My Thoughts on the Debate Between Sam Harris and William Lane Craig in April of 2011, Notre Dame
In this post, I will reiterate what I said in the other, as well as include the video itself again. Often, I will point out at which point I am at in the debate, so it can be looked at in depth.
At twenty minutes into the video, Craig is pointing out a tautology, or how Harris is talking in circles. He doesn't just say so, he points out how he does so, which I appreciate over just making an accusation. Craig says that Harris has solved the value problem for himself simply by just redefining terms. On Harris' definition, it would be like asking, "why is maximizing creatures well being, maximize creatures well being?" Its just a tautology. Assuming all the people involved and watching such a debate, care about the finer details like this is I think, a fair assumption. You want to believe things for good reasons, not for poor reasons.
One can try to redefine terms in order to tweak words to such a degree, that it looks like one has an upper hand, but do they really? Logical and deep thinkers care about things like this. Forgive me, but it seems that Harris perhaps hoped no one would notice.
Making points about how science contributes to the flourishing on this planet misses the points of the debate. Though no one would argue that anything that contributes to the flourishing of conscious creatures on the planet is a good thing, so why the emphasis? Its not taking the opposing view to Craig, is my point.
It is pointed out, that highs and lows of human flourishing is not a moral landscape. No matter how eloquently presented, no matter how much intensity and assertion is applied, it will never be a moral landscape, and doesn't weigh in on the value problem that Craig and Harris are talking about. Going on about atrocities, extremism and human flourishing doesn't touch on why objective moral values exist at all, and especially not with atheism. There were semantics at play. People see this.
One of the things I really appreciate about Craig is that when he says things that are tough to hear, he doesn't just say them, or accuse. He shows how the thing he said is true. He gives examples and comparisons, uses quotes and the like. I wish that Harris could have responded in kind, and shown how Craig was wrong, missing points, etc.
In short, Craig pointed out the use of non moral vocabulary, exactly what it was, and why it doesn't work. There are only so many ways to respond to this once its been done.
At the point of 21 minutes into the debate, the idea of objective moral duties is brought up. Does atheism have an answer for moral obligations that work across the board? Duties have to do with moral obligation. It has to do with what we either ought to do, or ought not to do. Its a problem for atheists to answer this, Craig points out. He not only says that, but points out how they can't answer this.
Craig points out that 1. Natural Science tells us only what IS, not what OUGHT to be the case. Science is about facts, not norms. It can tell us what we are, but can't tell us what is wrong with how we are. Science can't tell us to take actions which are conducive to human flourishing. 2. Ought implies Can...
At 27 minutes into the debate (27:40), I got a kick out of how Harris comes in and says that Bill Craig puts the fear of God into atheists. He then went on to defending how he criticizes religion. In this debate, I found him to be most fair to the religion of Islam, in regards to how he characterizes it, though he leaned on the more extreme forms of it. I do also, so I can't complain, and I also have studied it in detail to understand where these extreme beliefs come from. They come from their prophet, and their texts. To the rest of all believers in a God out there, for the most part I didn't see him characterize their views correctly. I just want to make it clear, that it is always going to be much easier to criticize the beliefs of Craig, when mischaracterizing his worldview or religion. That is what was done. No victory can therefore be claimed. In fact, its a loss. Craig spoke of atheism here and there, but I found his comments to be fair, or factually true to atheism.
I didn't like how Harris said that people come to the defense of God, not because of the proofs for God, (which isn't true, I know of people like this, like J. Warner Wallace and many others), but because they believe in this idea of God being the only explanation for objective morality. That also isn't true in my years of speaking with Christians, and in fact they don't often think about that at all. Not unless they are apologists or reading apologetic books, etc. Churches and pastors don't teach things that I have ever seen, unless its a very rare occasion. So I don't find his opening to be strong even in those regards.
I noticed how extremism in Islam, and strong emotional appeals through horrific stories are used to come up against what Craig believes in, which happens to be Jesus. Let us recall how Jesus wouldn't let a woman be stoned for being caught in the act of her sin, and also went to his own death, laid down his life for all sinners. Talk about mischaracterizing what he is trying to put down! These facts matter.
About 31 minutes in, we see the double standard with the Islamic woman Harris mentioned. He is pointing out extreme moral problems for Islam, something Craig would agree with him on, and said so a couple of times at least if I am recalling correctly. The only thing joining Christianity and Islam is their monotheism and Abraham. To focus so hard on the "war god of Abraham" over Jesus, was something interesting to observe.
Craig had made it clear, earlier, that the two greatest commandments summed up the commands of God, as shown in Jesus. Jesus came long after Abraham, to point out the flaws of the Old Testament ways, and the distortions, and to show a better way, a simpler way. Thus, we have two people debating issues that agree atrocities are bad.... What about the debate? The Old Testament also has laws against human sacrificing, saying a person should be put to death, but one wouldn't know that to listen to Harris.
Sam Harris goes on to introduce 2 concepts, consciousness and well being. I felt kind of bad for him here, as it appeared to me, especially after the second time of watching it, that Harris went on into what Craig had already refuted, from what I could see. It was good to hear the argument from Harris himself, and for him to expound upon it. The fans of Harris as well as others interested in these topics, can best know if he is having the better argument if we can follow the ideas carefully from beginning to end.