, 2011 at 10:39 am

Except, of course, that God doesn’t exist, and morality exists only in your brain.

On atheism, I agree, there are no objective moral values. But it seems few atheists are like yourself and are willing to bite that bullet and take it to its logical conclusion.

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salbannach April 13, 2011 at 10:49 am

On atheism, I agree, there are no objective moral values. But it seems few atheists are like yourself and are willing to bite that bullet and take it to its logical conclusion.

I’m not sure what the percentage is, but even after becoming an atheist, it took me awhile to accept moral nihilism. I don’t think it’s necessary to do so: one can, contra Craig, simply take moral facts as basic. But that doesn’t fit well with the naturalism that most atheists hew to, and the tension will tend to result in the atheist letting go of moral objectivity.

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lackofcheese April 13, 2011 at 11:26 am

I wouldn’t call myself a moral nihilist per se; rather, the very ideas of “moral” and “immoral” are human ideas, ones that humans care about. Just because something is in your brain doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter; indeed, everything that matters is within brains.

Morality don’t need to be “objective” – as long as people care about things like love, happiness, freedom, and consciousness, then we have a common system of morality, and we can work towards increasing these things for everyone.

Nor do you need to believe in some kind of objective moral truth to see that people can be wrong about morality – if your beliefs do not, in fact, match up with the more basic values you have, or if they are based on a factually inaccurate model of the world.

Consider Craig’s oft-repeated statement:
“It is to say, for example, that Nazi anti-Semitism was morally wrong, even though the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust thought that it was good; and it would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them.”
I agree with this point, but I don’t think you need true “objectivity” to do so. Rather, I’d say that the Nazi ideology was based on beliefs that were plainly false and unfactual, and so the Holocaust would still be wrong, and indeed it is likely that people would eventually realise that this was the case.

In essence, I wouldn’t call myself a moral nihilist per se; rather, the very ideas of “moral” and “immoral” are human ideas, ones that humans care about. Just because something is in your brain doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter; indeed, everything that matters is within brains.

Morality don’t need to be “objective” – as long as people care about things like love, happiness, freedom, and consciousness, then we have a common system of morality, and we can work towards improving these things for everyone.

Nor do you need to believe in some kind of objective moral truth to see that people can be wrong about morality – if your beliefs do not, in fact, match up with the more basic values you have, or if they are based on a factually inaccurate model of the world.

Consider Craig’s oft-repeated statement:
“It is to say, for example, that Nazi anti-Semitism was morally wrong, even though the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust thought that it was good; and it would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them.”
I agree with this point, but I don’t think you need true “objectivity” to do so. Rather, I’d say that the Nazi ideology was based on beliefs that were plainly false and unfactual, and so the Holocaust would still be wrong if everyone thought it was right, and indeed it is likely that people would eventually realise that this was the case.

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lackofcheese April 13, 2011 at 11:27 am

Oops. I accidentally pasted my post in a second time there.
Just ignore everything after “in essence”.

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salbannach April 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Scan in whatever you like for moral nihilist. Relativist, or subjectivist will do. Anything that contrasts with the idea that morality is objective.

(One can of course claim that people objectively do have certain preferences, and thus even a subjective morality is objective in a sense–but under that interpretation, it’s unclear how anything could be subjective.)

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Bill Snedden April 13, 2011 at 1:53 pm

@ayer:

On atheism, I agree, there are no objective moral values.

Correction: there are no objective moral values. On atheism or any other moral system. “Values” require a “valuer” and are therefore subjective by definition. They cannot be objective.

This is a rather elementary error and I do wish people would stop making it.

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Bill Snedden April 13, 2011 at 1:59 pm

@stag: no disagreements with what you’ve said, from the perspective of theistic Natural Law. My reference to Aristotle and Grotius are to support the idea that Natural Law theories need not be theistic. The relations between subjects and objects will still obtain and thus values can still be derived therefrom.

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Matthew Flannagan April 13, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Theories like hedonic act utilitarianism are ‘objective’ not only in Craig’s narrow sense but in the usual, broader sense as well. It’s not just that hedonic act utilitarianism doesn’t appeal to human opinions or attitudes. Hedonic act utilitarianism doesn’t appeal to the opinions or attitudes of any person or persons.

Actually I am inclined to think that the use of ideal observer theories in utilitarian reasoning suggests this is false. Consider Hare’s Arch angel, which even Singer appeals to, this makes moral rules dependent on attitudes of a hypothetical person.

In fact the whole concept of an ideal observer tends to make the idea of “objective” in the broad sense you mention difficult to take seriously as a problem. For example suppose I suggest that what’s wrong is what a impartial, rational, fully informed, person would condemn if he existed. This would be objective in the sense that its truth is not determined by human individuals, or communities, or even other species, but its not independent of all attitudes and beliefs. Does this position fall prey to the standard objections against subjectivism. No so I am not sure what the problem here is.

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Matthew Flannagan April 13, 2011 at 3:52 pm

“Either God has good reasons for his commands or he does not. If he does, then those reasons (and not God’s commands) are the ultimate ground of moral obligation. If he does not have good reasons, then his commands are completely arbitrary and may be disregarded. Either way, the divine command theory is false.”

This seems to me to be problematic. It conflates the motivational reasons a person has for commanding something with what grounds the command, in the context of DCT the word “ground” means to constitute or informatively identify. It does not follow that if I have a motivational reason for R for X and informative identifies Y, then R informatively identifies Y.

Think of it this way: my pouring water in a tub is informatively identified with my pouring H20 in a tub. I pour the water in the tub because its dirty and I want to get rid of it. Does it follow that “being dirty and my wanting to get rid of it” can be identified with H20?

This argument trades on the ambiguity of the word “reasons” it can be used to mean identify with and it can be used in an epistemic or motivational sense. But the relationship between different senses is not transitive.

I spell this out in more detail here:
http://www.mandm.org.nz/2009/07/walter-sinnott-armstrong-on-god-morality-and-arbitrariness.html

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ayer April 13, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Correction: there are no objective moral values. On atheism or any other moral system. “Values” require a “valuer” and are therefore subjective by definition. They cannot be objective.

Ok, do you prefer “objective moral virtues”? Or “objective moral standards?”

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J. Simonov April 13, 2011 at 5:38 pm

cl;

Not if the reasons themselves reduce to conformity with God’s nature.

Surely you see the vicious circularity here? You’re basically saying that the reasons God has for doing what He does derive ultimately from what He would do.

It also seems to me that you have not defined goodness as yet on this thread, just asserted that we know what it is.

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Adam April 13, 2011 at 5:54 pm

“Dr. Harris has ‘solved’ the value problem just by redefining his terms. It’s nothing but wordplay. At the end of the day, Dr. Harris isn’t talking about moral values at all. He’s just talking about what’s conducive to the flourishing of sentient life on this planet.”

This statement really baffled me. Is there a difference?…

I mean really… worrying about right and wrong in any terms other than “what’s conducive to the flourishing of sentient life on this planet” seems utterly meaningless to me, especially given the overwhelming amount of non-evidence for the existence of some sort of transcendent being for which we could base our morality.

Additionally, it scares me that there are people who, ostensibly at least, don’t see this issue of flourishing of sentient beings as the most important determination as to what is right and wrong. The implications of this attitude should be really frightening to those of us who like living. It would be comforting to know that my fellow human beings’ first concern is, well… continuing to exist.

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drj April 13, 2011 at 8:44 pm

On atheism, I agree, there are no objective moral values. But it seems few atheists are like yourself and are willing to bite that bullet and take it to its logical conclusion.

Meh – universal morals are fairly easy. Objective in the weird and ill-defined sense that Craig means it, not so much… but who the hell cares? What possible reason is there to care about Craig-style objective morals – they don’t even necessarily have any connection to our own well-being or happiness – there’s absolutely no reason to give a crap about them at all.

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Rob April 13, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Meh – universal morals are fairly easy.Objective in the weird and ill-defined sense that Craig means it, not so much… but who the hell cares?What possible reason is there to care about Craig-style objective morals

Oh the Christian has his reasons. He needs his objective morality so he can hate homosexuals, discriminate against women, keep a slave or two, and carry out a genocide from time to time.

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Ajay April 13, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Does anyone have a valid refutation of my refutation of cl’s argument? He has failed already, but he is really struggling right now with accepting it. Still trying to repeat your way to truth?

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Ajay April 13, 2011 at 9:47 pm

“Surely you see the vicious circularity here?”

J. Simonov – No, he really doesn’t. That is the problem…

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Garren April 13, 2011 at 11:52 pm

I need to retract something. It turns out Harris did point out Craig’s hypocrisy on the “is/ought” thing and definitions of moral terms. I’ve transcribed Harris as follows:

“Dr. Craig has merely defined God as being intrinsically good. If you want to charge someone with ‘merely semantic’ games, the shoe is on the other foot as well. There is no reason — that I can see — why there couldn’t be an evil God, or several. But his God is intrinsically good; goodness is grounded in his very nature. That is a definitional move that he has made.”

I still wish Harris had hammered this point home as much as Craig hammers on his side, but I can no longer fault Harris for failing to make the point at all. Overall, I think there is much to say for Harris’ ethical views. Most of the dismissive criticism from philosophers is — I suspect — the result of Harris not presenting them in philosophy culture’s style.

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stag April 14, 2011 at 12:23 am

@ayer

Glad we can agree on that.

@ Bill Snedden

I agree with you too! (This is great!) Natural law theories don’t need God to be coherent, both epistemologically and (in a limited sense) ontologically. If this is what Grotius was saying, then he is right. But full ontological justification requires God, as I’ve argued, whether you are a (strict!) Aristotelian or a Christian.

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stag April 14, 2011 at 12:50 am

I want to point out, regarding Harris’s identification of “good” with “conducive to the flourishing of sentient life”, that Christians (such as Craig) should not be too quick to attack this thesis. Personally, I would take out “sentient” and add in “human”; but, having done that, I think we have quite a useful basis for a moral theory.

It was Aristotle who famously defined the moral good as action in accordance with the rational principle. But why is this activity good? Because, according to Aristotle, it produces “eudaimonia”, which translates loosely as “happiness” or “flourishing”, which is the “good of man as such”. Virtuous action leads to happiness. This thesis has, as someone has already said, received the beginnings of confirmation from the modern ‘science of happiness’. It is, furthermore, easily integrated into a Christian worldview. Happiness is not just some random, unconnected, posthumous reward God gives to people who do what he says, but it is rather the mature fruit of life lived in accordance with our TRUE nature, our TRUE end, our TRUE good.

Human happiness and flourishing are central to any account of moral action, and it does Christians no favours to attack this thesis as selfish or to ignore it altogether.

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stag April 14, 2011 at 1:01 am

PS, this means when people like drj and Adam say “What possible reason is there to care about Craig-style objective morals – they don’t even necessarily have any connection to our own well-being or happiness”
and, “it scares me that there are people who, ostensibly at least, don’t see this issue of flourishing of sentient beings as the most important determination as to what is right and wrong”
…they do have a point that needs to be seriously taken on board.

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Madeleine April 14, 2011 at 1:27 am

Luke the video you have here is only Part 1 of 9 – I have created a playlist of all the videos so all 9 parts play with one click, which you can swipe the embed code for if you like – see Harris v Craig Debate Video.

Also if you are linking to reviews – Matthew Flannagan’s review of the debate is one you should include in your list as it is very thorough and is no exercise in cheerleading.

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Bill Snedden April 14, 2011 at 5:33 am

@ayer:

Ok, do you prefer “objective moral virtues”? Or “objective moral standards?”

It’s not a question of what’s “preferred”. It’s a question of coherency and what you were trying to say. Your statement was incoherent. I really don’t know what you were trying to say, so I can’t say what coherent “replacements” might work. Frankly, I can’t think of any way to make your previous statement both coherent and accurate.

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cl April 14, 2011 at 8:44 am

Bill Snedden,

This is a rather elementary error and I do wish people would stop making it.

In a purely technical sense of the word objective, you are correct. However, “objective” is also frequently used to mean something like, “not subject to human attitude or opinion,” and in that sense, God-based morality can be fully objective. However, atheist morality cannot–unless or until something like AI or aliens take over and impose morality upon us.

J. Simonov,

You’re basically saying that the reasons God has for doing what He does derive ultimately from what He would do.

In the same way, don’t your reasons for doing what you do ultimately derive from what you would do? If yes, where’s the problem? If no, do you accept or deny the possibility of brute facts?

It also seems to me that you have not defined goodness as yet on this thread, just asserted that we know what it is.

Approximations can be given: love, patience, kindness, charity, thanksgiving, honesty… etc.

Ajay,

Does anyone have a valid refutation of my refutation of cl’s argument? He has failed already, but he is really struggling right now with accepting it. Still trying to repeat your way to truth?

Nice try. I did not merely repeat myself. I explained how your points fail. Can you explain how they don’t? If so, please, carry on. If not, then I’ll take it that you can’t refute the argument. Really, though, I’d much rather you give an honest effort than be the funny-guy.

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ayer April 14, 2011 at 9:28 am

It’s not a question of what’s “preferred”. It’s a question of coherency and what you were trying to say. Your statement was incoherent. I really don’t know what you were trying to say, so I can’t say what coherent “replacements” might work. Frankly, I can’t think of any way to make your previous statement both coherent and accurate.

Well, you may not like the term “objective moral values” as synonymous with “objective morality” but it is a standard term in the philosophical discourse, so take it up with, e.g., the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, where the term is used even in relation to the impersonal Platonic forms:

“Proponents of the other-worldly view typically hold that moral values are objective in the sense that they exist in a spirit-like realm beyond subjective human conventions. They also hold that they are absolute, or eternal, in that they never change, and also that they are universal insofar as they apply to all rational creatures around the world and throughout time. The most dramatic example of this view is Plato, who was inspired by the field of mathematics.”
http://www.iep.utm.edu/ethics/

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J. Simonov April 14, 2011 at 9:49 am

cl;

In the same way, don’t your reasons for doing what you do ultimately derive from what you would do? If yes, where’s the problem?

But of course. The problem, for you, is that you want to assert that God’s reasons for action are the ground of objective moral goodness, yes? But you can’t do that in a non-vacuous way that avoids one of Euthyphro’s horns if you keep spinning around the merry-go-round of “God has good reasons and the reason they’re good is because God has them”.

If no, do you accept or deny the possibility of brute facts?

I accept the possibility of brute facts. Do you wish to assert that God’s goodness is a brute fact, and if so, do you think it necessarily exists as it does, or that there could be possible worlds in which it would be different?

Approximations can be given: love, patience, kindness, charity, thanksgiving, honesty… etc.

Well ok, but why are those objectively good?

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Bill Snedden April 14, 2011 at 12:57 pm

@cl:

However, “objective” is also frequently used to mean something like, “not subject to human attitude or opinion,” and in that sense, God-based morality can be fully objective.

Wow, how very convenient; you’ve just defined the problem away! ;)

By that definition, a monkey’s “values” would also be objective. So would a race of six-armed people-eating space aliens or the dread god Cthulhu. In fact, the only moral agents without objective values would be humans. Personally, I don’t think special pleading is a good basis for a moral system.

In actuality, what people frequently, albeit incorrectly, mean by “objective” is not “not subject to human attitude or opinion”, but rather “not subject to individual attitude or opinion”. In this sense, god’s values are not necessarily any more privileged than any of ours and no more objective. In order for values to really be objective in this sense they must be grounded in something outside of individual opinion.

THIS is why theists seek to ground moral values in god’s nature: it’s not subject to his will (opinion). It provides a non-arbitrary cause for the subject/object relationships that obtain in the natural world and the values that arise from them. Of course, non-theists can do the same simply by reference to human nature or the nature of existence.

@ayer: As cl has noted, precise definitions are not always employed. For Plato and other Idealists, the distinction between abstractions and concretes has been blurred, so the status of such notions, like values, is unclear. What does it mean to say that “values” exist in a spirit-like realm of “perfect forms”? Does it mean that the sentence “killing babies for sport is wrong” has concrete existence like a chair or tree? Outside of mathematics, there are very few Platonists around today; most philosophers reject such nonsense. Even most theists would reject this view, holding that “good” is grounded in God’s nature, not because some concrete “good” exists in his mind like a signpost.

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Bill Snedden April 14, 2011 at 1:22 pm

@stag:

…they do have a point that needs to be seriously taken on board.

Absolutely. Harris might have done better had he kept this in focus.

I do have to take issue with one thing you’ve said:

Human happiness and flourishing are central to any account of moral action, and it does Christians no favours to attack this thesis as selfish or to ignore it altogether.

While it’s certainly true that human happiness and flourishing should be central to any non-theistic moral system, I don’t see why it would have to be so on a theistic system, even a Christian one.

In Christian theology, human beings are not ends in and of themselves, only means toward a further end: glorifying God. Thus all moral goods must tend towards this end and any human desires or means of happiness which conflict with it will not be morally permissible. This seems to me a situation roughly analogous to the problem of evil.

I certainly think it could be argued that the parameters of human happiness and flourishing are in reality coterminous with those of God’s glory, but that’s only going to be realistically possible for a subset of Christians. For example, Calvinists should find it rather difficult to make such an argument within the boundaries of intellectual honesty…

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ayer April 14, 2011 at 1:42 pm

For example, Calvinists should find it rather difficult to make such an argument within the boundaries of intellectual honesty…

I’m don’t see why. The Calvinist Westminster Catechism describes the chief end of man as “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” If true human flourishing can only be found in relationship with God–which provides us with our ultimate “enjoyment”–then Calvinists should have no problem with the concept.

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Bill Snedden April 14, 2011 at 3:32 pm

@ayer:

If true human flourishing can only be found in relationship with God–which provides us with our ultimate “enjoyment”–then Calvinists should have no problem with the concept.

Except that “Calvinism” consists of more than that single concept. A little thing called “predestination” wherein some humans (most likely the majority) are created by God for no reason other than to spend an eternity suffering in hell. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for “human flourishing” to me, unless of course you want to argue that “human flourishing” actually means “flourishing for the elect” in which case we’re back to that “intellectual honesty” thing again…

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ayer April 14, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Except that “Calvinism” consists of more than that single concept. A little thing called “predestination” wherein some humans (most likely the majority) are created by God for no reason other than to spend an eternity suffering in hell.

I’m not a Calvinist, but I think that’s somewhat of a caricature of Calvinist theology. But I agree that Calvinists are compatibilists regarding free will, which in my view is bunk whether held by Calvinists or atheists.

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ND God Debate April 14, 2011 at 6:28 pm

Updated link for “The God Debate II”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqaHXKLRKzg

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lackofcheese April 14, 2011 at 7:36 pm

I’m not a Calvinist, but I think that’s somewhat of a caricature of Calvinist theology. But I agree that Calvinists are compatibilists regarding free will, which in my view is bunk whether held by Calvinists or atheists.

Since you have such a strong position on free will, can you tell me what you mean by the term?

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ayer April 14, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Since you have such a strong position on free will, can you tell me what you mean by the term?

Here is a link to a description of “libertarian free will” that I would agree with:

http://www.gregboyd.org/qa/predestination-free-will/what-is-the-difference-between-%E2%80%9Clibertarian%E2%80%9D-and-%E2%80%9Ccompatibilistic%E2%80%9D-freedom/

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JOJO.JACOB April 15, 2011 at 1:28 am

Craig says of objective moral and values and duties is MERELY ‘independent of the opinions or attitudes of a person or persons’. I do not understand this. What does he mean by ‘independent of the opinions or attitudes of a person or persons’. He may be referring to the sentient beings on our planet. Is it logically possible that sentient beings with a different set of “objective” moral codes exist somewhere in our universe or some other universe and The God offered them a different mode of salvation? He might say that is possible. Then he should say what could “falsify” his so-called OBJECTIVE stuff?

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lackofcheese April 15, 2011 at 2:21 am

Here is a link to a description of “libertarian free will” that I would agree with:

Libertarian free will simply seems to have an element of randomness – how is a random element “will” in any meaningful sense? On the other hand, compatibilist free will strikes me as not being “free”.

Regardless, why does the concept of free will matter at all?

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stag April 15, 2011 at 3:23 am

Thanks Bill. That is a worthwhile point to discuss, I think.

How is God, on a Christian picture of the world, best glorified? In himself, he has all the glory that he could possibly have, since he is in every way perfect. Glorifying God, then, means something only from the point of view of the finite creature. For a Christian, all creatures, the whole universe, by its existence and goodness and action, glorifies God. Human beings are called to do this also in a responsible way, making God’s glory their active concern, and freely pursuing it.

So with humankind there is a double glorification – the one that proceeds from being, shared with all creatures, and the one that proceeds from free action, specific to man. So far from the point of view of creation. But from the point of view of redemption, we must add a third tier: the glory of Christ, which is the glory of God himself shared with humanity. This is what Saint Irenaeus of Lyon meant when he famously said “The glory of God is man fully alive”: for he added, “But the full life of man is the vision of God” – that is, the vision that is completed in heaven but begun by faith in Christ here on earth.

I hope this makes it clear that glorification, in traditional Christian theology, is inserted into an overall teleological structure. From the side of creation, man glorifies God by acting in accordance with the (good) nature he received from Him, as with other creatures. This involves free virtuous action, since man is a rational and (therefore) free entity: we are to actively and freely co-operate with the legal/teleological structure given in the God’s creative act. From the side of redemption, finally, man glorifies God with an action that proceeds from a divine principle – the “true life” that Irenaeus mentions, received through Christ – and is therefore an authentic glorification of God: adequate, we might say, to its object. This is the supernatural perfection of the teleological structure of human nature: for which reason, “the good” and “the glory of God” are seen, both on natural and supernatural levels, (always from the point of view of the creature, as I specified at the beginnning) to coincide.

General Note: I think such posts are of interest to the general atheist. It is no bad thing, IMHO, for atheists to know (Christian) theology to quite a profound level (some of course do already as ‘de-converts’). I very often come across atheists who are very ill-informed in this regard, but who nevertheless like to sound off as if they know it all. When I find one who at least has bothered to inform himself a bit – as Bill, prima facie, seems to have done – it is good. It indicates intelligence and seriousness. It also means that you will be able to anticipate your opponent better.

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stag April 15, 2011 at 3:38 am

lackofcheese,

traditionally, free will has been deemed necessary for things like moral responsibility, the justice of punishment (on a non-utilitarian theory of justice) and the meaningfulness of speech-acts. Most atheists try to salvage these things, often by defining what we mean by them in such a way that to affirm them according to the proposed (scientific or reductivist) definition is the same as to deny them according to a more traditional definition, eg. D. Dennett. For Dennett, “We are free agents” in his own idiom translates, in classical philosophical register, as “We are not free agents”.

Other atheists just admit – more honestly, it seems to me – that we are not free, and so moral responsibility, just punishments, do not exist. Less still would extend this even to meaningful speech-acts, but I can’t honestly see why not.

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Ajay April 15, 2011 at 4:47 am

Cl-

No, you never adequately addressed the objections I raised (i.e. the Martin article). Simply put, you did not debunk his objection about God’s nature. So you have no grounding for morality. I’m sorry – you just don’t.

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drj April 15, 2011 at 5:41 am

“We are free agents” in his own idiom translates, in classical philosophical register, as “We are not free agents”.

Actually, I think most compatibalists would argue that, “We are free agents”, in the classical sense translates into, “We are square circles”. =)

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lackofcheese April 15, 2011 at 7:51 am

stag,

The concept of libertarian free will seems to be nonsensical to me – as drj says, a “square circle”. The lack of such a thing doesn’t bother me, and I’d say that retributive justice is immoral; in particular, the idea of hell is flatly disgusting.

What do you mean when you refer to the “meaningfulness of speech acts”?

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Kaelik April 15, 2011 at 7:52 am

Other atheists just admit – more honestly, it seems to me – that we are not free, and so moral responsibility, just punishments, do not exist. Less still would extend this even to meaningful speech-acts, but I can’t honestly see why not.

I’m not sure what you mean by meaningful speech acts. Could you explain that further?

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ayer April 15, 2011 at 8:21 am

Libertarian free will simply seems to have an element of randomness – how is a random element “will” in any meaningful sense?

Where do you see an element of randomness in the definition I linked to?

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lackofcheese April 16, 2011 at 4:20 am

To put it simply, the only alternative to determinism is randomness.

The idea of “contrary choice” implies that, in the same circumstances with the same options available to you, with the same knowledge and the same reasons behind the choices, you could have chosen something different. What is that, if not randomness?

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ayer April 16, 2011 at 7:14 am

What is that, if not randomness?

It’s called “the causal power of the choosing agent” and it’s the reason we hold, e.g., criminals morally culpable for their actions–if their actions were either random, or determined, they would not be morally culpable

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Zeb April 16, 2011 at 8:51 am

To put it simply, the only alternative to determinism is randomness.

The idea of “contrary choice” implies that, in the same circumstances with the same options available to you, with the same knowledge and the same reasons behind the choices, you could have chosen something different. What is that, if not randomness?

But what is randomness? The only sense of “random” that I know of refers to the state of our knowledge, not to the world itself. To say that some phenomenon is “random,” as I understand it, means that there is no known correlation between the phenomenon and a set of known priors. For example, in prayer healing studies we say that healing rates are random in the sense that we find no correlation between the healing rates and the prayer treatments. That doesn’t mean the healing rates are not deterministic, or that there is definitely no correlation between healing rates and prayer treatments, or other unspecified priors. There may be an overly complex and therfore obscure correlation between healing and prayer, and there certainly is a correlation between healing and other unspecified priors. The healing is just random with respect to prayer as far as we can tell.

And so of course in that sense the free choices of an agent are “random”; that’s exactly what we mean by “non-causal”; the choices have no absolute and dependent correlation with any priors, known or unknown. So what? Free choices can still be coherent with continuous personal identity in that the realm of choices available will be constrained by the agent’s priors, the choices may (or perhaps must) correlate with the agent’s future course (giving them a teleological rather than a causal explanation), and most importantly in my mind, in the moment of choice the choice comes from the agent rather than from an outside force. When people object to the “randomness” of free will the only problem I can imagine is if they are looking at it as if the choice is being made by a flip of the coin or a roll of the die, and so it’s not really the agent’s choice. But a coin or a die is not ultimately random; while it may be random with respect to the priors we know, it is ultimately determined by forces and factors outside the agent, and that’s why that kind of “random” free choice would not be truly a choice of the agent.

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drj April 16, 2011 at 9:06 am

Under compatibalism, one can hold criminals morally culpable because by doing so, one affects future choices of the responsible party, and possibly even the future choices of others (eg, deterrence). Whether they have some ultimate “moral culpability” to the cosmos or not, well… a compatibalist simply doesn’t care.

Maybe a libertarian doesn’t like to call that “holding one responsible”, but again… compatibalists simply aren’t committed to libertarian definitions of those terms.

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lackofcheese April 16, 2011 at 9:18 am

There’s a big difference between random in the sense of being non-causal or indeterministic, and random in the sense you refer to, where it is just a matter of our own incomplete knowledge (such as a coin flip).

The process I would call “choice” is indeed a process that does indeed occur within the agent – it is a thought process involving the neurons in a brain. However, this does not require any “randomness” in any sense. Indeed, it makes the most sense if it is deterministic – your choices are the causal result of your beliefs, your morals, your emotions, your intuitions, etc.

Contra-causal free will, on the other hand, simply doesn’t make sense.

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drj April 16, 2011 at 9:36 am

Free choices can still be coherent with continuous personal identity in that the realm of choices available will be constrained by the agent’s priors, the choices may (or perhaps must) correlate with the agent’s future course (giving them a teleological rather than a causal explanation), and most importantly in my mind, in the moment of choice the choice comes from the agent rather than from an outside force. When people object to the “randomness” of free will the only problem I can imagine is if they are looking at it as if the choice is being made by a flip of the coin or a roll of the die, and so it’s not really the agent’s choice. But a coin or a die is not ultimately random; while it may be random with respect to the priors we know, it is ultimately determined by forces and factors outside the agent, and that’s why that kind of “random” free choice would not be truly a choice of the agent.

It seems like this just reduces back to determinism and compatibalism. You’re using the term “will”, where a compatibalist might use “desire” – but it sounds pretty close.

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cl April 16, 2011 at 11:16 am

J Simonov,

…you can’t do that in a non-vacuous way that avoids one of Euthyphro’s horns …

Euthyphro’s horns only pierce a God that is capable of arbitrary, whimsical moral decrees.

Do you wish to assert that God’s goodness is a brute fact, and if so, do you think it necessarily exists as it does, or that there could be possible worlds in which it would be different?

Yes, and so long as “different” does not entail a departure from good, then no, it could not be different in any possible worlds.

Bill Snedden,

In actuality, what people frequently, albeit incorrectly, mean by “objective” is not “not subject to human attitude or opinion”, but rather “not subject to individual attitude or opinion”.

These are complementary definitions. My only point was that–although technically correct–your “value needs a valuer ergo objective values don’t exist” is trivial in the same way Luke and Alonzo’s “categorical imperatives don’t exist” is trivial. Sure, there is no tangible, molecular entity in the universe we can call an “objective value” or a “categorical imperative,” but who cares? In my experience, that’s not what people mean when they debate “objective moral values.” Rather, they want to know if something like moral realism is correct. They want to know if it can make sense and be true to say something like, “we should all do / not do X.” This is possible with God-based morality. Can you show how it’s possible with atheism? Or, can you show how it’s not possible with God-based morality?

In order for values to really be objective in this sense they must be grounded in something outside of individual opinion.

I agree.

Ajay,

No, you never adequately addressed the objections I raised (i.e. the Martin article).

The “Martin” article, eh? That’s not very specific. In Martin’s first comment, I see two links to the IEP. Are either or both of those what you’re referring to? If not, what “Martin article” are you talking about?

Simply put, you did not debunk his objection about God’s nature. So you have no grounding for morality.

But I did debunk your claim that my post “didn’t say much about objective morality,” and even if I hadn’t, your argument remains invalid. That I hadn’t responded to Martin’s links in this thread does not entail that I have no grounding for morality. Your conclusion doesn’t follow your premise. Nonetheless, my response to the so-called “Euthyphro dilemma” has been the same for a while now: Euthyphro’s horns only pierce a God that is capable of arbitrary, whimsical moral decrees.

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J. Simonov April 16, 2011 at 12:39 pm

cl:

Euthyphro’s horns only pierce a God that is capable of arbitrary, whimsical moral decrees.

If God’s goodness is necessary, rather than arbitrary, you are taking the horn in which God is held to a standard. Necessity is the author of goodness on this account, rather than God as such.

I’ll also note that while asserting God’s goodness as brute fact gets you off the viciously circular merry-go-round, it basically does so by stamping your feet and saying “it just is!”. While this is perfectly consistent and probably makes you happy, I don’t think it avoids the charge of vacuity I leveled earlier.

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drj April 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm

They want to know if it can make sense and be true to say something like, “we should all do / not do X.” This is possible with God-based morality. Can you show how it’s possible with atheism? Or, can you show how it’s not possible with God-based morality?

The only way you can tell anyone what the “ought” to do, is to appeal to some value or desire they hold. God-morality can’t even overcome this. What if I truly value hell, more than anything else? Well, then God-morality has nothing to say about what I ought to do. I ought to do what I can to piss God off, so that he throws me in hell.

Now maybe, in a universe where we were designed by God, it might be true that we were *all* designed to value heaven above all else, and not hell…. and in that case, you could say there is a universal reasons to do X / not do Y.

With all that in mind, it should be easy to see how morals can be built on naturalism. If some value exists on naturalism, that is universal, valued above all else, and held by all sentient creatures, then we can similarly have reasons to do X, not Y.

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Zeb April 16, 2011 at 4:46 pm

lackofcheese

There’s a big difference between random in the sense of being non-causal or indeterministic, and random in the sense you refer to, where it is just a matter of our own incomplete knowledge (such as a coin flip).

Contra-causal free will, on the other hand, simply doesn’t make sense.

What is the relevant difference, and what is the problem with randomness as you mean it? Care to explain why contra-causal free will doesn’t make sense to you?

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Zeb April 16, 2011 at 5:13 pm

drj

It seems like this just reduces back to determinism and compatibalism. You’re using the term “will”, where a compatibalist might use “desire” – but it sounds pretty close.

I don’t see how that is the case. I tried to keep it clear that in my account of free will the choice is not determined by any priors. It is independent or “free”. When we speak of making a choice, it is a truly creative act. It may be compatibilist in a sense, in that the set of options to be chosen from may be totally determined by priorss, and the outcome may follow totally deterministically from the particular choice, but it is possible for the agent to choose more than one option given his prior state. Since that account rejects complete determinism I don’t think it would count as compatibilist, but I may be mistaken.

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Zeb April 16, 2011 at 6:04 pm

J Simonov

If God’s goodness is necessary, rather than arbitrary, you are taking the horn in which God is held to a standard. Necessity is the author of goodness on this account, rather than God as such.

I see this claim from time to time, but I don’t understand it. Necessity is not some causal entity that determines the nature of necessary things. Rather, necessary things are such as they are either without reason or for reasons that they themselves contain. If it is necessarily the case that there is a tri-omni being, that does not mean that Necessity makes it be so. It just means that there is no possibility for it not to be so. And looking at the omnibenevloent – all good – part of the “tri-omni”, what does that entail necessarily? Justice? Mercy? Creativitiy? I don’t know. Theists might provide arguments for the necessity of some of these or other traits. All that would show is that there must be an entity that includes these traits, and that the reason for having those traits is included in the entity itself. The traits aren’t authored by Necessity, they are merely known by abstract relationship of logical necessity given known contingencies. And while I expect it is hard enough to prove that there must be an entity that has these traits, I think the better place for a Euthyphro attack would be to ask, “Even if there is a God who is merciful, loving, etc, why is it that such a being or such traits must be known as ‘good’?” I think Bill Snedden is right, that the only thing that makes anything “good” is a valuer. I believe it is God himself who makes God creative, merciful, etc, but it is humans (or other personal beings) who make God “good” by valuing those traits. In that sense I am embracing the “outside standard” of Euthyphro, but not in the way you suggest.

But… if it is God who creates us and gives us our nature, is it possible that we could not value God’s nature such as it is and thus find it to be “good”? If theists could argue that God’s nature is necessarily something like what is generally thought of as “good,” and could further argue that God would necessarily not create personal beings that would not find his nature to be good, then I think they could really split Euthyphro completely.

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Havok April 17, 2011 at 12:15 am

Zeb: It is independent or “free”. When we speak of making a choice, it is a truly creative act.
Libertarian/Contra-causal free will seems to lead to the problem of present luck, which is summarised by John D here as:

“The claim is as follows: libertarian theories of free will lead to the unpalatable conclusion that whether an individual acts in a particular way (or not) is strictly a matter of luck. This is problematic because responsibility cannot be attached to things that are a matter of luck. So it follows that if libertarianism is true, there are no responsible agents.”

On Libertarian free will, which decision is taken becomes a matter of luck, since another choice could have been made (with exactly the same priors). A matter of luck such as this does not seem sufficient to hang moral responsibility upon.

Zeb: It may be compatibilist in a sense, in that the set of options to be chosen from may be totally determined by priorss, and the outcome may follow totally deterministically from the particular choice, but it is possible for the agent to choose more than one option given his prior state.

Yet, as pointed out above, the actual choice could have been otherwise, and it was simply a matter of luck as to which one was taken.

Zeb: Since that account rejects complete determinism I don’t think it would count as compatibilist, but I may be mistaken.

If you narrow the choice down based on priors (experience, personality, reasons, reasoning, etc), then you either end up with one choice possible, and you’re in compatibilist/determinist territory, or the decision made is a matter of luck.

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lackofcheese April 17, 2011 at 1:22 am

What is the relevant difference, and what is the problem with randomness as you mean it? Care to explain why contra-causal free will doesn’t make sense to you?

Havok explained much of the issue in his above comment, but I’ll give my own response anyway.

Basically, either there are reasons (which could be your beliefs, emotions, instinct, morals, intuitions) for the decision you made, and those reasons are the complete deterministic cause of your decision, or there was some kind of random element to your decision which did not depend on your own thoughts.

As far as contra-causal free will is concerned, any deterministic element is not “free”, but my point is that any non-deterministic element is not part of your decision-making; it is not “will”. Hence the idea of contra-causal free will doesn’t make sense.

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Ajay April 17, 2011 at 5:11 am

Cl-

I meant the Michael Martin article. Look up my second post on this thread. You have answered nothing.

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Bill Snedden April 17, 2011 at 8:41 am

@cl:
Yes, the two definitions are complementary, but they are not identical. Obviously “human” and “individual” do not represent the same entity. The reason I care is that philosophy is a messy enough business as it is without using “fuzzy” definitions. A cat may be a “four-legged furry creature”, but that really doesn’t help us much if we’re attempting to figure out it’s genus.

On objective morality:

Can you show how it’s possible with atheism? Or, can you show how it’s not possible with God-based morality?

“Yes” to the first, and “no” to the second. I believe that wrt objective morality, theism and atheism are in the same ontological boat. That is that it’s possible to ground moral values in the nature of existence, and this holds true whether the foundational existent is “god” or simply “all that exists”.

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J. Simonov April 17, 2011 at 10:59 am

Hey Zeb;

I see this claim from time to time, but I don’t understand it. Necessity is not some causal entity that determines the nature of necessary things. Rather, necessary things are such as they are either without reason or for reasons that they themselves contain. If it is necessarily the case that there is a tri-omni being, that does not mean that Necessity makes it be so.

Yes, I know. I’m not attempting to reify necessity, it’s just a figure of speech when I say necessity is the “author” of goodness.

I believe it is God himself who makes God creative, merciful, etc,

Well, if such traits are necessarily good, and God is necessarily good…then God doesn’t make himself those things. He must exist in that fashion; there’s no alternative.

The traits aren’t authored by Necessity, they are merely known by abstract relationship of logical necessity given known contingencies. And while I expect it is hard enough to prove that there must be an entity that has these traits, I think the better place for a Euthyphro attack would be to ask, “Even if there is a God who is merciful, loving, etc, why is it that such a being or such traits must be known as ‘good’?”

Indeed yes, which is why I asked cl precisely that. The answer so far seems to be “just because”.

but it is humans (or other personal beings) who make God “good” by valuing those traits. In that sense I am embracing the “outside standard” of Euthyphro, but not in the way you suggest.

Oh. OK. That seems like a position that would make some heads explode.

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Zeb April 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm

drj and lackofcheese,

It seems to me that you are begging the question if you are saying that anything that is not the result of determinism must be the result of randomness/luck. The matter being discussed is whether there is a third option, free will. Maybe from a third person perspective free will always looks like a combination of determinism and randomness (obviously, since by “random” we mean “not determined,” right?), but the question is, is there something more going on there?

I read John D’s article and I disagree with this part:

(4) Joe’s personality, thoughts, desires, hopes, beliefs, character traits, dispositions etc. are part of the state of the universe prior to t.
(5) So in the two possible universes under consideration, there is nothing in Joe (i.e. in his personality or mind) that is different.

Premise (4) is fine, but there is a curious lack of the word “prior” in premise (5). On libertarian free will, premise (5) must be true prior to the moment of decision, but in the moment of decision something is different in Joe and in the universe in which Joe does X: an act of will, ie a choice. So it is true that another choice could have been made given all the same priors, but the choice that was made was caused by an act of will generated in the moment of choice. So I’d ask why and how luck is supposed to enter into it? Especially how – the sense of randomness that refers not to our lack of knowledge but to an utter and ultimate lack of cause is almost incomprehensible to me.

A free choice that is independent of priors does not lack for reasons altogether. Go back to the old Buridan’s Ass paradox – an agent may have prior reasons for multiple options or teleological reasons for those options, and after the choice is made everyone will say he did X because of priors a, b and c, or to achieve goal d. But either it was literally true that the agent could have, in this exact world and exactly as he was constituted, chosen from among a set of options, or there really was no choice.

To be clear, the “problem of present luck” that John D presented was that it might invalidate personal responsibility, not that it made libertarian free will incoherent or implausible. But I just don’t see where luck comes into it anyway, unless you are presuming that the only alternative to determinism is “randomness”. If a truly creative act if free will is possible, then personal responsibility makes perfect sense. When Joe is confronted with a set of options and makes an act of will to X rather than ~X, he not only makes a change in himself but he brings us all into the universe of X rather than the previously possible universes of ~X.

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Zeb April 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm

J Simonov

Well, if such traits are necessarily good, and God is necessarily good…then God doesn’t make himself those things. He must exist in that fashion; there’s no alternative.

I think it is possible for God to have necessary traits and still to have freedom with regard to those traits. It’s like, suppose we had an argument proving that there must be a person who never in his life blinks. We name that hypothetical but necessarily existing person Blinky. Then we find a living person who never in his life has blinked, so we decide this must be Blinky. Well, this guy still could blink; he has the ability and the freedom to do so. But if he does, that just means he wasn’t actually Blinky and there must be some other guy out there. And so with God – he could do evil, but that would just mean that the one we thought was God actually was not, and there must be another out there who has all the God traits plus only does good. Assuming the argument for necessity works, of course. My point is, necessity does not invalidate God’s freedom.

So perhaps there is a being who freely chooses to be such as we would call good, and we find that based on what we know directly that there logically must be such a being. It doesn’t mean that that being must always and only be good, it means that there must be some being who is always and only such as we would call good (and freely does so, if it is to fit the concept of God in my opinion).

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J. Simonov April 17, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Zeb;

And so with God – he could do evil, but that would just mean that the one we thought was God actually was not, and there must be another out there who has all the God traits plus only does good. Assuming the argument for necessity works, of course. My point is, necessity does not invalidate God’s freedom.

Uh , OK. So this God could do evil, except that he never actually will, because if he did, then he wouldn’t have actually been God in the first place. And the traits that define him as good have to be as they are.

If that isn’t a logically constrained deity, being held to a standard of conduct, I don’t know what is. Honestly.

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Havok April 17, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Zeb: On libertarian free will, premise (5) must be true prior to the moment of decision, but in the moment of decision something is different in Joe and in the universe in which Joe does X: an act of will, ie a choice.

Even with this modification, you still have the decision being made coming down to “present luck”, since the decision could have gone the other way (and there is no reason it didn’t go the other way, as you’re ruling out priors causing the decision).

While it may not make libertarian free-will incoherent, it does seem to remove personal responsibility, which means no one would be morally responsible.

Zeb: A free choice that is independent of priors does not lack for reasons altogether.

If it is independant of priors, then there is no reason for it, hence the charges of randomness.

Zeb: and after the choice is made everyone will say he did X because of priors a, b and c, or to achieve goal d.

Which is incompatible with libertarian free will, but compatible with determinism/compatiblism. Since the decision, on libertarian free will was independant of priors 1, b, c, we cannot sayd that X made the choice because of them.

Zeb: When Joe is confronted with a set of options and makes an act of will to X rather than ~X, he not only makes a change in himself but he brings us all into the universe of X rather than the previously possible universes of ~X.

But since there is nothing about the universe or Joe which had anything to do with the decision to X instead of not ~X, we could just as easily have found ourself in ~X. The fact that we find ourselves in X is a matter of luck :-)

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bossmanham April 21, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Bill, Citizen Ghost great comments.

Actually not, since an atheistic natural law is ridiculous to even consider. Without a teleology, there is no “final purpose” for which things are progressing, or for which they operate. Therefore there’s no basis for any natural law on atheism. Snedden fail.

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lackofcheese April 21, 2011 at 8:29 pm

I don’t really agree with “natural law”, but it’s perfectly reasonable to say that it stems from our own human nature.

As for “final purpose”, I don’t get the obsession. So what if there is or isn’t a “final purpose”? Quite frankly, even if there was one, I probably wouldn’t like it anyway; I prefer human goals.

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drj April 22, 2011 at 5:22 am

Final purposes disappear the second you ask, “Well, what was the purpose of that?!”

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Anton A. Hill April 23, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Craig’s fundamental premise is flawed. As in, I see no problem where he asserts there is one. So what if there is no objective morality? Clearly “good” morals can be demonstrated and just as clearly “bad” morals can be demonstrated. Just as righteous as he claims God to be there are countless examples of the lack of God’s righteousness, so even within the structure that Craig proposes for objective moral value, his premise and evidence are flawed.

P.S. I agree with Dawkins. Harris debating with Craig only lends validity to Craig’s bullshit.

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cl April 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Ajay,

You have answered nothing.

False. I’ve answered every objection you raised since you mentioned my post.

I meant the Michael Martin article. Look up my second post on this thread.

Ah, you mean this:

In any case, appealing to God’s character only postpones the problem since the dilemma can be reformulated in terms of His character. Is God’s character the way it is because it is good or is God’s character good simply because it is God’s character? Is there an independent standard of good or does God’s character set the standard? If God’s character is the way it is because it is good, then there is an independent standard of goodness by which to evaluate God’s character. For example, suppose God condemns rape because of His just and merciful character. His character is just and merciful because mercy and justice are good. Since God is necessarily good, God is just and merciful. According to this independent standard of goodness, being merciful and just is precisely what a good character involves. In this case, even if God did not exist, one could say that a merciful and just character is good. Human beings could use this standard to evaluate peoples’ character and actions based on this character. They could do this whether or not God exists.

Caution on the “is of identity” [cf. general semantics]. Martin simply extricates properties of God’s nature and declares them “independent,” but if the God of the Bible exists, said properties are wholly derivative from God. Let’s take a closer look at Martin’s train of thought:

…suppose God condemns rape because of His just and merciful character. His character is just and merciful because mercy and justice are good. Since God is necessarily good, God is just and merciful. According to this independent standard of goodness, being merciful and just is precisely what a good character involves. In this case, even if God did not exist, one could say that a merciful and just character is good.

I think he goes wrong in the second sentence, which should read, “His character is just and merciful because He is just and merciful.” That God is just and merciful does not entail that any “standard” of justice or mercy exists independently of God. Martin seeks to extract that which seemingly cannot be extracted and call it “an independent standard.” What is this standard? Is it something like a Platonic form? Across this blog, many commenters seem to reject this concept, i.e. there are no such things as intrinsic values. If intrinsic values don’t exist, how can any standard “exist” such that it makes sense to argue that God must conform?

Bill Snedden,

I believe that wrt objective morality, theism and atheism are in the same ontological boat. That is that it’s possible to ground moral values in the nature of existence, and this holds true whether the foundational existent is “god” or simply “all that exists”.

How does one ground moral values in the nature of existence?

Havok,

If it is independant of priors, then there is no reason for it, hence the charges of randomness.

I disagree. It seems this restricts “reasons” to prior nodes in a causal sequence, implicitly assuming that an agent cannot genuinely initiate a causal sequence. We’ve been having a similar discussion and even butting heads about it, here.

Anton A. Hill,

So what if there is no objective morality?

Funny you should say that because I’m a believer and I came to the same conclusion. Although, I think Craig also uses the premise “objective morality exists” as evidence of being created by God. I’m not a huge Craig fan, but I don’t underestimate him, either.

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lackofcheese April 26, 2011 at 3:00 am

I disagree. It seems this restricts “reasons” to prior nodes in a causal sequence, implicitly assuming that an agent cannot genuinely initiate a causal sequence. We’ve been having a similar discussion and even butting heads about it, here.

What else could a “reason” possibly be, if not a causal factor in a decision?
I don’t make the assumption you suggest implicitly; rather, it’s a conclusion I’d draw from my understanding of the process one would call “making a choice”.

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cl April 28, 2011 at 6:52 pm

What else could a “reason” possibly be, if not a causal factor in a decision?

I didn’t say a “reason” wasn’t a causal factor. I disagree with the idea that all “reasons” must be prior nodes in a causal sequence, else they are “random.”

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lackofcheese April 28, 2011 at 9:19 pm

I wouldn’t identify reasons as “prior nodes within a causal sequence” per se. Rather, they must be within reality before the decision is made.

If your reasons fully determine your decision, then the decision is deterministically caused by those reasons. Otherwise, there is an element to your decision that is entirely independent of the reasons, and what would you call that if not randomness?

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Christopher Zimny April 30, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Hey guys, I wanted to know if any of you would like to add me on Facebook. I have arguments about God and morality all the time, but I’m the only atheist I know who cares enough (or entertained enough by debating the subject) to mention and discuss it. As such, I’m usually the lone wolf against my Christian friends who take the WLC casuist approach. If you would be so kind as to add me: Christopher Zimny.
Just let me know that you’re from this site.

Peace & Love

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Meng Lee May 6, 2011 at 3:42 am

I thought personally that Harris did a really poor job in this debate, he went off topic so many times and didn’t really prove much of his points. Also Harris gets sad when Craig said one of his statement about believers were psychopaths was stupid which I think it was. Poor debate and evidence on Harris side in my opinion. I’m not sure but I think they took a vote afterwards and Craig won by a long shot…

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Vijay May 9, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Instead of sticking to the topic, Sam Harris went into specifics of Christian God, Islamic scripture etc. The topic of discussion is about the need for a notion of God who is perfect (who that God is, whether any of the religion represents such a God correctly etc is a different debate). Sam Harris should argue whether the notion of a perfect God is needed for objective morality or or not. Or agree that such a notion helps, but argue that such a perfect God does not exist. Or present a case why there is a better way for objective morality than a notion of a perfect God. Instead he makes assumptions of various specific beliefs (wrong assumptions and misundesrstandings mostly) and then attacks those specifics of belief. One would expect at least staying on the topic in a debate at this level.

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andy scicluna June 8, 2011 at 2:12 am

Hey guys, I wanted to know if any of you would like to add me on Facebook. I have arguments about God and morality all the time, but I’m the only atheist I know who cares enough (or entertained enough by debating the subject) to mention and discuss it. As such, I’m usually the lone wolf against my Christian friends who take the WLC casuist approach. If you would be so kind as to add me: Christopher Zimny.Just let me know that you’re from this site.Peace & Love

Yeah, I’m the exact same! I’ll friend you happily!

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andy scicluna June 8, 2011 at 2:15 am

Yeah, I’m the exact same! I’ll friend you happily!

are you the one married to abbey road?

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Christopher Zimny June 8, 2011 at 8:19 am

Yes, that’s me! Thanks!

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seanmc30 July 16, 2011 at 1:31 am

If WLC wants to debate someone on the topic of objective moral values, he needs to debate Stefan Molyneux. I am not aware of anyone who has ever laid out a set of secular ethics and morals to the extent Molyneux has. I would watch that.

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Chad Phillips July 26, 2011 at 1:10 am

I have seen several comments that attempt to debunk objective morality by saying something like, “We know there is no objective morality, because we can see a change in moral values over time and in different cultures.” This does nothing to debunk objective morality. All this does is show that in some cultures and time periods, objective morality is not as highly valued as in other cultures and periods of time. Take, say, America in 1834. At that time in our country, there was a greater regard for the objective moral of fidelity in marriage. However, in America in 2011, our culture does not value fidelity in marriage to the same degree as it was valued in 1834. I believe it is still valued among certain social sects, but there is a growing disregard for what is considered “silly, religious traditions.” But just because in one era of time fidelity in marriage was more valued than in another era of time, it still remains that fidelity in marriage is objectively, morally right. This is just an example. The point is that just because a culture does not recognize a certain objective moral does nothing to debunk the truth of objective morality. Something is not objectively moral based on whether people follow it or not.

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Christopher Zimny July 26, 2011 at 1:19 am

I have seen several comments that attempt to debunk objective morality by saying something like, “We know there is no objective morality, because we can see a change in moral values over time and in different cultures.” This does nothing to debunk objective morality. All this does is show that in some cultures and time periods, objective morality is not as highly valued as in other cultures and periods of time. Take, say, America in 1834. At that time in our country, there was a greater regard for the objective moral of fidelity in marriage. However, in America in 2011, our culture does not value fidelity in marriage to the same degree as it was valued in 1834. I believe it is still valued among certain social sects, but there is a growing disregard for what is considered “silly, religious traditions.” But just because in one era of time fidelity in marriage was more valued than in another era of time, it still remains that fidelity in marriage is objectively, morally right. This is just an example. The point is that just because a culture does not recognize a certain objective moral does nothing to debunk the truth of objective morality. Something is not objectively moral based on whether people follow it or not.

How and why is monogamy objectively morally right?

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JOJO JACOB July 26, 2011 at 1:38 am

Christopher Zimny,

Even if there is objective morality, in what sense they are “objective”? I would it is based on human consensus. It is based on social contract. Social contract does have to be unanimous. You might not agree with me. I would be happy to agree with divine command theorists if they could could tell me the transition (pathway) of morality from “non-objective” to “objective”. Craig in his relentless pursuit of self-promotion, travels around the world and proclaim that his “religion” is the only true religion and others are fake. Is not that “objectively” wrong?

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Christopher Zimny July 26, 2011 at 12:30 pm

^ Sorry, computer messed up.

I just finished watching the Kagan vs. Craig debate where Kagan submitted a social contract of sorts when he said objective morality could be considered a set of rules we would give to ourselves if we were perfectly rational. I my mind, this would be a very short list (ie, don’t murder, steal, rape, no slavery, etc.), the rest being up to cultural relativism and various smaller social contracts.

As for Craig’s pursuits, I don’t think it’s a matter of right/wrong, but a matter of stupidity and a violation of logic.

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JOJO JACOB July 27, 2011 at 12:10 am

Christopher Zimny.

“I my mind, this would be a very short list (ie, don’t murder, steal, rape, no slavery, etc.), the rest being up to cultural relativism and various smaller social contracts”.

The very “short” list you are referring to keeps on expanding as we move on. We did not know that animals have rights, slavery was “objectively” wrong. You seem to forget one thing. Morality is “rational”. We embrace rational morality. Religions might say “masturbation” is objectively wrong. But rationality and science clearly demonstrate that it is “objectively” right.

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JOJO JACOB July 27, 2011 at 12:12 am

I think I messed up. My comments were for “Chad Phillips”

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Christopher Zimny July 27, 2011 at 12:47 am

What I should have also said is that we are not perfectly rational, but as our rationality keeps naturally increasing, the rules refine themselves accordingly. I completely agree with what you said.

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Matt W July 27, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Hi

I have just watched the Craig vs Harris debate and have a question on Craig’s position that I was wonder if anyone could assist me with? Apologies if the answer is simple, however, if it is, it’s not immediately jumping out at me.

Question:
If we take the initial concept of god as being the creator, why would it necessary for us to give the concept of god any further characteristics (such as benevolence)? Is it not just the case that in applying further characteristics, we are subjectively setting out what we think would make a better god? Are we not just then subjectively setting out our own moral standards? How can this god then act as a basis for objective morality?

Thanks in advance

Matt

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CD Hanks November 12, 2011 at 5:46 pm

What the hell’s with Notre Dame, blocking the videos, are they afraid of the truth about religion getting out?

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D November 23, 2011 at 10:04 am

Suppose I were to offer a moral system based on maximizing some other property than the well-being of conscious beings, such as self-sufficiency. Plants would do much better on that scale than animals like us. Can Harris explain why this would be an inferior scale to his own?

I think such a system would not be a “moral” system anymore.

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Seriously? January 7, 2012 at 9:42 am

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.

lso, 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.

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