Sam Harris vs. William Lane Craig debate review (part 2)

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 13, 2011 in Debates,Reviews

Last time, I considered Craig’s opening speech in the recent Harris-Craig debate on morality (video, audio). Now, we consider Harris’ opening speech.

Harris’ opening speech

Harris states his case:

Belief in God is not only unnecessary for a universal morality, it is itself a source of moral blindness.

He begins with the fact-value or is-ought distinction, which he rejects because he makes the case for a reduction from moral terms to physical facts. He does so mostly by appealing to intuitions, for example:

Imagine a universe devoid of the possibility of consciousness… entirely constituted of rocks… Value judgments don’t apply. For changes in the universe to matter, they have to matter… to some conscious system.

What about well-being? …Imagine a universe in which every conscious creature suffers as much as it possibly can for as long as it can… [This] is bad. If the word ‘bad’ applies anywhere, it applies here. Now if you think the worst possible suffering for everyone isn’t bad… [then] I don’t know what you’re talking about… The minimum standard of moral goodness is to avoid the worst possible suffering for everyone.

Consciousness, well-being, suffering… these are all facts about the natural world, and thus amenable to scientific investigation, without appeal to human opinions or attitudes.

Isn’t ‘well-being’ vague? No more vague than ‘health’, says Harris. And notice, “no one has tried to attack the philosophical foundations of medicine with questions like, ‘Who are you to say that not always vomiting is healthy? What if you meet someone who wants to vomit, and he wants to vomit until he dies? How could you argue that he is not as healthy as you are?’”

As expected, Harris’ opening speech has far less content than Craig’s condensed and polished opening. But opening speeches are not meant for the purpose of replying to one’s interlocutor.

 

Craig’s first rebuttal

As usual, Craig’s organization is flawless. He opens by reminding the audience of his contentions. Regarding his positive case that God provides a solid foundation for objective moral value, he notes that Harris offered no objections. Craig does clear up a possible confusion about moral semantics and ontology, though.

Next: without God, is there a solid foundation for ethics? Craig quotes Harris as saying “You don’t need religion to have a universal morality.”

Craig quotes Harris as saying that it’s obviously better for creatures to be flourishing rather than suffering. Craig says he agrees that all else being equal, flourishing is good. But why? On atheism, there is no reason flourishing would be good, he says.

Craig also says that Harris equivocates between moral and non-moral uses of terms like ‘good’ and ‘bad.’

He then offers an argument against Harris’ identity claim between moral goodness and creaturely flourishing:

On the next-to-last page of his book, Dr. Harris makes the telling admission that if [bad] people… could be just as happy as good people, then his moral landscape would no longer be a moral landscape – rather, it would just be a continuum of well-being whose peaks are occupied by good and bad people… alike.

What’s interesting about this is that earlier in the book, Dr. Harris explained that about 3 million Americans are psychopathic – that is to say, they don’t care about the mental states of others… But that implies that there’s a possible world of 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… If there is any possible world in which A is not identical to B, then A is not in fact identical to B.

If you’re not familiar with philosophy: This argument is sound if it represents Harris’ position correctly.

Craig repeats the problem of the is-ought gap while presenting it as solved for theistic moral realism, and then he repeats the point about how moral responsibility requires contra-causal free will. He also claims that Harris denies compatibilist free will, though I’m not sure that’s true.

 

Harris’ first rebuttal

Harris replies to… something, supposedly… by bringing up the argument from evil, and the argument from inconsistent revelations. This is relevant to the existence of the Christian God, but that is not the topic of the debate. The topic of the debate is secular morality vs. theistic morality. Fail.

He also brings up the horrors of Biblical morality again, even after Craig has explicitly pointed out that this is irrelevant to the topic of debate. Fail.

He says there’s no evidence for God, and that only lunatics could believe some religious things on their own. But Craig repeatedly and explicitly stated he wasn’t defending the existence of God, only that if God exists then he provides a foundation for moral values, and that if God does not exist then there is no solid foundation for objective moral values. Fail.

This diversion does afford Harris the opportunity for a killer quote, though:

If you wake up in the morning, thinking that saying a few Latin words over your pancakes is going to turn them into the body of Elvis Presley, you have lost your mind. But if you think more or less the same thing about a cracker and the body of Jesus, you’re just a Catholic.

He then argues that Christian theology is monstrous. Off-topic. Fail.

 

Craig’s second rebuttal

Craig points out that Harris’ points completely missed the subject of the debate. He reviews the positive and negative arguments he has given, and reminds his audience that Harris hasn’t replied to any of them. Craig therefore gets to repeat and strengthen all of his arguments.

 

Harris second rebuttal

Harris opens by saying that Craig’s grounding morality in God is just as definitional as Harris’ grounding morality in science.

Second, he says that every science starts from certain axiomatic value claims, so a science of morality would be on the same footing as a science of medicine or chemistry.

Craig had said that according to science we’re just constellations of atoms, without moral worth. Harris correctly replies that this misrepresents science, “as if the only thing that could be said about us is that we’re constellations of atoms.” But of course science can also talk about how we have hopes and dreams and pleasure and pain and happiness and sadness and feelings and health and well-being or suffering.

Harris then wastes the rest of his time talking about how atheists can have transcendent experiences.

Next time, I’ll examine the closing statements and the Q & A period, and draw some conclusions.

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{ 266 comments… read them below or add one }

mojo.rhythm April 13, 2011 at 4:04 am

Craig wins another verbal boxing match.

Ah well, it happens.

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Michael April 13, 2011 at 4:09 am

Not sure why you gave your own views and arguments against WLC’s opening speech in the first post, but didn’t do the same for Harris.
I’m pretty sure that you categorically disagree with quite a lot he said too—> I can’t imagine you enjoying him appeal to the intuitions as his proof for morality! ;P
Plus he appealed to the well-being of conscious creatures having intrinsic value, and I remember you saying elsewhere that you just find no evidence for statements about intrinsic value.
Am I right about this so far?
And I agree that that quote about Elvis and crackers was hilarious!

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Tristan Vick April 13, 2011 at 4:50 am

Luke,

Sam’s bringing up the argument from evil is a grand slam home-run.

If Craig’s God is ultimately evil, as the Bible seems to suggest, then Craig has no business ascribing goodness to said God. Why? Because said God is ultimately evil. Therefore morals do not stem from God.

Sam 1

Craig 0

So many people object to this on the basis that it’s not the topic of the debate. Pardon me, but I thought the whole idea of whether or not God is good, and whether this God is a source for our morality, was the topic of the debate.

Luke, you’re starting to sound like a WLC panegyrist.

But maybe I’m wrong… maybe Craig’s evil God has nothing to do with whether or not we can derive morals from and evil God. Wait, except like Sam, atheists don’t admit to the existence of such a being.

Craig is asking us to make the assumption of divine command theory, and the faulty causality of moral law giver equates moral imperative. Excuse me, but didn’t we skip a step? As in proving God?

Oh wait, not the topic of the debate. Sorry.

But don’t ask me to fit the evidence to fit the prior convictions of the theist instead of allowing the theories to conform to the facts. You can assume “moral law giver” all you want, but don’t expect me to buy into a concept of deriving values and morality from an unproved concept.

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drj April 13, 2011 at 5:29 am

If Craig’s God is ultimately evil, as the Bible seems to suggest, then Craig has no business ascribing goodness to said God. Why? Because said God is ultimately evil. Therefore morals do not stem from God.

Craig would probably just fall back to his moral epistemology defense, or he could claim that those sorts of arguments, at best, only disprove biblical inerrancy.

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Tristan D. Vick April 13, 2011 at 5:44 am

@drj

Granted, I suspect you’re right, Craig would fall back on a way to avoid offering up the evidence to support his theory.

That was what I was trying to get Luke to see.

At the end of the day, it comes down to evidence.

I understand Luke is simply ranking the debate according to the traditional scoring system of, say, high school debates. But I watch debates to learn new ideas and perspectives. I don’t learn anything from merely the devotional Christian tract, after all, I was an Evangelical Christian for three decades, move it along.

My problem is this. Craig is using objective morality as “evidence” for a moral law giver (which he calls God–never mind for now that this would not actually be compatible with the character or nature of his God). But if morality is “evidence” for God how can he then turn around and say God, therefore, is the foundation for morality?

This is called a tautology. It’s a pretty obvious one too.

Sam didn’t fall for it. But Luke claims Sam failed. My point was, Sam never failed, because he wasn’t obliged to disprove an obvious tautology.

Now, how Craig gets from morality to moral law giver, I don’t know. As far as I can tell it’s only an assumption. Thus, Craig is merely assuming there is a moral law giver, and then he invoke divine command theory, to make us duty bound to follow these laws, as they are moral imperatives. I get what he is saying, but without the evidence, it doesn’t amount to much.

Even if morality was evidence for a good God, divine command theory is not without controversy. It has to meet several objections first. Needless to say, divine command theory is itself an assumption, and before we automatically assume the theory is valid it has to pass a series of objections, such as: the omnipotence objection, the benevolence objection, the autonomy objection, the pluralism objection, the problem of free will and so on and so forth. As you can see, divine command theory has not met all the challenges put to it and so cannot just be assumed as a working theory.

Therefore Craig has NOT established a link between morals and any presumed moral law giver.

Instead, Craig is simply ascribing goodness to God, because it’s part of his theology (i.e., it’s one of the peculiar things Christians believe).

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Scott April 13, 2011 at 5:48 am

I’ve grown tired of these debates. So often it’s about who can have the best presentation & score rhetorical points. I suspect the published literature, where respondants have time to analyse each others’ works and the space to discuss them at length, are much more valuable.

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drj April 13, 2011 at 6:13 am

I agree Craig didn’t make a persuasive case. But though I had obvious rebuttals to his points in my head, Harris never actually got around to actually making any himself.

Maybe Harris’ off-topic monologues did reach some people, I don’t know – he is good at weaving compelling sounding, emotional narratives. But even if Harris did manage to persuade, it sure seems like it would be a hollow victory to win minds on the kinds of emotional appeals and rhetorical devices he employed, while leaving the logically rigorous challenges of his opponent largely un-addressed…. especially for a person who founded a non-profit organization dedicated to reason.

Tsk, tsk, shame on you Sam.
.

My problem is this. Craig is using objective morality as “evidence” for a moral law giver (which he calls God–never mind for now that this would not actually be compatible with the character or nature of his God). But if morality is “evidence” for God how can he then turn around and say God, therefore, is the foundation for morality?

I don’t think its really tautological. Morals are only objectively real and binding if a God exists, according to Craig. He takes it as an obvious fact of the world, that objective moral value does exist.

If Craig proves that God is the only basis for objective morality, and that moral values do exist – he proves that God exists, necessarily. That’s how his moral argument for God goes.

But determining whether God is the only basis for objective moral values or not, is decoupled from that moral argument for God…. its really the preliminary work needed to establish the first premise OF Cragis moral argument for God (ie, If objective moral values exist, then God exists)

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dankuck April 13, 2011 at 6:17 am

Luke,

If you could find a clear connection between Harris’ rebuttals and Craig’s arguments, would you revisit your summation of his rebuttal, or do you think it would remain largely unchanged?

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ayer April 13, 2011 at 6:24 am

My problem is this. Craig is using objective morality as “evidence” for a moral law giver

That’s the argument Craig gives for the existence of God when the topic of the debate is “Does God Exist?” But that’s wasn’t the topic of the debate. The topic was the proper foundation for morality (which Harris had just written a book about!). I understand you would like to see Harris and Craig debate the topic “Does God Exist?” (the topic he debated with Hitchens), so maybe you should encourage Harris to agree to another debate with Craig on THAT topic.

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AndrewR April 13, 2011 at 6:33 am

I don’t see how it is useful to debate theistic morality _without_ talking about the existence of God. I think we can mostly agree that the question of how we can know that various acts are moral or immoral is difficult. So then Craig comes along and says “well, if God exists, then we can know what is moral, it’s what God says it is”. Isn’t the obvious rssponse to this that it is not interesting unless you can show that God probably _does_ exist?

to me this seems like the same kind of argument as the Kalam: “You are uncertain about [the cause of the Universe/the source of objective morality], I claim to be certain of my explanation (God). Certainty trumps uncertainty, therefore I win”

Theism doesn’t win by default

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Mike B. April 13, 2011 at 6:34 am

I think that Harris is a really smart guy, but he doesn’t seem to be the most structured thinker. I noticed this problem in his book too where he starts out with some really interesting thoughts, and then wastes an entire chapter criticizing Francis Collins and theistic evolution. What this had to do with the moral landscape, I don’t know. He just can’t seem to resist taking pot shots at religion. The same thing seems to have happened here. He seems interested in doing two things. 1.) Outlining his basic moral theory, which he did. and 2.) polemicizing religion. He didn’t seem particularly interested in interacting with Craig’s arguments, which is a profound disappointment to people who came to hear just that.

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Athenian April 13, 2011 at 6:36 am

Tristan Vick wrote:

Sam’s bringing up the argument from evil is a grand slam home-run. If Craig’s God is ultimately evil, as the Bible seems to suggest…

Except that Craig did not make his case on the god of the Bible. He built his case on perfect being theology (a philosophical position) as the ontological basis for moral values, combined with divine command theory (another philosophical position) as the basis for moral duties.

Considering that Craig had no interest in arguing that Yahweh is the source of morality, why would the characteristics of that god be relevant to the debate? Harris might as well have been criticizing Ahura Mazda for all it helped his case.

Luke, you’re starting to sound like a WLC panegyrist.

Fail.

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Luke Muehlhauser April 13, 2011 at 6:39 am

dankuck,

Revisit.

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dankuck April 13, 2011 at 6:53 am

Craig’s contention was that with God there is a moral foundation and without God there is not a moral foundation. Harris’ rebuttal seemed to be an attempt to disprove the “with God there is a moral foundation” part.

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Tristan D. Vick April 13, 2011 at 6:54 am

@Ayer

My point is, unless Craig establishes God’s existence then he can’t assume there is any moral law give to derive objective morality from.

People seem to be compartmentalizing the God/Morality issue. Yet by Craig’s own admission to two are one and the same.

So either there is evidence for it, or not.

Personally, I feel Craig hasn’t offered anything in the way of tangible evidence, or even a testable theory. Rather, he has made a bandwagon appeal and expects us simply to go along with it as he takes us for a ride.

So if Sam can disprove Craig’s God, or prove that Craig’s concept of God is erroneous, which Sam did, then Craig cannot support his concept of objective morality because it is without basis.

What Sam did, was show that minus God, then there must be a natural explanation for morality. Which Sam then goes on to suggest lies within the realm of his Moral Landscape which he has theorized based off cutting edge cognitive research. In other words, Sam is making an observation. Craig is making a conjecture.

Whether or not they can ultimately convince anyone of their point is another matter entirely, I agree. But to say God’s existent was not the topic of the debate is to tacitly admit there was no actual topic of debate–since Craig’s entire understanding of God is co-dependent on his understanding of objective morality.

What I found funny was how hard Craig tried not to understand Sam’s point that, minus one God, morality would still exist. Therefore there needs to be a better explanation than God for grounding our morals in. Craig just kept making the same band wagon appeal again and again… without God, there could be no morality.

When Craig claimed Sam failed to give any account for how atheists could have objective morals, and Sam replied that he tried to give him one, amid the snickers of the audience who got it.

John Loftus raises a good point:

Bill, in your debate with Sam Harris you claimed God was the grounding of objective morality. That word “God” is problematic though. Until that word is defined, or until you tell us how we know what this “God” wants us to do, or what it is, what you end up saying is that there is an objective grounding to morality, and that’s it. But then Sam Harris agreed with you on that score.

What do you say to someone who claims this debate was just about semantics, that is, you both agreed there was an objective grounding to morality, but that the real debate concerned how you each defined the word “God”? Sam does not like that word, nor does he use it, and he would vehemently deny that the word applies to his grounding for morality. But what would you say to the objection that the debate was about what that word means, and you never told us anything about this “God” or how we know what “God” wants us to do, or what it is, so all you argued is that there is an objective grounding to morality, and that’s it, in agreement with Harris. And since Harris attacked your notion of God repeatedly he won that debate.

***

I agree, the terms Craig is using are vague and nebulous. His notion of an all good God fits with many different theologies of different competing faiths. Even Muslims claim that Allah is all good. So it could very well be that morality is grounded in Allah, and Craig proved this splendidly. On the other hand, we could say Craig’s definition of God was too generic, and so all he did was establish that there is the possibility that our morals are grounded in an indistinct and transcendent deity of some sort, but it may not be the Christian God.

Craig may claim we’re changing the debate to semantics, but again, he’s simply trying to compartmentalize the matter. Yet in the philosophy of language, if Craig’s words are without meaning, or largely incoherent, then we cannot expect him to mean anything by them. Which is why he has to establish clearer definitions for his words and settle on established terms.

As far as I can tell Craig is making the assumption that the existence of an objective morality could possibly be evidence for a moral law giver of some sort. But this is a far cry from making definitive claims like, without God there could be no morality.

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Tristan D. Vick April 13, 2011 at 7:05 am

@ Athenian

You stated: “Except that Craig did not make his case on the god of the Bible. He built his case on perfect being theology (a philosophical position) as the ontological basis for moral values, combined with divine command theory (another philosophical position) as the basis for moral duties.”

I think you meant to say: “Except that Craig did not make his case on the god of the Bible. He built his case on perfect being theology (a philosophical conjecture) as the ontological basis for moral values, combined with divine command theory (another philosophical conjecture) as the basis for moral duties.”

Meanwhile, I don’t buy that Craig is merely trying to prove the philosophical concept of God. If he were, his definition of God would be much clearer than it is. His entire notion that there is a moral law giver is a theological consideration. He can offer as much conjecture as he wants to… but evidence would be better.

Craig needs to stop conjecturing and start proving.

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ayer April 13, 2011 at 7:17 am

My point is, unless Craig establishes God’s existence then he can’t assume there is any moral law give to derive objective morality from.

No, you’re wrong, as philosopher Wes Morriston’s written response to Craig’s moral ontology (which Luke quoted from in his first posting on the Craig/Harris debate) demonstrates–Morriston’s arguments are limited to the precise issue Craig debated with Harris, and interact directly with Craig’s arguments, without going off-topic. Why couldn’t Harris do the same?

If it is your position (and Harris’) that all debates concerning God must be in the form of “Does God Exist?”, then Harris needs to agree to a debate with Craig explicitly on that question (as Hitchens did). I would be interested to see that.

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Tristan D. Vick April 13, 2011 at 7:32 am

@Ayer

I don’t think I’m “wrong.” It may be an additional objection. At any rate, I downloaded and read the Morriston article. His objection is exactly what I have been saying here.

Morriston states:

“The idea here seems to be that if a perfect being exists, its nature or essence must
include perfect moral goodness. Such goodness is an objective feature of reality.
So if the Anselmian God exists, there must be objective moral values.
This may be so, but merely pointing out that the existence of God is ‘sufficient’
for moral truths because it entails that there are some doesn’t tell us anything
about the ontological foundation of morality. Craig needs to show that and how
morality is (and must be) grounded in God.”

I said that above. Additionally, like Morriston pointed out in the first paragraph, Craig is assuming the particular version of theism he subscribes to is true–I’m saying that in order to do this you have offer proofs that demonstrate your theism and not another. Craig has not done this, so he fails to distinguish his moral law giver from any other plausible moral law giver.

Even is Craig is right, and moral imperatives stem from some moral law giver, for all we know this moral law giver could be the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So Craig does need to settle on terms unless his goal is to remain generic.

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Kaelik April 13, 2011 at 7:38 am

If it is your position (and Harris’) that all debates concerning God must be in the form of “Does God Exist?”, then Harris needs to agree to a debate with Craig explicitly on that question (as Hitchens did).I would be interested to see that.

And then when Craig says “Well of course God exists, because God is the only source of Objective Morality. And Objective Morality exists.” And then someone says “Objective Morality doesn’t exist.” You can whine about how that’s off topic too.

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Rufus April 13, 2011 at 7:39 am

Andrew,

Theism doesn’t win by default

Do you mean to say that Harris and Craig could have said anything and you would have already decided who won the debate?

I disagree with you that the debate needed to center upon proof for God’s existence. This also addresses the previous point that Craig is being tautological and the relevancy of the problem of evil/God of the Old Testament critiques. In many of his debates on God’s existence, Craig takes the objectivity of morality as a premise to prove God’s existence. Here, he is not assuming the objectivity of morality as a premise. He is speaking hypothetically, i.e. if God were to exist, then morality would be objective in some sense of the word. If it turns out that God does not exist, then we must follow the logic and conclude that morality is not objective in any sense of the word. However, Craig is not interested in whether God exists or whether morality is in fact objective. He is making the case that if morality is to have any foundation at all, it would have to be in some objective foundation. He then argues that theism is better able to account for this foundation than atheism. Again, it might be the case that morality is not objective, or tha God does not exist. Neither are relevant to this debate.

I think the confusion arises when we hear Craig use a moral argument for God’s existence one day and then “invert” the argument another day to argue for the objectivity of morality. This is not vicious unless he intends one argument to support the other. I do not think he does intend this. He is using different strategies for different sorts of debates.

I think Luke has a point that Craig is not helpful by using subjective/objective terminology when discussing morality. I am not sure how damning this is though. Craig could simply clarify his definitions, or change his terminology. It seems fairly clear to me what he means when he contrasts morality grounded in an immutable, perfect, free God against morality grounded in mutable, imperfect, ever evolving, determined creatures. I think it would be more clear to talk about universal or absolute v. relative or contingent morality, or some other division.

All in all, Luke has been fair. He obviously is itching to respond to Craig directly and I can hardly blame him. It must be frustrating to listen to “top” atheists flounder time and time again, with only a few exceptions. However, I think the take-away should be that Christians and theists in general are not irrational. They offer important challenges to the atheistic intellectuals. If the atheists did not have Craig or others, they might not be as aware of the weaknesses of their own positions. Your adversaries provide important intellectual friction! Acknowledging this, as Luke often does of Craig, shows intellectual humility and respect.

Best,

Rufus

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Tristan D. Vick April 13, 2011 at 7:40 am

Just to be clear, when I claim WLC is ascribing goodness to God based on his theological convictions, and not deriving it from observation, this is what I mean:

“On the theistic view, objective moral values are rooted in God. He is the locus and source of moral value. His holy and loving nature supplies the absolute standard against which all actions are to be measured. He is by nature loving, generous, just, faithful, kind, and so forth.” (Craig & Kurtz et al. (2009), 30)

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ayer April 13, 2011 at 7:41 am

@Tristan D. Vick,

Please point to where in Morriston’s article he says that Craig needs to first provide evidence for God’s existence before he can address the conditional issue that IF God exists there is a sound foundation for objective morality, and IF God does not exists there is no such foundation. Where does Morriston make the point you made? As you said:

“My point is, unless Craig establishes God’s existence then he can’t assume there is any moral law give to derive objective morality from.”

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Culloch April 13, 2011 at 7:52 am

Fuck yeah, I’ve been waiting for your review of this debate for a while.

‘He also brings up the horrors of Biblical morality again, even after Craig has explicitly pointed out that this is irrelevant to the topic of debate. Fail.’

At 9:20 in part 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UigeMSZ-KQ&feature=related
“On a theistic view, objective moral duties are constituted by God’s commands. God’s moral nature is expressed to us in the form of Divine Commandments, which constitute our moral duties or obligations.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition the whole moral duty of man can be summed up in the two great commandments: First, you shall love the lord your God with all your strength and with all your soul and with all your heart, and with all your mind. And second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

On this foundation we can affirm the objective rightness of love, generosity, self sacrifice and equality…etc.”

Given what Craig says here, I don’t see how Harris’ attacks on biblical morality are at all off topic. As i see it, Craig doesn’t have much choice but to bring up the bible at some point (although he does his best to conceal it in a theistic sabot). Imagine a deistic God that doesn’t contact humans in any way- this sort of God would have no way of notifying us of her objective morals. That being the case – and since there would be no way of communicating to us what those morals are- surely such a God could not possibly provide an objective foundation for human morality.

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Athenian April 13, 2011 at 8:02 am

Tristan Vick wrote:

Craig needs to stop conjecturing and start proving.

Craig argued that, for the purpose of that debate, he wasn’t obligated to prove the existence of god, and Harris didn’t offer any criticism of that argument. Not that he couldn’t have–he just didn’t. Additionally, Harris might have argued that Craig’s position did not provide an objective basis for morality–but he didn’t do that either.

On the other hand, Craig criticized Harris’s proposed basis for objective morality as incoherent, and Harris didn’t even respond to him. He argued that determinism is incompatible with objective morality, and Harris didn’t reply to that either. Those are some serious criticisms; it may be that Craig was wrong on both counts, but Harris didn’t show that. By failing to respond to those criticisms, and failing to show that there was anything wrong with Craig’s basis for objective morality, Harris conceded the debate to Craig.

He can offer as much conjecture as he wants to… but evidence would be better.

That’s a reasonable criticism of Craig’s position, but Harris didn’t make it.

I don’t buy that Craig is merely trying to prove the philosophical concept of God.

No, but for the purpose of that debate, all he’s trying to do is show that there’s a rational basis for objective morality in perfect being theology/divine command theory. These are theological positions, yes–natural theology, based on philosophical arguments rather than special revelation.

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Rufus April 13, 2011 at 8:07 am

Culloch,

Given what Craig says here, I don’t see how Harris’ attacks on biblical morality are at all off topic. As i see it, Craig doesn’t have much choice but to bring up the bible at some point (although he does his best to conceal it in a theistic sabot).

Yes, Harris could spend time attacking Craig’s particular version of theism, but it is only to fall into a trap. Craig is essentially saying that objective morality exists only if some perfect God exists. He then digresses on this point about his own religion providing moral commands. Harris took the bait and ended up attacking one possible formulation of theism. Sure, it’s Harris’ prerogative to do so, but he ends up failing to engage the center of the debate. I would not be surprised if Craig intended such comments to side-track Harris.

-Rufus

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Garren April 13, 2011 at 8:16 am

On the next-to-last page of his book, Dr. Harris makes the telling admission that if [bad] people… could be just as happy as good people, then his moral landscape would no longer be a moral landscape – rather, it would just be a continuum of well-being whose peaks are occupied by good and bad people… alike.

This is an outrageously bad understanding of Harris’ model.

Craig appears to be equating an individual’s well-being with that individual’s moral goodness. This would make any person who is both evil and high on the well-being index a clear counter-example to Harris’ model so construed.

But Harris’ moral landscape is a space of possibilities for social groups. I imagine he would affirm that a social group which includes people/policies/actions Craig would call ‘evil’ thereby has higher well-being, then those well-being-raising people/policies/actions are good after all!

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Garren April 13, 2011 at 8:20 am

Last post should read “I imagine he would affirm that if a social group which includes [...]”

Rufus
..”I would not be surprised if Craig intended such comments to side-track Harris.”

Agreed.

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lackofcheese April 13, 2011 at 8:37 am

The topic is “is Good from God”, right? That’s a little vague, but if God does not exist, then it’s clear that whatever “Good” is, it can’t be from God, so God’s existence is definitely relevant to the debate.

In any case, Craig did indeed “win” the debate, but I don’t think Harris even cared about “winning” or “losing” the debate in this sense.

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Nisan April 13, 2011 at 8:55 am

Indeed, Garren. It sounds like Craig’s “knockdown argument” rests on a hypothetical world in which psychopaths are happy. That would surely be a good thing. And yet Craig claims that it’s problematic for Harris’ theory. Why?

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lackofcheese April 13, 2011 at 9:19 am

Yes, Craig’s knockdown argument is deeply flawed, and that struck me when he made it.

I have no problem with “evil” people being happy; I want them to be happy, just not at the expense of others. I think the issue is that William Lane Craig equates a system of divine retributive justice with “good”-ness; he actually thinks it’s good for evil people to suffer, as most religious people seem to when they justify the concept of hell.

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Magnus Solberg April 13, 2011 at 9:23 am

As was noted above, Craig MUST at some point start talking about the qualities of this ‘God’ he’s referring to constantly. If he doesn’t then, as John Loftus has pointed out, he’s basically in agreement with Harris on the general issue of whether objective morality exists or not, since he’s just saying that objective morality exists for some reason (that he can’t provide details of because then he’s screwed). Craig’s just not providing any foundation for this claim. Since Sam provides details about his basis for objective moral values and duties, he’s the only one who has anything to offer in the debate.

Craig seems to attempt to trick us into believing he’s only committed to a general theistic position.

But as we see here ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UigeMSZ-KQ&feature=related ) Craig does indeed provide details about this God of his, because if he does not we will have no way of knowing why we SHOULD (or even how we possibly could) do what God wants.

Craig says: “On a theistic view, objective moral duties are constituted by God’s commands. God’s moral nature is expressed in relation to us in the form of divine commandments which consitute our moral duties.” Craig then brings up two commandments from the bible.

According to Craig, on a theistic view, God is:
* Eternal and unchanging
* All good
* Holy
* A God that issues commands

So either Craig is committed to nothing, in which case he’s offering nothing, and the debate is, at best for Craig, a draw.

Or he’s committed to the God of The Bible, which he brought up, in which case Sam won the debate the second he started talking about The Problem of Evil.

And please don’t respond by saying “Craig could be talking about any god!” because that doesn’t mean anything. It’s like saying “Craig could be talking about anything as long as it’s something we don’t know anything about”.

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MauricXe April 13, 2011 at 9:49 am

Has anyone confirmed the debate topic? Was it something on the lines of: “Can we ground moral truth without God?” or was it “Does good come from God?” I heard it was the second of the two, as per the facebook page, but the moderator announced it as the first. It also seems Harris was attempting to answer the second question. If this was the case, then I think Harris did much better than I originally gave him credit for.

If we are charitable to Harris’ position, then it would seem Harris argued:

1. Objective Morals exist
2. God does not exist (This is a theistic God btw)
3. Therefore objective moral values are grounded in something other than God.

I think the above answers the first question quite well. It would seem that a question of God’s existence is very well relevant if it is framed properly. Unfortunately, Harris didn’t. Clearly he thinks both premises are true. He can “demonstrate” (1) by repeating the arguments in his book. He can then “demonstrate” (2) by offering some quick objections to the existence of God; (2) has to be very brief because the topic of the debate may be lost.

Instead, Harris offered up atheist soundbites. God believers are crazy, its a cult, some random woman got her vagina sliced open, etc.

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Magnus Solberg April 13, 2011 at 9:52 am

The debate topic was: Is Good From God?

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Rob April 13, 2011 at 10:11 am

This whine about confusing moral ontology with moral epistemology is just a sophistical shell game.

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Kaelik April 13, 2011 at 10:22 am

This whine about confusing moral ontology with moral epistemology is just a sophistical shell game.

It’s not even sophisticated. It’s childish, and transparent. If God has a bunch of qualities because those are the qualities that we think are good, then it’s not actually God that is the source of those qualities.

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ayer April 13, 2011 at 10:25 am

If we are charitable to Harris’ position, then it would seem Harris argued:

1. Objective Morals exist
2. God does not exist (This is a theistic God btw)
3. Therefore objective moral values are grounded in something other than God.

I think the above answers the first question quite well. It would seem that a question of God’s existence is very well relevant if it is framed properly. Unfortunately, Harris didn’t. Clearly he thinks both premises are true. He can “demonstrate” (1) by repeating the arguments in his book. He can then “demonstrate” (2) by offering some quick objections to the existence of God; (2) has to be very brief because the topic of the debate may be lost.

No, what Harris needed to do was to address the second of Craig’s conditional contentions: IF God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist. Harris would assert, yes, they do exist even IF God does not exist. He would then demonstrate that they exist on atheism by offering up an alternative ontological grounding for their existence. The issue of God’s ACTUAL existence or nonexistence is irrelevant since Craig explicitly stipulates God’s nonexistence in his second conditional. Harris needs to show that there is an alternative ontological grounding of objective morality GIVEN God’s nonexistence; unfortunately he didn’t do so since he didn’t address Craig’s highly specific criticisms of his book. Why he didn’t address specific criticisms of the case his own book makes is beyond me, because now he has left Craig’s critique sitting out there with no response from him.

As I said earlier, if Harris wants to debate Craig on the separate question of WHETHER God exists, that would be an interesting debate, and he should propose it.

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mpg April 13, 2011 at 10:26 am

This whine about confusing moral ontology with moral epistemology is just a sophistical shell game.

I’m actually inclined to agree. Craig’s moral argument is his weakest in my view (it is a bit of a shell game if you ask me). The sleight of hand is, he spends all his time talking about VALUES and the supposed objectivity of these values, using that to justify the conclusion of a moral valuing agent, but then goes on to admit that these values, even in in a transcendent moral valuing agent, require a foundation. So, in the final analysis, it isn’t the objectivity of the values that we are talking about, but the good standard that values are measured against. If this is the case, then it’s the good standard that is the objective foundation for morals not the agency of a person. And the door is once again opened to the platonic notion of good that the argument tries to evade.

I think Craig should stick to his Leibnizian and Kalam Cosmological arguments. Much better (in fact the Kalam is the second best argument for God after the ontological argument, in my view).

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Martin April 13, 2011 at 10:28 am

This whine about confusing moral ontology with moral epistemology is just a sophistical shell game.

Because it’s a bad thing to be precise with your definitions.

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ayer April 13, 2011 at 10:29 am

And then when Craig says “Well of course God exists, because God is the only source of Objective Morality. And Objective Morality exists.” And then someone says “Objective Morality doesn’t exist.” You can whine about how that’s off topic too.

No, in a debate on Craig’s moral argument for God’s existence, that would be on-topic. However, Harris affirms the existence of objective moral values, so I don’t think he would make that point. I can’t remember what position Hitchens took on that since he was a bit muddled. Like Harris, though, he as a gift for quips.

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ayer April 13, 2011 at 10:31 am

Because it’s a bad thing to be precise with your definitions.

Exactly. That’s something that Wes Morriston understands. I’m starting to wonder about Harris.

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Martin April 13, 2011 at 10:35 am

So, in the final analysis, it isn’t the objectivity of the values that we are talking about, but the good standard that values are measured against.

Which is… ontology, not epistemology. It’s about how/whether moral values exist, not about how we discover them.

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PDH April 13, 2011 at 10:57 am

lackofcheese wrote,

Yes, Craig’s knockdown argument is deeply flawed, and that struck me when he made it.

I have no problem with “evil” people being happy; I want them to be happy, just not at the expense of others.

I think Harris would say, assuming he was on the ball enough, ‘if they’re not reducing the well-being of conscious creatures in what sense are they ‘evil’ people?’

That’s his definition of ‘evil,’ to which the main objection has been: ‘why that? Why should we maximise well-being instead of something else?’ – a claim that works just as well against DCT. Why should we base our morality on God’s nature/commands as opposed to something else? Because his nature reflects the Platonic Good? So what? Why should I base my morality on the Platonic Good?

Desirism may get around this problem but theistic morality does not.

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Silver Bullet April 13, 2011 at 10:59 am

“He then argues that Christian theology is monstrous. Off-topic. Fail.”

Not sure that’s a fail.

Remember that in his opening remarks, Harris showed how he grounds objective moral truths without reference to god by arguing that objective moral truths reduce to considerations of well-being.

When Harris argues that Christian theology is monstrous, he is showing that when moral considerations are not considerations of well-being, that is, when they become considerations of the will of god, monstrous evil – immorality – results.

I think that scores points in favor of Harris’ godless moral framework and against Craig’s.

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Bojidar April 13, 2011 at 11:07 am

Sam’s bringing up the argument from evil is a grand slam home-run.

If Craig’s God is ultimately evil, as the Bible seems to suggest, then Craig has no business ascribing goodness to said God. Why? Because said God is ultimately evil. Therefore morals do not stem from God.

Tristan Vick,
Craig’s argument is that there are necessary characteristics for there to be *objective moral truths. His argument can be summed up as:
1.God exists
2.God has properties: perfectly **good, all- knowing
3. #1 and #2 are necessary characteristics in a universe where objective moral truths exist.

Therefore, if Harris objects to #2 (or #1), the conclusion is that this is not a universe were objective moral truths exists. Craig, himself, points out this out. Of course, Harris could have always argued against Craig’s definition of objective (which he should have done). If Harris had a better understanding of philosophy, he could have rejected Craig’s definition of “objective” and pointed out that divine command theory is not objective (by a more rigorous definition-objective = not based on the thoughts and feelings of conscious entities).

He could have then outlined a moral philosophy that was dependent on the ***intrinsic moral value of “the wellbeing of conscious creatures” (this seems to be what he’s arguing for here, albeit poorly).

*objective = not based on the thoughts, opinions, & feelings of homo sapiens (Craig’s definition)
**As far as definitions for “good”, I didn’t notice if Craig ever provided any. This argument works better if he accepts Harris’ definition. If he defines good as “the will of god”, then #2 becomes incoherent and the conclusion becomes a tautology of sorts.
***unfortunately the evidence of intrinsic moral value is about as poor as the evidence for God, so ultimately Craig could claim he’s creating a double standard, whereby God requires more evidence than intrinsic moral value would…and he’d be right

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Patrick April 13, 2011 at 11:16 am

As far as I can tell…

Craig does not view debates as actual debates. He views them as opportunities to proselytize.

Harris doesn’t view debates as actual debates either. He views them as opportunities to proselytize.

Personally, I think Harris did the better job. The impression I was left with was that Harris’ view was superior if you like people and don’t want them to suffer, but it might not be objective. And that Craig’s view is objective if you accept certain premises that he wasn’t willing to defend and that Harris didn’t care to attack, but that if you accept it you might end up as a suicide bomber.

Not that any of that has anything to do with the actual debate topic, but I’m pretty sure both Harris and Craig knew that.

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Rufus April 13, 2011 at 11:40 am

Magnus Solberg,

As was noted above, Craig MUST at some point start talking about the qualities of this ‘God’ he’s referring to constantly. If he doesn’t then, as John Loftus has pointed out, he’s basically in agreement with Harris on the general issue of whether objective morality exists or not, since he’s just saying that objective morality exists for some reason (that he can’t provide details of because then he’s screwed).

Yes, he is not merely referring to a vacuous concept. But you seem to think it is necessary that he defend the God of Christianity given a particular hermeneutical approach. Craig merely has to posit enough attributes of this God to justify his argument that morals are grounded in God. The traditional attributes of classical Theism suffice here and I don’t think Harris is willing to grant them (so they would not be in basic agreement). We need not delve into how we ought to understand the Old Testament or the problem of evil. They are interesting topics, but they only arise once we settle the question of whether God is the necessary and sufficient ground of morality.

So we might put it this way:
Is God necessary and sufficient for there to be objective morality?
a) Yes and there is such a God (Craig), b) yes and there is no such God (Nietzsche?), c) no, but there is a God (something like Plato?) or, d) no and there is no God (Harris).

Options b and c occupy positions which prove that positing the existence of a particular God is irrelevant to the debate.

-Rufus

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Rufus April 13, 2011 at 11:44 am

This whine about confusing moral ontology with moral epistemology is just a sophistical shell game.

This is very telling. I think how you understand the outcome of the debate depends on whether or not you agree with Rob’s point here. So if you think these distinctions only serve to obfuscate the debate over whether God is the ground of morality, then you view Harris’ attacks as well-founded. I happen to think the distinction is extremely significant and so find much of Harris’ attacks to be red herrings.

-Rufus

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John D April 13, 2011 at 11:47 am

I couldn’t even begin to read through all these comments, but I do want to say something: I think the epistemic point (i.e. the point about the difficulty of knowing God’s command) might be relevant to a debate about moral ontology. (At the very least it might be used to warrant an unattractive form of moral scepticism for the religious believer).

How so?

Say the claim is that God’s command grounds moral obligations. I take it Craig (along with Adams and others) eagerly endorses this position. (Whether his commands ground moral values is a separate issue and one on which I suggest the theist is less likely to be successful.)

Now, as Robert M. Adams argues, actual commands (i.e. speech acts directed toward conscious agents) are necessary for the existence of obligations. God’s willing or desiring that something be obligatory is not enough. Adams’s argument is that without the communicated command, there is no distinction between an obligatory act (one we must do) and a supererogatory act (one which it is merely good for us to do).

He usually defends this by way of analogy. Suppose you and I are contracting a deal in which you will give me a television in return for money. I would certainly like for you to deliver the TV to my house, but nowhere in the contract for sale is it stipulated that you must deliver it to my house. In such a scenario, your delivering the TV to my house would supererogatory but not obligatory.

Now apply the analogy to our (alleged) relationship with God. God may desire or wish that we do all sorts of things, but unless he tells us what they are, they could not obligatory. Only if he communicates his desires to us in the form of a command would they become obligatory.

Taking Adams’s (somewhat controversial) point on board, it seems like we can construct the following argument against the modified DCT.

(1) Moral obligations exist if (and only if) God communicates his will to us in the form of a command.

(2) God has never communicated his will to us in the form of a command.

(3) Therefore, there are no moral obligations.

Of course the controversy here would be with premise (2) but it is at least possible to defend it by arguing that all alleged instances of God’s commands are highly dubious (e.g. by saying there is no way to distinguish a true command from a false command) and so the idea that he has never issued a command is more probable than not.

This would then be an argument against the idea that God’s existence grounds the existence of moral commands.

I think the argument is probably much too strong, but it could be revised to suggest that the defender of the modified DCT is at least committed to an undesirable form of moral scepticism, i.e. committed to the view that although it is possible for moral obligations to exist, it is not at all clear that they do.

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mpg April 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Which is… ontology, not epistemology. It’s about how/whether moral values exist, not about how we discover them.

My point was about whether they exist or not, rather than what we mean by ‘objective’. I suggest that the shell game is in referencing values as the indicator for moral ontology, when in the final analysis it is the good standard that is the onotology for moral values. If this is true, then we have a possibility for moral values to be derived from non-transcendent sentient beings, measured against an objective good standard , something that the platonic view would accommodate.

PS. I myself, while being an agnostic, am not a materialist or physicalist, so this is probably a view more open to me than our materialist/physicalist friends.

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mpg April 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Sorry first line should read:

“My point was NOT about whether they exist or not…”

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Kevin H. April 13, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Hi Luke,

I’m a short-time reader, first-time commenter. Great blog.

When I first watched the debate on YouTube, I agreed with you that Harris whiffed badly in his rebuttals. However now I am not so sure. This wasn’t a formal debate — there were no judges actually ticking off points and rebuttals — but more like a presidential candidate debate. Given that it wasn’t a formal debate, how does it help Harris to treat it like one? That seems to play just into Craig’s strengths. It seems strategically superior to treat it like an informal debate, and present your best case and attack your opponent. Since there is no scoring (either formally with judges, or with audience polling), all that really matters is reaching as wide an audience as possible with your ideas. From that point of view, Harris did great. Everyone knows fully well that Craig is an evangelical Christian; his attempts to constrain the subject matter into narrow philosophical wank-territory and not answer questions about his entire worldview were not convincing, and a perfectly fair target in an informal debate.

Granted, I would like to see Craig get pasted in a formal debate, and I think it will happen eventually, but I find it hard to fault Harris for not agreeing to play Craig’s game.

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Rufus April 13, 2011 at 12:07 pm

John D,

Of course the controversy here would be with premise (2) but it is at least possible to defend it by arguing that all alleged instances of God’s commands are highly dubious (e.g. by saying there is no way to distinguish a true command from a false command) and so the idea that he has never issued a command is more probable than not.

I think this is an interesting argument. However, I think Craig would say that he and Harris are largely in agreement over many of our moral duties. In other words, our knowledge of God’s commands need not come from direct revelation. We could come to know them through the law as it is revealed in our hearts, through accident, or perhaps through some other rational reflection.

In other words, the many instances of agreement among people on certain moral issues, i.e. it is wrong to rape and abuse an innocent child, could be understood by DCT as evidence that many commands are communicated. We need not assume that all moral commands are issued by direct revelation.

-Rufus

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MauricXe April 13, 2011 at 12:21 pm

ayer,

I think there are more ways to skin a cat. Clearly one can answer Craig’s arguments without reference to God’s existence. But I think the approach I outlined also works. If moral values do indeed exist, and god doesn’t exist, then moral truths must come from another foundation.

This would answer: “Do we need God to ground morality?” The answer would clearly be “no” because morals do exist and God doesn’t.

Although, one could make an easier job for oneself by just grounding moral truths in something other than God, e.g. science. I just wanted to show that a question about God’s existence can be relevant to the discussion.

Harris should have defended his work a little bit better. I think that was the biggest disappointment of the night.

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MauricXe April 13, 2011 at 12:25 pm

btw, thanks for your comments ayer :)

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Patrick April 13, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Rufus wrote:

In other words, the many instances of agreement among people on certain moral issues, i.e. it is wrong to rape and abuse an innocent child, could be understood by DCT as evidence that many commands are communicated.We need not assume that all moral commands are issued by direct revelation.

But we don’t have widespread belief on that for the purposes of this debate. Craig doesn’t believe its wrong to abuse an innocent child. Nor does Craig believe that our hearts reliably reveal moral law. An understanding of Craig’s moral theories have to be filtered through Craig’s actual applications of his moral theories, which means his endorsement of Biblical acts of genocide and child slaughter. He believes those were morally appropriate, even if they went against the Israelites’ innate moral instincts to the point where the Israelite soldiers were left traumatized by carrying out God’s commands.

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Magnus Solberg April 13, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Magnus Solberg,

Yes, he is not merely referring to a vacuous concept.But you seem to think it is necessary that he defend the God of Christianity given a particular hermeneutical approach.Craig merely has to posit enough attributes of this God to justify his argument that morals are grounded in God.The traditional attributes of classical Theism suffice here and I don’t think Harris is willing to grant them (so they would not be in basic agreement).We need not delve into how we ought to understand the Old Testament or the problem of evil.They are interesting topics, but they only arise once we settle the question of whether God is the necessary and sufficient ground of morality.

So we might put it this way:
Is God necessary andsufficient for there to be objective morality?
a) Yes and there is such a God (Craig),b) yes and there is no such God (Nietzsche?),c) no, but there is a God (something like Plato?) or, d) no and there is no God (Harris).

Options b and c occupy positions which prove that positing the existence of a particular God is irrelevant to the debate.

-Rufus

So what is Craig’s definition of God? He says God is:
* Eternal
* All good
* A god that issues commands
* Holy

Sounds like the christian God or Allah to me, and we know the latter is based on the former. How many traits is Craig allowed to stack up before we can call him on his bullshit and say he’s talking about Yahweh?

I think Sam won the debate. He did provide a solid foundation for objective morality on a naturalistic worldview. Yes, he does need one basic assumption to get the argument off the ground, but theists need more than one assumption and Sam called Craig on “simply defining God as good. Sam also brought up Euthyphro, and Craig did not respond to this.

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Rufus April 13, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Patrick,

Nor does Craig believe that our hearts reliably reveal moral law. An understanding of Craig’s moral theories have to be filtered through Craig’s actual applications of his moral theories, which means his endorsement of Biblical acts of genocide and child slaughter. He believes those were morally appropriate, even if they went against the Israelites’ innate moral instincts to the point where the Israelite soldiers were left traumatized by carrying out God’s commands.

Yes, Craig does endorse the view that non-theists and non-Christians can be moral and know the moral law. He often cites Romans 2:14-15.

“(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)” (Rm 2:14-15, NIV).

I would have to ask Craig if he thought child rape is morally wrong. My guess is that he would say it is, though this is just wild conjecture on my part. After all, he typically appeals to that as an instance of objective moral value with which most everyone agrees. How he would explain certain Biblical passages in light of his commitment to the wrongness of child rape is another question. I know how I’d answer, but I am not very clear on Craig’s answer. He simply pointed to Copan’s book. It’s a topic for a debate on Biblical inerrancy, scriptural reliability, and proper exegesis.

Magnus Solberg,

Sounds like the christian God or Allah to me, and we know the latter is based on the former. How many traits is Craig allowed to stack up before we can call him on his bullshit and say he’s talking about Yahweh?

Could be Allah, or Yahweh. Omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence are necessary traits in describing any God of classical theism. However, each particular God has additional traits that are not always shared, i.e. “triune”, or “without a son”, or “loving”, or “merciful”, or “timeless”, or “infinitely existing within time.” Again, I am not sure why we have to go all the way to a God posited within a particular religion. The “God of the philosophers” seems perfectly fine for this debate. Positing the “God of the philosophers” as a ground for morality is enough to distinguish Craigs position from that of Harris.

-Rufus

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Rufus April 13, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Magnus Solberg,

Sam also brought up Euthyphro, and Craig did not respond to this.

He brought this up during Q&A during which time Craig had no opportunity to respond. Craig often responds to the Euthyphro dilemma, has written about it, posted podcasts on it, debated about it… I don’t think it’s fair to imply that part of the reason we should think Craig lost is because of this passing reference.

Harris says: “The existence of God doesn’t really add to the moral stature of love in that case, or the moral stature of the good and this goes to the Euthyphro dilemma that we haven’t spoke about — probably mercifully…”

After Harris explains the dilemma and why he thinks the Euthyphro dilemma is problematic, a new question is out to Craig. So I don’t want to hear any more about how Craig failed by not responding the the Euthyphro challenge. Harris should have raised it within the debate. It was his fault for not doing it.

Now Harris did provide an account of objective morality without God, but he left many questions unanswered. He never explained whether he rejected compatiblism nor did he offer an account moral responsibility given determinism. I think Craig offered some damning critiques of Harris’ views and that they went unanswered. Generally, Craig’s central argument remained intact, while Harris attacked the possibility that the Abrahamic God could be the moral foundation. Harris is not going to succeed this way, since there are an infinite amount of Gods which could supplant the Abrahamic God and would not be susceptible to Harris’ critique. He needed to go after Craig’s premises and he never did.

-Rufus

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manicstreetpreacher April 13, 2011 at 1:40 pm

As usual, Craig’s organization is flawless. He opens by reminding the audience of his contentions.

As usual, Luke lives up to his reputation as the web’s most fawning Craigophile atheist.

If I hear Craig begin his first rebuttal with, “You’ll remember in my opening speech I said I was going to defend two basic contentions in tonight’s debate…” and begin his closing remarks with, “I want to use this final section to draw together the various threads of the debate and see if we can come to some conclusions,” I will take a flight over Talbot School of Fairyology and rip his vocal chords out!

My two pence is that Harris very quietly, very subtly, and with no bullying or showmanship… walked all over Craig, Luke.

SO THERE!!!!!

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DZ April 13, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Because of remarks like the above I really doubt the assertion that all atheists are more rational than theists. LOL

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Magnus Solberg April 13, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Patrick,

Yes, Craig does endorse the view that non-theists and non-Christians can be moral and know the moral law.He often cites Romans 2:14-15.

“(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)” (Rm 2:14-15, NIV).

I would have to ask Craig if he thought child rape is morally wrong.My guess is that he would say it is, though this is just wild conjecture on my part.After all, he typically appeals to that as an instance of objective moral value with which most everyone agrees.How he would explain certain Biblical passages in light of his commitment to the wrongness of child rape is another question.I know how I’d answer, but I am not very clear on Craig’s answer.He simply pointed to Copan’s book.It’s a topic for a debate on Biblical inerrancy, scriptural reliability, and proper exegesis.

Magnus Solberg,

Could be Allah, or Yahweh.Omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence are necessary traits in describing any God of classical theism.However, each particular God has additional traits that are not always shared, i.e. “triune”, or “without a son”, or “loving”, or “merciful”, or “timeless”, or “infinitely existing within time.”Again, I am not sure why we have to go all the way to a God posited within a particular religion.The “God of the philosophers” seems perfectly fine for this debate.Positing the “God of the philosophers” as a ground for morality is enough to distinguish Craigs position from that of Harris.

-Rufus

Magnus Solberg,

He brought this up during Q&A during which time Craig had no opportunity to respond.Craig often responds to the Euthyphro dilemma, has written about it, posted podcasts on it, debated about it…I don’t think it’s fair to imply that part of the reason we should think Craig lost is because of this passing reference.

Harris says:“The existence of God doesn’t really add to the moral stature of love in that case, or the moral stature of the good and this goes to the Euthyphro dilemma that we haven’t spoke about — probably mercifully…”

After Harris explains the dilemma and why he thinks the Euthyphro dilemma is problematic, a new question is out to Craig. So I don’t want to hear any more about how Craig failed by not responding the the Euthyphro challenge.Harris should have raised it within the debate. It was his fault for not doing it.

Now Harris did provide an account of objective morality without God, but he left many questions unanswered.He never explained whether he rejected compatiblism nor did he offer an account moral responsibility given determinism.I think Craig offered some damning critiques of Harris’ views and that they went unanswered.Generally, Craig’s central argument remained intact, while Harris attacked the possibility that the Abrahamic God could be the moral foundation.Harris is not going to succeed this way, since there are an infinite amount of Gods which could supplant the Abrahamic God and would not be susceptible toHarris’ critique.He needed to go after Craig’s premises and he never did.

-Rufus

I’ll respond to this later, but for now I will just say this:
Sam knows that pretty much NO ONE believes in a god upon which they base their moral values, without having a particular god in mind. No one believes in a god that intervenes in human affairs, without thinking this god is Yahweh, Allah or whatever other specific god. And pretty much all of the religious people in the audience were christians. Knowing this, if Sam wanted to influence people, he would, among other things, attack the devine commandments of christianity. If he just wanted to win the debate he would OBVIOUSLY go about it in a different manner.
Craig influences no one who is not already a christian, or at least very religious. Sam can change minds, and that’s what he’s there to do. I think he’s succeeding.

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manicstreetpreacher April 13, 2011 at 1:49 pm

This clip of Harris from his ABC Nightline Face-Off discussion with Michael Shermer and Deepak Chopra last year perfectly sums up his approach to religion.

Craig was promoting a God that he may as well have made up in the car on the way to the debate. His “scholarly” arguments were completely paper-based, no relevance to religion in the real world and for the most part were completely sophistic.

Harris was arguing against the God of 99.9% of the World’s believers.

Spleen empty.

MSP

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AndrewR April 13, 2011 at 2:33 pm

@Rufus

Andrew,

Do you mean to say that Harris and Craig could have said anything and you would have already decided who won the debate?

It’s more that I find the idea of arguing the truth or falsehood of statements like: “If God exists, then morality is objective” or “Morality can only be objective if God exists” uninteresting because, well, God probably doesn’t exist.

An analogy might be the argument: “If men were 30% less intelligent than women, then the best way to maximize economic return would be for all the men to raise children while the women worked”. It might be intellectually diverting to assume the premise (men are dumber) is true so you can argue about whether the conclusion follows but since men probably aren’t 30% less intelligent than women you’re kind of wasting your time.

I think the more general questions “Is morality objective?”, “should we care whether morality is objective?” and “what the #@$%! do we mean by ‘objective’ here anyway?” _are_ interesting, however.

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Hi April 13, 2011 at 2:34 pm

WLC won because of the strength of his arguments, and that’s not debatable. An underlying theme in the comments is how everyone is tired of WLC’s “same old arguments” and Christian “fundamentalism”. Well, first of all, WLC is not the radical fundamentalist that many atheist would like to paint him. He doesn’t deny modern scientific claims like evolution. These is merely ad hominem attacks used to discredit WLC’s person. I will concede that WLC sounds a bit like a broken record, but that’s because absolutely no one has falsified his arguments. It’s only annoying if you’ve already determined that anything that WLC says is garbage. I mean, I’ve heard people comment on how philosophy is useless, how will WLC only wins because he is a “better debator”, I’ve heard claims that Craig’s most obvious victories (such as this one) were in fact loses, and I heard that Sam Harris not responding to Craig’s arguments because he is being the “better man” and taking his speech in a “different direction” when, in fact, Harris simply had no rebuttal to offer. Frankly, these excuses are getting ridiculous and redundant. Have you ever considered that WLC continues to win because of the strength of his arguments? Obviously, most of you are among the most closed-minded, fundamentalist atheists around. 4 of the 4 horsemen of atheism down, whose’s next?

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Steven April 13, 2011 at 2:49 pm

I think it was obvious from the get go that Harris would fail, but i didn’t think it would be this bad. He did not defend his own points or even address Craig’s argument, was a clear win for WLC. Let me know when will we hear a debate between Richard Joyce and WLC, now that would be something!

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Patrick April 13, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Rufus: I’m not 100% sure that you’re answering what I intended to say. The fault is probably mine, I was jumping into a conversation already in progress.

Craig has already spoken on the various divinely commanded biblical atrocities. As it happens, he doesn’t think they count as atrocities because they were divinely commanded.

Suppose you asked me whether I thought using marijuana was immoral, and I said yes. Then you asked me whether it was immoral to use marijuana in a country where marijuana use was legal, and I said that because using marijuana was legal in that country, it would not be immoral.

Well, that’s pretty much a conclusive case for the proposition that, in spite of what I may say, I do not actually think using marijuana is immoral. Most likely I think it is immoral to break the law, and was answering from the assumption of a particular legal code.

Craig is in the same position with respect to the example act you mentioned, ie, abusing a child. He may say that he thinks its wrong to beat a child to death. But as he’s previously stated, he thinks actualy that its wrong some times and not other times. The distinction between the times is what is really important to him morally, not the fact of beating a child to death.

As for knowing moral law, again, I’m directly dealing with arguments Craig has previously made. He’s claimed that carrying out acts of child murder when divinely commanded to do so is less hard on the murdered children than on the soldiers murdering the children. His reasoning is that the soldiers were probably traumatized by carrying out the divine order to murder children. But as far as I can tell, the internal mechanism by which proponents of moral law believe we come to know moral law is our conscience. And its the conscience of the soldier reluctantly murdering children that traumatizes him. This indicates a MASSIVE false positive in our moral-law-knowing senses. If we can’t even trust our consciences when it comes to whether or not we should murder massive numbers of children by beating them to death, what hope is there for a theory of moral law that bases itself on internally revealed moral truth?

Now Craig is pretty slick, and no doubt he has answers for these alleged contradictions. But whatever those answers are, they’re going to involve refining the claim about whether or not abusing children is wrong, and refining the claim about whether and how we come to know moral law. And I’m not sure that these claims will look much like they do at present once he’s done.

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Rufus April 13, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Magnus Solberg,

I think Sam won the debate.

Knowing this, if Sam wanted to influence people, he would, among other things, attack the devine commandments of christianity. If he just wanted to win the debate he would OBVIOUSLY go about it in a different manner.
Craig influences no one who is not already a christian, or at least very religious. Sam can change minds, and that’s what he’s there to do. I think he’s succeeding.

So I am a bit confused… he won the debate, but if he wanted to win the debate he would have gone about it differently? He won the debate, by having his own debate and winning that one? Ok, fine. I am willing to grant that. Harris won the debate he was having with himself.

Harris should have gotten Craig to agree to this debate topic: Christianity or Scientific Naturalism, Which Best Grounds Objective Morality (or something to that effect). Don’t you think?

AndrewR,

I think the more general questions “Is morality objective?”, “should we care whether morality is objective?” and “what the #@$%! do we mean by ‘objective’ here anyway?” _are_ interesting, however.

You did not find the debate interesting, oh well… Yes, whether morality is objective is an interesting question. I think it is related to the debate. However, it seemed Harris and Craig agreed that morality is objective, so they did not really draw this question out too well.

Patrick,

Now Craig is pretty slick, and no doubt he has answers for these alleged contradictions. But whatever those answers are, they’re going to involve refining the claim about whether or not abusing children is wrong, and refining the claim about whether and how we come to know moral law. And I’m not sure that these claims will look much like they do at present once he’s done.

I will take you at your word that this is how Craig understands DCT and how he approaches those difficult passages in the Bible. If that is the case, I think he has some serious problems with maintaining the objectivity of morality. However, I have a few responses 1) Harris should have picked a topic where such points could have been relevantly brought out, 2) this is not the only interpretation of DCT or those passages in the Bible. So, if Craig makes these points elsewhere, I think he is wrong, 3) Craig’s argument still works with versions of DCT and scriptural interpretations which conclude that God would never command child murder… (As you can probably tell, I am not an evangelical Christian and I think there are some shortcomings to how they often approach scripture).

As an aside, I believe these points are brought out in the Ray Bradley debate. Craig struggles a great deal in that debate. It is one of the few that I would say Craig definitively lost. So if any of you out there feel like you are licking your wounds after the Krauss and Harris debate, maybe you can listen to the Bradley debate on loop or something.

Best,

Rufus

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ayer April 13, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Knowing this, if Sam wanted to influence people, he would, among other things, attack the devine commandments of christianity. If he just wanted to win the debate he would OBVIOUSLY go about it in a different manner.

You’re saying that he went into the debate with no intention of engaging the topic under discussion or the arguments of the other debater, but instead viewed it as an opportunity to preach a sermon on something off-topic? Doing that in a debate on the foundation of ethics would be quite shady and quite an act of chutzpah. I want to give him more credit and say that he just couldn’t come up with relevant responses to Craig’s arguments because he wasn’t prepared for them.

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Magnus Solberg April 13, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Rufus,

Yes, I think Sam won the debate. But I think he aimed higher than that. He came off as calm, intelligent, very well spoken and actually offering something, while Craig, in the end, came off as a person not being able to say ANYTHING about moral values since the god he’s trying to ground moral values and duties in, is too vacuous a concept for us to derive any practical value from it. On the other hand, we all know Craig is a christian and he believes that if God commanded Craig to kill his own son, that would be good.

So “Debate Craig” can’t say anything about which moral values and duties we have, while ” “The Real Craig” ” (had to double-bag that) believes that whatever God commands is good, including the killing of innocent children (because they get to go to heaven and “are happy to quit this earth”).

Magnus Solberg,

So I am a bit confused…he won the debate, but if he wanted to win the debate he would have gone about it differently?He won the debate, by having his own debate and winning that one?Ok, fine.I am willing to grant that. Harris won the debate he was having with himself.

Harris should have gotten Craig to agree to this debate topic:Christianity or Scientific Naturalism, Which Best Grounds Objective Morality (or something to that effect).Don’t you think?

AndrewR,

You did not find the debate interesting, oh well…Yes, whether morality is objective is an interesting question.I think it is related to the debate.However, it seemed Harris and Craig agreed that morality is objective, so they did not really draw this question out too well.

Patrick,

I will take you at your word that this is how Craig understands DCT and how he approaches those difficult passages in the Bible.If that is the case, I think he has some serious problems with maintaining the objectivity of morality.However, I have a few responses 1) Harris should have picked a topic where such points could have been relevantly brought out, 2) this is not the only interpretation of DCT or those passages in the Bible.So, if Craig makes these points elsewhere, I think he is wrong, 3) Craig’s argument still works with versions of DCT and scriptural interpretations which conclude that God would never command child murder…(As you can probably tell, I am not an evangelical Christian and I think there are some shortcomings to how they often approach scripture).

As an aside, I believe these points are brought out in the Ray Bradley debate.Craig struggles a great deal in that debate.It is one of the few that I would say Craig definitively lost.So if any of you out there feel like you are licking your wounds after the Krauss and Harris debate, maybe you can listen to the Bradley debate on loop or something.

Best,

Rufus

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Rob April 13, 2011 at 4:43 pm

It’s not even sophisticated. It’s childish, and transparent. If God has a bunch of qualities because those are the qualities that we think are good, then it’s not actually God that is the source of those qualities.

Kaelik,

I said “sophistical” not “sophisticated”. We are on the same page here. BTW, great job on the other thread, you’re really kicking ass. Quite the blood bath.

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Ramses April 13, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Luke said: He [Sam] also brings up the horrors of Biblical morality again, even after Craig has explicitly pointed out that this is irrelevant to the topic of debate. Fail.

It was absolutely relevant. If Craig insists that we get our morals from God, then we should, upon examination of this God’s actions, conclude that he is perfec according to everything we know about morality. We don’t. We find this God’s actions barbaric. Of course, the DCT says that whatever God commands is good by definition, but this is rationalizing it (which is all apologetics really is). It shouldn’t NEED defending or apologetics, because our morality should perfectly line up with what this God does intuitively. Just because WLC says it’s irrelevant doesn’t make it so, since although he has the power (via rhetoric) to frame the debate in his favor, he does not have the authority to.

That being said, I think a good thing Harris could have brought up is how circular the DCT is. It can be ported onto any figure and support itself. If I ported it onto Kim Jong Il, I can justify his militant behavior, his insistence that he is some kind of god-like figure, his oppression of his people, etc. because, being good by definition, whatever he does is good, and all someone else could argue is that Kim Jong Il is NOT good by definition. To which I could respond “If you don’t have Kim Jong Il as an external standard of morality, how can you judge what good or bad is?” I can aue that our morals are written into us by Kim Jong Il’s divine power…I think this kind of argument would have been not only humorous, but effective in showing the problems with WLC’s theory. Harris could have done better, but I thought he was much more effective than WLC.

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cd April 13, 2011 at 5:37 pm

The debate I watched had Harris efficiently undermining Craig’s various suppositions and premises. Harris just generally didn’t wrap up his arguments with nice summaries and clean explanations/declarations of how he’d just indirectly taken the plausibility out of Craig’s claims. In the end Craig was in a fashion punching into air, running DCT all over utilitarianism. But DCT at that point sounded like a tautological construct hanging in the air- perhaps correct but with no objective grounding left.

If you nonetheless hold DCT to be true, Craig seemed to have great. The questioners, however, generally treated DCT as reduced to a useful thought experiment or fiction with inadequate grounding.

It’s like most arguments about aspects of Modernity- the antiModerns usually prevail on the field, where they hold the advantages of bias and incumbency. (Here, the relatively large plausibility and leeway granted DCT a priori.) Their game is to win by demoralization of their opponents. But the Moderns invariably win the wars on incremental attrition of antiModerns. I think this debate demonstrated this very well, and at roughly equal infliction of damage the side that wins on attrition comes out ahead. So I lean to a net slight strategic victory for Harris, though I wish he had done more toward achieving a tactical one.

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Paul April 13, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Craig quotes Harris as saying that it’s obviously better for creatures to be flourishing rather than suffering. Craig says he agrees that all else being equal, flourishing is good. But why? On atheism, there is no reason flourishing would be good, he says.

Maybe I misunderstand the point but is not the answer tautological? Flourishing would be good because that is how we would define the word good.

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Robert April 13, 2011 at 6:20 pm
Ramses April 13, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Craig quotes Harris as saying that it’s obviously better for creatures to be flourishing rather than suffering. Craig says he agrees that all else being equal, flourishing is good. But why? On atheism, there is no reason flourishing would be good, he says.

Maybe I misunderstand the point but is not the answer tautological?Flourishing would be good because that is how we would define the word good.

Well said.

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Adam April 13, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Just listened to this debate, and I don’t see how Harris didn’t address the point about morality being dependent on god’s existence. He offered a clear alternative; a morality based on an understanding of human well being, that, I think, served as a great refutation of the idea that God has to exist for objective morality to exist. Just because Craig repeats the proposition “atheism has no objective morality” over and over again doesn’t indicate that Sam didn’t address it; he did quite a few times.

I also thought Sam’s comments about morality not being based on authority, and there being a demonstrable link among children between those who think this way and psychopaths, to be quite pertinent to the question.

Additionally, it’s tough to debate the statement “without God there are no objective morals” without bringing up the fact that god is very likely non-existent. Because even if Craig’s argument was valid (which, as I stated earlier, I don’t think it was), there would still be the issue of it being sound. In other words, Craig is effectively saying absolutely nothing about reality if the presupposition of god’s existence is, in fact, a mistake.

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Zak April 13, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Hi,

Well, first of all, WLC is not the radical fundamentalistthat many atheist would like to paint him. He doesn’t deny modern scientific claims like evolution.

I will concede that WLC sounds a bit like a broken record, but that’s because absolutely no one has falsified his arguments.

I am afraid you are very much in error. Craig absolutely denies the findings of modern science, such as evolution and that our consciousness ends at brain death. He has even debated against evolution, in favor of intelligent design. He also has stated that even if all evidence points against God, he wouldn’t accept it.

Saying that he uses the same arguments over and over, because they haven’t been refuted just means you haven’t watched enough of his debates. I will give one example, since we are talking about evolution…

In EVERY debate that evolution is mentioned, he will go on about probabilities of humans evolving, quoting Tipper and Barrow (physicists), and then conclude that because the probabilities of evolution producing humans are so small, evolution is proof of God (even though he doesn’t think evolution happened). Craig has been corrected on this NUMEROUS times, by scientists and philosophers. He has also been taken to task for quoting physicists on an issue outside of their field. Craig is also way too smart to think that that sort of argument is any good. But he knows the audience will eat it up, so he persists.

So, the argument is so bad, he has to quote non biologists. He has been refuted every time he brings it up. But he keeps at it. He simply doesn’t care that his arguments have been refuted.

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Zak April 13, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Tipler*

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Kaelik April 13, 2011 at 7:32 pm

@Hi

I see this sort of hilarious statement a lot. WLC doesn’t win based on the strength of his arguements. If it was the strength of argument, then other apologists would also win debates, and yet, WLC is somewhat infamous because he is magnitudes better than apologists using the same arguments.

Here is a quick summary of all of Craig’s arguments, and exactly how they are repeatedly crushed in comment threads, or forums, or personal conversations, and why those same methods don’t work against Craig in formal debates.

1) Kalam Cosmological Argument: Very brief description of why the premise is wrong featuring a hyperlink to scientific literature on B theory of time, and why it is the one that is empirically justified.

Does not work in debate, because you cannot hyperlink in a debate, and people will come out of it not understanding B theory, and why it is a better fit to the universe than A theory, even if you do explain why B theory negates the Kalam.

2) Moral argument for God, or any argument about the source of morality: Probe into perfect being theology, ask simple questions, wait for response, turns out, perfect being theology is actually based on subjective ideas of perfection, that are tautologically defined to be what God is about.

Does not work in debate, because you cannot simply spend your five minute rebuttal asking one question, and then Craig won’t even answer the question anyway, and the debate is over before you can delve far enough.

3) Name another “strong argument” I will tell you how to make it look silly, and why that method is not applicable to debates.

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Andrew April 13, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Luke,

Liked your blog – it introduced me to WLC, who I hadn’t come across before. Bill is an effective debater.

I have come to the conclusion that you’re not seeing past your admiration for WLC. You seem to admire his debating style (and award all points based on that) rather than looking at the underlying message. I admire his debating skills, though in the same way that I admire the debating skills of some teflon politicians – polished, but tricksy and often distorting the facts.

I was one of the ones who mentally awarded the debate to Harris when he brought up his definition of objective morality (working up from the worst possible suffering), which WLC did not address at all, instead assuming a God and moving on. Here were two models of objective reality, one of which did not require a supposition as to an external power. WLC arguments rebutted at premise; thanks for playing.

Then, I read your analysis and find a slam-dunk awarded against Harris. Interesting.

Anyway – good luck with your blog.
Regards,
Andrew.

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Rufus April 13, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Magnus Solberg,

Yes, I think Sam won the debate. But I think he aimed higher than that. He came off as calm, intelligent, very well spoken and actually offering something, while Craig, in the end, came off as a person not being able to say ANYTHING about moral values since the god he’s trying to ground moral values and duties in, is too vacuous a concept for us to derive any practical value from it. On the other hand, we all know Craig is a christian and he believes that if God commanded Craig to kill his own son, that would be good.

This is just not correct. Consider, for instance, the negative theology of the Neo-Platonists and, in particular, Plotinus. His negative theology prohibited much predication of any term on the One. Nonetheless, there are very cogent arguments, adapted from Plato, by which the One is the ontological grounding for goodness in that it is identical with the Good. This is picked up by Augustine and other early Christian Fathers. Further, many philosophers of religion base their work on the theistic God and deal almost exclusively with just the three attributes I listed and nothing more. The concept of a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent is far from vacuous and just baldly asserting that it is does not make it so. In your defense, you might want to reference Flew’s work in this area, but his reliance on Logical Positivism has produced nothing short of a firestorm of responses which called his criticism into question.

What I am finding here is that many people are awarding Harris the win simply because they already agree with his position. You fill in the arguments he never made… the arguments you would have made were you in Greg Focker’s place. So what if Harris never said that Craig’s conception of God is vacuous, so what if he never mentioned the Euthyphro dilemma during the debate. You “know” Craig would have no good responses. You take Craig’s refusal to be sidetracked by the POE as an admission that God fails to ground morality. At best it disproves God’s existence. But that doesn’t disprove the thesis that God is necessary for objective morality. It just means that there is no objective morality.

You want the debate topic to be on whether Christianity is a good ground for objective morality. If that were the topic, then Craig failed. But it was not the topic!

You know Craig would kill his son if he believed his God told him to do it? Really?!? I think you have bought the line that religious believers are psychopathic. As Craig said, that is just stupid and insulting.

Also, you’re awarding the win on what you think Craig really believes and what he isn’t saying in the debate. This is far from an objective assessment. You have to consider what is said, not what you think he really would say had he been given sodium pentathol. But, this is what you have to do to interpret what happened as a victory for Harris.

Just because he lost doesn’t mean your wrong. You don’t NEED this win to affirm your beliefs. Craig has lost before; my belief system survived. Harris went unprepared. Just accept it. I mean, talk about apologetics. There are dozens of people on here addressing issues Harris left out. Teams of people are trying to explain why the rejection of contra-causal free-will and the dictum that “ought implies can” should have no effect on objective morality. Teams of people are trying to more clearly express how to derive value statements from a purely scientific description of reality. There are teams of people trying to explain how Craig’s “knock-down” argument fails — you know, the one that says that the identity of moral-goodness with well-being and flourishing allows for psychopaths to be considered at the heights of the moral landscape. Harris didn’t do it, but never fear… a team of atheistic apologists feverishly work to fill in the gaps and tell the rest of us what Harris would have said, had he bothered to say anything at all of relevance.

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Rob April 13, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Did anyone else notice Craig reprimanding Harris for talking about morality using non-moral terms? What a dumb-ass Craig is. When you define a concept, of course you don’t use that concept in your definition. When Einstein explained gravity as the curvature of space-time, would Craig have complained that Einstein was talking about gravity without using the term gravity?

So Harris reduces morality to maximizing the well-being of conscious creatures. Of course he does not use moral terms like good and bad in his definition. After all, an explanation or definition using those terms is no definition or explanation at all.

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Ajay April 13, 2011 at 9:52 pm

John D:

Those are some great points. I can imagine the theistic response is that (as you guessed, taking aim with Premise 2) God has issued commands either directly, or that we have divined the commands in one way or another. I clearly don’t buy that, but how would you respond?

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Luke Muehlhauser April 13, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Thanks for your comment, John D!

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Citizen Ghost April 13, 2011 at 10:34 pm

It’s quite fascinating to see that even atheists who have some training in philosophy are, on occassion, taken in by Craig’s amateurish schtick.

They concede that Craig is wrong and are happy to point out that his arguments are deeply flawed, but they nevertheless think that he actually “wins” debates. It’s strange. It’s a bit like watching a boxing match and concluding that one fighter won on points even though the other fighter beat the crap out of him.

For instance, Luke says:

“But Craig repeatedly and explicitly stated he wasn’t defending the existence of God, only that if God exists then he provides a foundation for moral values, and that if God does not exist then there is no solid foundation for objective moral values. ”

Great. Of course he can state anything. But where’s the argument? Of what use is the conditional statement? If he’s not able to provide good reasons for the existence of God, then he’s failed to provide the foundation for objective moral values. It’s no wonder that Craig tries to keep this separate and distinct from the argument for God’s actual existence. If it’s brought in, then the circularity of his case becomes so obviously transparent.

Consider it. In Craig’s other debates, when he argues for the existence of God, he always offers an argument from morality:

Without God, there can be no objective moral values
Moral values exist.
Therefore God exists.

Anyone who has watched Craig debate has seen this.

But here, Craig argues “If God exists, objective moral values exist.” Voila! A perfect circle.

Luke, along with some of the other commentators here, concludes that Harris’ criticisms of religion and of biblical morality are off topic and have nothing to do with the debate. But of course they do. What is Craig’s basis for declaring that one thing is good and another thing is bad? It’s the bible, of course. As usual, Craig relies on the cultural force of the Christian narrative to define theism for him, so that he doesn’t have to. It works as rhetorical device because so many atheists were themselves conditioned to accept the Christian narrative. Even though they’ve come to reject Christianity, they still see “theism” only in Christian terms. Harris is quite right to expose this for the fallacy that it is. It’s very much part of the topic of the debate.

Craig tries to escape this pitfall by making a distinction between “semantics” (the meaning of morality) and “ontology” (the existence of morality). It’s clever of him to try, but it doesn’t work for even a second. For how can you say you’ve provided a foundation for objective morality when you can’t even say what morality is?

None of this is to say that Harris doesn’t have some problems with his moral theory – but, unlike Craig, at least he has a coherent one, one that is rooted in reason, not mere authority. I think Harris would be on stronger ground if he argued that his moral theory is not a defense of “objective” morality but that morality needn’t be “objective” to be real or meaningful.

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Ramses April 13, 2011 at 11:39 pm
Lee A.P. April 14, 2011 at 12:07 am

From the above link:

“Craig took part in the planning from the start. He insisted on particular details of the debate’s format, down to the timing of each speech and the placement of the clocks. (”Probably the most important technique to master,” he has told me about debating, “is managing the clock.”) Craig made sure that he would go first. He also suggested the topic, which bears on the subject of Harris’s latest book, The Moral Landscape.”

Craig sets all the parameters for his dates or else, form what I understand, he simply will not participate. This is not often pointed out.

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Magnus Solberg April 14, 2011 at 12:58 am

Just making sure everyone knows, the topic of the debate was “Is Good From God?”.
What does Sam have to show to convince us that good does not come from God?

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Louis April 14, 2011 at 2:16 am

Just making sure everyone knows, the topic of the debate was “Is Good From God?”.
What does Sam have to show to convince us that good does not come from God?

An explanation of where it comes from without the need for God.

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John D April 14, 2011 at 2:51 am

Ajay, Rufus, Luke,

Thanks for the comments. This might be annoying but instead of responding directly I’m going to post some further thoughts on my blog over the weekend. Sorry, I just can’t do anything more substantial right now: I need to work, and I need to think about it a bit more.

I suspect my basic response to the “other forms of communication”-challenge will probably work in some of Mark Murphy’s observations at the end of his article on Theological Voluntarism on the SEP. And then argue that this leads to the abandonment of premise (1). But I’m not sure yet.

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Magnus Solberg April 14, 2011 at 3:33 am

An explanation of where it comes from without the need for God.

He did that.

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Citizen Ghost April 14, 2011 at 5:06 am

Morals are only objectively real and binding if a God exists, according to Craig. He takes it as an obvious fact of the world, that objective moral value does exist.

But why does he take it an obvious fact that objective moral values exist?

Because most of us think they do? Because we feel so strongly in in our hearts that there there really is such a thing as right and wrong? It can’t be any of that – any materialist can explain that sort of sentiment in terms of biological evolution.

No. For Craig it’s an obvious fact that objective moral values exist because he believes that God exists. (And not just any God). Craig’s logic here is perfectly circular.

To be fair, I’m not sure that the moral theory set forth by Harris can really be termed “objective” morality. But we can quibble over the meaning of “objective” all day – that doesn’t make for a very interesting debate.

Ultimately Craig believes that the foundation of morality can reside only in authority. Harris, on the other hand, believes that the foundation of morality resides in reason – more particularly a rational account of human well-being.

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Citizen Ghost April 14, 2011 at 5:36 am

Magnus,

What does Sam have to show to convince us that good does not come from God?

I think he can do several things from the standpoint of logic:

1. He can try to show us that good does not exist. He doesn’t do this because he thinks that good DOES exist.

2. He can try to show us that God does not exist (or that there’s no reason to think that God does exist). And he DOES argue this. It’s interesting that several of the commentators here claim that this is irrelevant to the topic at hand. But of course it’s directly on point because if there’s no good reason to think that God exists, but there IS good reason to think that morality exists, then Harris is plainly on the right track. True, he needs more to make a solid case of his own, but arguing against the existence of God is directly relevant to the refutation of Craig’s own argument.

3. He can try to show that the argument that good DOES come from God is not a good argument. He does this. (This is the easy part).

4. He can try to show that good comes from something other than God. This is the harder part, but he does this too.

His theory has some problems but then what moral theory doesn’t? For Harris the starting point for defining “objective morality” requires that we work up from the “worst possible suffering.” Is that sound? I’m not sure – but that’s where the real discussion ought to be. Craig doesn’t address this. I would have preferred a serious examination of the strengths and weakness of Harris view instead of the rhetorical gamesmanship of a debate, but that’s Craig.

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Magnus Solberg April 14, 2011 at 5:42 am

Of course it’s a vacuous statement, because it says nothing about what ‘good’ is! Craig just says that good is god and vice versa. So what we’re left with is that good is what god does. However, Craig can’t say anything about what god does, or wants us to do because then he concedes that he’s talking about Yahweh, at which point Sam wins the debate.

So Craig truly is offering nothing in this debate.

Sam DID bring up Euthyphro (yes, in the q&A) and he did say that Craig is simply making a definitional move by defining god as good. He did also make a pretty good case that good does not come from god and offered a sound naturalistic grounding of moral values and duties. Since “Is Good From God” was the topic of the debate I think he did good.
And I never claimed Craig would kill his own son if god commanded him to. I said that, on Craig’s view of DCT, if god did order Craig to kill his own son, it would be good to do so. In fact, as Craig himself has written, it would be a sin not to do so.

Magnus Solberg,This is just not correct. Consider, for instance, the negative theology of the Neo-Platonists and, in particular, Plotinus. His negative theology prohibited much predication of any term on the One. Nonetheless, there are very cogent arguments, adapted from Plato, by which the One is the ontological grounding for goodness in that it is identical with the Good. This is picked up by Augustine and other early Christian Fathers. Further, many philosophers of religion base their work on the theistic God and deal almost exclusively with just the three attributes I listed and nothing more. The concept of a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent is far from vacuous and just baldly asserting that it is does not make it so. In your defense, you might want to reference Flew’s work in this area, but his reliance on Logical Positivism has produced nothing short of a firestorm of responses which called his criticism into question. What I am finding here is that many people are awarding Harris the win simply because they already agree with his position. You fill in the arguments he never made… the arguments you would have made were you in Greg Focker’s place. So what if Harris never said that Craig’s conception of God is vacuous, so what if he never mentioned the Euthyphro dilemma during the debate. You “know” Craig would have no good responses. You take Craig’s refusal to be sidetracked by the POE as an admission that God fails to ground morality. At best it disproves God’s existence. But that doesn’t disprove the thesis that God is necessary for objective morality. It just means that there is no objective morality.You want the debate topic to be on whether Christianity is a good ground for objective morality. If that were the topic, then Craig failed. But it was not the topic!You know Craig would kill his son if he believed his God told him to do it? Really?!? I think you have bought the line that religious believers are psychopathic. As Craig said, that is just stupid and insulting..

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Mike Young April 14, 2011 at 6:03 am

Citizen Ghost said “What is Craig’s basis for declaring that one thing is good and another thing is bad? It’s the bible, of course.” This is false. Craig agreed that the way he knows a thing is good or bad is the same way Sam Harris knows if a thing is good or bad.
Craig does say that the commands in the Bible constitute our moral duties, but that is not the same as saying the Bible is what we use to declare something good or bad. You are confusing moral values with moral duties. They are NOT the same thing.
Then you said : “Ultimately Craig believes that the foundation of morality can reside only in authority. Harris, on the other hand, believes that the foundation of morality resides in reason – more particularly a rational account of human well-being.”False. The foundation of morality does not reside in authority. You have it backwards Morals are not grounded in God cause he has authority, God has authority because morals are grounded in him.

one more thing…..Why has NOBODY and I do mean NOBODY commented on craigs argument about possible worlds. Cause that turns out to be the argument that wins the day.

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Rufus April 14, 2011 at 7:05 am

Magnus Solberg,

And I never claimed Craig would kill his own son if god commanded him to. I said that, on Craig’s view of DCT, if god did order Craig to kill his own son, it would be good to do so. In fact, as Craig himself has written, it would be a sin not to do so.

Hahaha, you got me… ok, I just assumed Craig lives by his moral code and tries to be good. As was said in the debate, unquestioningly taking commands from authority is a mark of psychopathy.

You’re trying to say that Craig embraces the horn of the Euthyphro dilemma which states that something is good simply because God arbitrarily wills it. Craig, as far as I can tell, has always maintained that God always has morally sufficient reasons for his commands. So asking whether it would be good to kill an innocent child if God were to command it becomes a silly definitional game in which you are concealing a logical contradiction. You are basically asking, “If a being whose commands always have sufficiently good moral reasons were to command you to do something for which there were no morally sufficient reasons to do it, would it be good?” You pushing a nonsensical line here IMHO. So, tell me, are there morally sufficient reasons to kill this innocent child? If you admit this, then are you not saying that it would be good to kill the child. If you say there are no morally sufficient reasons to kill the innocent child, then aren’t you admitting that God would never command it?

However, Craig can’t say anything about what god does, or wants us to do because then he concedes that he’s talking about Yahweh, at which point Sam wins the debate.

Again, this is the debate that never happened. Craig may lose it, but you should not assume it any more than I should have assumed that you meant to say that Craig would kill his son were God to command it.

Have a nice day,

Rufus

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PDH April 14, 2011 at 7:11 am

Louis wrote,

An explanation of where it comes from without the need for God.

That is sufficient but hardly necessary, as Citizen Ghost points out. Harris had no obligation to provide any alternative to theistic morality at all in that debate. He could have, for example, just shown that theistic morality fails or that God does not exist.

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PDH April 14, 2011 at 7:41 am

Mike Young wrote,

one more thing…..Why has NOBODY and I do mean NOBODY commented on craigs argument about possible worlds. Cause that turns out to be the argument that wins the day.

I’m assuming you mean this one:

On the next-to-last page of his book, Dr. Harris makes the telling admission that if [bad] people… could be just as happy as good people, then his moral landscape would no longer be a moral landscape – rather, it would just be a continuum of well-being whose peaks are occupied by good and bad people… alike.

What’s interesting about this is that earlier in the book, Dr. Harris explained that about 3 million Americans are psychopathic – that is to say, they don’t care about the mental states of others… But that implies that there’s a possible world of 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… If there is any possible world in which A is not identical to B, then A is not in fact identical to B.

First of all, let me say that whilst this may go some way towards refuting Harris’ morality it falls far short of establishing that good comes from God, which is what WLC needed to do to win the day.

Secondly, let me acknowledge that I have not actually read Harris’ book, though I do own it, so much of what I’m about to say is based on the quote that WLC identified, read largely out of context. Here is the offending quote:

It’s also conceivable that a science of human flourishing could be possible and yet people could be made equally happy by very different ‘moral’ impulses. Perhaps there is no connection between being good and feeling good – and, therefore, no connection between moral behaviour (as it is generally conceived) and subjective well-being. In this case, rapists, liars and thieves would experience the same depth of happiness as the saints.

[...]

However, if evil turned out to be as reliable a path to happiness as goodness is, my argument about the moral landscape would still stand, as would the likely utility of neuroscience for investigating it. It would no longer be an especially “moral” landscape; rather it would be a continuum of well-being, upon which saints and sinners would occupy equivalent peaks.

I think that Harris is wrong here and that Craig’s response is a good one, however, I think Harris could perhaps have a given a better defence of his views than he did in this passage, unless I’ve failed to grasp what his position actually is (which is entirely possible).

On Harris’ framework, in what sense is a person evil if they are not contributing to the suffering of conscious creatures? He says that rapists, liars and thieves might be happier raping, lying and thieving than not. I’m not sure how this would refute his views. These people all reduce the well-being of others. If they did not, wouldn’t he conclude that they are not actually evil?

There could be evil people who are really happy but if they achieved their happiness through reducing the well-being of others it seems like Harris would still have grounds for moral condemnation. He could say that they ought to find a way of maximising their well-being that doesn’t require raping people.

Or have I just misunderstood his views?

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stag April 14, 2011 at 7:53 am

@citizen ghost

You are building your case against Craig upon his previous outings, where he deduces God’s existence from moral objectivity. That is not fair, given that the actual debate focused upon the ontological foundation of morality. Objective morality was the thing to prove, not God.

This is not about a demonstrative proof of God; yet God’s existence plays the crucial role of an assumed premise. Craig’s first thesis has this logical structure (if God exists, so does moral objectivity):
If A, then B;
but A (assumption of the theist);
therefore, B.

And his second (if God doesn’t exist, no objectivity):
If not-A, then not-B;
but not-A (assumption of the atheist);
therefore, not-B.

To show that objective morality depends on God, I don’t have to prove the assumption A independently. All I have to do is prove the conditional: If A, then B. Equally, all I have to do in the second case is prove the conditional.

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stag April 14, 2011 at 8:08 am

@PDH,

In relation to Harris’s claims about the possibility of “no connection between moral behaviour (as it is generally conceived) and subjective well-being”:

A court case in Germany, a short while ago, saw a man imprisoned for having killed and eaten another man. The victim of this crime, it appears, however, had actually sought the fate that eventually met him. The cannibal and his victim-collaborator met on the internet and made arrangements so that the twisted desires of each party could be satisfied – without, it would appear, offending against the “subjective well-being” of either.

How would Sam advise the jury? Would he quickly retract what he had previously written on the subject (even if it was just entertaining the possibility of “no connection”), or would he persist in his agnosticism?

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stag April 14, 2011 at 8:19 am

@ Kaelik

“3) Name another “strong argument” I will tell you how to make it look silly, and why that method is not applicable to debates.”

Tell me how to make the classical cosmological argument look silly. You know, the one that the vast majority of atheists either don’t understand or choose not to address, about the very existence of things/universes/elementary constituents in general. Sometimes called argument from contingence…

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Kaelik April 14, 2011 at 8:25 am

The standard Cosmological argument is sufficiently similar to the Kalam Cosmological Argument that B-Theory of time completely invalidates it as an argument.

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PDH April 14, 2011 at 8:55 am

stag wrote,

@PDH,

In relation to Harris’s claims about the possibility of “no connection between moral behaviour (as it is generally conceived) and subjective well-being”:

A court case in Germany, a short while ago, saw a man imprisoned for having killed and eaten another man. The victim of this crime, it appears, however, had actually sought the fate that eventually met him. The cannibal and his victim-collaborator met on the internet and made arrangements so that the twisted desires of each party could be satisfied – without, it would appear, offending against the “subjective well-being” of either.

How would Sam advise the jury? Would he quickly retract what he had previously written on the subject (even if it was just entertaining the possibility of “no connection”), or would he persist in his agnosticism?

I don’t know how Sam would respond and conceded that the way he phrased his views was problematic. I think Craig was right to pounce on that statement but that Harris could have done better (assuming I actually understand his position). Nonetheless, that is not the criticism from which I was defending his views and furthermore I don’t actually agree with his moral views, in any case.

Desirists would have cause to condemn the cannibal’s behaviour. They would want to create a general aversion to eating human flesh, I think. In contrast, a hardcore consequentialist like Harris might want to just concede that whilst the cannibal’s activities were illegal they were not necessarily immoral. There might be many reasons to make something illegal even if it is not immoral. They might suspect that in a large proportion of such cases the people agreeing to be eaten were not in their right minds and they might want to therefore criminalise it (on consequentialist grounds) despite admitting that there were some circumstances in which it was morally permissible. A consequentialist can reasonably condone many actions ‘for the greater good,’ as it were. In this case, it might still be good to have a law against cannibalism’ knowing full well that a certain percentage of the people who fall on the wrong side of it are not technically immoral. I mean, how often does this sort of thing happen, after all?

If you were to argue against that assessment you would have to, of course, provide more than your own personal disgust at (consensual) cannibalism. Not that I think that such a thing couldn’t be done but there’s always the possibility that the consequentialists are actually right and that our intuitions are actually not, even if it really feels like eating people is always wrong.

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ayer April 14, 2011 at 8:56 am

I think Harris would be on stronger ground if he argued that his moral theory is not a defense of “objective” morality but that morality needn’t be “objective” to be real or meaningful.

He would be more coherent ground, but it would have made for a very short debate, since he would be conceding to Craig that on atheism objective morality does not exist. Craig could just say “great, you have just agreed with the very point I am trying to make in this debate” and sit down. The debate would be over.

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Citizen Ghost April 14, 2011 at 8:57 am

Mike,

You have it backwards Morals are not grounded in God cause he has authority, God has authority because morals are grounded in him.

How so? For one thing, this formulation still leaves you facing Euthyphro’s dillema.

Now you’re quite right to point out the distinction that Craig makes between moral values and moral duties. But, moral duties, according to Craig, DO come from divine commands and these are biblical. So when talking about moral duties at least, it’s clear that Craig does NOT understand the meaning of such duties in the way that Sam Harris does.

But even as you acknowledge that values and duties are distinct – you suggest here that one comes directly from the other. Specifically, you say that the foundation for morality comes NOT from God’s authority, but from God’s very nature. Yes?

But this is no different from the classic “is” and “ought” problem. To say that morality comes from God’s nature is to provide a descriptive account of morality. If, however, morality entails duties and obligations (that is to say that morality is normative) it seems you are trying to derive an “ought” from an “is” but not providing any logical pathway to do so.

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PDH April 14, 2011 at 8:57 am

Kaelik wrote,

The standard Cosmological argument is sufficiently similar to the Kalam Cosmological Argument that B-Theory of time completely invalidates it as an argument.

He’s referring to the Argument From Contingency but there are many possible responses to that:

1) Our intuitions about contingent and necessary things are bogus or inapplicable.
2) The universe is non-contingent. For example, the universe may be an abstract mathematical structure, as argued by the physicist Max Tegmark.
3) The universe, whilst contingent, requires something non-contingent to support it but it’s not God. It is a complete non-sequitur to go straight from ‘the universe is contingent’ to ‘therefore, Magic Man.’ Why not, ‘therefore, Flying Spaghetti Monster?’ or ‘therefore, Flying Spaghetti Monster’s brother Dave, the Crawling Pasta Monster?’

All of which would meet your criteria of being difficult to pull off in a live debate despite making the argument look silly.

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ayer April 14, 2011 at 9:06 am

Why has NOBODY and I do mean NOBODY commented on craigs argument about possible worlds. Cause that turns out to be the argument that wins the day.

Exactly. When Harris failed to even respond to this argument (which Craig explicitly he believed was his “knock-down” argument) he lost the debate. Kind of shocking.

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stag April 14, 2011 at 9:10 am

Kaelik: OK, so you are one of the ones who don’t understand it… Fair enough, allow me to explain.

The standard cosmological argument does not depend on a theory of time. It depends on the existence of material things in general. Since time does not predate the existence of material things in general, it is not relevant to the argument. Its basic problem is not temporal infinity/finitude, but existence/non-existence – in fact, its most famous proponent, Aquinas, explicitly affirmed that, for all it matters to reason, the universe might have existed from all eternity.

Lane Craig doesn’t understand this (even he, as a Christian philosopher and apologist!). He thinks the key issue is the “beginning”. But the key issue is rather the gulf between existence and non-existence. I can trace the causal series of contingent beings back as far as I like – without ever stopping, perhaps. But I will never arrive at anything but another contingent being. Universe after universe after universe – each one is contingent, and the whole series – as the sum of its parts – is also contingent.

Aquinas asks the question, But whence the whole series? Why ARE there universes? Whence matter and its laws? What caused it to arise, and what is the cause of its persistence today? He distinguishes, to clarify the question, first and second causes. The second causes are those of contingent nature – natural entities acting upon other natural entities. Although we could (given infinite time) re-trace the “logic” of these natural causal relations to infinity, even providing principles/axioms for them in the form of laws of nature, this process could never account for the existence of such natural entities in mutual causal relation. The first cause – there is only one – accounts for exactly this. Its name, in common speech, is God.

Thus, it is to the question “Why are there entities at all, full stop?” that the classical argument responds. Do you, from an atheist point of view, have an answer to that important question?

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Citizen Ghost April 14, 2011 at 9:13 am

Ayer,

He would be more coherent ground, but it would have made for a very short debate, since he would be conceding to Craig that on atheism objective morality does not exist. Craig could just say “great, you have just agreed with the very point I am trying to make in this debate” and sit down. The debate would be over.

Not really. Unless, I’m mistaken, the topic of the debate is “Does Good come from God?” not “Does objective morality exist?”

It’s quite clear that Harris and Craig are using the adjective “objective” in different ways. But let’s suppose that Harris concedes the definitional point and accepts that the moral theory he provides is not realy “objective” in the way that Craig means (i.e. transcendent).

Would that mean that Harris agrees with Craig? Hardly. According to Craig, if “objective” morality does not exist, then morality itself is an illusion. In his view, one must either be a theist or a moral nihilist. Obviously that is not the view of Harris. Nor is it the view of any number of very prominent moral philosophers. So there would be plenty left to debate.

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Kaelik April 14, 2011 at 9:20 am

Kaelik wrote,

He’s referring to the Argument From Contingency but there are many possible responses to that:

1) Our intuitions about contingent and necessary things are bogus or inapplicable.
2) The universe is non-contingent. For example, the universe may be an abstract mathematical structure, as argued by the physicist Max Tegmark.
3) The universe, whilst contingent, requires something non-contingent to support it but it’s not God. It is a complete non-sequitur to go straight from ‘the universe is contingent’ to ‘therefore, Magic Man.’ Why not, ‘therefore, Flying Spaghetti Monster?’ or ‘therefore, Flying Spaghetti Monster’s brother Dave, the Crawling Pasta Monster?’

All of which would meet your criteria of being difficult to pull off in a live debate despite making the argument look silly.

Wait, so he’s not actually talking about Cosmological arguments at all, he’s talking about the retarded contingency/necessary arguments that start with premises that are completely made up from nothing, like
1) The universe is contingent BECAUSE I SAID SO!
2) God is not contingent BECAUSE I SAID SO!
3) The universe itself has to follow rules that only exist in this universe, and don’t exist outside of the universe BECAUSE I SAID SO!
4) Also, I’ve never heard of spontaneous particle anti particle generation, and it’s cheating for you to bring up counter examples to my premises.

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Kaelik April 14, 2011 at 9:27 am

Thus, it is to the question “Why are there entities at all, full stop?” that the classical argument responds. Do you, from an atheist point of view, have an answer to that important question?

Why do you think that question is meaningful?

Why do you think that things have to have a reason to exist?

Is it perhaps… your own intuitions about the things you have encountered in the universe, that leads you to believe things should have a reason to exist?

There are actual particles, and anti particles that spontaneously create at the same time, and then interact, effectively negating each other. This does not happen all the time in every single instance of space. It does not happen only in certain kinds of space. It doesn’t even always have the same result.

Why do you think there has to be a reason for this pretty much completely arbitrary event to sometimes happen and sometimes not happen?

Is it possible that these things are actually completely without reason, and just occur, truly randomly for no reason whatsoever?

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stag April 14, 2011 at 9:47 am

PDH,

Above I described the argument’s basic shape. More rigorously, I hope:
1. There are material beings (unless you are Tegmark, this is quite plausible).
2. No material being can bestow being upon itself (contradictory – to bestow, it has to be).
3. The above impossibility belongs to material beings as such.
4. The totality of material beings, even if infinitely regressive, cannot bestow being upon itself (from 3).
5. A being which does not belong to the totality of material beings bestows being upon said totality.
6. An immaterial being bestows being upon said totality (definition of immaterial, from 5).

The argument concludes there. Your third objection about the spaghetti monster – excuse me – misses the point. I have not concluded to “magic man”. I have concluded to “immaterial being”. It is irrelevant what name we give to that being. In English, the word is a “spirit”, not a Flying-Spaghetti-Monster (this would be stupid, in that “flying”, “spaghetti” and “monster” all designate material things. Spirit, while etymologically material, in current usage designates a non-material being). The spiritual being that causes the world to be is referred to, in English, as God. Forget all the baggage, just assign to the word what the argument permits.

Have you any good objections against this (especially ones that make it look “silly”, as Kaelik said); or is “the universe is an abstract mathematical entity” the best hypothesis you can manage? I think the hypothesis advanced here, which does not require us to make radical hypotheses about the universe or our own minds, is at the very, very least a “plausible” answer to the difficult question posed.

“Plausibility” is what I would like to hear an atheist admit.

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JOJO.JACOB April 14, 2011 at 9:54 am

The absolute moral values Craig has been talking about are surrogate!!!!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_and_Christianity

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mpg April 14, 2011 at 10:03 am

Kaelik: OK, so you are one of the ones who don’t understand it… Fair enough, allow me to explain.

The standard cosmological argument does not depend on a theory of time. It depends on the existence of material things in general. Since time does not predate the existence of material things in general, it is not relevant to the argument. Its basic problem is not temporal infinity/finitude, but existence/non-existence – in fact, its most famous proponent, Aquinas, explicitly affirmed that, for all it matters to reason, the universe might have existed from all eternity.

Lane Craig doesn’t understand this (even he, as a Christian philosopher and apologist!). He thinks the key issue is the “beginning”. But the key issue is rather the gulf between existence and non-existence. I can trace the causal series of contingent beings back as far as I like – without ever stopping, perhaps. But I will never arrive at anything but another contingent being. Universe after universe after universe – each one is contingent, and the whole series – as the sum of its parts – is also contingent.

Aquinas asks the question, But whence the whole series? Why ARE there universes? Whence matter and its laws? What caused it to arise, and what is the cause of its persistence today? He distinguishes, to clarify the question, first and second causes. The second causes are those of contingent nature – natural entities acting upon other natural entities. Although we could (given infinite time) re-trace the “logic” of these natural causal relations to infinity, even providing principles/axioms for them in the form of laws of nature, this process could never account for the existence of such natural entities in mutual causal relation. The first cause – there is only one – accounts for exactly this. Its name, in common speech, is God.

Thus, it is to the question “Why are there entities at all, full stop?” that the classical argument responds. Do you, from an atheist point of view, have an answer to that important question?

Really good point, and very well stated may I say. But I think you’re conclusion to God exposes a bias to Western theistic thinking. One of the oldest notions of creation; a recurrent idea in Sumerian, Ancient Eygptian, Australian aborigine, Native American, et al thinking, is that the universe is rooted in some kind of Absolute: that is, a proto-state of all possible worlds. Some cultures articulate this notion as an infinite primordial ocean, (Chinese, Sumerians), others as a formless, dimensionless expanse (Judaism?) but however conceived the core idea is that every reality, and every possible reality, is an emanation of an absolute, necessary reality.

Seems to have a greater explanatory scope than traditional theism, and at least for me, strong intuitive appeal.

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Kaelik April 14, 2011 at 10:09 am

Oh, and actual argument. Even more fun.

2) Could be false, but we will probably not ever know.

4) is too vague for me to tell you whether it is just false, or whether it doesn’t mean what you think it means.

5) is where you are definitely failing though.

Yes, if you start with a premise “A non material being that is not part of the universe create the universe” then you can in fact derive a conclusion that an immaterial being created the universe.

What you are missing is for any reason people should believe that five is true.

Here, let me present the first four premises identically, a different fifth premise that is far more plausible, and then a different conclusion:

1. There are material beings (unless you are Tegmark, this is quite plausible).
2. No material being can bestow being upon itself (contradictory – to bestow, it has to be).
3. The above impossibility belongs to material beings as such.
4. The totality of material beings, even if infinitely regressive, cannot bestow being upon itself (from 3).
5. Being is a random fluke that lacks cause.
6. The Being of the totality lacks cause.

Or

1. There are material beings (unless you are Tegmark, this is quite plausible).
2. No material being can bestow being upon itself (contradictory – to bestow, it has to be).
3. The above impossibility belongs to material beings as such.
4. The totality of material beings, even if infinitely regressive, cannot bestow being upon itself (from 3).
5. Being is an expression of a mathematical function, where being is any non zero energy value, and the totality of material existence has an energy value of zero. Therefore, while material beings may exist, the totality of all material beings does not be.
6. There is no need to describe what caused the universe to be, because it does not be.

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Citizen Ghost April 14, 2011 at 10:19 am

Stag,

You are building your case against Craig upon his previous outings, where he deduces God’s existence from moral objectivity. That is not fair, given that the actual debate focused upon the ontological foundation of morality. Objective morality was the thing to prove, not God

Here’s why I don’t think it’s unfair.

When Craig argues for the existence of God, he asks us to assume the premise that objective moral values exist. When Craig argues for the existence of objective moral values, he asks us to assume that God exists. Now I agree that there’s no problem with the logical validity of either argument – but to the extent we are being asked to accept the premises as true, it is certainly worth pointing out the circularity of this mode of argument.

It’s true that we CAN look at these debates in isolation, as purely local matters – that’s the convention that we’ve come to accept when we evaluate the arguments made by lawyers and professional debaters. But if we step back from the debate arena in order to examine whether an intellectual or philosophical view is coherent, I think I’m making a perfectly fair observation.

You say “To show that objective morality depends on God, I don’t have to prove the assumption A independently. All I have to do is prove the conditional”

That’s fine as far it goes. But the strength of any argument depends on premises. In the debate with Harris, Craig says “If God exists then objective moral values & duties exist.” There’s several problems here (for one thing, God might exist and there still might not be any objective morality) but let’s deal with the conditional aspect. If your argument rests upon a conditional premise, then you can hardly complain that your opponent is going off-topic when he argues that the condition hasn’t been met.

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stag April 14, 2011 at 10:25 am

Kaelik,

The only argument I am hearing is “spontaneous particle generation”. Yes, I had heard of the phenomenon before. It is something not well understood by science – but the cases are not parallel. A parallel would be if some particle or other were to cause its own existence. In these other cases, the co-”creation” of particles and anti-particles (mirrored by the observable phenomenon of mutual annihilation) suggests that we are dealing with interactions, not simply “actions”, ex nihilo. It’s similar with radioactive decay. Just because we can’t put a deterministic law on it doesn’t mean that the electrons simply “act” ex nihilo. You know as well as I do that science does not understand these things very well at all.

But anyway, we are all aware, are we not, that at the fundamental level, the law of conservation of energy holds. In terms of the elementary constituents of the universe, nothing is created, nothing destroyed. Assume that the universe (multiverse) has no beginning. Does the totality of energy justify its own existence? No, since “to be energy” is not the same as “to be”. I am confident of that because
1) energy operates quantistically. If to be = to be energy, being is itself a quantum and is given by Planck’s constant. To quantize being, IMO, makes no sense.

Sorry, have to go.

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Kaelik April 14, 2011 at 10:45 am

@stag

I think you are failing to grasp anything here. I did not claim particles created themselves, because that’s irrelevant.

If particles can appear ex nihilo as a pair, that is specifically evidence that things can come into being without a cause at all. There is no good reason to believe that things have to have a reason to be. They could just be.

The energy one, while demonstrative of an important point, is mostly just to point out that you haven’t, and basically can’t, define being, so you leave it to me to just assume what you mean by being.

Which, since your argument is nearly completely based on smuggling in assumptions, and playing on intuitions, that’s really convenient for you, so I specifically choose to interpret it in a way that could be informative, but is nothing like what you probably meant.

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ayer April 14, 2011 at 11:34 am

It’s quite clear that Harris and Craig are using the adjective “objective” in different ways.

That’s not clear at all from Harris’ arguments in the debate; if that is so, that should have been the thrust of his presentation, instead of concentrating his remarks on his problems with the bible, etc.

According to Craig, if “objective” morality does not exist, then morality itself is an illusion. In his view, one must either be a theist or a moral nihilist. Obviously that is not the view of Harris.

I agree that Harris says that is not his view, but then why did he not respond to the arguments to that effect made by Craig in the debate (in particular what Craig called his “knockdown argument”)? If Harris disagreed that it is a “knockdown” argument it would have been helpful for him to explain why in the debate. Why not follow the lead of Wes Morriston in his article cited by Luke, which directly addressed Craig’s ontological grounding argument in a relevant and cogent way?

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PDH April 14, 2011 at 11:57 am

stag wrote,

Above I described the argument’s basic shape. More rigorously, I hope:
1. There are material beings (unless you are Tegmark, this is quite plausible).

Define ‘material’ beings. I believe in things that I would call material beings but my concept does not necessarily require such beings to be contingent. Tegmark believes in material beings but he thinks that they reduce to maths. Are such beings contingent or necessary?

On the MUH the distinction between necessary and contingent breaks down entirely. Anything that can happen must.

The argument concludes there. Your third objection about the spaghetti monster – excuse me – misses the point. I have not concluded to “magic man”. I have concluded to “immaterial being”. It is irrelevant what name we give to that being. In English, the word is a “spirit”, not a Flying-Spaghetti-Monster (this would be stupid, in that “flying”, “spaghetti” and “monster” all designate material things. Spirit, while etymologically material, in current usage designates a non-material being). The spiritual being that causes the world to be is referred to, in English, as God. Forget all the baggage, just assign to the word what the argument permits.

Have you any good objections against this (especially ones that make it look “silly”, as Kaelik said); or is “the universe is an abstract mathematical entity” the best hypothesis you can manage? I think the hypothesis advanced here, which does not require us to make radical hypotheses about the universe or our own minds, is at the very, very least a “plausible” answer to the difficult question posed.

“Plausibility” is what I would like to hear an atheist admit.

There is nothing remotely plausible about a ‘magic man.’ It is blatant anthropomorphism. This is why you don’t argue for it. You hide behind the words ‘immaterial being’ but this could refer to pretty much anything given the way you have defined (or rather, not defined) the terms.

Suppose the universe developed within a non-contingent quantum vacuum. We would have to call that ‘God’ according to you but it is plainly not the result you are after. The name for the baggage that you are asking me to forget is ‘theism.’

And frankly, I find the MUH much more plausible than theism. You can read Tegmark’s paper on it here: http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/0704/0704.0646v2.pdf

If you suppose that there exist necessary mathematical objects then it’s a very small leap to suppose that some of these structures are vast and complex enough to contain sentient observers who would experience pretty much what we experience. Our existence is what those structures feel like from the inside. No new entities need to be posited. In fact, its a massive reduction.

Theism, of course, does force us to make incredibly radical hypotheses about the universe and our own minds. It forces us to believe that the universe is contingent, for starters. Then there is the fact that God is supposed to be a disembodied mind who exists outside of space and time. That requires substance dualism. The whole idea of a being existing outside of space and time by itself is deeply problematic. How does it think and make decisions? This requires information processing, which takes time and space. I could go on. Minds are not fundamental. So far as we know, they can only exist within the framework of something like our universe. If you are allowed to posit that something like a mind just exists, there’s really no reason we can’t posit something much simpler like a set of physical laws and we know from Conway’s Game of Life, for example, that only a very simple set of rules are needed. Minds can develop within such a framework but they make little sense outside of it.

You might want to complain that you’re not talking about a mind, in which case you’re not talking about anything I recognise as God, you’re just saying, ‘whatever the answer is I’m going to call it God.’ Theism is a very small subset of the possibilities here and it is one of the absolute least plausible. Your argument establishes that something non-contingent must exist. It gives us no reason to suppose that it is God.

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Kevin April 14, 2011 at 12:47 pm

“I agree that Harris says that is not his view, but then why did he not respond to the arguments to that effect made by Craig in the debate (in particular what Craig called his “knockdown argument”)?”

Why should he? If your opponent continually misrepresents your position, why should you say anything beyond “Dr. Craig has a charming habit of summarizing his opponent’s points in a way that they were not actually given, so I’ll let you sort it out on youtube.” He didn’t waste his time on Craig’s flair and instead went on to make his own positive case, hoping that we would be able to sort out the nonsense; but in light of the post-debate reflections, I suppose it was unwise of Harris to assume that theists would be able to do that.

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stag April 14, 2011 at 1:12 pm

back again…

A few points, Kaelik:
I know you did not claim particles bestowed being on themselves. I claimed it, to show that it is a distinct issue from whether they are observed to emerge as if from nothing. They emerge, it would seem, from certain states of the universe at the very elementary level. Until quantum theory is better understood, we don’t know anything about this process. But the fact remains that to say “x utterly lacks a cause” is to contradict the law of energy conservation. According to this law, at the level of material substrate, all becoming is simply transformation of energy. So, if x lacks a cause, x cannot be described in terms of transformation. It is authentically new, an increase in energy in the universe absolutely speaking. This is impossible, in physics. For this reason, especially, I don’t consider such phenomena a counterexample to the statement that material beings are, generally, caused beings.

Now let me turn to your “alternative proposition 5s”. Quickly, though, before that: proposition 2 I hold to be strictly contradictory. Being is a prerequisite for doing anything. This is even expressed by a rule in formal predicate-logic known as existential generalization: (I can’t use symbols here) “P(x) –> [backwards-E](x)P(x)”, or, “If x is endowed with predicate P, then there IS an x such that x is endowed with predicate P”.

The first suggested 5 “being is a random fluke that lacks a cause” is not only implausible, it is impossible. The universe/multiverse IS. Can this really be pure fluke? This fluke could be either once-in-a-while or one-off. The alleged fluke could not be “once in a while”, since the time which permits us to say “while” only appears with the universe/multiverse itself. Could the fluke be a one-off, momentary fluke? No, because “one-off” implies an event that is realized in a given time and never repeats itself: if the fluke of being was a one-off, nothing would now exist, or else nothing would exist after now. But what sense does it have to speak of “now” from this vantage point? In fact, these alternatives only show that being as a “one-off” fluke collapses into being as a continuous, ongoing fluke, since the whole of time, perceived from a vantage point not within it, might as well be a moment as 1000 billion years. Being as a one-off fluke, then, is the same, from a different point of view, as being as a perpetual, ongoing fluke: which makes no sense.

Alternative 5 #2 has being as the expression of a mathematical function. But in reality, all you describe is a mathematical function that expresses some basic formal structures of material being. Then, even if we did embrace the pythagorean-platonic doctrine of the causality of number, we would be left with their age-old problem: by what power or mechanism do separated and idealized ratios/functions cause movement, change and being? The God thesis, which does not face this difficulty, for me is far, far more plausible.

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ayer April 14, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Why should he? If your opponent continually misrepresents your position, why should you say anything beyond “Dr. Craig has a charming habit of summarizing his opponent’s points in a way that they were not actually given, so I’ll let you sort it out on youtube.”

He’s free to limit his remarks to that, but then he obviously doesn’t understand the meaning of the term “rebuttal.” Perhaps he should avoid debates in the future and just accept speaking engagements where there is no expectation of responding to criticism?

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stag April 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm

PDH,

I don’t think you are quite right when you say that I am just calling a random immaterial being “God”. I did specify that this being bestows being upon the universe. On the MUH, this would be false, since on that theory, the universe IS the immaterial, abstract reality in question. I take some of your points, but please note that the cosmological argument is only intended as a first step. It establishes a minimal concept of God, which needs then to be filled out either by reason or by religion.

I think the MUH is highly, highly implausible. To be honest, I think it is ridiculous, and no-one should waste their time thinking seriously about it. I certainly won’t be. We have known for a while that mathematics reduces to the logic of relations. But a structure of relations proceeds from the elements that are related within it. So ultimately the structure is seen to depend upon the value of the terms that it connects, like with a family tree: it is causal relations between real entities that determines formal structure. So it is with physics: mathematical laws are adequate to describe the universe because the entities therein relate to each other in a regular fashion.

Furthermore, how can you get a non-contingent quantum field? Surely the universe, even if you want to hypostatize its mathematical structure, is not only logic, but also has a material component, or at any rate, a specific component that can allow the structure to be modelled? If so, how is THAT necessary? If not, what is the difference between the universe and a comprehensive textbook of theoretical physics?

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Ramses April 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Here are Harris’ thoughts on the debate, which echo a lot of the thoughts against WLC that have been mentioned here:

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-god-debate/

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ayer April 14, 2011 at 2:20 pm

From Harris’ posted thoughts on the debate (at the link provided by Ramses above): “He (Craig) knew that if he began, ‘Here are 5 (bogus) points that Sam Harris must answer if he has a shred of self-respect,’ this would leave me with a choice between delivering my prepared remarks, which I believed to be crucial, or wasting my time putting out the small fires he had set.”

It was fine for Harris to deliver his prepared remarks in his opening statement, but in the portions of the debate termed “rebuttal” the idea is that you interact with what your opponent said in his opening remarks. To not do so is to not engage in a “debate” and you can’t blame listeners for wondering if the opponent’s points have been conceded.

Harris also states: “Nevertheless, I believe I was right not to waste much time rebutting irrelevancies”

Why are arguments addressed against the central contentions of Harris’ own book “irrelevancies”?

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Kevin April 14, 2011 at 2:54 pm

“He’s free to limit his remarks to that, but then he obviously doesn’t understand the meaning of the term “rebuttal.” Perhaps he should avoid debates in the future and just accept speaking engagements where there is no expectation of responding to criticism?”

He did respond. That comment is all that is necessary to rebut Craig’s objections. Had he gone through addressing each point, he would have been simply reiterating his opening statement, which does not add any value to the debate. And then Craig would repeat the same objections and then claim victory. Just because Craig can’t understand Harris’ position does not mean that we need to go through point by point to see how bad Craig is at listening. There’s criticism and then there are irrelevancies, Craig offers nothing of substance, only smoke and mirrors.

Its like a teacher stopping the entire class to go over a concept someone is incapable of comprehending. In this case, that individual is Craig. Since the debate is more for the audience than it is for the debaters, it makes no sense to stop the class in order to clarify to Craig the concepts already mentioned and understood by the rest of the class. Now, you seem to be in the same position as Craig, so no wonder you feel confused, but I think that for the sake of the rest of the class, the teacher simply asked you to see him after class and to read more about the subject so you could bring your understanding up to the level of your peers.

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stag April 14, 2011 at 2:58 pm

forgot to reply to you, citizen ghost:

You say, “to the extent we are being asked to accept the premises as true, it is certainly worth pointing out the circularity of this mode of argument”.

I say, you are not to any extent being asked any such thing. You are being asked to assume, in order to carry through a “modus ponens” argument, that the premise is true, which is different. Craig asks you, at different points in his opening speech, to assume both that God exists AND that he does not exist, in order to show what conclusions flow from each assumption, given the conditional.

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stag April 14, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Kevin,

I think you are looking at the debate with a degree of bias. Harris was poor. He got tangled up in irrelevancies. He sacrificed logic and clarity to rhetoric and intuitive appeal. He could have driven home a couple of attacks on Craig’s weak points, but he mostly wasted his time.
Craig on the other hand was polished, very structured, clear and (mostly) to-the-point. I don’t think his arguments were all watertight, but they were at least pertinent, logically structured arguments. His “knock-down argument” was, IMO, quite strong, and Harris should have at least responded to that.

Craig won. The majority of atheist sites are admitting that. He’s not unbeatable (I say that as a Christian), but you need to do a better job than Harris did.

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Sola Ratione April 14, 2011 at 3:15 pm

If anyone is interested in a critique of Craig’s “knock-down argument” against Harris, see here: http://rationesola.blogspot.com/2011/04/william-l-craigs-knock-down-argument.html

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MauricXe April 14, 2011 at 3:25 pm

^^that was a good read.

Harris reflects on the debate:
http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-god-debate/

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PDH April 14, 2011 at 3:37 pm

stag wrote,

I don’t think you are quite right when you say that I am just calling a random immaterial being “God”. I did specify that this being bestows being upon the universe. On the MUH, this would be false, since on that theory, the universe IS the immaterial, abstract reality in question. I take some of your points, but please note that the cosmological argument is only intended as a first step. It establishes a minimal concept of God, which needs then to be filled out either by reason or by religion.

Well, no, you weren’t calling it ‘God.’ You refrained from calling it anything, so you do indeed have to supply further premises or arguments to get from there to theism. We can take any random thing and claim that it ‘bestows being on the universe.’ Almost none of those things would resemble traditional theism as most people conceive of it.

I think the MUH is highly, highly implausible. To be honest, I think it is ridiculous, and no-one should waste their time thinking seriously about it. I certainly won’t be.

This is how I regard theism but apparently its proponents do not consider ‘I think it’s really implausible’ to be a sufficient rebuttal, so you, too, will have to do better than this.

Furthermore, how can you get a non-contingent quantum field?

How can you get a non-contingent personal agent? It is not at all obvious that we can. In fact it is ridiculous. But you say that the universe is non-contingent therefore such a thing must exist. We can swap ‘god’ with ‘quantum field’ and then use precisely the same argument. We can posit any entity whatsoever and claim that it is non-contingent. You have moved from the idea that the universe is contingent to positing that something non-contingent must support it. That is your only reason for supposing that God exists, we need therefore supply no more reasons for supposing that a non-contingent quantum field exists either and our argument will then be equivalent to yours. We could just as easily assert that there is a non-contingent field as we could assert that there is a non-contingent personal agent. The only reason this latter strikes you as more plausible is because you are a personal agent and have evolved to appeal to such explanations because a huge chunk of your neurological architecture is devoted to the task of dealing with complicated social relations. That doesn’t mean that explanations that appeal to personal agents are simple or plausible outside of that context.

Even if we accept your reasoning, all that is actually required is something non-contingent. We can construct countless parallel arguments proving the existence of any number of absurd entities or we can conclude that the universe itself is not contingent.

We have known for a while that mathematics reduces to the logic of relations. But a structure of relations proceeds from the elements that are related within it. So ultimately the structure is seen to depend upon the value of the terms that it connects, like with a family tree: it is causal relations between real entities that determines formal structure. So it is with physics: mathematical laws are adequate to describe the universe because the entities therein relate to each other in a regular fashion.

[...]

Surely the universe, even if you want to hypostatize its mathematical structure, is not only logic, but also has a material component, or at any rate, a specific component that can allow the structure to be modelled? If so, how is THAT necessary? If not, what is the difference between the universe and a comprehensive textbook of theoretical physics?

The ‘material’ component (and you still need to define that term, it’s not clear in this context) is not required. It is ‘baggage’ in Tegmark’s account. The SAS would experience ‘materiality’ but it could be reduced back to the MUH.

When we look at a chair it seems solid all the way through. When we look a little closer it seems like it is composed of smaller things called atoms. When we look a little closer it seems like those atoms are composed of still smaller particles. We cannot, even in principle, look any closer than this because vision cannot be accomplished without photons and they are elementary particles. In practice, we can’t even look at atoms. Nonetheless, when we try to come up with a more accurate account of what’s going on, taking into account indirect evidence, it seems like those particles are better thought of as excitations in a quantum field and that there aren’t really little billiard balls bouncing around at all. The MUH posits a deeper level still. It takes the reductionism a stage further. Physics reduces to maths and maths is entirely isomorphic upon the underlying structure of reality itself.

Way back up at the level of consciousness, it still seems like a chair. This is just the way reductionism works. Right now, we have mysterious mathematical structures and a material universe. Afterwards, we just have one thing to worry about.

Mathematical structures are simply abstract entities with relations between them. ‘Material’ things do not have a different ontological status on this account. If they did, it wouldn’t be the mathematical universe hypothesis, it would be the maths + materials hypothesis. It wouldn’t be reductionism, any more, which would defeat the purpose.

To quote Tegmark:

“…the MUH says that a mathematical structure is our external physical reality, rather than being merely a description thereof. This equivalence between physical and mathematical existence means that if a mathematical structure contains a SAS [Self-Aware Substructure], it will perceive itself as existing in a physically real world, just as we do (albeit generically a world with different properties from ours). Stephen Hawking famously asked “what is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?” In the context of the MUH, there is thus no breathing required, since the point is not that a mathematical structure describes a universe, but that it is a universe.”

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Kevin April 14, 2011 at 3:55 pm

“His “knock-down argument” was, IMO, quite strong, and Harris should have at least responded to that.”

If you think this, then you prove my point and should do further reading on the subject (i.e. read his book, re-watch the debate on youtube). Sola Ratione was able to understand it, why weren’t you able to?

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ayer April 14, 2011 at 4:16 pm

He did respond. That comment is all that is necessary to rebut Craig’s objections. Had he gone through addressing each point, he would have been simply reiterating his opening statement, which does not add any value to the debate.

No, Craig raised objections that required more of Harris than just “reiterating his opening statement” (assuming, of course, that Harris didn’t want to concede Craig’s points) although even that might have been better than the irrelevant rant that Harris went on in his “rebuttal.” As Luke said of Harris in the original post above: “Off-topic. Fail.”

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ayer April 14, 2011 at 4:18 pm

“His “knock-down argument” was, IMO, quite strong, and Harris should have at least responded to that.”

If you think this, then you prove my point and should do further reading on the subject (i.e. read his book, re-watch the debate on youtube).Sola Ratione was able to understand it, why weren’t you able to?

It’s sad that others are required to come up with a response to Craig’s argument because Harris failed to do so in the debate.

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Kevin April 14, 2011 at 5:57 pm

“No, Craig raised objections that required more of Harris than just “reiterating his opening statement” (assuming, of course, that Harris didn’t want to concede Craig’s points).”

If you look at Harris’ opening statement, most of Craig’s objections are irrelevant to the positive case that Harris laid out in his opening statement. Harris denied the existence of intrinsic value in his opening and then Craig attacked Harris for failing to explain its existence on naturalism. Harris said in his opening that the minimal moral duty is to avoid the worst possible misery for everyone and then Craig asks the stupid question of “why should I avoid the worst possible misery for me?” and Harris points this out saying that “we have hit philosophical bedrock with the shovel of a stupid question.” If Craig understood Harris’ opening, this “objection” wouldn’t have seen the light of day.

Craig claims that Harris is guilty of species-ism, which is laughable since Harris routinely uses, as well as in his opening, the phrase “well-being of conscious creatures.” Craig’s quote mined “knock down” argument doesn’t address anything that Harris has said in his book or in his debate, which makes it largely irrelevant and that could be seen by going through his opening statement.

A large gap between them is that Harris would disagree with what Craig determines to be good, that is, they would disagree about moral semantics. Harris would say that things are good depending on the physical makeup of conscious creatures. In a different world with different creatures, things we consider to be taboo would be morally correct and vice versa. However, Craig would consider that God is the locus of the good so the good would not change between the two worlds. In the end, they disagree on what is considered to be the good, and Craig makes it known that he is oblivious to this when he criticizes Harris for redefining good in non-moral terms. If morality doesn’t matter about the well-being of conscious creatures, then I don’t know what Craig means when he uses the term (other than what God commands or what his nature is, and Craig explicitly rejected these) and he doesn’t make it clear, which is a source of obfuscation. Harris is fairly straightforward with how he is using the term, as a sort of mental health, analogous to the concept of health.

“It’s sad that others are required to come up with a response to Craig’s argument because Harris failed to do so in the debate.”

His response is the same as Harris’, that it is a straw man, that “Dr. Craig has a charming habit of summarizing his opponent’s points in a way that they were not actually given.” I was able to see this, Sola Raione was able to see this, the audience was able to see this, why can’t you? Is it because you can’t understand Harris’ position? Is it because you take Craig’s statements about Harris’ position to be accurate? Is it because you interpret what any atheist says in the least charitable way possible? If you want to talk about bias, you are the epitome of it.

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ayer April 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm

If you want to talk about bias, you are the epitome of it.

Wow, talk about a pot-kettle accusation. I do give you credit for an innovative defense of Harris’ performance however, which boils down to: “Harris doesn’t need to respond to his opponent’s objections because the fact that Craig has objections proves he just wasn’t listening well enough, or is too dumb to understand the profound nuances of Harris’ position.” If Harris is such an awesome communicator it should have been quite easy for him cogently respond to Craig’s arguments. Shelly Kagan was able to do so, Wes Morriston was able to do so–and those were informative debates for those listening. Unfortunately, Harris (and Lawrence Krauss, for that matter) was not able to do so.

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Rob April 14, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Thanks Sola Ratione, nice post. None of us should be surprised that Craig dishonestly quote mined Harris. Based on his past slimy behavior, continued treacherous mischief from Craig should be expected.

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mopey April 14, 2011 at 9:07 pm

So, Sam now says that those who think he didn’t adequately respond to at least some of Craig’s arguments… were “duped” by Craig.

Now, there is no doubt that Craig has got his bag of debate tricks, but I still say Sam is whining ad hominem nonsense.

Even if Sam thought that his boilerplate content (almost all of which he had presented numerous times before during his book tour) was so important to get out that he ought not deviate one iota to engage with Craig’s sinister duping strategy…. the debate is now over. He could have used that same blog space to counter at least one of Craig’s points; the identity relation argument would have been a good start.

But Sam thought it better to call a fair number of his supporters “dupes”. I’ve generally been on Sam’s side, but I’m not impressed with his behavior here.

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MauricXe April 14, 2011 at 9:46 pm

But Sam thought it better to call a fair number of his supporters “dupes”. I’ve generally been on Sam’s side, but I’m not impressed with his behavior here.

You are reading too much into that.

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Kevin April 14, 2011 at 10:16 pm

“I do give you credit for an innovative defense of Harris’ performance however, which boils down to: “Harris doesn’t need to respond to his opponent’s objections because the fact that Craig has objections proves he just wasn’t listening well enough, or is too dumb to understand the profound nuances of Harris’ position.” ”

I see you’ve chosen option number three: “Is it because you interpret what any atheist says in the least charitable way possible?” I simply said that I don’t think lying (or being so willfully ignorant as to spout misstatement after misstatement) about your opponent’s position (or your sources) is a virtue. When someone does so, regardless of the mannerisms involved, whether they said it with a smile or overconfidence, I think it detracts from their overall spiel. I may be unique in this manner, that I think debates should be decided on the quality of arguments and evidence cited, and not the theatrics that usually come with it, but that’s my take.

I think reason Kagan did as well as people perceive is because of the format. He was able to pin Craig down during the back and forth, Craig was totally out of his element there and Kagan nailed him during it (and it helped that Kagan spoke disproportionately longer than Craig). Had the debate been formatted like Harris’, I doubt Kagan would have been perceived to have done as well as people think he did.

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ayer April 14, 2011 at 10:36 pm

But Sam thought it better to call a fair number of his supporters “dupes”.

His use of that word didn’t jump out at me at first, but looking at it again–you’re right, that is quite remarkable.

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ayer April 14, 2011 at 11:05 pm

I think reason Kagan did as well as people perceive is because of the format.

No, it wasn’t the format, Craig has prevailed many times in a similar “conversational” format (against Peter Atkins, Louis Wolpert, etc.). The difference is Kagan is an expert in metaethics. Harris didn’t even raise the Euthyphro dilemma, against someone arguing that God is the foundation of objective morality, until the Q&A period–unbelievable.

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Ben April 14, 2011 at 11:42 pm

Harris’s comments are not off topic. Craig presents bogus arguments that are all based on the assumption that there is a God. All of his debates are turn based so he can use his next turns to explain why Harris has failed to answer his stupid contentions. And he always insists on going first. He’s a very skilled debater. But by not paying Craig’s contentions any mind and doing his best to answer the question at hand, I think by the end it was clear that Craig was working backwards from his devotion to Christianity and Harris was actually trying to represent the way the world really works. Sure, maybe WLC fooled some audience members. But Craig failed to address many more of Sam’s points than Sam did Craigs. Like Sam pointed out in the debate: WLC merely defined God as good. How are the dead children Sam brings up not completely devastating to Craig’s house of cards? And if your version of morality has nothing at all to do with easing suffering on planet Earth, I think Sam’s right in saying that no one has to listen to you.

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stag April 14, 2011 at 11:47 pm

PDH,

Yep, I understood the reductionism involved in MUH. That’s why I argued against it in my previous post, claiming – among other things – that the isomorphism of the structure upon any perceived objectual dominion means that there is no significant ontological difference between the universe and a comprehensive maths textbook. Or between a textbook and the mind of a mathematician. Or between his mind and the universe. The only conceivable difference would be how many sums have been worked out in each case. This, for me, is so counter-intuitive as to be ridiculous.

Is the universe constituted from pure mathematics, or from geometry (as per Galileo)? If the former, how can you account for vectorial quantities that differ only in sense? If the latter, some kind of space is involved, and so we are already in the territory of models of structure, not “pure” abstract structure.

I don’t see how theism suffers from even worse drawbacks. A personal/conscious agent that causes the universe by an act of will is a highly plausible hypothesis IF the existence of minds were to be conceded to be fundamental. You have made it clear you don’t concede that. But the idea is not irrational. Indeed, the vast majority of humanity has believed it, and still does. Where does this belief come from? Nowhere? No, obviously from human experience of interiority and self- (and other-) consciousness. The reductionist argument is strongly counter-intuitive, despite its alleged solid grounding in science. Many scientists and philosophers don’t accept it. These are not knock-out arguments, but they do show that the idea of minds as essentially distinct from matter is not patently ludicrous – like, “WHERE did you get THAT idea from!”

But if this idea is at least plausible, then so is the difference between a non-contingent personal agent and a non-contingent material entity, such as a quantum field. In my six-point argument, the crucial premise 2 would not necessarily apply to non-material personal agents (I would have to reword it, though, so that its negation does not imply strict contradiction, using an idea like “self-caused”). Hence, an uncaused, non-contingent, immaterial, self-conscious Cause could account for the existence of the universe, whereas a quantum field – if my refutation of MUH is accepted – could not.

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Ben April 14, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Just found a regular conversation debate featuring William Lane Craig. However, whenever he wins it’s because of rhetoric not logic.

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hi April 14, 2011 at 11:52 pm

Zak,

I am afraid you are very much in error. Craig absolutely denies the findings of modern science, such as evolution and that our consciousness ends at brain death. He has even debated against evolution, in favor of intelligent design. He also has stated that even if all evidence points against God, he wouldn’t accept it.

That is a blatant lie! I have seen Craig state his disbelieve in “young earth theory” and asset his belief in evolution. He only comments on an absolute beginning of the universe, to which he attributes God as the cause. He does believe in consciousness after death but that is as much a philosophical question as it is scientific.

In EVERY debate that evolution is mentioned, he will go on about probabilities of humans evolving, quoting Tipper and Barrow (physicists), and then conclude that because the probabilities of evolution producing humans are so small, evolution is proof of God (even though he doesn’t think evolution happened). Craig has been corrected on this NUMEROUS times, by scientists and philosophers. He has also been taken to task for quoting physicists on an issue outside of their field.

Evolution is never mentioned unless the Craig’s opposition brings it up and his opponents are always a little disappointed when they find he supports evolution. You pulled that one out of your ass entirely, but I can’t say I’m surprised.
Kaelik,

Moral argument for God, or any argument about the source of morality: Probe into perfect being theology, ask simple questions, wait for response, turns out, perfect being theology is actually based on subjective ideas of perfection, that are tautologically defined to be what God is about.

Well I’m glad you are honest enough to concede that there is no objective morality in atheism, unlike Harris’ position. Craig, however, suggest there is an absolute right and wrong. He saying that God is loving because we intrinsically know that love is good. So if we ask “is God loving” in the your “perfection being theory”, the answer would be objectively “yes”.

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stag April 15, 2011 at 12:09 am

Kevin,

I’m not saying that Craig’s “knock-down argument” is definitely valid, but that it seems, prima facie, quite strong. Maybe it is invalid. But that is all the more reason for Harris to SAY SO. Otherwise, why show up? If it is sooooo obviously nonsense, why did Harris not take few seconds to humiliate his opponent, and enlighten all those in the audience who were thinking, “Craig might have a point there”.

Strange debating tactics, by any standards.

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Citizen Ghost April 15, 2011 at 3:01 am

Hi,

That is a blatant lie! I have seen Craig state his disbelieve in “young earth theory” and asset his belief in evolution.

Nope. For starters, disbelieving “young earth theory” is a very different thing from accepting evolution. The comment that Zak made about Craig is 100% correct.

Craig most certainly has debated on the very topic of intelligent design, (he supports it – even though it amounts to a euphemsim for creationism.) So yes, he most certainly has argued against evolution – or at least against what every competent biologist understands as the modern theory of evolution. And Craig also has also stated that even if all evidence points against God, he would not accept it. So much for the acceptance of science.

Of course Craig SAYS he accepts modern science. And, like his fellow creationists at the Discovery Institute, he CLAIMS that his view of Intelligent Design is supported by science, but that’s easily shown to be completely false.

And no, Craig does NOT say he accepts evolution. Not exactly. Instead, he engages in the trick employed by other creationists – he tries to distinguish between “microevolution” and “macroevolution.” He says that he accepts microevoution but not macroevolution. Of course Craig is too clever to say that he REJECTS evolution. So he says that he’s “agnostic” about macroevolution. But this is equivocation, because Craig leaves no doubt that he rejects the core elements of modern evolutionary theory – namely common descent.

Of course none of this has anything to do with the Harris debate or with Craig’s actual arguments on morality or on God. But we should at least set the record straight.

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Magnus Solberg April 15, 2011 at 3:39 am

Rufus

Nono, that’s the debate that DID happen. If Craig admits he’s talking about Yahweh, then Sam’s objections about God’s commands in the OT suddenly become a stake through the heart of Craig’s “sound foundation for moral values and duties”. Especially since Sam proposed a basis for morality which is a lot more conducive to well-being (both human and animal) than what you’ll find in the OT.

I’ll say it again: Craig is offering nothing in this debate.

Ps. Kudos on the Ben Stiller reference. Greg Focker….hehe.

And a good day to you too, Sir.

Again, this is the debate that never happened.Craig may lose it, but you should not assume it any more than I should have assumed that you meant to say that Craig would kill his son were God to command it.

Have a nice day,

Rufus

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stag April 15, 2011 at 3:58 am

Magnus Solberg,

“If Craig admits he’s talking about Yahweh…” – stop right there, back to the beginning. Craig specifically denied this. He is a Christian, but he was putting his Christian beliefs in parenthesis, in order to (attempt to) argue philosophically.

Craig never made the identity statement “God = Yahweh”. Indeed, he rightly set it aside for the purposes of arguing philosophically. In the absence of the identity statement above, the statements “Yahweh commanded genocide”, or “Yahweh tortures people in hell” are not refutations of the statement “God is Good by his very nature”.

“God is good; but Yahweh is not-good; therefore God is not-good”
In what sense is this logical? I obviously need the premise God = Yahweh.

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Rob April 15, 2011 at 4:10 am

Stag,

Craig contrived phony constraints on the parameters of the debate in-order to immunize his claims from criticism. DCT has been dead for 2300 years. Get over it. Also, please read Sola’s response to Craig’s “knock down” argument. As one should expect from a miscreant scoundrel like Craig, he misrepresented Harris.

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Magnus Solberg April 15, 2011 at 4:11 am

The foundation of morality does not reside in authority. You have it backwards Morals are not grounded in God cause he has authority, God has authority because morals are grounded in him.

one more thing…..Why has NOBODY and I do mean NOBODY commented on craigs argument about possible worlds. Cause that turns out to be the argument that wins the day.

1. Euthyphro. Got anything else?

2. Are you f-ing kidding? Several people have adressed that point. It’s a strawman argument based on Craig’s false definition of well-being. It’s bullshit because his definition of well-being has nothing to do with what Sam’s talking about. The way I understand it, Craig, in this context, takes well-being to mean ‘the well-being of the individual’. If so, it’s a rediculous argument because the evil people in the world who would be inhabiting the peaks of well-being, would be keeping other people down in the valleys, effectively reducing net human well-being.

If Craig means “we can imagine a possible world in which the brains of humans are such that everyone would thrive being evil toward others and having evil done to them”, then these actions that allows them to thrive WOULD BE MORAL. Like Sam says in his book, the moral landscape scenario would still hold up, it just wouldn’t be a ‘moral’ (notice the ‘ ‘ ) landscape.

So whatever Craig is talking about, the argument is bullshit.

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Magnus Solberg April 15, 2011 at 4:29 am

Magnus Solberg,

“If Craig admits he’s talking about Yahweh…” – stop right there, back to the beginning. Craig specifically denied this. He is a Christian, but he was putting his Christian beliefs in parenthesis, in order to (attempt to) argue philosophically.

Craig never made the identity statement “God = Yahweh”. Indeed, he rightly set it aside for the purposes of arguing philosophically. In the absence of the identity statement above, the statements “Yahweh commanded genocide”, or “Yahweh tortures people in hell” are not refutations of the statement “God is Good by his very nature”.

“God is good; but Yahweh is not-good; therefore God is not-good”
In what sense is this logical? I obviously need the premise God = Yahweh.

Which is why I concluded that Craig is offering nothing in the debate. His concept of ‘god’ is vacuous.
Reading comprehension, dude.

Also, does it not bother you that:

1. On the position Craig assumes in this debate, we could never know what moral values and duties we have because the ‘god’ he’s talking about remains unidentified. We could never would what ‘good’ is. Only that god is good and good is god. I realise that this is “only” important in the real world where real human suffering is a reality, and not so much relevant to the debate.

2. Craig really believes in Yahweh, a gruesome god of war, and is doing his best to shut down any chance we have of agreeing upon sound moral guidelines that would affect real people in the real world? To me, the shit Craig is doing is like travelling the world arguing that blacks really are inferior to whites because he “just loves the sportsmanship of debate”.

I know that the last two points are irrelevant to the debate at hand. No need to point that out.

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Citizen Ghost April 15, 2011 at 4:39 am

Stag,

Craig never made the identity statement “God = Yahweh”.

Indeed, Craig is careful not to to give any clear explanation of what he means by “God.” Yet the attributes that he assumes about “God” when he makes he makes claims about God’s “nature” sure do suggest that he’s talking about Yaweh.

Craig says “if God exists, then objective moral values exist.” Well if he’s not talking about Yaweh and he’s only arguing “philosophically” then what reason is there to accept this argument? If we’re simply dealing with logic and philosophy, then it may just as easily be the case that God exists and NO objective morality exists.

But this doesn’t sound right, does it? That’s because Craig has a very particular conception of God in mind – the same one that the majority of the people in the audience (including the atheists) have been culturally raised to accept.

The “God” that Craig is talking about is the embodiment of all that is good, by definition. So there it is. Case closed. There’s no reason to quibble about the points that Harris refuted or neglected to refute. Craig’s definition wins the debate the for him before Harris even opened his mouth. No wonder he’s such a debating genius.

Except that one thing Harris does very well in this debate is expose the fallacy underlying Craig’s defintional assumption.

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dankuck April 15, 2011 at 6:51 am

You had me going there for a while. I was almost convinced that Craig had made some good points. But I just listened again. Craig is clearly talking in circles.

Harris has a few points that he doesn’t bring home, so I suppose we can ring the Fail buzzer on those. But we could wear the Fail buzzer out on Craig.

All in all though, I would have liked to see Harris fall into Craig’s traps and still come out on top. I think he could.

I’m glad Harris put out the post on his website about this.

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PDH April 15, 2011 at 7:31 am

stag wrote,

PDH,

Yep, I understood the reductionism involved in MUH. That’s why I argued against it in my previous post, claiming – among other things – that the isomorphism of the structure upon any perceived objectual dominion means that there is no significant ontological difference between the universe and a comprehensive maths textbook. Or between a textbook and the mind of a mathematician. Or between his mind and the universe. The only conceivable difference would be how many sums have been worked out in each case. This, for me, is so counter-intuitive as to be ridiculous.

Is the universe constituted from pure mathematics, or from geometry (as per Galileo)? If the former, how can you account for vectorial quantities that differ only in sense? If the latter, some kind of space is involved, and so we are already in the territory of models of structure, not “pure” abstract structure.

I don’t see how theism suffers from even worse drawbacks. A personal/conscious agent that causes the universe by an act of will is a highly plausible hypothesis IF the existence of minds were to be conceded to be fundamental. You have made it clear you don’t concede that. But the idea is not irrational. Indeed, the vast majority of humanity has believed it, and still does. Where does this belief come from? Nowhere? No, obviously from human experience of interiority and self- (and other-) consciousness. The reductionist argument is strongly counter-intuitive, despite its alleged solid grounding in science. Many scientists and philosophers don’t accept it. These are not knock-out arguments, but they do show that the idea of minds as essentially distinct from matter is not patently ludicrous – like, “WHERE did you get THAT idea from!”

But if this idea is at least plausible, then so is the difference between a non-contingent personal agent and a non-contingent material entity, such as a quantum field. In my six-point argument, the crucial premise 2 would not necessarily apply to non-material personal agents (I would have to reword it, though, so that its negation does not imply strict contradiction, using an idea like “self-caused”). Hence, an uncaused, non-contingent, immaterial, self-conscious Cause could account for the existence of the universe, whereas a quantum field – if my refutation of MUH is accepted – could not.

Much of this is going to turn on what you mean by ‘plausible.’ I don’t consider human intuitions about the nature of minds to have much relevance outside the context of navigating our social relations, for which purpose they evolved. It is reasonable to say, ‘Why is my window is smashed? I’ll bet it’s that Timmy kid who’s always throwing stones.’ It is less reasonable to say, ‘Why did the primordial stars explode creating the heavier elements from which we are composed? Timmy, what have you done now!’ A more rigorous discussion of plausibility employing ideas from probability theory such as Solomonoff Induction would be more appropriate, I think but that is another major argument and frankly this is enough of a tangent, already.

I hope we can at least agree that this discussion would not fit well in the context of a live debate, which was Kaelik’s point that I was defending. Imagine if I had to respond to this and four other arguments and then make arguments of my own all in twenty minutes.

These are deep philosophical issues and the answers are – you can bet your bottom dollar – going to turn out to be deeply strange and counter intuitive. It would not be rhetorically profitable for me to pursue them if I was arguing against someone like Craig. That does not mean that they are not serious objections.

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drj April 15, 2011 at 7:50 am

I’m not saying that Craig’s “knock-down argument” is definitely valid, but that it seems, prima facie, quite strong. Maybe it is invalid. But that is all the more reason for Harris to SAY SO. Otherwise, why show up? If it is sooooo obviously nonsense, why did Harris not take few seconds to humiliate his opponent, and enlighten all those in the audience who were thinking, “Craig might have a point there”.

If I am not mistaken, Sam offered some points which did have some relation to Craig’s argument – but they were just disconnected, and not at all pointedly offered as formal rebuttals.. it just kind of meandered in and out of his long monologues with little force..

I think he mentioned the oft noted objection to Craig’s DCT – any evil act could be considered moral, as long as God commands it. So there is a possible world where Yahweh commands one to rape and murder (incidentally, that could be this *actual* world, according to Craig’s favorite book!), making rapists and murders morally good. But if Craig maintains rape is a necessary moral wrong, then he’s contradicted himself.

He would probably respond by saying God’s nature is necessary, yadda yadda, so there is no possible world where a command to rape would follow from his nature.. but Craig doesn’t *actually* know that… so all that response can amount to is a reason why Craig thinks it isn’t true – but it still could be possibly true. One can offer the same type of response for Sam’s theory.

So maybe neither have objective morality – or maybe God really couldn’t command rape – or maybe there really is no possible world where rapist and rapee can achieve maximal well-being.

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Kaelik April 15, 2011 at 8:05 am

Kaelik,

Well I’m glad you are honest enough to concede that there is no objective morality in atheism, unlike Harris’ position.Craig, however, suggest there is an absolute right and wrong. He saying that God is loving because we intrinsically know that love is good.So if we ask “is God loving” in the your “perfection being theory”, the answer would be objectively “yes”.

I don’t know why you would say “concede” since it’s not a concession. I have been a strong proponent of moral error theory since before I had ever heard of WLC, so the fact that he agrees with me about something doesn’t seem to be a concession.

It does point to my earlier remark, that of course, while it may true that there is no objective morality, it is not popular. So of course, I would “lose” a debate in the minds of spectators who are committed to belief in objective morality, against all reason, which, as we can see from Harris and Luke, includes many atheists who should know better, as well as theists.

As for Craigs argument, I agree, he is saying that we know God is loving because we intrinsically know that love is good. The problems with that are:

1) There are many reasons we might intrinsically “know” that love is good even if no God exists at all, such as, if we are all evolved to value specific things.

2) In practice, people don’t actually intrinsically know things are good. Some things are fairly common, and some things are societally ingrained. Most people love their mother who raised them, but most people don’t love their mother who abandoned them, or who didn’t raise them for some reason that is not her fault. If you raise people a certain way, they are not infinitely malleable, but they are fairly malleable based on culture.

@stag

It’s been a while, and I think we have been arguing past each other, could you do me a favor and summarize where you think our discussion is right now, and what issues you think are most important?

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drj April 15, 2011 at 8:06 am

The more I think it about, the more ridiculous it seems, that Craig – Divine Command Theorist and defender of Biblical atrocity – could offer up that “knock-down” with a straight face.

I mean…. wow.

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Rob April 15, 2011 at 8:44 am

I need to point out that as soon as Sam Harris brought up the brutal psychopathic behavior of God in the Bible, Harris was bringing up the Euthyphro dilemma.

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cd April 15, 2011 at 10:34 am

one more thing…..Why has NOBODY and I do mean NOBODY commented on craigs argument about possible worlds. Cause that turns out to be the argument that wins the day.

It’s a cop-out/derail/formally trivial objection. The “possible worlds” Craig finds in which Harris’s premise is falsified are, in plain speech, various forms/degrees of insane asylums run by their inmates.

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ayer April 15, 2011 at 11:01 am

I need to point out that as soon as Sam Harris brought up the brutal psychopathic behavior of God in the Bible, Harris was bringing up the Euthyphro dilemma.

No, that is “bringing up material suitable to a debate over biblical ethics and/or inerrancy.” You are aware that the Euthyphro Dilemma originated in ancient Greece, in a Socratic dialogue with no connection to the God of the Bible? To see an example of “bringing up (and deploying) the Euthyphro Dilemma, see Craig’s debate with Louise Antony. She at least required Craig to lay out his response on that issue, and they had a substantive exchange on it.

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Rob April 15, 2011 at 11:07 am

Ayer,

You are being a pedant. Of course pointing out the ‘immoral’ commands of Yahweh is to point out exactly the problem brought up in The Euthyphro. I’m not going to hold your hand and walk you through it. If you cannot suss it out on your own, then you’re hopeless.

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Zak April 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

Hi,

Citizen Ghost already responded to your comments towards me, but I will just say that you clearly have no idea what you are talking about. You need to read more stuff Craig writes, and watch more of his debates. Calling me a liar, simply because you don’t understand Craig’s position is pretty weak.

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Katie's mom April 15, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Luke, I know you admire William Craig and I am sure that most here have a better understanding of his arguments than I do, but honestly I am getting damn tired of watching him divorce himself from Christianity in order to win debates. I have watched hours and hours of this man and as far as I can tell he never does more than show that some kind of deistic God is possible, a point that most atheists are willing to concede up front. Never have I seen him show beyond doubt that anything supernatural exists, yet his one argument for Christianity that he uses over and over again, The Empty Tomb, requires god to raise Jesus supernaturally. What the hell is supernatural anyway?

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Hi April 15, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Zak,
Correct me if I’m wrong but you stated that Craig mentions the improbability of evolution in “EVERY debate” (notice the caps). He doesn’t mention evolution at all, he is talking about the “fine tuning of universal constants” which allow for life. I’m sorry to break it to you but evolution is not synonymous with the beginning of the universe. I’ve seem almost all his debates, and every recent debate and that is a down right lie. I don’t know why you should be offended by that statement, it’s a simple fact.

Citizen Ghost,
I’d be happy to see your sources where Craig argues for Intelligent Design and against evolution; who where his opponents? He can’t argue for ID and not argue against evolution because they are incompatible theories. I think you’ll be hard pressed to find anything because they don’t exist. From what I’ve seen, Craig’s belief in evolution is one in which a “divine being” created the physical conditions in which evolution could occur (by that I mean his fine-tuning arguments). However, Craig’s view on evolution is irrelevant though because, like you said, its not in the Harris debate like almost all his other ones nor is it ever one of his arguments.

Kaelik,
The word “concede”, according to merriam-webster, means to accept as true. It is a good verb because it implies that we are both joining in on a preexisting academic conversation, which we are. In fact, it is an obligating in academic writing to make reference to the state of knowledge. Not that I really care but since you brought it up…

while it may true that there is no objective morality, it is not popular.

Actually at least two main stream atheists, Dawkins and Hitchens, believe there is no objective morality. But the idea has been accepted way back by philosophers like Nietzsche.

There are many reasons we might intrinsically “know” that love is good even if no God exists at all, such as, if we are all evolved to value specific things.

Well, if evolution truly is the basis of morality, nothing is objectively right or wrong. We may feel that something is wrong but its really objectively not. To commit genocide is simply inconvenient for said group. You might say the psychopath is wrong to murder because he/she has a genetic defect that’s not favorable with society values, but whose to say that he is actually wrong for killing? After all genetic mutations are the driving force of evolution so perhaps the psychopath is simply more advanced than the average person.

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salbannach April 15, 2011 at 1:31 pm

On the topic of Craig’s view on evolution, in the Wolpert debate (it’s webbed, Google it), I believe, Craig professes agnosticism on the issue of evolution. I believe he says he favors some sort of guided evolution, but is open to other ideas.

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lackofcheese April 15, 2011 at 1:32 pm

No one is saying that evolution is the “basis” for morality. It is, however, the source of quite a lot of our moral intuitions.

Here’s an interesting point I’d like to make, by way of an example – theistic morality is in fact more evolution-based than atheistic morality.

In particular, theists typically support a divine retributive justice (hell), and similarly so for retributive systems of justice among humans, and yet the desire for retribution is quite clearly an effective evolved behaviour present in many animals; it’s analogous to the tit-for-tat strategy in the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma.

On the other hand, while atheists are also subject to this instinct, they are more likely to repudiate it.

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Kaelik April 15, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Kaelik,
The word “concede”, according to merriam-webster, means to accept as true.It is a good verb because it implies that we are both joining in on a preexisting academic conversation, which we are.In fact, it is an obligating in academic writing to make reference to the state of knowledge.Not that I really care but since you brought it up…

You are a disengenous troll. You would never say that you, or your erstwhile ally Craig is coneding things they are proponents of. Because there is a connotation to the word concede, and connotation that is reflected in it’s definition:

“1. To acknowledge, often reluctantly, as being true, just, or proper; admit. See Synonyms at acknowledge.
2. To yield or grant (a privilege or right, for example).”

I am not reluctant to acknowledge, because I am a strong proponent.

You forgot to mention part b of the Merriam Webster definition you quoted:

“1: to grant as a right or privilege
2a : to accept as true, valid, or accurate
2b (1) : to acknowledge grudgingly or hesitantly (2) : to relinquish grudgingly or hesitantly ”

Stop attempting to imply false things with your deceptive choice of words.

Well, if evolution truly is the basis of morality, nothing is objectively right or wrong.We may feel that something is wrong but its really objectively not.To commit genocide is simply inconvenient for said group.You might say the psychopath is wrong to murder because he/she has a genetic defect that’s not favorable with society values, but whose to say that he is actually wrong for killing?After all genetic mutations are the driving force of evolution so perhaps the psychopath is simply more advanced than the average person.

You misunderstand evolution, and the relationship between evolution and a hypothetical morality. A psychopath is unfit evolutionary speaking, because it fails to pass on it’s genes well, it is not an improvement by any means. However, yes, the psychopath is not wrong objectively.

You misunderstood my statement, I specifically put “know” in quotes because of course, we are wrong to know that. It is not true. We mistake our attitudes, shared or not, as an objective perception of external reality, when in fact, it is just our own feeling, internalized. My point was that just because people think they are perceiving something doesn’t actually mean they are perceiving something. They often confuse their own feelings with a perception of reality.

I am not claiming that there is any objective morality worth following, only that lots of people being opposed to baby killing is not particularly indicative of an actual objective morality.

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ayer April 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm

If you cannot suss it out on your own, then you’re hopeless.

No, because you are presuming Craig’s case rests on the biblical God; it does not, as he explicitly said in the debate (a generic theist who rejects the bible in its entirety could embrace his two contentions). So unfortunately, you are wrong.

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ayer April 15, 2011 at 1:47 pm

show that some kind of deistic God is possible, a point that most atheists are willing to concede up front.

Then they are not atheists, but agnostics.

Never have I seen him show beyond doubt that anything supernatural exists,

“Beyond doubt?” What kind of ridiculous standard is that?

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Rob April 15, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Ayer,

Are you really this dense? Harris points out the problem with DCT when it comes to Yahweh, just as Socrates pointed out the problem with DCT when it comes to the Greek pantheon. The same problem will crop up with any morality based on the commands of any authority, including Craig’s vague God he referred to in the debate. Jesus Fucking Christ, you have morphed into cl.

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Luke Muehlhauser April 15, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Katie’s mom,

I think it’s a way to narrow the scope of the debate. Cramming in your arguments in time is hard enough already.

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lackofcheese April 15, 2011 at 2:48 pm

The irony in ayer’s last post is hilarious.

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Magnus Solberg April 15, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Then they are not atheists, but agnostics.

You do not know what an agnostic is.
Agnosticism has to do with knowledge. I don’t KNOW that God does not exist.
Atheism has to do with belief. I have no BELIEF in God.

Therefore I am an agnostic atheist. It’s entirely possible to be an atheist and concede that a deistic God is a possibility.

Now do you understand?

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drj April 15, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Woo, the old “is he an atheist or agnostic” debate

EXCITING!!

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ayer April 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm

The same problem will crop up with any morality based on the commands of any authority, including Craig’s vague God he referred to in the debate.

Sure, the Euphrythro dilemma can be raised against Craig’s argument, as Louise Antony did. Ranting against biblical passages is not “raising the Euthyphro dilemma”. Indeed, later Harris explicity did raise the dilemma. In the Q&A period. When Craig had no opportunity to respond. Not in the rebuttal period. You know, the period when you are supposed to “rebut” what the other side just said.

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ayer April 15, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Therefore I am an agnostic atheist.

Wha?

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Rob April 15, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Sure, the Euphrythro dilemma can be raised against Craig’s argument

And that is exactly what Harris did by pointing out an example of divine commands which were immoral . . .

BTW, I’m an agnostic atheist too. Reasonable theists are agnostic theists. But I’m on board with drj: deadest horse ever.

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ayer April 15, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Agnosticism has to do with knowledge. I don’t KNOW that God does not exist.
Atheism has to do with belief. I have no BELIEF in God.

“Knowledge” itself has to with “belief”: “Knowledge” IS “justified true belief.” If you say you don’t “believe” in God then you are making a knowledge claim.

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MarkD April 15, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Slight correction to Kaelik:

You misunderstand evolution, and the relationship between evolution and a hypothetical morality. A psychopath is unfit evolutionary speaking, because it fails to pass on it’s genes well, it is not an improvement by any means.

Only possibly. If this were the case, the genetic basis of psychopathy would have disappeared from the gene pool long ago. Zip, it’s gone. Note that this has only indirect bearing on the possible worlds argument and its relationship to the moral landscape according to Harris. Mental illness appears to be a highly complex genetic, developmental, and situational complex that has relatively stable rates in human populations. That suggests that the genetic basis is closely tied to important traits via polygeny or pleiotrophy and there is thus a recurrence of the complex even in the face of selective pressures (any competent biologists to correct my invocation of the surely wrong term heterosis on this matter?).

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ayer April 15, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Here is an extremely comprehensive review of the Craig/Harris debate by Christian philosopher Glenn Peoples:

http://www.beretta-online.com/wordpress/2011/debate-review-william-lane-craig-and-sam-harris/

Amazingly, even though he is largely in sympathy with Craig’s position, he offers a better critique of some of Craig’s contentions in the debate than Harris did (!)

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Hi April 15, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Kaelik,
I don’t understand why you are stuck on such a petty matter. Considering I was the one to use the word, I’m justified in telling you what I meant by it. Thus, I chose a valid definition from a commonly accepted source. A word definition is not a theory where one must know/assume every possible aspect of a word in order to truly understand what is meant. Context is everything but you’ve managed to mixed up your minds connotations with the context in which the word was used. Now, on to it.

A psychopath is unfit evolutionary speaking, because it fails to pass on it’s genes well, it is not an improvement by any means. However, yes, the psychopath is not wrong objectively.

As previously stated, psychopaths do pass on their genes just fine. That’s why they still exist today. But, I’d like to take this further. Suppose a psychopath with the power to commit mass genocide (e.g. Hitler) was put on “evolutionary trial” so to speak. One could argue that his crimes are advantageous to the proliferation of humankind, since, considering the world’s population crisis, humankind will survive longer in a much less densely populated world. This would not be a far-fetched argument as many animals often have more cubs, pups, or what have you, than can survive in the wild. As a result there is often sibling competition that results in the weaker cubs dying so that the strong cubs can have a chance of surviving. Thus, by this same logic, you could claim genocide is right. There would be no reason to suppose humans would be any exception.
Now, you may be able to claim the act of mass genocide is not objectively wrong, however, I don’t believe you can honest believe this or live your life under these principles.
You may affirm genocide is wrong because, for the majority of the population, it is a trait that comes with our evolution. However, if this is the case, we should be able to say that our ability to reason (our greatest evolutionary adaptation) trumps these intrinsic “attitudes”. It is a fact that humankind has the ability to exist on this planet for a longer period of time if the worlds population is less dense, thus a certain degree of mass genocide would be beneficial to humankind. Hitler managed to convince a larger portion of the German people that the Jews needed to go and if he was able to convince the majority of the world that it was right, would it then be right?
I find your position hard to palate, not because it is unfashionable, but because I believe there is such a thing as objective morality. It really comes down to an intuitive knowledge. If there wasn’t the implications would be huge.
From your perspective no objective morality exists, however I should hope your intellectually honest enough to “concede” that if objective morality does exists, it can not come from nature.

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MarkD April 15, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Note for Hi and Kaelik: The primary implication for the persistence of psychopathy or anxiety disorders or even homosexuality (not to pair with mental illness except to note that insofar as it is genetic, it is also persistent despite much reduced rates of reproduction among the gay cohort) is simply that very complex traits may be paired with other traits because mixtures of those traits are/were beneficial in more significant ways biologically (take parental investment theory: offsetting male aggressiveness and cuckoldry with traits that lead to consistent dads through age five also leads to 10% male homosexuality; this is speculation but suggestive of the complexity at work.)

This doesn’t interfere with any sort of maximum thriving arguments that may rise to the semantic aspirations of “objective” given our best possible tools (i.e., science) for evaluating the range of factors that contribute to establishing a measure for thriving. Regarding counterclaims (hi, Hi) that an aggregate, long-term species success is the optimal thriving equation, the more likely equation has to weight individual pain and the discomfort of their survivors at a higher level in the basket of factors than you are suggesting. Harris’ claims are precisely that when unwound from the other issues. We can uncover some of these weights through the evaluation of thought experiments (trolleys and cannibals, for instance) cross-culturally and we may also never have a complete calculus, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an adaptive topography where there are higher peaks for don’t-Holocaust than for do-Holocaust. In fact, it is very likely that among all possible calculi for “thriving” that any system that doesn’t push individual harm except in defense out as the rarest of responses would be improbable.

That seems sufficiently objective to me, and certainly more interesting than DCT.

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Hi April 16, 2011 at 1:37 am

MarkD,
I have heard similar theories in my biology studies. One such speculation is that a homosexual man may help raise his sister’s children these ensuring his genes are passed on. This however, is highly, highly speculative and all I can say is my professor doesn’t give it much credence though I have not done much research myself. But, in my case, it really is a huge digression and I have no further point to make.

Regarding counterclaims (hi, Hi) that an aggregate, long-term species success is the optimal thriving equation, the more likely equation has to weight individual pain and the discomfort of their survivors at a higher level in the basket of factors than you are suggesting.

If I were a naturalist atheist, I would find no reason to think that individual pain would hold more weight in our “aggregate basket of factors” as you suggest. At the most basic level, our “evolution goal” so to speak, would be to continue pass on our gene pool. While, for you and Harris, this equates to decreasing individual pain and suffering (for reasons unbeknown to me), you must realize that our biggest evolutionary advantage is our ability to reason. With this in mind, if we can think of a good reason to go against our natural instinct to assist the proliferation of human life, then we would be right in doing so. Currently, there are not enough resources on earth to sustain humankind for much longer unless there is a large decrease in population. Thus, it would be ethical, in an evolutionary sense, to implement plans to kill large portions of the population. We could start by implementing plans to, say, kill all those born with a mental illnesses. Though you suggest that decreasing suffering would be to our evolutionary advantage, it isn’t apparent to me why this is the case. After all everyone in the world could be happy with all their needs met for a brief period of time but you would still have to deal with that fact that our limited resources would be used up (at a even quicker rate mind you) and human life will quickly be destined for hunger and suffering anyways. This would not be the case if there was a sustainable population living on earth (thus mass genocide).
I want to suggest, however, that we should refrain from this type of action because it is “objectively wrong” though my reasons stem from intuitive knowledge.

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lackofcheese April 16, 2011 at 2:06 am

Hi, what you’re talking about is an obvious straw man, and, in pretty much all regards, batshit insane.

You’re just applying a theistic mode of thinking directly (“glorify our creator!”) but with evolution instead of God. That’s simply not how any sane atheist thinks. Just because we are the result of evolutionary processes doesn’t mean we should act in the name of evolution – the very suggestion is essentially crazy. I simply do not understand why you think anyone would possibly want to act only in the name of “evolutionary advantage”.

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Havok April 16, 2011 at 5:00 am

Not read all the comments, so not sure if someone has mentioned/dealt with this, but…

Craig seemed to concede that his second contention, that God is necessary for the existence of objective moral values, in his response to the second question in Q&A:

“Well, that would be my second contention that in the absence of God, I can’t see any foundation that would be left for affirming the objectivity of moral values and particularly the value of human beings and conscious life on this planet.”

Perhaps I’m making too much of the bold text in that quote, but it seemed Craig admitted that his second contention came down to his own lack of imagination, rather than sound argumentation.

Also, since both Harris and Craig accepted objective moral values, and so the existence of God is very much on topic, and Harris could have (and did I think) pursued an argument like:

1. If God exists, objective moral values exist and God provides an adequate grounding for them.
2. Objective moral values exist.
3. But God does not exist.
4. Therefore objective moral values must be grounded in something else (and here’s what I think it is).

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Rob April 16, 2011 at 6:22 am

Havok,

That is a good point, and one not yet made as far as I know. Of course Craig’s flunkys will whine that Harris is going off topic and not sticking to Craig’s bogus parameters.

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John D April 16, 2011 at 7:10 am

I finally posted some follow-up comments on my blog. Sort of mention the point Havok mades above along the way. Tis pretty long though.

What can I say? I made a promise in a public forum and felt obliged to keep it. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

Some Thoughts on Theological Voluntarism

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Kaelik April 16, 2011 at 7:52 am

As previously stated, psychopaths do pass on their genes just fine.That’s why they still exist today.

Psychopaths rarely pass on their genes. They continue to exist because the genes that make psychopaths are not a simple on off switch, and can be useful in moderation. Psychopathy is a more complex version of Sickle Cell Anemia. Psychopaths themselves are less likely to breed than average.

Thus, by this same logic, you could claim genocide is right.There would be no reason to suppose humans would be any exception.

1) As others have stated. Just because evolution is true, doesn’t mean that anyone should feel like they have to do things for evolutionary reasons, I do not have children, because I do not care about passing on my genes, because it is not valuable to me.

2) Genocide is not the killing of the week, you should be looking for something akin to Sparta baby drops for your example. Genocide is killing all of a specific kind of people, and so anyone who is more genetically related to those people you are killing than to the average population is having their gene propagation reduced, and would, if acting only based on reasoned genetic continuance, oppose any such measure.

Now, you may be able to claim the act of mass genocide is not objectively wrong, however, I don’t believe you can honest believe this or live your life under these principles.

You would be wrong. This is precisely what is so damn hilarious about Moral Error Theory. People are genuinely incapable of understanding the concept of not believing in objective morality. There are many subjective reasons why I do not commit genocide, mostly having to do with the amount of work it takes to commit genocide, and how doing so would provide me with basically no benefit whatsoever. I do not need an objective moral badness associated with an act to not want to perform it, or have it performed on me. Subjective values are sufficient for that.

You may affirm genocide is wrong because, for the majority of the population, it is a trait that comes with our evolution. However, if this is the case, we should be able to say that our ability to reason (our greatest evolutionary adaptation) trumps these intrinsic “attitudes”.

I do not affirm that genocide is wrong. I state that many people, but not all, have an intuition that killing large sections of the population is “bad” because we share a common opposition to the death of our own kind, and the ability to expand or contract our conception of “our own kind” to different levels. And so people think of genocide as wrong. That does not mean it is wrong. I agree that reason should trump attitudes, where attitudes can be trumped.

However, the first and most important question to ask when asking what a given person should do is “What do you value?” and reason can play no part in that. So if hippies value peace on earth, reason dictates that they oppose genocide, and if Hitler most values killing all the Jews, then reason dictates that he do his best to do so.

if he was able to convince the majority of the world that it was right, would it then be right?

It would be subjectively “right” for those who thought it was right, and subjectively “wrong” for those who thought it was wrong, and subjectively unimportant for those people who didn’t care. Which is exactly what it is right now, and exactly what it always has been.

I find your position hard to palate, not because it is unfashionable, but because I believe there is such a thing as objective morality.It really comes down to an intuitive knowledge.If there wasn’t the implications would be huge.

I never said it was unfashionable. I said that people oppose this so hard because they are both genetically and culturally programmed to accept their subjective values as indications of objective value, and therefore, people believe there must be an objective morality. That you are wrong does not mean that you don’t believe that.

I am aware that it comes down to “intuitive knowledge” what I contest is that intuition actually provides any real knowledge of objective reality at all.

The implications are huge. Which is why I try to make people aware of both the facts, and the implications, when I can.

From your perspective no objective morality exists, however I should hope your intellectually honest enough to “concede” that if objective morality does exists, it can not come from nature.

Like most things, definitions matter. Before I could adequately answer that question I would need a definition of nature, morality, and objective.

If nature means “the world, as it actually does exist” I would say that of course no morality can come from that, because there is no objective morality.

On the other hand, the natural vs supernatural distinction has always been stupid to me, so under most definitions of nature, I think that if God did exist, he would be a part (or the whole) of nature, and so you don’t even want me to answer yes.

However, I am fairly sure that once the different definitions are settled down, the answer will be that no, I do not concede that, because it is not true.

Firstly, the existence of a God does not actually create objective morality. Though that isn’t the question you asked, it is the case that a God would not make morality objective any more than it is now.

Secondly, there are Objective Moralities, the various utilitarianisms, virtue ethics, ect. These are objective moralities. They are just not any more true than each other. There is no reason why someone who doesn’t value life years lived by all living creatures should care about the fact that life year utilitarianism can objectively tell us whether our acts are good or bad, according to it’s objective standard.

Thirdly, there could be an objective moral system that is very firmly rooted in natural reality. Moralons, special particles, could exist that aggregate around people who perform certain kinds of actions or think certain kinds of thoughts, and shy away from people who commit certain other kinds of actions or think certain other kinds of thoughts. That could be the basis of an objective morality based on nature. It isn’t true, because of course, no such things exist, but they could exists, and be the basis of an objective moral system based on nature.

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Luke Muehlhauser April 16, 2011 at 10:35 am

Ayer,

Peoples has been added to the links at the top of my first post, thanks.

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Citizen Ghost April 16, 2011 at 10:45 am

Ayer,

No, because you are presuming Craig’s case rests on the biblical God; it does not, as he explicitly said in the debate

Of COURSE Craig’s case rests on the biblical God.

Sure, he CLAIMS that it doesn’t, but this claim is belied by the clear and unavoidable assumptions at the core of Craig’s argument.

Think about it. Craig asserts that IF God exists, then objective morals exist. Why? How is this remotely logical?

After all, if, as you say, we’re simply talking about a “generic theist” one can quite easily imagine a God who does impose moral obligations. It is simple enough imagine a divine creator who is indifferent human behavior. In other words, if we’re simply talking about some kind of “generic theism” it is just as logical to suppose that God may exist but that objective morality does NOT exist.

But Craig has a very particular conception of his theistic God. HIS deity that just happens to possess all of the attributes that the God of the Christian bible posseses. Nothing about theism requires Craig to define his God in this way. There is no logical pathway by which he shows that these particular attributes (loving, benevolent, interventionist, paternal, concerned with the eternal life of humans, etc.) are necessary. Craig does it because his assumption is that if God exists, it is the God of Christianity. There’s simply no getting around this.

This is the definitional game that Craig plays. Harris didn’t spend more than a minute on this and he didn’t need to.

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ayer April 16, 2011 at 10:59 am

@Citizen Ghost,

You don’t seem to be familiar with the concept of “Anselmian theism” or “perfect being theology,” under which the attributes of God are derived purely philosophically without reference to any particular religion or holy book (see, e.g., http://www.ptr.bham.ac.uk/staff/docs/nagasawa_anselmian.pdf). This has long been a well-known concept in philosophy, but perhaps Harris is not familiar with it either (even though I thought his undergraduate degree was in philosophy–but then he may only have studied philosophy of mind, etc., and not philosophy of religion).

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ayer April 16, 2011 at 11:03 am

Peoples has been added to the links at the top of my first post, thanks.

Great; here’s another good one from philosopher Matt Flanagan:

http://www.mandm.org.nz/2011/04/debate-review-sam-harris-and-william-lane-craig-on-divine-command-theory-part-i.html

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MarkD April 16, 2011 at 11:05 am

@Hi:
If I were a naturalist atheist, I would find no reason to think that individual pain would hold more weight in our “aggregate basket of factors” as you suggest. At the most basic level, our “evolution goal” so to speak, would be to continue pass on our gene pool.

We know that that is also wrong WRT human evolution and all other social animals. The point about pairing of high-defect rate genes with genes that lead to other outcomes (which we are almost certain of regarding major mental illness) is that the genetic goals of evolution just ain’t that simple. Thriving is apparently improved by social grouping, and empathy is apparently essential to social grouping, thus we think awareness of individual pain and care for others has some significant weight.

We can even trivially convert this into a virture crossing the is/ought barrier: Because we observe empathy and care for others to be an essential component of our own species and others, it is virtuous to promote empathy and care. But this is just restating Ethical Naturalism.

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Hi April 16, 2011 at 11:53 am

lackofcheese,

Just because we are the result of evolutionary processes doesn’t mean we should act in the name of evolution – the very suggestion is essentially crazy. I simply do not understand why you think anyone would possibly want to act only in the name of “evolutionary advantage”.

Just because something is unattractive does not make it “insane”. If we have no reason to act to our evolutionary advantage, there is no reason not to commit genocide in the first place. This is because most common retort to why genocide is wrong is because its bad for humankind in an evolutionary sense. There would be no reason for me not to kill someone if it made me happy. There would be no reason not do anything really, except for what you want. But, of course you are wrong again, because as a basic rule, in an evolutionary sense, every organisms purpose is to further its gene pool (thus mass genocide can be seen as good). Though Harris’ highest level of his abstraction in his moral landscape is the goal of “eliminating pain” or “human well-being” this is essentially done for the betterment of humankind (proliferation of human life (evolutionary goal)). I suppose you could be the one to tells Harris there is no reason to follow the moral landscape because there is no need work to work for the benefit of humankind. You can pick and choose based on whats agreeable to you.
Of course I have to add the caveat that none of these scenarios would matter if there is an objective morality, which I believe. I’m just pointing to the fact that no objective morality is no morality at all. There is no basis in an evolutionary sense.

Kaelik,

I do not affirm that genocide is wrong.

Hitler most values killing all the Jews, then reason dictates that he do his best to do so.

I think I’m right in saying that in your worldview everything should be permissible it you value it, survival of the fittest. We can agree to disagree. But I should add this is a terrifying attitude to have.

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Citizen Ghost April 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Ayer,

You don’t seem to be familiar with the concept of “Anselmian theism” or “perfect being theology,” under which the attributes of God are derived purely philosophically without reference to any particular religion or holy book

Sure I’m familiar with the concept. I’m also familiar with the mountains of criticisms of it. Even centuries before Hume and Kant, Anselm’s concept was dismantled by other Christian philosophers (See William of Ockham). We can see that Anselm made the very same Christian-centric assumptions that Craig does. But unlike Anselm (who lived 1000 years ago, after all), Craig has less excuse.

If Craig really wants to hang his hat on an Anselmian notion of a “perfect being” his argument is just as problematic. For one thing, he’s still in the same circular mode of not being able to define good without resorting to God, and not being able to define God without referring to good. God is perfect by definition? Perfect by what standard? Our own imagination? It’s the same definitional game.

And even if we accept Anselm’s concept of a “necessary” or “perfect” being, what is logical about supposing that a “perfect” being is interested in how humans behave? What is logical about supposing that “perfect” being favors humans over other species? Or is concerned with our eternal life?

Not a single thing. Anselm doesn’t help here. All of these assumptions are rooted in Scripture.

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Luke Muehlhauser April 16, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Ayer,

Oh yeah, forgot about that one.

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Kevin April 16, 2011 at 2:51 pm

I have a question pertaining to how people view debates. It seems like people accept that the first person to act has the ability to set the terms or structure of the debate. How far does this go? Can they change the topic? If the original topic is “Is good from God?” is it then reasonable to say that your opponent must be able to justify that something is intrinsically good or that moral prescriptions are binding regardless of the individuals values? Under this topic, wouldn’t the objection, “obviously not, for God does not exist” be a viable line of argument?

It seems like people have forgotten the topic of the debate, probably because Craig didn’t even attempt to give a case for the original topic. He hijacked the debate topic and turned it into “Which worldview has the ability to ground ‘objective’ values and duties: naturalism or theism?” and then people blamed Harris for not buying into his game. So, we have a concept that has not been shown to exist and is not included in the original topic that Harris has denied many of the attributes that Craig thinks is required for “objective” morality and then we have Craig challenging Harris to justify this concept on naturalism. If Harris denies that this particular moral framework is sound, how does this work out in Craig’s favor?

My question would be, how is Harris off topic when almost everything Craig said did not conform to the original topic? I would have to agree with Harris, too many people were “duped” by Craig’s bait and switch.

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ayer April 16, 2011 at 3:19 pm

If Craig really wants to hang his hat on an Anselmian notion of a “perfect being” his argument is just as problematic. For one thing, he’s still in the same circular mode of not being able to define good without resorting to God, and not being able to define God without referring to good. God is perfect by definition? Perfect by what standard? Our own imagination? It’s the same definitional game.

If Craig really wants to hang his hat on an Anselmian notion of a “perfect being” his argument is just as problematic. For one thing, he’s still in the same circular mode of not being able to define good without resorting to God, and not being able to define God without referring to good. God is perfect by definition? Perfect by what standard? Our own imagination? It’s the same definitional game.

I agree that that should be the main line of attack on Craig’s position (I think he has adequate answers to it, but that is a side issue–see, e.g., his debate with Louise Antony). My point is that Harris did not raise this objection to Anselmian theism until the Q&A period when Craig had no opportunity to respond. By not raising it in his rebuttal he wasted his rebuttal time and conceded the issue for purposes of the debate.

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ayer April 16, 2011 at 3:30 pm

If Craig really wants to hang his hat on an Anselmian notion of a “perfect being” his argument is just as problematic. For one thing, he’s still in the same circular mode of not being able to define good without resorting to God, and not being able to define God without referring to good. God is perfect by definition? Perfect by what standard? Our own imagination? It’s the same definitional game.

If Craig really wants to hang his hat on an Anselmian notion of a “perfect being” his argument is just as problematic. For one thing, he’s still in the same circular mode of not being able to define good without resorting to God, and not being able to define God without referring to good. God is perfect by definition? Perfect by what standard? Our own imagination? It’s the same definitional game.

I agree that that should be the main line of attack on Craig’s position (I think he has adequate answers to it, but that is a side issue–see, e.g., his debate with Louise Antony). My point is that Harris did not raise this objection to Anselmian theism until the Q&A period when Craig had no opportunity to respond. By not raising it in his rebuttal he wasted his rebuttal time and conceded the issue for purposes of the debate.

If the original topic is “Is good from God?” is it then reasonable to say that your opponent must be able to justify that something is intrinsically good or that moral prescriptions are binding regardless of the individuals values? Under this topic, wouldn’t the objection, “obviously not, for God does not exist” be a viable line of argument?

No, because the topic of the debate was not “Does God Exist?” Craig has been in many, many debates with just that topic; if Harris wanted to debate that, that is the topic he should have insisted upon. Mounting arguments against God’s existing was completely unnecessary and a waste of time in this particular debate, because all Harris had to do was demonstrate the falsity of Craig’s second contention: IF God does not exist, objective morality does not exist. Harris simply had to show that GIVEN God’s nonexistence (which Craig stipulates in his second conditional), morality is nonetheless objective (because it is grounded in something other than God).

It is like a presidential debate on foreign policy when one of the candidates talks only about domestic policy and says they are on-topic because because both areas are under the purview of the president. That candidate would be considered to have conceded the debate to his opponent.

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drj April 16, 2011 at 4:28 pm

No, because the topic of the debate was not “Does God Exist?” Craig has been in many, many debates with just that topic; if Harris wanted to debate that, that is the topic he should have insisted upon. Mounting arguments against God’s existing was completely unnecessary and a waste of time in this particular debate, because all Harris had to do was demonstrate the falsity of Craig’s second contention: IF God does not exist, objective morality does not exist. Harris simply had to show that GIVEN God’s nonexistence (which Craig stipulates in his second conditional), morality is nonetheless objective (because it is grounded in something other than God).

It wouldn’t have been entirely irrelevant, if Sam made an argument similar to Havok’s above, since Craig agreed with the premise from the outset, that “objective morals exist”.

1) If God does not exist, then objective morals are grounded in something else.
2) God does not exist
c) Therefore, objective morals are grounded in something else.

Sam kind of made round about inferences to that affect… but totally lacking in power and pointedness.

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Havok April 16, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Ayer: My point is that Harris did not raise this objection to Anselmian theism until the Q&A period when Craig had no opportunity to respond. By not raising it in his rebuttal he wasted his rebuttal time and conceded the issue for purposes of the debate.

While it does seem to formally cede the point to Craig, I doubt anyone actually believes the god of bare “Anselmian Theism” exists. At best, Craig can be said to believe in a perfect being who is also depicted in the bible.
In view of this I think bringing up incompatible doctrine and our inability to sufficiently distinguish “true” divine commands among them can be seen as Harris providing evidence that this being does not exist, and if God does not exist, then Craig’s second contention fails.

Also, Harris bringing up the actual commands that are attributed to the God Craig actually believes in can be seen as an effort to show that should Craig’s actual God exist, then if is not the Anselmian perfect being, and good cannot/does not come from it. As Sam said in the closing moments “If God issuing that command, he is an evil bastard”. If God can issue evil commands, then I think Craig’s initial contention fails.

So yeah, Harris didn’t rebut Craig’s bare perfect being, but I think he did rebut Craig’s Christian perfect being. Whether he was successful or not is a separate issue :-)

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ayer April 16, 2011 at 5:35 pm

So yeah, Harris didn’t rebut Craig’s bare perfect being, but I think he did rebut Craig’s Christian perfect being

The problem with rebutting something Craig was not asserting is that it effectively concedes what Craig WAS asserting, that an Anselmian perfect being is necessary to ground objective morality. I don’t think Harris wants to concede that, and so he should have addressed it. Then if he wants to debate Old Testament ethics he can schedule a debate with Paul Copan (http://www.amazon.com/God-Moral-Monster-Making-Testament/dp/0801072751/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1303000516&sr=8-1)

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Kevin April 16, 2011 at 5:39 pm

“No, because the topic of the debate was not “Does God Exist?” Craig has been in many, many debates with just that topic; if Harris wanted to debate that, that is the topic he should have insisted upon. Mounting arguments against God’s existing was completely unnecessary and a waste of time in this particular debate, because all Harris had to do was demonstrate the falsity of Craig’s second contention: IF God does not exist, objective morality does not exist. Harris simply had to show that GIVEN God’s nonexistence (which Craig stipulates in his second conditional), morality is nonetheless objective (because it is grounded in something other than God).”

Harris needn’t show the falsity of either contention. Craig acknowledged this in the beginning. Harris could deny that the objective morality that Craig speaks of does not exist. In fact, he does take this view, despite what Craig said the contrary. So, even if Craig was successful in showing that his version of morality is incoherent on atheism and is only coherent on theism, so what? Its incoherent to begin with, hence all the problems he mentions. That was not the topic of the debate and it wouldn’t even satisfy the claim that he set out to prove until he showed that such phenomena exist.

Under the original topic, he could show that God exists and that good comes from him or that his particular version of morality is true and that it is incoherent on atheism. That is what would have satisfied the conditions for the original topic and he accomplished neither. However, he would have failed in that regard so he switched the topic of the debate and everyone bought it hook, line, and sinker.

Suppose Craig and Harris go to a magic show. They try to debate the topic, “Is magic from God?” Craig then goes into his two contentions: 1. If God exists, then the performer can do magic and 2. If God does not exist, then the performer can’t do magic. Remember, Craig is not going to be arguing that the performer actually performed magic, only that on theism, he could, and on atheism, he couldn’t. Craig goes on to say that perhaps Harris is correct, that God does not exist, however, this does not effect the truth of my two contentions; all it would mean is that, contrary to Dr. Harris, magic does not exist.

It shouldn’t take much effort to realize that Harris would disagree that said phenomena exists. When Craig says that magic exists, he is referring to extraordinary or mystical influences, when Harris says that magic exists, he is referring to conjuring. Craig utilizes the fallacy of equivocation to give the illusion of agreement, when they worlds apart. Even if Craig is successful with his two contentions, he hasn’t demonstrated anything that isn’t disputed by Harris, that magic isn’t really real. In the end, Craig gives us zero substance and wastes our time by arguing about irrelevancies. Analogously, you’re still arguing that Harris accepts magic on naturalism, which I don’t think reflects well on your intelligence.

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Havok April 16, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Ayer: The problem with rebutting something Craig was not asserting is that it effectively concedes what Craig WAS asserting, that an Anselmian perfect being is necessary to ground objective morality.

I don’t think Craig was very successful in showing that a perfect being is necessary to ground morality, and I think he ceded that point in the Q&A.

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Havok April 16, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Ayer: Then if he wants to debate Old Testament ethics he can schedule a debate with Paul Copan

I’ve not read the book, just Copans shorter paper. That seemed like it would only be persuasive to someone committed to belief in a perfect being & biblical innerancy (or something close to that).
The book is on my reading list :-)

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Rob April 16, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Great comment Kevin, outstanding analogy.

When Craig and Harris use the word ‘morality’, they are clearly referring to different concepts. Harris uses it in a way that more closely resembles the way the overwhelming majority of humans do.

Meanwhile, Craig’s defenders claim that his definition is the only correct one.

It’s all rather silly and pathetic.

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Silver Bullet April 16, 2011 at 6:40 pm

“Harris then wastes the rest of his time talking about how atheists can have transcendent experiences.”

This may be true of you accept Craig’s framing of the debate. But on the other hand, it is worthwhile remembering that the topic originally was “Is Good from God”, and its quite clear that the god in question is the Christian god given that the debate is against Craig and the setting is Notre Dame.

Harris did well to belittle the morality on display in Christian scripture and the notion that a Divine Christian Command Theory provides real moral guidance.

My favourite lines of the night were : “When someone like me points out the obvious compelling evidence that god is cruel and unjust because he visits suffering on innocent people on a scale that would embarrass the most ambitious psychopath, we’re told that god is mysterious … This is how you play tennis without the net, and I want to suggest to you that it is not only tiresome when otherwise intelligent people speak this way, it is morally reprehensible.”

Having thoroughly attacked one reason to be a Christian (the idea that one needs it to be moral), he did well to spend some time attacking another: debunking the myth that religion has a monopoly on “spiritual” experiences.

I think Harris did very, very well.

Did he go directly tete a tete with every one of Craig’s “arguments”? No. Would I have liked to see that? Yes. But I think that he may well have done well not to.

There is a bigger picture that Harris is acutely aware of than the one Craig wanted to debate.

Whom do you think was likely to have had a greater influence on anybody in the audience who was sitting on the fence, or genuinely open to have their mind strongly influenced or changed?

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Silver Bullet April 16, 2011 at 6:43 pm

PZ Myers has weighed in on the debate, and I agree with what he has written:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/04/harris_v_craig.php

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Mike Young April 16, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Sol and Magnus, you have both misunderstood the argument from possible worlds.
The argument is an argument about idnetity, The point is this:
An identity relation is a relation of A=A that holds is all possible worlds. If there is any possible world in which A=/=A then there is no identity relation A=A in any universe. This is because identity is a necesarry relation by admitting that there is a possible world where well-bieing is not identical to the moral landscapse Harris sinks his own argument.

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ayer April 16, 2011 at 7:20 pm

BTW, Dr. Craig just posted this on Facebook:

“The topic was always: “Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural?”

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Kaelik April 16, 2011 at 7:24 pm

@Hi

Being terrified of something has no bearing on it’s truth value. Don’t appeal to consequences, that’s a fallacy.

Though, that said, I would say that most people who are afraid of the lack of objective morality have not thought it out very far.

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Citizen Ghost April 16, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Mounting arguments against God’s existing was completely unnecessary and a waste of time in this particular debate

Not at all. Remember, Craig’s contention is that if God exists, then objective moral values and duties exist.

Well one way to refute that is to argue that there’s no good reason to think that God (and in particular, Craig’s specific conception of “God”) does exist.

Whether Harris did a convincing job of that is a separate question. But it’s silly to say that such contentions are irrelevant or a waste time in a debate. On the contrary, they go right to the heart of the issue. If the proposition you are advancing is framed on a premise that is conditional, you can hardly complain when your opponent argues that the condition hasn’t been met.

What’s most bizarre about this particular criticism of Harris is that the critics who make it don’t even seem to realize that they (like Craig) are trying to have it both ways. How many times during this debate did Craig assert something like: “On atheism, it’s hard to see any foundation for objective moral values.” Quite a few.

Well, why aren’t you pointing out the obvious? Why aren’t you pointing out that Craig is wasting his time with points that are completely irrelavent to the debate. Atheism isn’t the topic of the debate. Harris isn’t arguing for atheism. Indeed, whether God exists is irrelevant to his argument. His is a positive argument for a moral foundation. Craig should have been addressing that instead of wasting debate time with irrelevancies.

That part works both ways.

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Kevin April 16, 2011 at 8:21 pm

“BTW, Dr. Craig just posted this on Facebook:

‘The topic was always: “Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural?’”

I don’t see the term ‘objective’ and, according to Craig ,all of the baggage that comes with that term. This is like him equivocating about the magic show. Perhaps there was a subtitle that expanded on the topic? If not, it doesn’t really change anything.

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Havok April 16, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Ayer: BTW, Dr. Craig just posted this on Facebook:

‘The topic was always: “Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural?’

In advertising the video, the Notre Dame centre for Philosophy of Religion still claims the topic was “Is Good from God”, as does basically everything else I can get a hold of through google.

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HB April 16, 2011 at 9:06 pm

The problem I see with Craig’s argument is that he presumes to *believe* that his god either always existed or that his god came into being (either by ‘becoming’ or having come into existence in a ‘perfect’ state). Each of these is clearly a problem. “Why is there something rather than nothing” or “how can something come from nothing?”. He cannot explain this, nor can anyone, properly or fully. We are left to postulate. If this god has always existed, how can this be? Again, how or why does *something* exist rather than nothing? And, if this god has always existed, is this god ‘perfect’, whatever that ought to mean? Now, if this god came into being, did it come into being as ‘perfect’? It seems to me more probable that if there were a being that we would classify as ‘god’, it would have been created by a discreet process (or processes) until a formed being were ‘evident’. Further, I find it difficult to believe that this being, created by naturalistic processes, would be perfect immediately or at all, ever, whatever we can mean by ‘perfect’. In either of these two sub-cases, ‘god’ is the product of NATURAL processes, and is not necessarily ‘perfect’ or ‘good’. It *is* a sad state that Craig’s arguments, as flawed as they are, are not *properly* dismantled. Of course, I cannot begrudge many of those who debate against him, he has excellent organization and has a knack for both semantic and pedantic mischief.

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Furcas April 16, 2011 at 10:29 pm

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/4486/debating_god:_atheist_and_evangelical_face_off_at_notre_dame

Ah, so the topic of the debate _wasn’t_ what Craig insisted it was, after all. I thought that Harris had lost the debate, in the most _technical_ (and perhaps irrelevant) sense of ‘lost’, but it looks like that’ not even true.

Religious apologists are dishonest scum. Every single one of them.

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Hi April 17, 2011 at 12:06 am

Kaelik,

Being terrified of something has no bearing on it’s truth value. Don’t appeal to consequences, that’s a fallacy.

Though, that said, I would say that most people who are afraid of the lack of objective morality have not thought it out very far.

You’re really dumb. Take a philosophy of logic class so that you understand how to identify an argument before you post your supposed “counter”. You keep making the same error of claiming something that is clearly not an argument as one. I said that I feel a world where everything is permissible is terrifying. That’s not a argument its a subjective feeling, therefore, its absolutely not a fallacy. There’s nothing to argue! I know you really want the last word but your just making yourself look stupid.

I never said it was unfashionable.

Here’s another example. I never accused you of that. Perhaps the problem is you’re a defensive schmuck who thinks everything is an attack. Your petty whining about the word ‘concede’ is another example. I’m sorry, but it really should corrected… I won’t be responding again.

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lackofcheese April 17, 2011 at 1:07 am

Hi,

But, of course you are wrong again, because as a basic rule, in an evolutionary sense, every organisms purpose is to further its gene pool (thus mass genocide can be seen as good).

If your “purpose” was simply to pass on your genes, then if you were male you would be going around depositing your sperm at as many sperm banks as possible.
The fact is that humans have values which are irrelevant from an evolutionary perspective, or sometimes even ones that are directly harmful to us. We are not mere “tools” of evolution, nor should we be.

Though Harris’ highest level of his abstraction in his moral landscape is the goal of “eliminating pain” or “human well-being” this is essentially done for the betterment of humankind (proliferation of human life (evolutionary goal)). I suppose you could be the one to tells Harris there is no reason to follow the moral landscape because there is no need work to work for the benefit of humankind. You can pick and choose based on whats agreeable to you.

Improving human well-being and working to pass on human genes are quite clearly not the same thing, and your equivocation between them is ludicrous. The goal Sam Harris is aiming for is not an “evolutionary goal” by any stretch.

Furthermore, whether or not the morality you propose is subjective or objective is of little relevance. Whether it’s objective or subjective, there will be plenty of disagreement as to what people should do, because even if there is an objective morality, how are we supposed to know what it says? Not only that, but people who believe in an objective morality are much less likely to admit they can be wrong, which can cause plenty of problems.

The fact of the matter is that as humans we do have some kind of moral sense embedded within our brains, and we have quite a lot in common in that regard. No “objective morality” is even needed, nor do I desire one, because if there was an “objective morality” it might tell me to kill babies.

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Hi April 17, 2011 at 2:20 am

The fact is that humans have values which are irrelevant from an evolutionary perspective, or sometimes even ones that are directly harmful to us. We are not mere “tools” of evolution, nor should we be.

That is certainly a bold moral statement, as if you were appealing to some sort of objective standard or something… You seem to forget that in an atheistic worldview our “values” are just evolutionary tools so yes we still are a tool of evolution, useless you are suggesting our “values” stem from an objective morality beyond nature. Gotcha again! And why shouldn’t evolutionary goals be to goal of humans. All organisms follow evolutionary goals, unless you are suggest we are morally obligated to act differently…an obligation that comes objective morality?

What I’d like to know is why Harris suggests that decreasing pain for mankind is the ultimate goal. I couldn’t think of any reason other than evolutionary advantage, which I still believe is his reason. Unless, he is appealing to an objective morality beyond nature.

The fact of the matter is that as humans we do have some kind of moral sense embedded within our brains, and we have quite a lot in common in that regard. No “objective morality” is even needed, nor do I desire one, because if there was an “objective morality” it might tell me to kill babies.

I don’t find this to be a satisfactory conclusion. If an individual has an embedded morality which tells him killing babies is right, no one could say he his wrong, rather he is just acting unfashionable. If you were to say he is subjectively wrongs simply means you dislike his actions (its just an opinion). I doesn’t mean anymore than saying you dislike the color blue. And he could say its subjectively right because it made him happy.

I do, however, agree that we have a sense of morality embedded in our brains. I think our sense of morality is an intuitive knowledge of objective morality.

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lackofcheese April 17, 2011 at 2:56 am

That is certainly a bold moral statement, as if you were appealing to some sort of objective standard or something… You seem to forget that in an atheistic worldview our “values” are just evolutionary tools so yes we still are a tool of evolution, useless you are suggesting our “values” stem from an objective morality beyond nature. Gotcha again! And why shouldn’t evolutionary goals be to goal of humans. All organisms follow evolutionary goals, unless you are suggest we are morally obligated to act differently…an obligation that comes objective morality?

You’re still missing the point. I’m not appealing to any objective morality. Yes, your values are there as the result of evolution, but that doesn’t mean you should act in the name of evolution because evolution is what put them there – that would be silly.
I could just as easily ask why it is that you eat food. There is no “objective reason” for you to eat. Now, it’s obvious that you have evolved to want to eat food, and, less directly, stay alive. However, if I ask you why you eat food, you don’t tell me “because it improves my chances of passing on genes”. That’s not your reason for doing it! Rather, you eat food because you don’t like being hungry, and because you want to stay alive.
Our values were put there by evolution, but that doesn’t mean we should do whatever will pass on our genes. Rather, we follow those values because they are our values, regardless of what put them there.

What I’d like to know is why Harris suggests that decreasing pain for mankind is the ultimate goal. I couldn’t think of any reason other than evolutionary advantage, which I still believe is his reason. Unless, he is appealing to an objective morality beyond nature.

No, he suggests to improve well-being of humans because he cares about the well-being of humans, and I think you should agree with him because you care about it too. That’s all that’s needed. It doesn’t have to be “objective”.

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Kaelik April 17, 2011 at 5:39 am

Kaelik,

You’re really dumb.Take a philosophy of logic class so that you understand how to identify an argument before you post your supposed “counter”.You keep making the same error of claiming something that is clearly not an argument as one. I said that I feel a world where everything is permissible is terrifying.That’s not a argument its a subjective feeling, therefore, its absolutely not a fallacy.There’s nothing to argue!I know you really want the last word but your just making yourself look stupid.

Learn to read. I told you not to appeal to consequences, I did not say you were appealing to consequences.

Oh what, is technically correct statements that imply insults not okay when other people do it? Tough shit, don’t start using deceptive bullshit, and I won’t be better at it.

Here’s another example.I never accused you of that.Perhaps the problem is you’re a defensive schmuck who thinks everything is an attack.Your petty whining about the word ‘concede’ is another example.I’m sorry, but it really should corrected… I won’t be responding again.

Nor did I say you did. You did exactly what I just did, you made a deceptive statement that implies that I said that, when I didn’t.

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ayer April 17, 2011 at 6:23 am

From the Notre Dame Magazine Article: “He (Craig) also suggested the topic, which bears on the subject of Harris’s latest book, The Moral Landscape.”

I think this indicates that Craig would know the topic agreed to in his negotiations with Harris (namely, “Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural?”–”Is Good from God?” is just a pithy way of rephrasing the same topic for advertising purposes). If the topic was really something different that can be cleared up by Notre Dame releasing the correspondence from Craig and Harris from the debate negotiations.

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Bill Snedden April 17, 2011 at 8:25 am

@Hi:

You seem to forget that in an atheistic worldview our “values” are just evolutionary tools so yes we still are a tool of evolution, useless you are suggesting our “values” stem from an objective morality beyond nature.

Hmmm…

“You seem to forget that in a theistic worldview our “values” are just God’s tools so yes we still are a tool of God, useless you are suggesting our “values” stem from an objective morality beyond God.”

If your statement is correct, why would mine not be? And if both statements are correct, what is the distinction between being “tools of God” and “tools of evolution” that renders one morally acceptable and the other not?

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ThomasLantern April 17, 2011 at 1:48 pm

It’s been really informative reading all the different comments, guys. Thanks for sharing. Admittely I haven’t yet made the time to watch the debate though I’ve read transcripts and several atheist and theist reviews. But it’s on the to-do list!

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Hi April 17, 2011 at 1:50 pm

lackofcheese,

No, he suggests to improve well-being of humans because he cares about the well-being of humans, and I think you should agree with him because you care about it too. That’s all that’s needed. It doesn’t have to be “objective”.

Well, clearly not everyone does care; some people want others to suffer. From your perspective, if you are intellectually honest, you should be able to admit that this is no more right or wrong than wanting to alleviate suffering. They are both morally subjective positions. You keep appealing to this evolutionary, innate sense of values, but not everyone has it. Hitler was able to convince most of Germany that the Jews needed to be exterminated. But say he was able to convince the majority of the world (over 50%) that they should value killing the Jews. This philosophy would then be the dominant value held by the majority of the world, thus, it would be the new morality (i.e everyone should exterminate Jews). I would still say this is wrong because there is an objective morality, you says no objective morality is needed, therefore, this must be allowed.
Therefore, society only has a right to say if someone is right or wrong if there is an end goal, or an ideal model to strive for. From an atheistic perspective there can be no goal if not an evolutionary goal because there can be many different ideals. While you may value well-being, others may value suffering. Those who value suffering need only a majority in order to be the the dominant morality.
Then, I went on further to state that if evolution dictates morality, which may others hold, then it is not a sufficient standard by which we can say a person is right or wrong (e.g genocide would be beneficial given our populated world)
Anyways I feel the conversation has gone as far as it will, but thanks anyways.

Bill Snedden,
See above comments on why evolution is not sufficient.

If your statement is correct, why would mine not be? And if both statements are correct, what is the distinction between being “tools of God” and “tools of evolution” that renders one morally acceptable and the other not?

Good point, however, if God exists, he must be the greatest conceivable being. Him giving us objective morality would not be the same as another man telling us what is right and wrong. Objective morality would be embedded in his nature and thus unchanging. If love is good it would be because God is loving not because he says it is loving.

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lackofcheese April 17, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Well, clearly not everyone does care; some people want others to suffer. From your perspective, if you are intellectually honest, you should be able to admit that this is no more right or wrong than wanting to alleviate suffering.

No, I don’t have to admit that, because morality is not made up of wants or preferences. If someone wants others to suffer because they enjoy it, then that’s not a moral claim at all. It doesn’t mean that they think it’s good for others to suffer.

You keep appealing to this evolutionary, innate sense of values, but not everyone has it.

I could equivalently say “you keep appealing to this God-given sense of values, but not everyone has it”. Obviously appeals to morality only work on people who actually care about it in the first place. Let’s say an alien race came tomorrow, learned our language, and started eating humans alive. We’d be able to explain what we mean by “good”, and they would probably agree completely with us when we said it was extremely wrong for them to eat us, but they simply wouldn’t care.

Hitler was able to convince most of Germany that the Jews needed to be exterminated. But say he was able to convince the majority of the world (over 50%) that they should value killing the Jews.

Then the majority of the world would be wrong; they just wouldn’t realise that this was the case. Those people would still think that murder was wrong; rather, they would think falsely that Jews weren’t really people like they are, but vicious monsters, responsible for innumerable evils, who deserved their treatment. Such a belief is obviously false, and the Nazis justified their ideology with many, many such claims that were plainly unfactual. Sadly, people are quite susceptible to this; they can be convinced of plainly unfactual things without much effort at all – consider how many people believe in astrology (or God, for that matter).

Most Nazis were probably normal people, just like you or me. They weren’t innately evil; they weren’t born with a desire for human suffering. It’s just that most of them were convinced, through propaganda, that Jews were not really people, that Jews were responsible for everything wrong with society. If anything, Nazism was basically a new religion.

Then, I went on further to state that if evolution dictates morality, which may others hold, then it is not a sufficient standard by which we can say a person is right or wrong (e.g genocide would be beneficial given our populated world)

I really don’t know what you mean by “evolution dictates morality”, but it’s quite obvious that much of our morality comes as an evolutionary adaptation. However, as I’ve said over and over again, this is not the same thing as saying that morality = optimizing inclusive genetic fitness. You’ve managed to miss that point repeatedly. Evolution doesn’t care about suffering, but people do.

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hi April 17, 2011 at 3:46 pm

No, I don’t have to admit that, because morality is not made up of wants or preferences. If someone wants others to suffer because they enjoy it, then that’s not a moral claim at all. It doesn’t mean that they think it’s good for others to suffer.

You keep saying what morality is not. I have gone through most of the possible reasonable explanations you might have to subjugate anything to a moral standard and all you can is I don’t agree. The question is what is morality if not subjective consensus? And what basis do you have to say anything is right or wrong?

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Sola Ratione April 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Sol and Magnus, you have both misunderstood the argument from possible worlds.

Mike, if you’re interested, I have responded to your comment here: http://rationesola.blogspot.com/2011/04/william-l-craigs-knock-down-argument.html#comment-186388444

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Havok April 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm

Ayer: I think this indicates that Craig would know the topic agreed to in his negotiations with Harris

Or it could have been a clever debate tactic from Craig.

Ayer: (namely, “Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural?”–”Is Good from God?” is just a pithy way of rephrasing the same topic for advertising purposes).

Well, the two statements aren’t don’t really have the same meaning.

Not that the topic of the debate really matters – the discussion which has resulted is far more interesting :-)

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Havok April 17, 2011 at 7:38 pm

From Harris:

“Instead, I simply argued for a scientific conception of moral truth and against one based on the biblical God. This was, after all, the argument that the organizer’s at Notre Dame had invited me to make.”

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lackofcheese April 17, 2011 at 11:16 pm

You keep saying what morality is not. I have gone through most of the possible reasonable explanations you might have to subjugate anything to a moral standard and all you can is I don’t agree. The question is what is morality if not subjective consensus? And what basis do you have to say anything is right or wrong?

Insofar as the words “right” and “wrong” have any meaning at all, they refer to the most basic of human values – things like life, consciousness, freedom, happiness and love. These are the kinds of things Sam Harris chooses to sum this up with his single word “well-being”. These are things that almost all human beings care about, and that’s all we need as a basis for morality.

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hi April 18, 2011 at 12:56 am

These are things that almost all human beings care about, and that’s all we need as a basis for morality.

So by subjective consensus we can base morality. Something is bad simply because the majority of the population feels it’s bad. Furthermore values you listed are far from universal. You only have to step foot outside north america to see that a lot of the world has very different values. Plus values can change as Hitler was able to convince Germans to devalue Jews. Why put certain values that are agreeable to you on a pedestal.
We can agree that the values you listed are “good” things. I don’t think you have answered the why question.

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lackofcheese April 18, 2011 at 1:24 am

Hi,
Where are the people that actually do not value happiness, consciousness, freedom, or love?

Also, Hitler did not somehow change the most basic values of the German people. What Hitler did was convince them that the Jews were not really people, and that the Jews stood against all of these values. Yet it’s evident that this was not true; indeed, that it was objectively not true. The Jews in Germany cared about the same kinds of things that the Nazis did; they cared about their friends and families, they cared about being happy, and they cared about human life.

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lackofcheese April 18, 2011 at 1:45 am

To elaborate, the key difference is between what is often called “intrinsic value” and “extrinsic value”. However, those terms are misleading – the term “intrinsic” implies that some things have value in and of themselves, which doesn’t make sense. For that reason I prefer the terms “terminal” and “instrumental” value.

Terminal value is what we value for its own sake. If you ask someone “why do you value happiness?”, they don’t back it up with other values; people value happiness for its own sake.

On the other hand, instrumental values are a means to an end – instrumental values are things we care about only because they reduce to terminal values. One example of such an instrumental value is money – we value money not for its own sake, but because it gets us happiness, freedom, life, etc.

Crucially, people can be objectively wrong about their instrumental values , if they actually are in conflict with your terminal values. As Sam Harris puts it, “it’s clearly possible to value things that will reliably make you miserable in this life”.

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Kaelik April 18, 2011 at 3:02 am

Hi,
Where are the people that actually do not value happiness, consciousness, freedom, or love?

Well, me for starters.

But you are playing slippery here. There is a huge difference between valuing your own happiness, consciousness, freedom, and valuing those things in every person equally, with no bias for oneself and those you care about.

One of them is hedonism, the other is a version of utilitarianism.

No one values them equally in all people, so the answer is no one actually values “freedom” they value their own freedom, and some people value other people’s freedom, but that is a much smaller number.

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lackofcheese April 18, 2011 at 3:26 am

Well, me for starters.

Oh? What do you value, then? Why did you post just now?

But you are playing slippery here. There is a huge difference between valuing your own happiness, consciousness, freedom, and valuing those things in every person equally, with no bias for oneself and those you care about.

I didn’t say that this had to be entirely without bias.

One of them is hedonism, the other is a version of utilitarianism.

Hedonism is an oversimplification – it mistakenly reduces everything to pleasure. This mistake is also typically made by utilitarians as well, though at the least pleasure is not inherent in the term “utility”. There is much more to human values than just pleasure.

No one values them equally in all people, so the answer is no one actually values “freedom” they value their own freedom, and some people value other people’s freedom, but that is a much smaller number.

Sure, “freedom” must necessarily at least reduce to “freedom of sentient creatures” or “freedom of human beings” or “my own freedom”. However, I don’t think it’s true to say that most people do not care about the freedom of others, despite your claim to the contrary.

Regardless, even if just about everyone was to only care about themselves, then a social morality still arises naturally because it’s in people’s interests to work together to achieve their own selfish ends – it’s a non-zero-sum game.

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Havok April 18, 2011 at 4:39 am

Hi: Plus values can change as Hitler was able to convince Germans to devalue Jews.

It’s not like he managed it all by himself you know – he had help with that from about 1500-2000 years of Christianity dogma.

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hi April 18, 2011 at 2:25 pm

lackofcheese,

Where are the people that actually do not value happiness, consciousness, freedom, or love?

Psychopaths/sociopaths/serial killers. I’ll also add that people in the middle east value freedom and consciousness a lot less than you think. All I want to know is by what basis you can claim their actions are good or bad, it’s a really straightforward question.

Furthermore, there are ways of obtaining happiness and love that we would deem bad. For example, I may get pleasure and happiness from the thrill stealing cars or exerting my power over individuals (rape). I both value happiness/pleasure and I’m obtaining it.

All you are saying is your chosen “values” are good just because they are good.

About terminal values, you’re right, people value them for their own sake. They don’t require a reason. Why? Because they are just characteristics that evolved over time. Thus, they are absolutely not good or bad, they are entirely neutral.

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drj April 18, 2011 at 3:00 pm

lackofcheese,

Psychopaths/sociopaths/serial killers.I’ll also add that people in the middle east value freedom and consciousness a lot less than you think.All I want to know is by what basis you can claim their actions are good or bad, it’s a really straightforward question.

There’s a whole field of science dedicated to studying happiness.. they are developing real objective ways to measure happiness. Now psychopaths can do all sorts of nasty things to people and not feel remorse, but what they are discovering in this field, is that these people really get no sense of lasting well-being from their actions. Now, I’m not sure to what extent psychopaths are “fixable”, but at the very least, there’s some evidence to suggest that they shouldn’t go about unnecessarily hurting people to live fulfilling lives.

The field is also discovering that those who tend to have the most fulfilling lives, are those who do their best to live virtuous lives.

Furthermore, there are ways of obtaining happiness and love that we would deem bad.For example, I may get pleasure and happiness from the thrill stealing cars or exerting my power over individuals (rape).I both value happiness/pleasure and I’m obtaining it.

All you are saying is your chosen “values” are good just because they are good.

The value from stealing cars, exerting power, etc, aren’t really terminal values.

About terminal values, you’re right, people value them for their own sake.They don’t require a reason.Why? Because they are just characteristics that evolved over time.Thus, they are absolutely not good or bad, they are entirely neutral.

One can simply generate an infinite regress here by continually asking, “well, what is the value of that?”, and nothing, not even God – can provide you a sensible moral foundation.

To quote the desirist mantra, desires (or one might say values) are indeed the only reason for taking an action. There simply is no reason to act, absent a desire or value. And since morality is all about providing reasons to prefer one action over another, every moral system must have as its foundation some value.. a terminal value beyond which it its simply not productive to question.

We tend to value our own well-being…. maybe there’s nothing moral to be said about this value.. so what?

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Kaelik April 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Oh? What do you value, then? Why did you post just now?

I value lots of things, in this case, I posted because I enjoy telling people when they are being stupid.

Hedonism is an oversimplification – it mistakenly reduces everything to pleasure. This mistake is also typically made by utilitarians as well, though at the least pleasure is not inherent in the term “utility”. There is much more to human values than just pleasure.

Hedonism is not an oversimplification. It’s a moral system that holds pleasure as the penultimate value. That’s no more oversimplified than any other moral system that holds some values as the penultimate value. It doesn’t claim other things don’t exist. Just that they are less important. Something every moral theory must do.

Utilitarianism is not about pleasure, because it’s not about anything, it’s a method of calculating good based on what actions maximize some value as a whole. That value changes whether you are talking about life year utilitarianism, or pleasure utilitarianism, or pineapple unitarianism, or pentagram utilitarianism.

The point is that people don’t value X for everyone. They value X for themselves. People buy food for themselves, more than they even need, despite knowing that the same money could buy much more food, and alleviate much more hunger for others. They do this because they care about themselves.

People don’t value the consciousness, life, love, lack of hunger, or pleasure of people in Africa (unless they are people in Africa). They care about their own, and then people around them.

Regardless, even if just about everyone was to only care about themselves, then a social morality still arises naturally because it’s in people’s interests to work together to achieve their own selfish ends – it’s a non-zero-sum game.

I never claimed it doesn’t. In fact, I specifically implied that to be the case when I was mocking Hi.

But the fact that people pursuing their own selfish goals works out to something besides total anarchy doesn’t change the fact that you are wrong about what people actually value.

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Gatogreensleeves April 18, 2011 at 9:30 pm

I can’t believe that you have nothing to say about the disingenuousness of Craig arguing for PTB and then acting as if he had validated Christianity. I’m shocked you would not call him out on this. I don’t think Craig was justified in ruling out the epistemological questions from the premise of the debate either (“Is Good from God?”)- he just took one possible route and asserted it to avoid the *necessary qualifying epistemological questions as to whether or not this god was actually good* (and that’s where Harris went). Apparently, Harris felt the same way afterwords about Craig’s appropriation of ANY relevance in the debate (by arguing for a version of god that NO RELIGION ON THE PLANET CONTENDS). I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Harris probably never expected that Craig would have the balls to argue for a god that is irrelevant to the world theologically. So, NO FAIL. Harris wanted to win minds, not the arbitrary parameters of irrelevant games.

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Bill Snedden April 19, 2011 at 5:16 am

@Hi:
You are confusing epistemology with ontology. It could be the case that no-one in the world could agree on “good” and yet that would have no bearing on whether or not “good” exists. All one need do to vitiate your “Hitler” analogy is to point out the Hitler was mistaken.

Good point, however, if God exists, he must be the greatest conceivable being. Him giving us objective morality would not be the same as another man telling us what is right and wrong. Objective morality would be embedded in his nature and thus unchanging. If love is good it would be because God is loving not because he says it is loving.

Well, no. Apparently you have misunderstood the point of the question. God could be the brightest guy on the block, but that doesn’t give him the authority to tell me what to do. Having objective morality “embedded in his nature” is no different from having objective morality embedded in OUR nature. So we’re either “tools” of evolution or “tools” of God. There’s no practical difference between the two, in terms of the way you’ve set this up.

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Magnus Solberg April 19, 2011 at 10:33 am

That’s rediculous. I’m not saying “I believe God does not exist”.

I’m saying “I have no belief in God”, or “I lack belief in God”.

“Knowledge” itself has to with “belief”:“Knowledge” IS “justified true belief.”If you say you don’t “believe” in God then you are making a knowledge claim.

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hi April 19, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Bill Snedden,

God could be the brightest guy on the block, but that doesn’t give him the authority to tell me what to do. Having objective morality “embedded in his nature” is no different from having objective morality embedded in OUR nature. So we’re either “tools” of evolution or “tools” of God. There’s no practical difference between the two, in terms of the way you’ve set this up.

I don’t think you understand the concept of “god”. God would have to be an ultimate, transcendent, infinite being. There would be no infinite regress for us to consider because we could conceive no greater being. Thus, if he gave us a moral standard to follow it would be the absolute moral standard (i.e objective morality). If God exists then we would have an obligation to do what is morally objectively right, whereas, if we are “tools of evolution” there is no obligation.

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Gatogreensleeves April 19, 2011 at 2:54 pm

I think it would be best to highlight the types of relevance in this debate:

1. There is the relevance to the potential directions for the topic heading “Is Goodness from God?” (which *could* take a more epistemological route, if desired).
2. There is the relevance to the sandbox rules determined by an opening statement of someone in the debate.
3. There is the relevance to actual philosophical logic and principles of reason.
4. Then there is the relevance to actual philosophical logic and principles of reason to parameters of #2: those that were at least partially arbitrarily set up by Craig, which would be to keep it on the ontological question concerning BOTH god AND morality (each going in potentially different directions to some extent, even with DCT as the framework [e.g. whether or not the 'grounding' is in the ontological framework by effect or by the command itself- the former being potentially illuminated by epistemological confirmation of coherency; the latter being authoritarian and bankrupt without the former]).

So, at the end of the day, Harris split off way earlier in (potential) relevance, not choosing to be limited to Craig’s sandbox parameters clearly set up with the sole intention of taking his god out of the equation for criticism. This is evidenced by the fact that even if Craig DOES adequately defend PBT, Christianity does not benefit from it. What is the point of such a debate, but to give theism a disingenuous sandbox victory for the mantle?

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Gatogreensleeves April 19, 2011 at 3:00 pm

The next atheist who debates Craig should argue for PNT: Perfect Nonbeing Theory, where you can’t question the moral perfection of godless beings by default.

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drj April 19, 2011 at 4:02 pm

I don’t think you understand the concept of “god”. God would have to be an ultimate, transcendent, infinite being. There would be no infinite regress for us to consider because we could conceive no greater being. Thus, if he gave us a moral standard to follow it would be the absolute moral standard (i.e objective morality). If God exists then we would have an obligation to do what is morally objectively right, whereas, if we are “tools of evolution” there is no obligation.

But “great” is a term just like “moral” – its only non-vacuous unless its measured against some already existing value. If I value eternal existence in hell above all else, God becomes the worst conceivable being to me, and I ought do the opposite of everything he commands.

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lackofcheese April 19, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Kaelik,

Hedonism is not an oversimplification. It’s a moral system that holds pleasure as the penultimate value. That’s no more oversimplified than any other moral system that holds some values as the penultimate value. It doesn’t claim other things don’t exist. Just that they are less important. Something every moral theory must do.

Utilitarianism is not about pleasure, because it’s not about anything, it’s a method of calculating good based on what actions maximize some value as a whole. That value changes whether you are talking about life year utilitarianism, or pleasure utilitarianism, or pineapple unitarianism, or pentagram utilitarianism.

First of all, in this context penultimate = second-greatest, which would be a silly thing to name a system of morality after. Also, hedonism claims that pleasure is the only terminal value – everything else is only worthwhile as a way of getting pleasure. Hence your calling my position “hedonism” was clearly an oversimplification.

As for utilitarianism, I specifically said the problem was not inherent in the concept itself. My point was that utilitarians all too commonly oversimplify human values as well, especially pleasure-pain utilitarians.

I still think you overestimate the extent of human selfishness, however. At the very least, I think that very few people are entirely indifferent to the suffering of others, whether in Africa or nearby.

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lackofcheese April 19, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Hi,

Psychopaths/sociopaths/serial killers. I’ll also add that people in the middle east value freedom and consciousness a lot less than you think. All I want to know is by what basis you can claim their actions are good or bad, it’s a really straightforward question.

I think you’re the one who is mistaken about what people in the middle east value, actually. The recent tide of revolutions shows that they do value freedom, quite a lot in fact. I also think it’s quite silly to suggest they don’t value consciousness – at the very least, they clearly value their own consciousness.

Granted, their instrumental values can be quite twisted as the result of religion, just as the values of many western people are. A belief that your consciousness, and that of other people, will continue after death is obviously going to change how you feel about death, especially if you’re getting a reward afterwards.

Furthermore, there are ways of obtaining happiness and love that we would deem bad. For example, I may get pleasure and happiness from the thrill stealing cars or exerting my power over individuals (rape). I both value happiness/pleasure and I’m obtaining it.

That doesn’t make the happiness itself bad – the happiness is good regardless of how it was obtained. The thing is that in the case of rape, the good is vastly outweighed by the bad – the suffering of the victim.

All you are saying is your chosen “values” are good just because they are good.

About terminal values, you’re right, people value them for their own sake. They don’t require a reason. Why? Because they are just characteristics that evolved over time. Thus, they are absolutely not good or bad, they are entirely neutral.

Do you want to say that happiness is bad? That freedom is bad? That love is bad?

I won’t claim that these are truly universal, but here’s an example terminal values by William Frankena: “Life, consciousness, and activity; health and strength; pleasures and satisfactions of all or certain kinds; happiness, beatitude, contentment, etc.; truth; knowledge and true opinions of various kinds, understanding, wisdom; beauty, harmony, proportion in objects contemplated; aesthetic experience; morally good dispositions or virtues; mutual affection, love, friendship, cooperation; just distribution of goods and evils; harmony and proportion in one’s own life; power and experiences of achievement; self-expression; freedom; peace, security; adventure and novelty; and good reputation, honor, esteem, etc.”
The very meaning of the word “good” is something like the above – it’s not a simple concept. I’m not saying that absolutely any terminal value held by a conscious being is necessarily “good” simply because it is held by a conscious being. However, I do think that the vast majority of human terminal values are indeed good. Indeed, the concept of “good” has arisen from the things we value, not the other way around.

I don’t think you understand the concept of “god”. God would have to be an ultimate, transcendent, infinite being. There would be no infinite regress for us to consider because we could conceive no greater being. Thus, if he gave us a moral standard to follow it would be the absolute moral standard (i.e objective morality). If God exists then we would have an obligation to do what is morally objectively right, whereas, if we are “tools of evolution” there is no obligation.

You don’t need an “obligation” to do what’s right. You should do what’s right because it’s right.

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JOJO.JACOB April 20, 2011 at 12:40 am

If there is no God, would there be no “absolute” moral values? I do not understand the reasoning that the transition from “relative” to “absolute” needs a Super-natural being.
Craig is a non-vegetarian. Buddhists consider it as a taboo. Does that mean Craig is moral relativist in the eyes of Buddhists?

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Kaelik April 20, 2011 at 6:49 am

@lack of cheese

First of all, in this context penultimate = second-greatest, which would be a silly thing to name a system of morality after. Also, hedonism claims that pleasure is the only terminal value – everything else is only worthwhile as a way of getting pleasure. Hence your calling my position “hedonism” was clearly an oversimplification.

1) Being alive comes before pleasure per hedonism.

2) I didn’t call your view hedonism. I called what most people actually care about hedonism. Most people care about their own pleasure before nearly anything else. You are claiming that they actually care about everyone else in the world too, this is pretty simply falsified. IE, “Hey you, When you buy those 40 dollar jeans, are you doing it to help out starving africans, or yourself? Couldn’t you buy 20 dollar jeans and then donate 20 dollars to buying food for starving people? Oh you could, you just care more about your jeans looking good than whether other people starve, oh, okay.”

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lackofcheese April 20, 2011 at 7:57 am

Kaelik,

On the hedonist view, being alive does not come before pleasure. Being alive is merely necessary to get pleasure, and hence it is an instrumental value, not a terminal value. In hedonism pleasure is indeed the ultimate value, the only terminal value.

When I said that people value happiness, consciousness, freedom, and love (among other things) for their own sake, you described this as “hedonism”; my point was that the term clearly does not apply.

Also, I was not claiming that most people care equally about everyone else in the world. However, you implied previously that most people don’t care at all, and I definitely disagree with that.

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Bill Snedden April 20, 2011 at 8:18 am

@Hi:

I don’t think you understand the concept of “god”. God would have to be an ultimate, transcendent, infinite being. There would be no infinite regress for us to consider because we could conceive no greater being. Thus, if he gave us a moral standard to follow it would be the absolute moral standard (i.e objective morality). If God exists then we would have an obligation to do what is morally objectively right, whereas, if we are “tools of evolution” there is no obligation.

Hilarious. I don’t think you understand the concept of “obligation”. Even if we grant that God is ultimate, transcendent, & infinite, this in no way obligates us to follow his commands.

If it is the case that morality is grounded in the nature of existence, be it god or nature, moral values can have an objective foundation. Google “natural law” for more information.

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Bill Snedden April 20, 2011 at 8:50 am

lackofcheese:

Indeed, the concept of “good” has arisen from the things we value, not the other way around.

This ^^

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Kaelik April 20, 2011 at 9:14 am

@lack of cheese

On the hedonist view, being alive does not come before pleasure. Being alive is merely necessary to get pleasure, and hence it is an instrumental value, not a terminal value. In hedonism pleasure is indeed the ultimate value, the only terminal value.

You need to stop projecting your own views onto what you are reading. I never said terminal or instrumental. I said penultimate, and that being alive comes before pleasure. You must be alive to experience pleasure, therefore, being alive comes before pleasure, therefore, pleasure is the penultimate goal of hedonism.

When I said that people value happiness, consciousness, freedom, and love (among other things) for their own sake, you described this as “hedonism”; my point was that the term clearly does not apply.

I did not describe that view as pleasure, I described valuing only your own happiness (aka pleasure), consciousness (which you only value so that you can experience pleasure), freedom (which you only value so you can experience pleasure), and love (just another kind of pleasure) as hedonism. Because it is. People don’t value those things of themselves, they value them for themselves, because they enjoy pleasure, and want the things that bring it.

Also, I was not claiming that most people care equally about everyone else in the world. However, you implied previously that most people don’t care at all, and I definitely disagree with that.

I implied that people don’t care at all because people don’t actually care at all. If you aren’t willing to do the things you could easily do, then you don’t really care. Yes it’s technically true that your average person might rate their caring about new jeans as 57 out of 100, and caring about the suffering and death of millions of people as 1 out of 100, and that one is technically not zero, but as far as it effects their actions, it’s pretty damn clear that it might as well be zero.

People care about themselves only, which is why people who do actually do anything to help other people always do it in ways that make themselves feel better on net, IE giving only a tiny amount, because they can afford it without losing things they like, but at the same time, feel good about how very giving they are.

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lackofcheese April 20, 2011 at 9:42 am

Kaelik,

You need to stop projecting your own views onto what you are reading. I never said terminal or instrumental. I said penultimate, and that being alive comes before pleasure. You must be alive to experience pleasure, therefore, being alive comes before pleasure, therefore, pleasure is the penultimate goal of hedonism.

The definition of hedonism, from Wikipedia: “Hedonism is a school of thought which argues that pleasure is the only intrinsic good.” – the term “intrinsic good” has pretty much the same meaning as “terminal value”. The point is that a true hedonist would only care about staying alive insofar as it would get them more pleasure. I’m not projecting my views onto you in the least, that’s just what the term “hedonism” means.

A true hedonist does not value their life before pleasure. If you offer them a massive amount – much more than they expect in their entire life – of pleasure, followed shortly by their death, they would accept it with little thought. Your terming pleasure as the “penultimate value” makes little sense or is simply wrong.

As for saying that everything a person cares about reduces to their own happiness, that’s a very strong claim indeed, one I must hold you to the burden of proof on. I very much do not think values reduce to happiness alone, and I don’t think they are 100% selfish either.

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Kaelik April 20, 2011 at 10:13 am

The definition of hedonism, from Wikipedia: “Hedonism is a school of thought which argues that pleasure is the only intrinsic good.” – the term “intrinsic good” has pretty much the same meaning as “terminal value”. The point is that a true hedonist would only care about staying alive insofar as it would get them more pleasure. I’m not projecting my views onto you in the least, that’s just what the term “hedonism” means.

A true hedonist does not value their life before pleasure. If you offer them a massive amount – much more than they expect in their entire life – of pleasure, followed shortly by their death, they would accept it with little thought. Your terming pleasure as the “penultimate value” makes little sense or is simply wrong.

This is what I’m talking about projecting. I said penultimate, and I said comes before. I did not say valuing life was intrinsic or terminal. Life comes first, because it is necessary for pleasure. Making pleasure penultimate, because it comes second.

By continuing to think in terms of terminal value, you continue to miss that things can come be more important, even if they are only instrumental, as long as they are also necessary.

As for saying that everything a person cares about reduces to their own happiness, that’s a very strong claim indeed, one I must hold you to the burden of proof on. I very much do not think values reduce to happiness alone, and I don’t think they are 100% selfish either.

Or, you could try to present a single counter example where you took an action for some reason besides you thought based on your knowledge at the time, that it was what you wanted, and by extension, what would make you happy.

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lackofcheese April 20, 2011 at 10:34 am

Kaelik,

It’s just silly to say that life is more important than pleasure if you’re valuing life only inasmuch as it gets you pleasure. In the example I gave, a hedonist quite clearly chooses pleasure over life, so life clearly does not come before pleasure for a hedonist.
Similarly, given a choice between a life completely without pleasure, and even the tiniest bit of pleasure followed by death, a hedonist should pick the second option. I’m not missing anything here, it’s just that your initial use of the term “penultimate” was misleading at best.

Or, you could try to present a single counter example where you took an action for some reason besides you thought based on your knowledge at the time, that it was what you wanted, and by extension, what would make you happy.

You’re begging the question here – you’re assuming that people only want what makes them happy, when that’s pretty much what we’re disagreeing on!

As for an example of an actions I’ve taken for reasons other than happiness, I can name plenty. My posting on this blog comes from an interest in what’s true, even though it brings me little to no happiness compared to, say, playing video games. I’ve helped people plenty of times with no real expectation of happiness. I’ve intentionally sought out information about the suffering of other people in this world, despite knowing full well that it would make me feel bad.

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JOJO JACOB April 21, 2011 at 12:52 am

Bill Snedden,

If God does not exist, would it not be “obligatory” look after your kids or aged parents? It seems to me that you are talking about “obligatory” in a cosmic sense. Please enlighten me about the transition from obligatory in a natural sense to cosmic sense.

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Bill Snedden April 21, 2011 at 12:17 pm

@JOJO JACOB:

…would it not be “obligatory” look after your kids or aged parents?

On my view, moral duties require consent. That is to say that one must consent to an obligation in order for it to be morally binding. Thus there is no obligation, in a moral sense, to look after one’s aged parents unless one agrees to do so. Given that most of us love our parents, we’re likely to gladly accept such an obligation (I certainly would), however consider the case of an abused child. She may feel no such inclination. By what right do her parents consider her obligated to care for them? In fact, they have no such right and neither does any parent. Parents obligate themselves to care for their children by the act of birth, which necessarily implies a responsibility.

It seems to me that you are talking about “obligatory” in a cosmic sense. Please enlighten me about the transition from obligatory in a natural sense to cosmic sense.

I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you mean by “cosmic sense” and am thus unable to respond.

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Chris Johnson October 11, 2011 at 11:24 pm

This is really late. But it seems to me Harris’s argument could have been quite simple, he just didn’t present well. Craig’s claim was straight forward. If god exists, he is the foundation for objective morality. And if god does not exist, there is no basis. This is an easy one to shoot down. Harris has done so in lectures. Interpretations of the scripture change constantly with the times. Of course, Craig would simply say that this does not change the source of the objective morality. However, yes it does. If we are constantly reshaping our interpretation, and thus our moral standard, then god is not involved at all. Combined human consciousness, emotion, experience and its propagation through traditions, etc. are the foundation of moral objectivity. This is totally within the realm of science and has no need for god at all.

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Eric Diaz November 27, 2011 at 8:24 am

I dont think Sam’s first rebutal is “off-topic”. One has to remember that when Dr. Craig argues for theistic morality he is infact arguing that the christian god is the foundation of that morality. He is not arguing that Zeus or thor is the foundation of morality, or that a deist’s god is the foundation of morality. WLC argues that a specific god is the source of morality, and that god happens to be described by a SPECIFIC book. By referencing the bible and the atrocities of god. Sam infact shows how thiestic morality has a very weak foundation, and it is sound to conclude that mere humans are capable of a superior moral standar.

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Eric Price December 7, 2011 at 2:12 am

“Fail?” Are schoolyard taunts now passing for dispassionate analysis?

It will require more than ad nauseum assumptions to demonstrate that Mr Harris was “off-topic.” In a debate on theistic morality, it is first necessary to ‘prove’ that:

-Any gods exist at all. (Otherwise, “theistic” morality is simply another word for “human-created” morality, since humans created the gods – and the morality of the gods.

-Any specific god is more likely than any other to exist. (Otherwise “theistic” morality is a nonsensical jumble of the opinions of several hundred deities. Unless there are good reasons to believe that the morality of any particular god should be considered to the exclusion of all others, theistic morality must be considered as a sort of consensus of the morality of all of these super-creatures. It is not off topic to demand that this be done, if a justification of the moral standards of any of the gods is to be presented as worthwhile for study.

-The argument that “the morality of one particular god, who is unlikely to exist, and who is demonstrably evil, should be the basis of all human morality, because that particular god says so” is an example of circular logic. This is the position Mr. Harris forces his opponent into – when he proves that Christian morality is “monstrous.”

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