Sam Harris vs. Craig Absolute Morals Non-Debate

Any educated philosopher will insist that using god-as-catchall (god is the source of creation, miracles, and moral judgment) is non-explanatory, and so 1/2 arguments is made worthless by Craig, its supposed defender, within two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

To fortify his already by half deflated argument, he uses the fuzzy word “grounded”. I hardly balk at the lack of its use in philosophical literature. It’s used here as a shortcut to avoid a sticky defense. Sarcasm: “You can’t ask why moral values are grounded in god!” -“Why are moral values grounded in god, and what is the nature of this grounding you speak of?” -“I said you can’t ask that!” -“I just did!” -“Well, I don’t have to answer!” -“Why don’t you have to answer that?” -“You can’t ask that!”, and so on.
Harris suggests good and evil be defined in terms of flourishing and misery, and Craig attempts to prove these words are not being used properly – by using moral definitions of good and evil in the bible. Wow.

Harris proposes an endeavor towards moral duties that are universal for all conscious creatures. Craig says there are none, because nobody has told atheists what to believe, again of course based on his circular reasoning for his contention that moral duties require a constant guide and companion. While this might temporarily block rhetorical entry into a shared journey towards answers, all philosophers would prefer such, and therefore take a “Says who!?” over an “Says you!” attitude every time, or else replace philosophy with doctrine.

The term “free will” is used by Harris in the sense that in a deterministic world, choices are nevertheless possible to make in the absence of the metaphysical “free will” which Craig is unable to shift his focus from. [Edit: Wrong. They both mean sort of the same thing, defined by neither, Sam Harris has gone on to disprove it, in place of research I argue in a future post.]

This explains why Craig is shocked and accuses determinism of lacking all moral responsibility. [Edit: Nah, he thinks they both mean kinda, sorta the same thing and is rightly shocked at Harris providing no immediate replacement/treatment.] A psychologist would recognize this as an expression of Craig’s make-up. What he’s talking about here is guilt, not responsibility.

There is no guilt without a judge, and while we have courts judging guilt and punishment IN PLACE of god, he might (or might actually not) find favor with his likes if he supplied god as catch-all for this as well, in spite of reality and society. He avoids this, which should be a clue as to what level of his intellectual honesty he’s able to bring himself (alternately, uncharacteristically, his being human and forgetting, or coming unprepared).

Putting an “if” before “god exists” proves that if god exists (and I would like to add if people can agree on which god exists), there is objective morality, but Craig fails at removing the ifs and so fails at proving there is objective morality, something he asks Harris to prove – and which he is alone in this exchange of trying.

Harris offers universal morality, but could of course stoop to Craig’s semantics and simply state, “if there is an objective morality there is an objective morality”. This is all he would do to match Craig’s efforts, even if he could just make up a god and commandments [1]

Harris touches lightly on this in relation to divine command theory.

[1] Interestingly, he does just that at the end of the session, see below.

In the first rebuttal, Craig starts with an excruciatingly feeble “No, you’re wrong” in the face of lucid accounts by Harris and lack of proof for Craig’s own stand. Expeditely, he reveals his failure in grasping Harris’s correct account that christian doctrine teaches that believing in god is a requirement to be spared hell. Luckily, misunderstanding is not a proof of contention, or we’d have fools for teachers.

Craig goes on to use the christian meaning of “evil” to prove that god exists, because there is no evil without moral values and if god exists, moral values exist. He goes from this conditional, one-way proof to make it two-way without supplying arguments, and runs a further lap in this circular reasoning by adding “Some – things – are – evil!” based, unsurprisingly, on the original conditional one-way proof without feeling he’s obliged to provide an example evil thing for the curious mind.

Luckily, conditional proof is not proof and I will be happy to rid the world of the word “evil”, since it requires rigorous analysis. As Ayn Rand inadvertently showed, it’s a useless word for synthesis and is used as a doorstop by the best of philophers when arguments run out.

He goes on to misunderstand the neuroscientist again, despite Harris’s clear account that psychopathic christian beliefs are identical to psychopathic beliefs by others without it making them psychopaths, catching Craig at stereotyping by objective action. Even a lowly judge-in-absence-of-divine-judge would not make such an error. Psychopaths on the peaks of well-being is nothing new, but the mention is another glaring failure of understanding Harris’s model.

After this, he soothingly proposes that moral actions on divine command are morally irreprehensible irrespective of religion, except conveniently those who commit atrocities in the name of their god, who obviously have just “got the wrong god” (and therefore, but not necessarily, the wrong divine command). I judge those few sentences to sum up the potential of intellectual honesty of Craig and the fruitlessness of any debate about morals without open minds on all sides and with the goal to reach shared insights.

When arguments run out, the open-minded approach is not to grab a catch-all in desperation and arrogance, but to humbly confess that we have not yet developed the arguments – and try to provide tentative ones, as I discovered Harris goes on to say.

In the closing, all Craig seems to end up with is, if god doesn’t exist, christians have no moral values, and I can’t prove god exists. Therefore, even christians cannot supply proof that they have moral values. I would like to thank Craig for this confirmation.

Craig isn’t out of circular logic. He expects thinkers to accept, “God exists because there is order to the Universe, and the Universe exists because it was created by god”. From the outset, this was just a talk, and indeed Craig is a speaker, but the problem with this isn’t that it’s immediately refutable by a student, but that it’s objectively uninteresting and unworthy of pursuit by a seeker of truth.

Harris’s prime contribution to philosophy of late, the serious scientific study of morality, is one that I will continue to follow with great interest.

I think anyone endeavoring into the moral landscape will be wise to dissect the word “evil”, as the only purpose the word serves is to provide the last chance for a moral refugee who just wants to be morally superior without reason.

As with the word “stupid”, the proponents of such an idea or person so accused is right to want such a dissection, that accuser and defendant may learn.

If “Some actions are just evil!”, then “Some doctrines are just stupid!”, and since intellectuals may investigate the stupidity of doctrines, I would feel that science and logic may investigate the evilness of actions.

Learning from the investigations, however, finally comes down to the intellectual honesty and depth of those who carry them out.

(This is an account and analysis of what is presented. Commenting on truthfulness or bias is appreciated, but kindly respect the Copyright.)

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About maximilion

I seek truths and try to make you see them. View all posts by maximilion

2 responses to “Sam Harris vs. Craig Absolute Morals Non-Debate

  • Michael Craig Clark

    Some may question where the Objective Morals exists in Harris’ view of illusionary free will, but let me remind you that stopping at a dangerous intersection because a stop sign tells you to stop has no personal objective morals unless you would stop regardless of the sign. In a perfect society having no free will, the Objective Morals are the COLLECTIVE GOOD OF ALL. Such brings dynamic as well as harmonic balance to an otherwise imperfect world.

    • maximilion

      I’m not really a moralizing person. My personal and rather vague position is that “We decide together what world we want to live in” is a good starting point, and that everyone has their own opinion on what is right and wrong anyway. So do believers, and these arcane rules in holy scripture are mostly about lending authority to justify horribly exaggerated punishments and fostering a judgmental attitude towards others in general. Strangely balanced by some parts of religions that simultaneously teach forgiveness and a non-judgmental attitude.

      Absolute morals is an “ideal” that can never be met. The world changes too fast and is more complex for that to ever be the case. The really interesting question is whether we actually want (as close as possible to) absolute morals. My current position is no, nobody would want that, if they knew what it entails.

      For myself, my stand is definitely harsher than Harris’. I think that any and all methods to prevent repeat offenses or even first offenses should be explored, and that punishment should not be excluded from those. But this for a tiny set of laws and not the monstrosity of legislation we have today. Most of the offenses that cause no harm to the person could be removed outright or replaced with simple mechanisms.

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